A Most Uncommon BlackBook Holiday Gift Guide

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We know how you, just like us, really wanted to have your holiday shopping all, um, wrapped up by November 30. But, as usual, our frantic lives get in the way – and here it is the middle of December, and, admit it, you haven’t even started.

Fear not! BlackBook has assembled a list of gifts that are as singular as they are universally appealing. After all, who doesn’t love Champagne and The Beatles?

Happy shopping!


Candle Subscription

There are subscription boxes for almost everything; but a candle subscription feels like something totally new – and special. Each month, Vellabox (pictured above) will deliver a surprise candle, custom made and hand-poured. There are three sizes, staring from the $10 monthly Lucerna Box, with a four-ounce candle and surprise gift, and graduating to the $30 Vivere Box, complete with an eight ounce and four ounce candle, plus surprise.

Personalized Stationery

Rock Scissor Paper (Oprah loves them) have been creating impossibly groovy, retro-modernist greeting cards in their LA design lab for some two decades now. But their stylish personalized stationery makes a particularly thoughtful gift – as it encourages creativity and, more importantly, gives that special someone a wonderful reason to disengage from the digital world…if only for long enough to write out a gracious handwritten note. And, of course, look good doing it.



Narco-Chic T’s

Between Netflix’ Narcos, Tom Cruise’s American Made and an upcoming HBO film now in production starring J. Lo as Griselda Blanco, “Narco Chic” is certainly all the rage. So get in step with LA’s Plata O Plomo, who do remarkably stylish t-shirts ($19.95) and hoodies ($49.95) – men’s and women’s – emblazoned with the cheeky, infamous Pablo Escobar expression.



Digital Art

Loupe is the game changing art app, offering streaming access to the works of some of world’s most notable contemporary artists. And their special holiday gifting program allows that you can purchase a beautiful/provocative art print (surely for that someone on your list who has everything – and now at 20% off) while also supporting two very worthy causes: Free Arts and Breast Treatment Task Force; the charity of your choice will receive a portion of the sale. And the recipient will have a gift that lasts a lifetime.



Vintage Champagne

You can never go wrong with putting a bit of the bubbly in a special someone’s stocking. But skip the quotidian Prosecco and the same old familiar champers labels for something a bit more exclusive and, frankly, exquisitely realized. To wit, Artéis & Co, who release only vintage “Wines of Champagne” – meant to be very much enjoyed with an excellent meal. Choose the Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs 2004 or the Brut Rosé 2007.



Restaurant Gift Certificates

Show your excellent taste by sending someone out for an excellent brunch or dinner. We vigorously recommend some of our fave new spots: Danny Meyer’s moved-around-the-corner edition of Union Square Cafe has proven as popular as the legendary original, serving up Berkshire pork chops, Chatham cod, decadent desserts and killer martinis in a soaring, two-story space; exalted Masa sushi chef Masa Takayama just opened the much more affordable, cooly minimalist Japanese grill Tetsu in Tribeca; in LA, Dominique Ansel Bakery / 189 Restaurant at The Grove is the Cronut chef’s first foray into real sit-down dining, with full bar; and in Chicago, remind your favorite hipster that you’re just as hip with a staycation gift certificate to the Robey Hotel (from Mexico’s Habita), with its cool Wicker Park location, buzzy Cafe Robey and rooftop bar. But should you be shopping for your favorite amateur chef, it’s all about Gourmet Garage, with six NYC locations offering the finest seafoods, produce, cheeses, even a top notch butcher shop. Yum.


Union Square Cafe


Beatles Christmas Records

LIMITED EDITION SEVEN-INCH VINYL BOX SET  Back in the 1960s fan clubs were a thing that bands cared about, and looked after – none more so than The Beatles, who created an annual holiday tradition of recording Christmas messages for the club’s members. Spanning 1963 to 1969, The Beatles’ holiday recordings were originally pressed on flexi discs and mailed out each December. Now you can hear them all thanks to this set of seven-inch colored vinyl singles (avail. from December 15), including a 16-page booklet with reproductions of the fan club’s newsletters.


Swim Shorts

The Nick Swim Short by Katama Camouflage feature mid-length trunks, with a square cut and double D-ring waist adjusters in place of an elasticated waistband. Two back pockets provide a place to keep your phone when striding athletically across the beach. A perfect gift for someone who’s already counting the days until summer.





An Utterly Transcendent Food + Wine Tour of New Zealand’s North Island, Part II

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On our recent epicurean visit to New Zealand, we ate and drank our way across the North Island landscape to rapturous effect. Truly, the level of excellence we encountered could hardly be conveyed.

Part I of the story detailed our time in Auckland and Waiheke Island. The second half of the trip took us to Wellington and Hawkes Bay.



If, as we exclaimed within our first hours of arriving in Auckland, Seattle is the American city that most comes to mind when taking in the curved harbor and overcast skies of NZ’s largest town, then Wellington, the country’s capital, is its Portland. Also situated on the banks of an expansive body of water – in this case Wellington Harbour – it exudes a more streetwise and bohemian vibe than its cosmopolitan northern sister; and as such, the food and wine offerings took us down a more adventurous road.
Our digs for the night were the hip QT Museum Wellington, and on our first evening there we took shelter from the rain and wind – the town has actually been dubbed the windiest city on Earth – at their opulent Hippopotamus bar and restaurant. Situated on an upper floor with views of the harbor, the dazzling space, with its mirrored bar, gold chandeliers, stuffed peacock, and Louis-the-something style armchairs sort of transported us to the Ancien Regime era; we may or may not have ordered absinthe. While the dinner menu leaned traditionally French, with escargots, lamb rump, braised Wakanui beef cheeks, and gratin dauphinois dominating, we were excited to see they had vegan options, and opted for the simple and delicious salade végétalienne of quinoa, pinenuts, goji berries & baby spinach – along with an impressive bottle of NZ Pinot.


QT Museum Wellington
The following morning we set out to explore downtown, and were met with further evidence of the city’s mind-meld with the Pacific Northwest: its obsession with coffee. Our meeting with John, the manager and bean specialist of Mojo Coffee, had us inundated with more information on the various ways one can make, drink, and basically live a caffeinated existence than we would ever have thought existed. That the company has over 30 outlets in a city of 400K (two thirds the size of Portland) was testament to the populations’ serious caffeine jones.
A charming development in downtown Wellington has been the refurbishment of various alleyways into colorful and art infused ‘laneways.’ As traversing these walkways between streets is a great way to navigate the city, having them splashed with color and street art has brought the crowds; bars and restaurants have naturally flourished.



It was in one such vestibule that we found the perfect lunch spot in Egmont St Eatery, a light-filled modern café packed with well-dressed millennials and hipsters on laptops; as does Brooklyn and Portland, so does Wellington, apparently. The menu was a delight and we tried the fried fish tortilla with avocado mousse, cabbage, and horopito sauce, and braised paua with dirty rice, shiitake, and crispy shallots.
That evening, following an afternoon exploring the downtown shops, and then a drive into the hills to the very cool Zealandia bird sanctuary, we hit another hip laneway for dinner at the excellent Shepherd – which had us wondering if we were ever to have a questionable dining experience in NZ. Our feast of fried rice with kale, ginger, kimchi, sesame, peanuts, and fried egg and sous vide fish with miso glaze, carrot, ginger, turmeric, and saffron aioli left us in genuine epicurean contentment.




Hawkes Bay

For our final stop on our week-long tour, we took a 55-minute flight northeast of Wellington to the serene vineyard-and-animal-sanctuary-studded region of Hawkes Bay. Distinctly Mediterranean in look and feel, and with the best weather we encountered on our trip, HB was where the enormity of NZ’s Tolkien-like terrain was most apparent.
Lunch at Elephant Hill Winery was our first order of business, and after a delightful tour of the place with CEO Andreas Weiss, we settled in to an elegant repast of oysters and grilled game fish, squid, nam jim, bok choy, fried shallots, and pineapple, accompanied by an 2016 Elephant Hill rosé; Hawkes Bay was quick to show us its sophisticated side.



The history of HB and its largest city Napier is punctuated by a devastating event; in 1931 a cataclysmic earthquake not only leveled much of the town, but raised the land as much as eight feet, adding close to ten thousand acres of newly dry land to the area. Napier was rebuilt in the style of the time, namely art deco; and while many buildings have been subsequently remodeled, the place remains one of the most intact deco towns in the world.
It was along this quaint pastel backdrop that we strolled on our first evening, eventually alighting for dinner at the thoroughly 21st Century restaurant Bistronomy. Chef James Beck guided us through the menu, which verged on the molecular, without being too ionospherey (Parks & Recreation reference). Sections named Protein, Raw, and Minerals sounded more daunting than they were – our grilled flounder with beetroot & horseradish hollandaise was pretty much as advertised, and wonderful, while the chocolate brownie with lavender, sour mousse, and condensed milk sorbet, while equally amazing, did actually verge on the surreal.



The following day had us up and out of our rooms at the charming art deco (natch) Masonic Hotel, for a tour of the town, which culminated in lunch at Mister D. To say that this writer is a Rolling Stones fan would be to dredge up that annoying trope about the Pope and Catholicism; we were thusly thrilled that the restaurant was named for their song “Dancing With Mister D” – they even throw annual Stones-themed dining events. Having thus decided this was the best restaurant on Earth, we almost forgot about the food. But we were delighted with their novel takes on the basics: rocket salad, roast fish, poached eggs and the like were all treated with reverence and a touch of whimsy – and their signature doughnuts were a huge hit.



On our last evening on the island we were treated to the most opulent epicurean experience of the trip, in the form of a progressive dinner. For the uninitiated a “progressive” is where you go to a different restaurant for each course, which may sound like a bit of work; but when the places you go are all highly-regarded wineries – and you’re ferried around in an SUV by a bloke named Gareth who keeps filling your champagne glass – you easily rise to the challenge.
We started with bubbly at the top of a mountain range and progressed through antipasto at Vidal, entrees of Te Mata mushroom and Comté pithivier with wild weed salad and Hohepa haloumi, vine roasted beetroot and burnt honey at Craggy Range’s Terroir restaurant, all accompanied by signature selections of vino, before succumbing to dessert at NZ’s oldest winery, Mission Estate. Established in 1851 by French missionaries, the estate is in the grand tradition of mansion wineries, with a plantation style great house with wraparound terrace, where we took our crème brulee and port, for a final look at the cascading mountains in the distance. It was not the first time we’d thought of postponing our flight home.




Colombian Superstar Cabas on His Fave Places in Bogota

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Colombian born Andrés Cabas’ self-titled debut album came out in just in time to usher in the new Millennium – and it made him a really big star in South America. A 2003 follow up, Contacto, merely solidified his fame and musical cred, earning him a Latin Grammy nomination, as well as three noms at the MTV Latin Awards. He sold millions of records, and his enormous popularity made sure that he would be forever known as merely Cabas.

And while he hadn’t recorded a new album since 2011’s Si Te Dijera – having gone into something of an informal retirement – his 2016 song “Enamorandonos” became a smash in Mexico, playing daily on the TV Azteca show of the same name, as well as appearing on the soundtrack to the hit film Treintona, Soltera Y Fantastica.

Following that, a pair of singles, “Tanto Que Te Amo Tanto” and the sultry, alluring “Rompe Los Niveles,” were released earlier this year and skyrocketed up the charts in Colombia and Ecuador. No surprise, then, a new album is also in the works, which will – a first for him – also feature lyrics in English. Several tracks have been finished in a studio in Medellin, but an official release date has not yet been announced,

He’s also coming to the States to win over a U.S. audience that has proven over the decades that it will indeed enthusiastically embrace the most exciting Latin American artists. This Friday, December 15, he’ll play La Boom in Queens, and then cross the river for an appearance at the Latin music club Envy in New Jersey.

In the meanwhile, in true BlackBook fashion, we asked Cabas to take us around to his fave spots back home in Bogota.



The Neighborhoods

Bogota is a city that is growing constantly and is seeing more and more tourists these days. And downtown where I live, in La Candelaria, is the best place to hang in the heart of the city. It’s notable for its colonial era landmarks. La Macarena is the other central place to go. Both La Candelaria and the La Macarena are filled with ever changing restaurants, art galleries, clubs and events going on 24/7. The early-risers go to work, while the stragglers are still enjoying the night before, with all the noises associated with it.
La Candelaria 

Bullfighting, Replaced by Concerts

Make sure to see the Santamaría Bullring [dating to 1931]. It is no longer used for this purpose, due in part to the efforts of my first producer Chucho Merchán, who is an animal rights activist. He got Paul McCartney and others to sit down with the mayor and eventually got bullfighting banned. It is a great concert space nowadays.

Dining Out

In La Macarena, my favorite is a small Parisian Bistro called El Patio. It has only ten tables or so and the owner himself is serving most of the time. I like the escargots, which are usually hard to get here.
I like fish and raw fish in particular, but great sushi is not that easy to find here – although more and more sushi places are opening up. The cevicheria Miss Pulpo, on the other hand, is very good, and just may have the freshest fish in town [Bogota is 8660 ft. above sea level!]. They also serve arepa con huevo de jaiba…which I do not know how to translate, just trust me (Note: They are egg-filled corn cakes).
Another fish place I like, and which is not that well known yet, is El Kilo Marisqueria, which has a great, entire fried fish dish, as well as delicious raw dishes. Even their “amuse bouche” is fresh and worth the trip. And the place has this cool “woody” look, spacious and modern, but – added bonus – it is much less expensive than the rest of the neighborhood around it.
El Kilo Marisqueria

The Nightlife  

In La Candelaria I like Madre, about a block away from my house. They play all kinds of good music, it has some cool neon signs – inside, not outside, the place is not easy to find – and serves the best pizza and drinks in Bogota. I have had my share of their gin tonics, which are amazing if you consider that the ingredients are the same everywhere: gin and tonic. I am not quite sure how they make them this good.
I don’t go to clubs much, with all the reggaetón going on. My personal favorite if I go out is Candelario, which plays Champeta, the African based Colombian-Caribbean music, at all hours. A good place to check out if you want to try something different.

72 Glamorous, Artistic Hours in Doha

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Considered to be one of the wealthiest and fastest growing cities in the world, Doha is also surprisingly liberal. And significantly, Americans can now visit without a visa.

Though Qatar became a sovereignty only 46 years ago, it now has the highest per capita GDP in the world – which goes a long way to funding  a flourishing arts and cultural scene, to match an ever expanding landscape of plush hotels, high-end restaurants and other opulent attractions in the capital. With its convenient proximity to Asia and Africa, Doha is often seen as a convenient transit point to exotic destinations such as the Seychelles or Bali; but there are also plenty of reasons to stay and visit this dynamic and modern metropolis – especially if you’re feeling like a few days of unapologetic luxury.



The Museum of Islamic Art is an architectural marvel designed the by the legendary I.M. Pei, set spectacularly along the waterfront. It houses a comprehensive collection of masterpieces collected from three continents dating from the 7th to the 19th century – but it’s worth going for the architecture alone. Powder and Damask: Islamic Arms and Armour, runs through May 2018.



Another waterfront gem, the Katara Cultural Village is the center of Qatar’s most important arts and cultural programs, and comprised of a complex of galleries, theaters, and concert halls. It hosts international festivals, performances and exhibitions. Currently, Melodies at Katara’s Premises allows anyone to register and present their musical talents.
At the heart of Doha’s flourishing contemporary art scene are The Fire Station Artist in Residence program and Garage Gallery. In 2012, this – yes – former fire station was converted to a creative space that offers a nine-month residency program to emerging artists from around the world to develop and complete their individual projects.



Experience a taste of Bedouin culture at the bustling Souq Waquif, designed after traditional Qatari architecture. Explore the labyrinth of small shops selling traditional clothing, souvenirs, spices, perfumes, and other curiosities – including falcons – and savor authentic Middle Eastern dishes from one of the many intoxicating street stands.
Just an hour outside of Doha lies one of Qatar’s most impressive natural wonders: the Khor Al Adaid / Inland Sea, where many Qataris spend weekends cooling off by the coastline. Explore the desert on an adrenaline-fueled Desert Safari, a.k.a. Sand Dune Bashing, in a 4×4 that speeds along the peaks of sand dunes and descends down the slopes, as you explore uncharted territory. See the infinite horizon of the desert and then cool off in the crystal waters of the Inland Sea that reaches the desert.




While there are a number of Western dining establishments that cater to the expat community, Doha’s most memorable culinary gems are those that actually reflect the flavors of the region.
Experience the exotic tastes of Afghan cuisine at Ard Canaan, in the Katara Cultural Center. The beautiful and dramatic interior echoes the architecture of the Al Aqsa Mosque, with vaulted ceilings, stained glass and columns crafted from limestone imported from the Holy City of Jerusalem. Enjoy a range of delicious Middle Eastern mezze and traditional Afghani and Palestinian dishes.



Considered to be Doha’s best Lebanese restaurant is the seven star Al Mourjan. Whether dining alfresco or inside the lavish glass-walled dining room, their prime location on the waterfront offers panoramic views of the illuminated skyline and Arabian Gulf. The renowned gastronomic menu includes a range of authentic Lebanese dishes, with fresh seafood and exquisite barbecued meats to sate the appetite. It’s a favorite amongst celebrities, royals and international foodies.


With all the money kicking around Doha, there are naturally the requisite exclusive hotspots, catering to the rich, famous and beautiful.
Though it is considered a ‘members only’ nightclub, booking a table with a minimum spend will grant access to Illusion, the city’s most glamorous nightspot. Perched atop the opulent Marsa Malaz Kempinski Hotel, under one of the soaring cupolas, the cube shaped space is decked out like a plush English gentlemen’s club, with rotating international dance music DJs, aerial acts and smoke machines that lend drama to it all.



Across the rooftop is the lush Secret Garden – a chic, alfresco restaurant and lounge offering panoramic views of Doha. Dine amongst a beautiful trellised terrace, or enjoy a nightcap under the stars. Thursdays are the most popular night, which officially kicks off the weekend in the Gulf States.


Though most of the five star hotels are located in skyscrapers in New Doha, the luxurious Ritz Carlton Sharq Village & Spa is nestled on a private beach in Old Doha, and designed as a tranquil and lush retreat that reflects traditional Qatari architecture. Their spacious suites are appointed with antique Islamic furniture and ensuite balconies and are spread amongst 14 two story villas, with center courtyards, landscaped gardens and infinity pools. Make sure to book dinner at the opulent Parisa Souq Waqif restaurant, serving signature Persian dishes.



One of the highlights of the property is the renowned Six Senses Spa, which is known for its extensive wellness center. Paying homage to the original homes and architecture of Doha’s origins as a fishing village, it exudes a zen-like feel, from its color palette to the ochre stone floors and walls. The 70,000 square foot spa includes a state of the art fitness center, beauty salon, relaxation areas, quiet pools, and prayer rooms. Treatments begin with a 45 minute wellness assessment, which gives a detailed snapshot of your overall health. Their 250 unique and exotic offerings and rituals reflect the healing powers originating from the Far East and Arabic tradition.



Getting There

The fastest and easiest way to travel to Doha is via Qatar Airways, which offers daily non-stop flights from JFK. Recognized by Skytrax as offering the best business class seats and service in the world, the airline not only offers the most luxurious and comfortable surroundings, but also the most state of the art technology in their latest A350 jets. For full privacy, book a Business Class QSuite, which converts into a two-to-four person private suite, if traveling with family or colleagues.


Image by Hillary Latos

Never Mind the Politics: High-Tech Art, Egyptian Cats and ‘Doffles’ in the New D.C.

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ARTECHOUSE image by Hasnain Bhatti


As we approach the one year anniversary of that fateful day of November 9, 2016, it bears repeating that the post-election hysteria had people threatening to avoid at all costs a D.C. that had a White House occupied by…you-know-who. But seriously, it’s still our capital, kids – and these days a significantly more interesting one at that.

At the first sign of autumn, we rode the (Amtrak) rails down to the majestic Union Station, only to find it was actually still pretty balmy in D.C. – perhaps due to all the hot air being produced in the halls of Congress. But the city has plenty to be excited about: an awesome new concert venue, Anthem, from the 9:30 Club people (upcoming shows include St. Vincent, Morrissey and Erykah Badu); a fascinating new subterranean cultural space, Dupont Underground, in an abandoned trolley station near Dupont Circle; and, what we were especially excited for, the reopening of the Smithsonian’s Freer|Sackler gallery of Asian art.

For three days took in as much food and culture as the physics of time would allow. Here’s what we did.


The Embassy Row Hotel

The name says it: this playfully stylish hotel sits majestically amidst all those grandiose international embassies – though it aesthetically roundly rejects the stuffy pomp of some of the city’s more trad sleeps. Indeed, there’s an adult game room (challenge a politically ideological foe to some fierce foosball or ping pong), a grab-and-go coffee bar, the casual chic Station Kitchen + Cocktails, and easily the city’s grooviest rooftop bar scene, complete with poolside partying. (And yoga/meditation programs for speedy morning recovery.) Rooms have regal blue-and-yellow color schemes and dazzling skyline views. The hotel also hosts silent disco in the bar (full disclosure: as longtime clubbers, we admit to finding this concept a bit awkward), and it was packed out on a recent Saturday night.




It makes sense that technology has enough cultural frisson to now warrant its own dedicated galleries. And the whimsically cool ARTECHOUSE hosts exhibitions that tend to be quite visually striking – but perhaps also remind that tech maybe isn’t quite the same as dada, Abstract Expressionism and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Opening November 10 is Kingdom of Colors, an immersive experience conceived by French filmmaker Thomas Blanchard and artist Oilhack, with a soundtrack by composer Leonardo Villiger.

Freer|Sackler Gallery

As America’s relationship to Asia grows more complex by the hour (including threats of, erm, nuclear conflict), it’s surely advisable to brush up on that continent’s glittering history at the Smithsonian’s newly relaunched and most buzzed about gallery. But seriously, don’t come here with your thinking cap on too tightly – rather, bask in the sheer aesthetic majesty of centuries of Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Himalayan and Islamic art and artifacts. Current exhibitions include Encountering the Buddha: Art + Practice Across Asia, and a little less seriously, Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt. Don’t miss the Peacock Room.



The Phillips Collection

This is one of those sorts of museums we’re particularly fond of, as it’s like visiting the stately home of an exceedingly cultivated art collector friend (one who happens to own Rothkos, de Koonings and van Goghs). The current exhibition, Renoir and Friends: Luncheon of the Boating Party, contextualizes the proto-Impressionist’s most exalted painting in terms of the art, society and fashion of its times.

Blind Whino

We’re not sure if the name is intended to provoke – but the programming certainly does. This radical little community arts center in a now wildly reimagined 1886 Baptist church hosts perception-challenging performances and exhibitions, including the recent female-focused Superfierce. Check the schedule for the latest happenings.



FRESHFARM Dupont Circle Market

Okay, everyone’s got a farmer’s market now. But the Wall Street Journal actually named this one of the best in the country. (And that includes places where there are actual farms, obviously.) It’s also just half a block from the Embassy Row Hotel – so you can stock up on farmstead cheeses, gluten-free pastries, perhaps even a few seafood empanadas, and have a brunch bash back at the hotel’s lobby or game room.

Station Kitchen & Cocktails 

The Embassy Row’s trendy-fun lobby bar and restaurant does a daily special served in a bowl designed by students from the Corcoran School of Art & Design – and a portion of the price is donated to So Others Might Eat. The positive side of global warming? You’ll likely still be able to dine on the hotel’s colorful terrace (with an impressive view of the Indonesian embassy) until at least Christmas.



B Too

We’ve never even attempted to hide our Belgophilia – so this hip Belgian eatery was surely one of our favorite discoveries. And since Brussels is the EU capital, you might just find yourself rubbing shoulders with a visiting Eurocrat or two here. Brunch is a scene for mussels, Green Eggs Belga and, of course, Broodje met Gegrilde Zalm (that’s a roasted salmon sandwich, for those of you who never bothered to learn Flemish). The signature creation is called a Doffle (think: waffle-ized Cronut), which is so decadent it could spark a revolution.


This is different. It’s got the Yosemite Sam name (“Sufferin’…”), and serves down home, though somewhat culinarily elevated Southern cooking from chef Edward Lee…but in the breathtakingly grandiose setting of the landmarked former Equitable Bank – which actually looks sort of like the once home of a baroque-era Austrian nobleman (book a table on the mezzanine for full-effect). The deviled eggs are killer, and the chicken & waffles and fried green tomatoes with cornbread are elegantly presented and every bit as good as they sound. Succotash is also nirvana for whisky aficionados.


Image by Clarence Butts




An Insider LES Nightlife Guide, According to The Knocks

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The Lower East Side of Manhattan was, not all too long ago, a neighborhood of gritty, intimate rock & roll clubs (The Mercury Lounge, Arlene’s Grocery, Pianos), broken up only by Katz’s Deli, and one actual restaurant: El Sombrero. Yet in the past decade-and-a-half, it has been invaded by trendy hotels, upscale boutiques, and, yes, even Michelin-starred restaurants.

But the shambolic, down and dirty soul of the neighborhood is still there, if you know where to look. And downtown dance mavens The Knocks can usually be found hanging out in many of the places that give it that soul. The duo have been on the scene since 2010, and were already known for their inimitable remixes for the likes of Katy Perry, Ellie Goulding and Sky Ferreira. But their wildly eclectic 2016 debut album 55 – which actually featured 55 collaborations, including the likes of Fetty Wap, Carly Rae Jepsen and Justin Trantor – hit #2 on the US dance charts and sealed their status as hot commodity. An ongoing creative relationship with Wyclef Jean has only served to up their profile.

To fete their new single and video “House Party” (with Captain Cuts), we asked them to take us through some of their fave LES spots – none of which, we’re happy to say, require the use of a Platinum Card.




ForgetMeNot is the go-to date spot in the LES if you want to have a couple of margaritas and eat amazing Mexican-meets-Mediterranean food. It’s a place that transforms you, and makes you feel as if you’re weirdly somewhere tropical in the middle of the New York City winter. The staff is super friendly, giving it that totally neighborhood vibe, in the sense that everyone always seems to know each other. In the summer, you can sit outside and people watch, while dining until 2am – which is a definite game changer.

An Choi

We probably eat at this Vietnamese spot 2-3 times per week – An Choi is easily the best Pho in the city, as well as the best vibe. They also play the most incredible gangster rap, mixed with completely chilled-out hip-hop tunes. The head chef Matt is a good friend and a huge music fan. You can catch him at all of the good parties, and even the warehouse late nights.




When you walk by Cheekys you may not notice that it’s a restaurant. The signs are hand-written on paper with small drawings of chicken and fish…but if you know, you know. They make the best chicken biscuit, and once you have one you will be back for four more that same week. The beef and pork sandwiches are also popping. It is dangerous having this place so close to our studio because after a full day of work, it’s hard not to hop over and eat one of these fried masterpieces.

Goa Taco

Goa Taco is a new addition to the LES… and has since become an instant hit in the neighborhood. They make large tacos in Paratha shells, that are unlike any you’ve experienced before, filled with lamb, beef, tofu, chicken – and each one is perfect. The staff is super cool and they always listen to Drake, which is another win in our book. Better yet, their guacamole can hang with the best.



169 Bar

Forever a staple on the LES – although recently it has definitely blown up a bit. It can be quite crowded, with a line out of the door on weekends; but if you go there during the week, you can still get that original energy that it’s had for years and years. They have great shot + beer deals, along with incredible drunk snacks like pork mac & cheese, dumplings and even oysters. The pool table in the back has cheetah print and there’s a T-Rex head framed on the wall. Back in the day we would host weird acoustic shows there because they have an upright piano along with a DIY karaoke stage. One of the best features: you can text message your order to the bar and they will bring it straight to your table.

Mr. Fong’s

Mr Fong’s is one of the best bars in the LES/Chinatown area right now. It’s a watering hole for the cool kids and always features really good music. Late at night, a wild guy with dreaded hair will spin vinyl 45s of all dancehall jams; other times, a really hip girl will be on the 1s and 2s playing indie-rock classics. The drinks are Chinese-inspired, and the strong ones will really get you going.



Stylish Hotel Openings: Nobis Copenhagen + ION City Reykjavik

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Nobis Hotel Copenhagen 


With all the socio-political strife here at home, Scandinavia seems like a good getaway even on a purely ideological level. But for us, a great new hotel or two always provides that extra incentive to just hop the next flight.

Reykjavik’s cool new ION City Hotel is certainly welcome in a capital that is arguably lacking interesting boutique sleeps. If you’re more inclined to the Danish capital – and prefer something a bit more plush – the new Nobis Hotel Copenhagen opened last month and was immediately ranked with the city’s best. Both are members of the Design Hotels group, those inimitable curators of contemporary hospitality.


Nobis Hotel, Copenhagen

In a rather august looking work of architecture dating to 1903 – former home to the Royal Danish Conservatory – the Nobis is decidedly posh, but in that tasteful, very Danish sort of way. Indeed, the stark, concrete reception area has a bit of the Corbusian about it. But majestic architectural details (etched ceilings, a grand staircase) give it a princely stylistic gravitas.
Rooms have gorgeous arched windows – so much the better for eyeing the city’s storybook beauty (the majestic City Hall is right nearby.) Mod canopy beds and elegant marble bathrooms add a touch of the romantic to the otherwise classical Danish aesthetic restraint.
And since everyone arrives in Copenhagen now seeking culinary ecstasy, the hotel’s Niels restaurant is notably headed up by former Alberto K chef Jeppe Foldager, and serves creatively turned out dishes like Norwegian scallop gratin and Finnish ribeye. The Niels’ Pampering menu let’s you off the decision hook, and leaves your epicurean fate in Foldager’s capable hands.




ION City Hotel, Reykjavik

Despite banking crashes and volcanic eruptions, Iceland remains as exigent a culturati destination as it was when the cognoscenti first began to discover it in the later 90s. Yet, Reykjavik being a relatively diminutive capital, it’s been noticeably lacking a proper selection of new-gen hotels.
So the spiffy new ION City fills a necessary role in helping to keep the parade of cool kids coming to town. It’s sister to the architectural wonder that is the original ION Adventure in the Icelandic countryside – and it sticks to the same aesthetic principals. Indeed, it forwards no cloyingly trendy old-timeiness. Rather, it’s all clean lines, subdued color schemes and warm, rustic woods.
Deluxe rooms have large windows and something of a cosseting, “mod cabin” feel; jump up to a junior suite, and you’ll get an expansive balcony with private sauna. Move down the hallways and hyper-sensory lighting react to your motions (neato). The sylvan chic continues on into the Sumac restaurant, which does Berbere chicken liver mousse, grilled monkfish skewers and pistachio ice cream in cozy-sleek surrounds.



Glamorous NYC Staycation: The Beekman

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One of our favorite travel activities is checking-in to a hotel that provides enough amusement that one can while away 48 hours and barely have to leave the premises. It’s especially appealing, of course, when it’s a hometown “staycation” (Something about staying in a hotel in your own city…)

To wit, the glamorous Beekman, A Thompson Hotel, which after a couple of years of fevered anticipation, opened last August, just around the corner from City Hall. An early skyscraper, the original 5 Beekman debuted all the way back in 1883, finally receiving Landmark status 115 years later. And history now just permeates its walls and halls. And best of all, while most new NYC hotels can’t seem to blab loudly enough about their in-room iPads or trendoid rooftop bar, the Beekman instead feels utterly, elegantly discreet.

Not that there isn’t a perpetual buzz surrounding this class-act of a hotel. Indeed, its Tom Colicchio restaurant Fowler & Wells became the much more dramatically titled Temple Court a few months ago to rapturous reception. And two spectacular new “Turret Penthouse” suites were just unveiled in October.

But still and all, there is a keen sense of specialness from the moment one enters, which, like all the most storied hotels, stays with you long after.

Here’s what made us fall in love with The Beekman.


The History

New York City has a dreadful habit of unsentimentally tearing down its history, to feed its insatiable appetite for the new (and, when it comes to architecture, mostly bad). But The Beekman revels in its glittering past, while not asking you to trip over it, should that not be the reason you chose to stay here. Built around a soaring, exquisitely restored nine-story Victorian atrium, there is a sense drama with virtually every step you take. Make sure to spend time taking in the so many breathtaking details.



The Art Collection

Hotels all tend to go on and on about their art collections these days. But The Beekman’s is the real thing, having been graced with a curatorial touch from the outset. Indeed, works were thematically commissioned with dazzling results: Cathy Cone’s surreal Temple Courters portraits; Jane Hammond’s cleverly butterflied map All Souls (see image below); David Scher’s provocative, neo-gothic Bladder Day Saints; and Richard Barnes’ haunting photographs of a pre-construction Beekman. You could make a morning of communing with all of the fascinating art on display.



The Seeing + Being Seen

There’s a great international energy here, a real sense that the world has just checked in. And rather than the usual halls stalked by Instagramming reality stars, you’ll likely rub shoulders with Anna Wintour, Daphne Guinness and Diane Von Furstenberg. We even “bumped into” Kristen Wiig on the elevator.

The Rooms

In New York City especially, splashing out on public spaces while making rooms an afterthought seems rather habitual and, in most cases, a detriment to one’s stay (boring rooms can be so soul-sucking). But the Beekman flaunts some of the handsomest chambers in Gotham – with coffered ceilings, elegant color schemes, plush furnishings and generous windows framing the spectacular surrounding FiDi edifices.



The Turret Penthouse Suites

From Martin Brudnizki Design Studio (also responsible for The Ivy in London, Soho Beach House Miami and Matsuhisa St. Moritz), these incomparable suites flaunt Beaux-Arts chandeliers dripping from 40-ft. ceilings, stone fireplaces, aged oak floors, free-standing soaking tubs, Bang & Olufsen speaker systems, in-room wet bars, dedicated dining areas (plan to have a swanky dinner party sent up by Temple Court), as well as private terraces w/ truly epic views of the Woolworth Building and One World Trade Center.




Despite being downtown’s godhead restaurateur for more than three decades, Keith McNally never really did hotels. So his decision to partner with the Beekman was surely a solemn and serious one. And for McNally disciples, Augustine doesn’t at all mess with success, offering a postcard-perfect French brasserie atmosphere. (Perhaps a tribute to the late and still-very-much-mourned Pastis?) Lunch on duck confit salad, moules a la citronnelle or the grilled fish of the day; in the evening, prop up the bar with a Normandie Martini and a rotisserie duck a l’orange or a killer filet mignon au poivre. Comment très parisienne!

The Bar Room

Lorded over by his gothicness Edgar Allan Poe, The Bar Room is quite the cosmopolitan scene every evening – and for good reason. The culturati come here to sip debonair cocktails with names like Sir Marc Isambard Brunel and Pierre Charles L’Enfant with a spectacularly dizzying view up through the historic atrium. If you seriously need to impress someone, this is unquestionably the place to do it.



Temple Court

Tom Colicchio’s restaurant at the Beekman was originally called Fowler & Wells – which perhaps sounded a bit too Brooklyn hipstery for such a grand space. Now majestically rebranded as Temple Court, it’s hard to know what to be more in awe of: the food or the surroundings. We kid you not, that the vegetable-focused dishes are so exquisitely delicious, you just may leave totally rethinking your carnivorous ways. The special Autumn Vegetable Tasting Menu is truly the way to go, and features deceptively simple creations like eggplant napoleon, heirloom bean salad with kohlrabi & black truffle, and sweet potato agnolotti with chestnuts, leeks & black truffle. Two steps above perfect.


BlackBook Exclusive: Interview w/ Jayma Cardoso + Cocktail Recipes from Her New ‘Mailroom’ Bar

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Image by Rob McKinley 


Hard to believe now, that not so long ago Montauk was the “quiet” corner of The Hamptons. But when Jayma Cardoso opened The Surf Lodge in 2008, it became the buzzy galvanizing point for the new “beach bohemia,” presenting live performances by everyone from Rufus Wainwright to The Kills to Patti Smith, hosting fashion pop-ups by the likes of Topshop and Rosario Dawson’s Studio 189…and solidifying its zeitgeisty influence with a Surf Lodge Cafe at Art Basel Miami and a Snow Lodge at Sundance.

Yet having also lorded over NYC hotspots like Goldbar and Lavo, Cardoso is now back in Gotham with a fascinating new concept: the nightlife destination as WeWork playground and, naturally for her, artistic incubator. Cleverly, The Mailroom is actually the mailroom for the WeWork and WeLive spaces at 110 Wall Street – and so already a natural meeting point. But the mission is really about bringing together creative thinkers and doers to inspire and cultivate ideas. It’s already hosted DJ talent like Mark Ronson and James Murphy; but there will also be Monday comedy nights, Wednesday band residencies (i.e. locals French Horn Rebellion), as well as book signings, film screenings and fashion events.

As for the more practical details, Mailroom’s low-key-sexy interior, by longtime collaborator Robert McKinley, is something like cool-60s-airport-lounge meets trendy-80s-disco-club. Eats come by way of Todd English alum Sean Olnowich; and signature cocktails are by mixologists from La Esquina, with clever “post-office-chic” names like Handle With Care and Return to Sender. A few drink creations even come in “large format” – so you can enjoy the wonderful feeling of sharing with your party, without all that models-and-bottles awfulness.

We caught up for a chat with Ms. Cardoso, who also gave us the recipes for some of The Mailroom’s most popular cocktails.


Image by Rob McKinley


Mailroom seems almost more a “community center” than just a nightlife destination?

I agree, there is something about Mailroom being more than a bar or a lounge. It really serves as a gathering place for a lot of like minded people that are interested in exploring new projects, ideas and ways to collaborate. History has a way of repeating itself; in a way, I think of salons, commonly associated with French literary and philosophical movements of the 17th and 18th centuries, or the 1940s…but, I think people wanted to come together in bigger ways.

How does the WeWork/WeLive connection help to shape the overall vibe of Mailroom?

The atmosphere is really designed around the collaborative nature that WeWork and WeLive is creating for people who are seeking a different approach to work, to how they travel and live.  It’s the same for hospitality…I wanted a place that is a conduit for sharing and creating; this place is designed for where I expect the next big ideas come from. Hence the programming is centered around the arts and giving guests new experiences. This isn’t a club, it’s not meant to be a bar…it’s a place for people to come together in pursuit of their dreams via connecting with others.

Do you think this will be a new trend? Combining nightlife with a cultural and social ideology and “mission” of sorts?

I’m not sure it’s a trend, I think people are always looking for ways to connect…and in a world where we spend so much time in digital and social media spaces, I believe people want more then ever to find others who have the shared idea of doing bigger things by coming together in person.

NYC nightlife has been on virtual autopilot for quite awhile, an endless succession of craft cocktail and craft beer bars. Do you hope to reinvigorate it a bit by building The Mailroom around “ideas?”

I agree. I truly believe in craftsmanship with food, beverages and service; but I’m hoping to make The Mailroom a member of the next evolution, a celebration of all the incredible people who come to New York in pursuit of new ideas, technology, businesses, art, etc. For me, creating a gathering place for visionaries is the next big step.


Cocktail Recipes From The Mailroom

The Gimlet 

– 1 oz Absolut Vodka
– .75 oz Lemon Juice
– Splash of Ginger Juice
– Mint Leaf

Fired Up Margarita

– 2oz Altos Blanco Tequila
– 1oz Chili Syrup
– 1oz Lime Juice
– .5oz Blood Orange



Cold Pressed Negroni

– 1oz Sipsmith Gin
– 1oz Campari
– 1oz Coffee Infused Vermouth


Mailroom Mule

– 2oz Absolute Elyx Vodka
– .75oz Lime Juice
– Topped with Homemade Ginger Beer