BlackBook Exclusive: ‘Bad Santa’ Cocktail Recipes from Johnny Swet’s Grand Republic Cocktail Club

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We’ve been a fan of Johnny Swet (Jimmy at The James, Skylark, Rogue & Canon) since as long as our booze-tinted memory allows. So no surprise, we have been enamored with the exalted mixology alchemist’s latest BKNY tippling mecca, Grand Republic Cocktail Club, since it opened at the far end of Greenpoint Avenue earlier this year. It’s dark, cozy…and the expertly made drinks elicit epicurean appreciation with every sip.

To celebrate their first holiday season, Swet and Co. have devised a cheeky pop-up theme and called it – with obvious nods to Billy Bob Thornton -“Bad Santa”…complete with a dedicated menu of drinks with names like Over Proof Eggnog and Super Drunk Uncle. For those not inclined towards Rock Center ice-skating excursions, this is where you absolutely need to be, to hide out from the stress and seasonal-defective obligation to be ‘merry and bright,’ especially during these last couple of weeks of December, erm…cheer.

So come for the sparkly holiday décor, stay for the specially crafted seasonal sips, and the especially great company. GRCC is the perfect antidote to all those sugar plum fairies and candy cane, um…whatevers.

Let nothing you dismay…


Grand Republic Cocktail Club Holiday Cocktail Recipes

Christmas Viagra Colada (pictured above)

In a Tin:
1.75 oz Mezcal
2 oz Coconut Mix*
.5 oz Blue Curaçao
.5 oz Lime Juice
Shake to Temperature with Ice
Strain into a Coup
No Garnish
*equal parts of Coconut Cream and Coconut Milk

Willie’s Old Fashioned

In a Mixing Glass:
2 oz Bourbon
.5 oz Tobacco infused Simple Syrup
4 Dashes Orange Bitters
Stir with Ice
Strain into Rocks Glass/Ice
Orange Twist



Bad Santa

In a Tin:
1 oz Everclear
1.5 oz Peppermint Schnapps
1 oz Dark Chocolate Syrup
Shake with Ice
Strain Rocks Glass/Ice
Candy cane Garnish


Report From Art Basel: Chinese Artist Liu Bolin and Ruinart ‘Disappear’ From the Cultural Cognoscenti

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Images by Samantha Nandez,


In the whirlwind of Art Basel soirees hitting South Florida this week, renowned Chinese artist Liu Bolin, who is sometimes known as the “Invisible Man,” performed a live exhibition, as he was painted amongst a large scale installation of the Ruinart iconic rounded champagne bottles. Cognoscenti from the fashion, art and philanthropy worlds gathered in the Miami Botanical Garden to witness his creation process firsthand.

Partygoers included Shea Marie, Andres Fanjul, TK Quann, Aureta Thomollari, Vik Muniz, Carlos Bentancourt, Soledad Lowe, Christie Ferrari, Eliza Mcknitt, Jakob Kudsk Steensen, Alexander Lynx, David Castillo, Ezra J William, Umberta Gusalli Beretta and Olivia Perez, amongst many others. As they watched the behind-the-scenes look at Bolin’s meticulous artistic method, guest sipped Ruinart’s beloved Rosé, paired with canapes from Michelle Bernstein and tunes by DJ Timo Weiland.



Even those who didn’t score an invite to the swanky soiree were able to immerse themselves in the world of Ruinart x Liu Bolin via an installation at the Ruinart Lounge at Art Basel. Additionally, a Bolin-inspired tasting menu will be available at Cantonese hotspot Hakkasan.

After the bash, Blackbook had the chance to chat up Bolin, for some insight into his first live installation at Art Basel Miami.


How did you come up with the concept of the “Invisible Man”?

Since 2001, 9/11 I was thinking about my body and how I could become invisible within society, as there are a lot of conflictive ideas between humans and society. My idea of disappearing into society reflects a lot of those conflicts.

Was it difficult to break into the Western art market as a Chinese artist?

After the Beijing Olympics, China has developed at an accelerated pace. And since then, a lot of art and artists have been more easily promoted, making the environment much easier now.

What would your dream project be?

Anything man can create I can blend into – and I’m interested in these kinds of challenges. At the moment, though, I haven’t really thought of any one challenge in particular.

How do you choose your background, and is there a larger message with each project?

In regards to having any purpose or meaning to the environment I choose, it doesn’t necessarily require a meaning in the beginning. As long as I can blend in to something it will acquire a meaning.



What do you think of the artistic movement of gender fluidity, where the subject is undefined by race or gender – and how does that compare with your artistic medium of being invisible?

For me it’s not important. Everybody has a choice.

How did you become involved with Ruinart?

The history of Ruinart really interests me, as well as their support of the arts and artists.

What are your current projects?

Next year I have several exhibitions coming up in Italy, France, Hong Kong, Israel, and Australia.



NOLA Chic 2018: Bedding Down at the Stylish New Eliza Jane Hotel

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We never really tire of visiting New Orleans. But we were lured once again recently by the notable opening of its newest boutique hotel, The Eliza Jane – which we found to be a pretty groovy addition to the already happening NOLA hospitality scene.

The intimate digs are tucked into the heart of historic French Quarter, with the block-long brick facade gracing Magazine Street being the result of seven traditional “shotgun style” warehouses joined together. The former Peychauds Bitters and The Daily Picayune, which blossomed in the 1800s, are among the most recognizable.

Of course, at a time when the sanctity of the press itself is under incessant attack, the hotel-as-homage-to-the-printed-page is particularly zeitgeisty. It’s right there in the name, actually –  Eliza Jane Nicholson being the first female publisher of a major metropolitan newspaper in the United States. The Press Room bar, outfitted with cranberry wood and crocodile leather stools, plays to the theme in the classiest way possible.



Designed by Stonehill Taylor (part of the Moxy Times Square team in NYC), the hotel is part of the Hyatt Unbound Collection; and the focus was clearly on maintaining aesthetic authenticity in relation to the historic neighborhood. The space doesn’t disappoint. An open atrium is done up with massive wooden beams and exposed brick, all part of the original foundations, resulting in a hotel, bar and restaurant that all marry French joie de vivre and New Orleans iconoclasm. We also loved the geometric tiling, and the lush velvet couches tucked into seemingly every corner.

The bedroom interiors share common threads of rich woods, gold trim and whimsical shower curtains covered in costumed Mardi Gras revelers from Napoleon’s France. Those same shower curtains, by the way, are already on back order. Small, sweet touches like that abound: Peychauds Bitters is memorialized in custom-made wallpaper, featuring decades of print ads.



Couvant in French means “smoldering” – and the French brasserie on the ground floor lives up to its name, but with hints of old Southern charm. Breakfast and lunch are served in a sunny room with lush banquettes and mosaic tile accents.

Dinner, though, becomes a candlelit affair, where local oysters nestle in a bed of crushed ice, followed by moules frites or filet au poivre in single serve cast iron pots and clean white plates – but they’re easy to share. Crispy house made frites pair perfectly with the rich sauces, and no one minds if the silverware lays forgotten on the table. Other excellent classic French dishes include Lyonnaise salad, foie gras ‘au torchon’, skate a la Grenobloise, and, most importantly, a killer filet mignon steak frites.



But its worth mentioning that the surprise star of the show is a simple dish called the Grand Aioli: perfectly plump local shrimp, hand shaved country ham, a selection of baby carrots and radishes all garnished with a pot of creamy rich aioli ready for dipping. For the French, it’s been a long time picnic staple; and when the weather makes it feasible, it’s the  perfect dish to share with friends on the hotel’s verdant outdoor patio – preferably sipping an absinthe frappe.

That same terrace is something of hidden work of art itself, with yet more of the aforementioned geometric tilework, and an alluring sculpture tucked into the back corner. It’s a luxuriously bathing woman with the word “bisous” lip up in neon letters just above. It translates simply to “kisses” – and when our stay came to an end, we checked out of the Eliza Jane feeling loved as only the French know how to love.





Visiting WhistlePig: Five Steps to Understanding a Great Rye Whiskey

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As temperatures drop, there is something to the warming feeling you get after a sip of whiskey, as the spicy amber liquid flows along the back of your throat and tingles the rest of your body.

With that in mind, we recently had the rare privilege to visit the bucolic WhistlePig Farm in Shorham, VT – where the award-winning rye is grown and distilled. As we tasted our way through casks finished with Sauternes, Pinot Noir, and Port, we found our appreciation for the sometimes misunderstood spirit elevated to a whole other stratosphere.

The legendary distiller Dave Pickerell (who, sadly, passed away not long after our visit) credits the rise of cocktail culture, coupled with his time as master distiller at Makers Mark, as the impetus for his aspiration to simply make the best rye in the wold. WhistlePig remains a testament to his passion and innovation, which has contributed to the spirit’s robust comeback – perhaps as the craze for bourbon begins to level off. The farm’s triple terroir – rye grown from its fields, water from its well, and oak from the surrounding trees – as well as the on-site mill, distillation house, and bottling facility, are the essence of its success.



“Dave would always talk about our 12 Year Old World, with its triple finish marriage, likening it to a symphony,” recalls WhisltePig CEO Jeff Kozak. “The madeira finish, the bulk of the blend, acted as the bass and strings section, with bigger, spicier notes setting the tone for the show. The sauternes finish, with its lighter, sweeter notes, came in as the woodwinds and horns, lending complexity to the tune. And the port finish, with its big, fruity punch on the back end, was the percussion, adding cymbal claps at just the right moments to complement the melody.”

Having the opportunity, we asked Jeff Kozak and Master Blender Pete Lynch to enlighten us.


Five Key Elements of a Great Rye

Balancing the natural, bold spiciness of the grain with the more subtle herbal, floral and sweeter notes.
Choosing the right barrel profile and allowing enough time in barrel to hit the sweet spot of aging, where the barrel character is present but does not dominate the grain character of the rye. Rye can typically stand up to much longer aging due to the boldness of the grain flavor.


Blending the right barrels to find that proper union between all the flavors rye has to offer, presenting a whiskey that is not only complex, but well balanced.



Choosing the right finishing barrels, from ex-wine casks, to new oak, and even other spirits. We have a wide variety of flavor profiles in ryes from across North America, and each takes well to certain finish types. Our goal has always been to add a harmonic top note to the flavor we already have by using shorter finishing times and carefully monitoring the casks, so as to not overwhelm the base whiskey.


Patience, persistence, and experimentation. Experimentation was one of the hallmarks of Dave’s approach to Rye Whiskey, and can be witnessed in products like the 12 Year Old World or FarmStock Rye. Ever one to try new things, Dave’s vision seemed boundless.


Holiday Suggestions: for a seasonal cocktail, add mulled cider; with dinner, add a splash of 10 Year into your gravy for a spicy kick; as an after dinner toast, serve neat, on the rocks, or in a simple, classic cocktail like an old fashioned


BlackBook Exclusive: Holiday Cocktails Good Enough to Drag You Away From Your Netflix Binging

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OTT Irish Coffee


The great winter evening debate: cozy up on your couch with your favorite streaming service and a fuzzy (but fashionable, of course) blanket? Or brave the frigid temperatures for a night on the town? While that may seem like a tough call, the promise of cheer-inducing libations usually has us jumping out of bed like Grandpa Joe, for a long night of winter indulgence.

For the best of the season, we went straight to the source, hitting up four of New York’s most exalted temples of cocktaildom for the closely guarded recipes to their most prized holiday concoctions – so the better to tempt you out of our vegetative state. There’s Pouring Ribbons, the hip craft cocktail bar in the land of plentiful hidden gems, Alphabet City; The Dead Rabbit, a two-story downtown taproom often proclaimed as “The World’s Best Bar”; Ward III, an intimate Tribeca watering hole where bartenders conjure specialties based on your individual palate; and the swanky, candlelit piano bar The Rum House, festively located nearby to Rockefeller Plaza, for those post-skating tippling adventures.

So ditch the Netflix-binging plans, grab your winter coat and party pants, and plan to sidle up next to us for a glass or two of holiday happiness. And in the spirit of the season…we’re (probably) buying.



The Dead Rabbit


OTT Irish Coffee (pictured top)

Created by Joaquín Simó, available at Pouring Ribbons
Photo credit Analog Digital
1.5 oz Knappogue Castle Irish Whiskey
.25 oz rich (2:1) Demerara syrup
5 oz hot Coffee
5 drops Saline Solution (or a tiny pinch kosher salt)
3 cardamom pods
For the cream:
5-6 oz Heavy cream
2 tbsp white sugar
Zest from 1 orange
2 Dashes Regan’s No 6 Orange bitters
Glass: Stemmed Irish Coffee glass
Garnish: Lightly toasted Little Boo Boo Bakery Knappogue Castle Irish Whiskey Marshmallow
Method: Muddle the cardamom pods in the bottom of a pre-heated Irish coffee glass, add whiskey, Demerara syrup, hot coffee and saline solution and stir. Whip the cream with the orange zest, white sugar and Regan’s No 6 Orange bitters until thickened, but still pourable. Float cream over the top of the drink by pouring gently over the back of a spoon.


Dead Rabbit Irish Coffee

Recipe courtesy of Dale DeGroff, available at The Dead Rabbit
1.5 oz Clontarf Irish Whiskey
4 oz Hot Birch Caro De Minas coffee
.5 oz Demerara syrup
Hand whipped cream
Glass: Stemmed Irish coffee glass
Garnish: Grated nutmeg
Method: Add all ingredients except the cream to a stemmed glass and stir. Hand whip the cream so that it still pours and floats on top of the coffee. Never sweeten the cream.



Ready Or Not

Created by Kenneth McCoy, Chief Creative Officer of Public House Collective (Ward III and The Rum House)
1 oz Peloton Mezcal
0.5 oz Plantation OFTD
0.5 oz Campari
0.5 oz Cio Ciaro
0.5 oz Dolin Rouge
Method: Stir and serve in rocks w/fresh KD and garnish with a orange twist.



Wake Me Up, F**k Me Up

Created by Kenneth McCoy, Chief Creative Officer of Public House Collective (Ward III and The Rum House)
1.5 oz Peloton Mezcal
1 oz    Mr Black Cold Brew Coffee Liqueur
.5 oz   Giffard Banana
2  dashes Scrappy’s Chocolate Bitters
1  oz oat milk
Method: shake vigorously with ice; double strain into chilled goblet; garnish with 3 coffee beans in the middle of the glass.
Glass: goblet
Ice: none
Garnish: 3 coffee beans


Weekend in Quebec City: Hipper Than You Think…and Yes, Still Gorgeous

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There’s a certain type of city – Savannah, Bruges, Oaxaca – that could easily cruise forever on its historic good looks. Canada’s entry is, naturally, Quebec City…the oldest burg in North America (she turned a youthful 410 this year). It, and none of the above, however, have ever really been known for surfing the, um, cultural bleeding edge.

Now, we’d certainly spent our share of nights out on the Montreal music scene; but this was our first touchdown in its pretty neighbor to the north. Yet what ultimately surprised us was that, although so many visitors come for the stunning historic beauty of the place (and its legendary Chateau Frontenac, where we did spend one night), QC was actually genuinely hipper than you might expect. Indeed, on our first evening, we hooked up with local electronic duo Fjord, at their stylish new Japanese restaurant Honō Izakaya, in the Rue St-Joseph area – which buzzes until late with creative energy. (Though antiques browsing along the Rue St-Paul was also a treat.)

Of course, we weren’t going to pretend that we did anything less than swoon over the city’s ethereal 17th Century good looks. But we were also their to uncover what makes it a dynamic, palpably contemporary destination.

Here’s what we did.



Hotel 71

Arriving on a drizzly day, we were instantly comforted by the feeling that we could easily have been fine with just holing up in this gorgeous boutique hotel until things dried out. The experience started at maximum enjoyment, with a glorious lunch at Il Matto, 71’s energetic, Italo-chic restaurant – where one can indulge in sublimely flavorful modern updates of classics like salmon tartare, linguine with mushrooms and other pasta and pizza specialties – all in a sleek setting with futuristic looking “cage” chandeliers hovering above.
Heading upstairs, the stylishly understated rooms were like veritable apartments in their proportions – with awesomely high ceilings, and prodigious windows framing (in some cases) captivating views of the St Lawrence River (we admit to having a thing for watching ships come in to harbors).
The lobby was a dream, a decidedly cosmopolitan spot for socializing and new-friend-making (which is always quite easy in Canada, of course). High-tech wine/cocktail dispensers allowed for the experience of fetching your own tipple (how civilized) and then lounging about on one of the fiery red couches. Don’t forget to look around – the hotel also collects art created by mentally challenged artists, and there’s a visceral honesty to the works. To wit, in the front window were Gaultier-looking corsets made from wire and bottle flip-tops.



Museum of Civilization

Since, um, civility seemed to be in exceedingly short supply back home, we were particularly drawn to the heady but approachable Museum of Civilization. Anglophiles that we are, we eagerly immersed ourselves in the zeitgeisty current exhibition London Calling, which runs through March 2019, and explores Blighty’s capital as a global hub of creativity. As the Brexit debate rages on, it couldn’t be more relevant. Also check out Medieval Europe – Power and Splendour, which runs through January 20, and features 200 fascinating artifacts on loan from The British Museum.



Musee de Beaux Arts

A rather striking mix of 19th Century and modernist architecture situated amongst the trees in Battlefields Park, this is arguably Quebec City’s marquee museum. Nearly 40,000 works stretch back to the 17th Century to tell the history of Quebec art – though we spent most of our time in the excellent modern and contemporary pavilions, which offer convincing evidence of the region’s ongoing artistic vitality. Just opened is White Mirage, an homage to the aesthetics of winter, as told through some 70 photos and paintings – a treat for those special people who are at their happiest between December and March (that includes us).



Honō Izakaya

Buzzing with all sorts of buzzy people from the early hours on, the stylish Honō epitomizes the new QC spirit. Headed up by restaurateur Thomas Cassault, we pulled up a stool with he and Louis-Étienne Santais (who is his musical partner in electronic duo Fjord) one evening for a couple of hours of unapologetic decadence and excellent tunes on the soundsystem (everything from The Smiths to Felix Cartal). We were introduced to our new obsession, ouefs de caille marines, while tasting unusual types of sake  (like the sweet Honjozo, which gets stronger when heated up) and some impressively smooth Japanese whiskey. Rather than sushi, come for Japonais curry and white tuna tataki.



Le Clocher Penché

Anchoring the eastern end of the archly hip Rue St-Joseph corridor (Honō is at the other end), Le Clocher Penché – it translates dramatically to “The Bell Tower” – looks airlifted straight from a trendy little corner of Paris’ Marais. One of those rarest of restaurants with art aspirations that actually lives up to them – it’s veritably a dine-in gallery. And its charmingly lived-in atmosphere gives it an inviting authenticity…yet the crowd is as cool as they come. They serve classic market cuisine (listing all the growers and artisans on their site) like pressed Quebec lamb, raw/marinated sustainable tuna, homemade blood pudding, and some of the most divine chicken liver mousse anywhere – which for us, strangely enough, is kind of a really big deal.




This is the absolute pinnacle of new Quebec City dining. There’s little reason, actually, why this hip bistro organique shouldn’t be considered one of the genuinely best restaurants in the world. First, the aesthetics. They may have actually invented “space-age rustic” here, with futuristic (and boldly turquoise) banquettes under potted plants hung from a romantically beamed ceiling. Picture windows frame the historic beauty of the Lower Town just outside, and there’s a second, more intimate and brick walled dining room.
Oh, but the food, glorious, glorious food. We took our place at the perfect-for-people-watching bar, and had our lives (and our taste buds) forever altered by the resplendent Discovery Menu. To wit, scallops in morel sauce, sunflower & beluga lentils, fried polenta with beet remoulade, red deer & hemp – all done without fuss or self-conscious over-concepting, yet with the flavor of each and every ingredient shining delectably through. And everything – everything – is unflinchingly local. Like, when we asked for a dirty martini, since no olives are grown in Quebec, it was served with a spray of shitake. Now that is dedication.



Le Drague

The sort of place that, if it was in New York, would be preeningly pretentious, Le Drague is technically a gay club. But it’s just so much flamboyant outlandishness that it is often packed with straight people, who have come to realize that this is where everyone is having more fun. The cabaret performances are uninhibited, to say the least – and there are DJs and dancing ’til the wee hours. Especially great for heating up during those cold Quebec winters.





Report From London: Diane von Furstenberg Designs this Year’s Claridge’s Christmas Tree

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Last year, we unabashedly swooned for Karl Lagerfeld’s provocative upside down Christmas tree for Claridge’s – which, no surprise, provoked some rather strong reactions.

Of course, the storied, celeb-magnet London hotel enlists a different towering style talent each year for what has come to be seen as one of the season’s most coveted honors. And 2018’s guest designer, the inimitable Diane von Furstenberg, has – as we might have guessed – conjured something decidedly more…ethereal. Titling it, quite unambiguously, “The Tree of Love,” it stands majestically, glitteringly beside the grand staircase of the hotel’s gorgeous Art Deco lobby.

“Claridge’s is my favorite hotel in the world, and my home in London,” DVF enthuses. “I was so excited to be invited to create its legendary Christmas Tree. My tree is ‘The Tree of Love,’ celebrating all aspects of love and life.”



Collaborating with artistic set designer Stefan Beckman, artist and illustrator Konstantin Kakanias, and astrologer Shelley von Strunckel, her inspiration for the fantastical tree came from a distinctly metaphysical place – as one might surely have imagined from the prominently spiritual fashion icon.

“Its’ roots come from the earth, its’ branches extend to the sky,” she explains, “The flowers become fruits, the color of the leaves reveal the seasons. Home to birds, shade for children, and shelter for lovers. It is the symbol of strength, enlightenment and life…every tree is the ‘Tree of Love.’ I wish everyone happy holidays.”

All are welcome to stop in and see the tree. But it’s also a great excuse to pop in for a holiday cocktail at the hotel’s glamorous Claridge’s Bar – which comes with some of the best people-watching in London.


Sleeping on a $40K Bed? The Villa at Estate Yountville is Napa’s Most Extravagant Splurge

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Images by Will Pryce


If the walls in The Villa at The Estate Yountville could talk, they’d probably be bragging. A lot. Do you have soaring 20-foot ceilings flanked by prodigious windows overlooking a private pool? What about not one, but two $40,000 Hästens beds? While the surrounding Estate, which includes the recently renovated Hotel Villagio and sister property Vintage House, goes pound for pound when it comes to style and charm, nothing quite compares to this private five-bedroom, 6,600-square-foot respite in the middle of thriving Yountville.

Utilizing Restoration Hardware furniture (amongst other brands), the design firm Hirsch Bedner Associates successfully paired touches of glam throughout – like the neon that says ‘Take me home turn me on’ – with natural woods, exposed brick, and old-world furnishings.



You might have to draw straws for the master suite, or the second largest bedroom. Both have the aforementioned Swedish Hästens beds – all hand-stitched and perfectly plush. Though all five bedrooms do have luxurious king-sized beds.

Just outside the master is the grander “salon” space with custom pool table, sitting area, stone fireplace, and spectacular kitchen. Made with culinary greatness in mind, the kitchen features an Officine Gullo refrigerator and a French La Cornue oven, as well as plenty of counter space. If cooking on vacation isn’t your idea of, well, vacation, Villa guests can request that an Estate chef design a custom menu featuring fresh and locally sourced ingredients. Or, of course, French Laundry is just steps away – as are half a dozen other acclaimed restaurants lining Yountville’s epicurean Washington Street.



Outside, away from the European appliances and 20-foot-ceilings, there’s a private pool and hot tub for Villa residents only. And if so inclined, guests can wander beyond the walls of the Villa. Within the larger Estate Yountville they’ll find 22 acres of hotel properties (including the Hotel Villagio and Vintage House), a 2-acre vineyard with seating and fire pits, and the Marketplace, a retail lifestyle shopping and dining complex housed in the former 147-year-old Groezinger Winery.

Estate Yountville also curates a variety of wining and dining experiences for its guests throughout Yountville and greater Napa.

At $10k a night, it’s the perfect way for you and your friends to spend those holiday bonuses in a most glamorous way. Now all you need to decide is exactly who to invite – and who gets that master suite.


The Coolest European Cities You Don’t Know, Part II

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Above: Tallinn Old Town


We’ve been plenty busy in 201830, museum-hopping in Paris, flirting in Rome and clubbing in the Berlin Kreuzberg underground. But cultivated Europhiles that we are, we’re always feeling the call of some of our less-trodden, yet still favorite cities on the Continent.

Nothing beckons us to Europa quite like the turning of winter, with its exhilaratingly crisp evenings, stylishly scarfed locals, and those transcendently evocative fragrances that fill the air of each city (the latter a particular treat for those forced to breath the noxious fumes of New York and LA every day).

Part I took us to Antwerp and Maastricht. Next we head further east, to the Estonian capital of Tallinn, and to Austria’s second city Graz.




Clockwise from top left: Hotel St. Petersbourg; Tallinn streets; Kaerajaan restaurant; Kumu Museum


There was a moment around say 2005 – 2007, when Tallinn, bolstered by the success of companies like Skype, became sort of the new Prague: a former Soviet satellite which was now drawing young dreamers from the US and Britain. Only this time they were tech geeks rather than boho literary aspirants.

Now, we would probably love the Estonian capital if only for the fact that it’s home to the Depeche Mode Baar (quick, guess the theme). But its Old Town is as strikingly beautiful and symmetrical as any in Europe – and just strolling the streets is reward enough in itself. There’s also a bright, gleaming modern city (the City Centre) right outside the medieval walls.

On the culture tip, the Kumu Museum is one of the largest in Northern Europe, showcasing two centuries of Estonian art (with an impressive collection of Socialist Realism), as well as special exhibitions of top international contemporary artists. Cold War enthusiasts should check out the KGB Museum, actually located inside the Hotel Viru.

Tallinn is also a considerable epicurean city, with chefs drawing on the considerable bounty of the Estonian countryside (their local black bread is to die for). Art Priori is the avant-garde choice, focusing on creatively realized (mostly) vegetarian dishes in a stunning, art adorned space; MEKK specializes in inventive seafood plates, and its sophisticated bar is a bit of a scene; for something a bit more…Middle Ages, Olde Hansa cooks up wild boar, elk and venison, in an interior that could only be described as 13th-Century chic.

Stay in Tallinn: Both the Telegraaf Hotel and the Hotel St. Petersbourg combine classical elegance with cool postmodern design, and each has a notable restaurant (Tchaikovsky and Heritage, respectively.) The chic Three Sisters hotel has strikingly theatrical rooms – one even has its own grand piano.




Clockwise from top left: Island in the Mur; Graz City Hall; Hotel Wiesler; Kunsthaus Graz


After losing its Empire in the wake of WWI, Austria pretty much keeps to itself now, content to have traded influence on the world political stage for more, shall we say, sybaritic concerns. Yet the fact that right wing demagogues have been angling for power there does genuinely matter within the scope of the wider EU situation.

The country’s “second city,” Graz, is actually one of its bastions of left-wing ideology, home to more than 30,000 university students, out of a total population of 270,000. A UNESCO City of Design, its rather imperial looking city center, with its elegant baroque edifices, is complemented by some of Europe’s most radical works of contemporary architecture.

Indeed, the Island in the Mur is literally a steel island in the middle of the river of the same name that splits the city, with a designy cafe and amphitheater; the Chapel of Rest is a stunning minimalist cathedral by Hofrichter-Ritter Architects; and the Dom im Berg is a spectacular performance space carved literally into rock. The Kunsthaus Graz contemporary art museum (by British architects Colin Fournier and Peter Cook) is the city’s showpiece, and looks like a giant blue heart and valves.

Not much of a foodie destination, Graz is more of a cafe town – and you’ll find dozens of boho spots as you stroll the streets, many packed with students. Mitte is one of the artier ones, while Aiola Upstairs has a chic crowd and awe-inspiring views. Design junkies should hit the Kunsthaus museum’s namesake cafe. For nightlife, there’s great bar-hopping around the area nicknamed the Bermuda Triangle.

Stay in Graz: The Augarten Hotel (a member of Design Hotels) has stylish, loft-style rooms, and a pool that doubles as an art gallery. The Hotel Wiesler‘s Philippe Starck designed restaurant hosts a “soul brunch” every Sunday, while the rooms have a cool-minimalism and river views. And Hotel Daniel has affordable rooms, a lobby espresso bar and Vespas available for guests.