Thai Puppets, Vanishing Spies & One Very Glamorous Party: BlackBook Returns to Bangkok, Part II

Share Button

 

(Continuing on from Part I…)

 

During our visit to Thailand’s urban jewel, we must admit that we spent a great deal of time taking advantage of everything the glamorous new Waldorf Astoria had on offer. Even breakfast each morning at the upper lobby’s Brasserie presented us with a double-sided buffet: one with eggs, bagels and cheeses that were of course familiar, the other with Thai dim sum, rice, and spices that were less so…and where a dark, jellied, century egg was our chicken embryo option.

Across the lobby was the stately, light-filled, lounge/tea room Peacock Alley, where we did indeed have afternoon tea. Rising a couple of floors brought us to the magnificent 16th floor outdoor pool and spa where we spent a few hours before sunset watching a dramatic, monsoon season storm blow by, before indulging in a traditional Thai massage, which felt like doing yoga while lying down, and assisted. Naked.

 

 

Silk, and textiles in general, have played a large part in Thailand’s evolution; and inarguably no one had a greater impact on the Thai silk industry than the American businessman Jim Thompson did in the 1950s and 60s. His eye for design, and idea to employ thousands of stay at home Thai women as weavers, brought his company huge success. Adding an air of mystery to his legend, Thompson, at various times also a spy, architect, and military officer, disappeared into the Malaysian highlands in 1967 while on simply an everyday walk. His body was never found.

Before that, however, he completed his pièce de résistance in the form of a massive residence created from the bones of six old up-country Thai houses, which he used to display the impressive collection of antiques and valuables he’d collected over the decades. Our tour of his house/museum, and the surrounding Baan Krua neighborhood, where we saw small home silk factories in action, was fascinating and eye opening; and a stop at the onsite gift shop where Thompson silks were on display in abundance was a big win for us…and for the gift shop.

 

 

Back at the Waldorf, that night’s dinner was at the 56th floor restaurant Bull & Bear, a traditional, dark paneled and Deco themed bistro that specializes in the surf and turf staples of Wall Street watering holes – hence the name and eponymous recreation of the famous statue. While dining we were entertained by a floorshow performance of Hun Krabok, or Thai puppets. (Note: it’s quite possible that this was part of the opening week celebrations, so please don’t blame us if a 4-foot long wooden marionette doesn’t try to make out with your girlfriend when you’re dining there.)

One of the more unexpected, and welcome, experiences we had in Bangkok was a tour of the thoroughly modern and western influenced Creative District. We started with a delicious lunch at the Brooklyn-hip Thai Fusion restaurant The Never Ending Summer, in the Jam Factory arts complex – the neon Beatles lyric over the kitchen was the idea of Richard Branson, who happened by one day and ‘suggested’ the modification to the décor (And really, who was owner/architect Duangrit Bunnang to say “no” to Mr. Virgin?).

A short boat ride across the river had brought us to said district, and with local Foundations Director David Robinson leading us, we explored the Bang Rak, including the soon to be renovated customs house, OP Garden, the street art area, and galleries along Charoen Krung 36 Alley; we were especially digging the photography exhibit at Serindia Gallery. At creative incubator Warehouse 30 we had a glass of wine with artist P. Tendercool in his studio, where he creates custom tables and doors, and even ping-pong tables, apparently, from 100-year-old reclaimed wooden panels.

 

Jam Factory

 

 

Finally the big day, or night, had come. With invites out to all local celebs and fashionable types, and even rumor of a possible royal attendee, the opening party of the Waldorf Astoria Bangkok promised to be one of the most talked about events in recent memory. And it didn’t disappoint. Models in dresses of flowers – not just floral patterns – more black ties than the Oscars, and every bar and restaurant in the hotel lavishing delights on those worthy enough to have been on the guest list – we felt a tinge of importance – the event certainly made its point in declaring the ‘hotel’ (more like a #lifestylegoal) the most enviable new destination on Thai soil. A modern Grand Palace, if you will.

Following hours of excess that would make the forthcoming wake up call a difficult situation, we retired to our sumptuous suite for the last time.

Our early flight the next day required a reality reset; did we really have to leave? We were already missing the jovial banter we had with the head bartender at the glamorously decadent Loft bar the night before…and even the concierge seemed genuinely sad to see us go. The drive to the airport in the black Mercedes was a subdued affair, but we weren’t totally out of Waldorf hands yet: a suited handler with a WA pin met us curbside and escorted us to security where we finally bid adieu to the exhilarating Thai capital.

 

 

 

The Luxury & The Majesty: Le Château Frontenac Turns 125

Share Button

 

In this, the Instagram age, to what more relevance could a hotel possibly lay claim than the distinction of being “the most photographed in the world”? But let’s be honest, calling the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac a hotel is sort of like saying a vintage Rolls Royce Silver Shadow is just a car. And lording with irreducible majesty over the oldest burg in North America – Quebec City, that is – it has been celebrating its 125th birthday this year…though, really, she doesn’t look a day over 25.

We popped up for a visit to join the les festivités, and were straight away taken with the sheer magnificence of le Frontenac – which prior to us has hosted the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Paul McCartney…even Prince William and Kate. And as we pulled up to the entrance, it did sort of feel as if we were popping round for a visit with our favorite royal chums (though it should be noted, egalitarian Canada doesn’t actually have a king or queen).

 

 

Dramatically entering the lobby, we noted straight away that its glittering halls were lined with glittery, upmarket shops, and galleries intriguingly selling genuine Picasso and Dali prints (though as far as we know, neither of them actually ever set foot in Quebec). And there was very modern health club on site that belied the Frontenac’s weighty historicism, with an indoor pool, spa and Technogym workout machines.

In fact, if you chose to do so, you could pretty much never leave the premises (though we experienced a hallowed moment strolling the lakeside promenade at dusk) and yet be endlessly, thoroughly amused. For our part, we fell head over heels for the rooms, with their elegant understatement, plush furnishings and views that might just mesmerize you into missing your sunset dinner reservations. (Insider tip: the river view accommodations are pricier, but we would vigorously recommend requesting one overlooking the Chateau and the upper town – as you might just get the feeling you’re an 18th Century Burgundian nobleman.)

 

 

Admittedly, though, we were actually on something of a epicurean quest in Quebec Province‘s comeliest city. And while the Frontenac has been the central foodist destination here for decades, it has also risen of late to the occasion of the city’s new culinary renaissance, shaking off the traditional for a genuinely exciting wave of innovation.

First, it should be noted that, for those not in need of such a grandiloquent dining experience, the hotel’s buzzy Bistro Le Sam is there to satisfy more quotidian cravings – lobster salad, duck leg confit – complemented by an impressive seasonal batch cocktail menu. And we loved pairing les fromages du Québec with a local sparkling cider at the sceney 1608 Wine Bar – whose cool circular design made for excellent people watching and meeting. (If you’ll pardon the generalization, we do love making new Canadian friends.)

But eagerly seeking incisive insights on the region’s contemporary culinary essence, we made a point of sitting down with Stéphane Modat, the exalted (and impressively tattooed) chef at Frontenac’s glorious Champlain restaurant. Considered as he is one of the leading lights of the Quebec food revolution (though he is originally from Perpignan, France), he fittingly oversees the exquisite proceedings with a confident self-possession.

 

 

“The city is a lot more vibrant,” he enthused. “There is a desire to put Quebec on the culinary map. People here are more open-minded…and visitors are usually open to trying new things.”

Regional regulations, however, had posed some challenges – like being restricted to farm raised animals, even though, as he insists, “the meat is better if it reflects where they actually live.” Still, the local bounty speaks for itself: “Charlevoix is know for their lamb, which is better even than it is in Morocco.”

Later, after being greeted at the door with a kir made with local cassis (such attention to detail…), we were whisked through an elegantly rustic-contemporary dining room – warm woods, chicly mismatched furnishings, a handsome grand fireplace, and spidery, gossamer chandeliers – to a window table overlooking the majesty of the St. Lawrence River. It was surely one of the best tables in all of Canada.

With monsieur Modat working his magic behind the scenes, we proceeded to wend our way through the ethereal Experience Modat tasting menu, which on this particular night included arctic char with goat cheese cream, yuzu and ginger (paired up with a dry white from the Loire); followed by red deer tartare w/ salmon and trout eggs, red deer jerky, and a delectable Inuit mayonnaise made from pine needles (all paired with a spirited Languedoc rosé); then a singularly earthy, stunningly flavorful hare ravioli; and a highlight amongst highlights, foie gras with local berries and sea buckthorn (surprisingly coupled with a robust Greek dessert wine).

 

 

“There are surprises on the tasting menu,” Modat enlightened. “We want people to have an experience. It’s rustic by the names of the dishes, but I try to do things differently – like the tartare without the mayonnaise base.”

Without exaggeration, it was one of the most sensational culinary sojourns we’d ever experienced, our taste buds superlatively startled as every moment. Yet not one course hinted at intentional theatricality, or over-concepting for its own sake. And did we mention the river views?

Food, of course is more than ever these days a destination-driver, tempting us to new locales with the promise of life-altering sybaritic undertakings. And while Quebec City was always very much a place that all efforts should be made to visit before shuffling off this mortal coil, and Chateau Frontenac is unquestionably a once-in-a-lifetime hotel…Modat’s culinary creations made it all a decidedly zeitgesity, boast-worthy experience.

“We’re finding our own way of doing things,” he emphasized. “It’s important to go back to the basics to then go forward.”

And perfecting the basics, while being surrounded by such refinement and majesty, is exactly what made the overall Chateau Frontenac experience everything we had hoped it might be – and, if you’ll excuse the cliche, even more.

Happy 125th…and many more.

 

Above images: Champlain; 1608 Wine Bar

 

 

Sybaritic New Orleans: Three Days of Bananas Foster, Ritual Massages and, Yes, Old School Jazz

Share Button
International House Hotel

 

New Orleans emanates the sort of magic, myth and mystery that lures you to explore it with indelible gusto. And while we have covered its inspirational side and its spookier side, our most recent visit saw us indulging in something a bit more sybaritic.

The city has been celebrating its 300th birthday, with parties and events galore; and with dapper party hats donned, we immersed ourselves in not just its culture and history, but also its ability to seduce at every turn. We delightfully sauntered, meandered, drank, dined and indulged – especially at its ghoulishly delightful Voodoo Music + Arts Experience. Though things took a turn towards the more heady as we took in the dazzling 16th and 17th Century works of the The Orléans Collection at NOMA.

Here’s what we did.

 

A Stylish Stay

International House Hotel (IHH) was the very first boutique property in NOLA, fitted into a historic, landmark building dating to 1906 (its previous life was as the world’s first international trade center). Preserving its Beaux-Arts style, the hotel greets you with its soaring ceilings and ornate pilasters; owner Sean Cummings and interior designer LM Pagano collaborated to further imbue the space with such elegant flourishes as pressed tin ceilings, opulent chandeliers, wrought iron tables, and antique velvet furnishings – all of which evoke elemental New Orleans. Each of the 117 rooms, suites and penthouses deftly juxtapose sexy sophistication and soothing serenity. And its situated on the cusp of the French Quarter.

 

 

Maestro of Mixology

The International House’s Loa Bar (the name refers to deities or holy spirits) is a sanctuary of showstopping sips, with lasciviously rouge-y digs that are complete with sensual mood lighting. Alan Walter, the Creative Director and Mixologist – they call him “Spirit Handler” – endeavors to respect, educate and honor divine spirits through his apothecary inspired cocktail program. For special events (such as Fet Gede, aka All Souls Day, or the biggie, St. John’s Eve), he’ll get the blessings, consultation and guidance from local Vodou High Priestess Sallie Ann Glassman to craft special drinks that are tied to the celebratory ceremonies. But the Loa menu is inventive and imaginative all year round. High praise for our favorites: Cicada (Vodka, crème de cacao, crème de menthe, cucumber) and the Arabesque (reposado tequila, plantain, fino sherry, thyme).

Spiritual Serenity

The Voodoo Ritual massage at the Ritz Carlton New Orleans weaves the history and culture of voodoo into its treatments. For this unique therapeutic service, staff used locally made herbal poultices that were rhythmically and methodically kneaded over our entire bodies. It was coupled with a surround sound blend of voodoo chants and beats, as we became one with ourselves and the elements, while inhaling aromas of absinthe, vetiver, cypress and moss. We happily submitted mind, body and soul for this truly profound and culturally immersive treatment.

 

 

Tableside Martini Service

Dickie Brennan’s, one of New Orleans’ revered culinary institutions, left us in a hazy gastronomic stupor. Their steakhouse fare is given a Creole and/or Cajun twist, with feature favorites including BBQ shrimp, bone marrow pie, and prime cowboy ribeye. But even better? Glorious, bygone-era showmanship via their Tableside Martini Service. Our poison of choice? The ultra-luxe Black & Gold Martini, with Hendrick’s Gin, Cajun Caviar stuffed olives and edible 24K gold-leaf. Swank.

Epicurean Euphoria

Not to play favorites, but Restaurant R’evolution is NOLA gourmand grandeur at its absolute finest. In the heart of the French Quarter, the interior pays style homage to the classic dining rooms of the St. Charles Avenue mansions of the 1800s, from the inviting ambiance of the Market Room, to the bar themed like a French Quarter carriageway, illuminated by gas lanterns. The food is a “modern interpretation of Creole and Cajun classics,” under the direction of James Beard Award winning Chefs John Folse and Rick Tramonto. Gracious, thoughtful service accompanied imaginative dishes like crab stuffed frogs legs, boudin stuffed quail enveloped in a heady gumbo, seared sea scallops with foie gras, and wonderfully light sheep ricotta gnocchi with lobster. Dessert was also a decadent treat, especially the Creole Cream Cheese Bread Pudding Crème Brûlée. (N.B. their Coravin system allows one to sample rare vintages by the glass).

 

 

Legs and Eggs

At SoBou, brunch is kicked up about a thousand notches. We loved their soulful renditions of street food classics: cracklings, pork belly baos, shrimp po’boys, and crab beignets; but we also took in their famous Burlesque Brunch show. In an homage to the popular clubs of the 1940s, sultry Bella Blue revived the beloved art form, set to live music. Meanwhile, Chef Juan Carlos Gonzalez seduced us with a three course menu, complete with Brunch Hooch Punch. Our faves included the cochon de lait deviled eggs and blackened geaux fish with asparagus & corn risotto & confit garlic whipped cream. And it went without saying that we would order the cherries jubilee & white chocolate bread pudding for dessert. It’s cooked to order, and while we were patiently waiting through its 25-minute preparation, we took time to fully appreciate the ambiance – echoing its former life as a heritage pharmacy, with old bottles decoratively lining the walls.

Foster the Banana People

Brunch at Brennan’s is an institution, with pillowy, fluffy biscuits, spiced turtle soup, and lip-smacking fried chicken with cornbread waffles. But it was the tableside bananas foster that we were most dazzled by. Flambéed right before our eyes was a gooey, boozed-up brown sugar + butter mix that’s carefully draped with vanilla bean ice cream and warmed banana slices. Better still, this star staple is getting a makeover – as Brennan’s is in the process of producing its own banana liqueur and rum. Not a fan of bananas? We also tried their fanciful rendition of black forest cake – a plump, chocolate shaped cherry stuffed with delicate mousse and placed on chocolate “soil.” It was a cherry-bomb of textures and tastes.

 

 

Brunching + Biking 

Over at the new hotel The Eliza Jane, on-site restaurant Couvant‘s brasserie-styled space offers sophisticated yet approachable regional French cuisine – with a seasonal, locally sourced menu conceived by Chef Brad McDonald. Here, we happily tucked into buxom brioche slathered with homemade ricotta & jam, hearty granola (oats, pecans, roasted peaches), soft & sexy omelettes stuffed with chevril, chives and tarragon, and gloriously golden-brown pain perdu farci, stuffed with bird’s custard. We “rode” it off with one of the city’s Free Wheelin’ Bike Tours, which offers guided cycling through beloved NOLA neighborhoods. We highly recommend the three-hour Garden District Tour (with gregarious guide Teddy), where we got to eye a few celebrity homes (Peyton Manning, Sandra Bullock), 19th century Antebellum mansions, Lafayette Square, and Coliseum Square Park… to name a few highlights.

French Quarter Photography Fix

Since 1973, A Gallery for Fine Photography has been a landmark fixture in the French Quarter. Independently owned and operated by photographer Joshua Mann Pailet, it features two floors of visionary, meticulously curated collections, with a rotating gallery of featured photographers. The more than 3500 photos include works by legends like Henri Cartier-Bresson and Ansel Adams. The perfect antidote to the “fast photos” of social media, we felt as if we were immersing ourselves in the whole history of photography – and left with a profound new appreciation for the art form.

 

 

Authentic NOLA Souvenirs

The city is certainly not lacking for talented artisans/craftspeople. And we visited Hazelnut for New Orleans Toile fabrics and other authentic home goods; Krewe, where NOLA native Stirling Barrett crafts killer shades and colorful handmade eyewear; and Mignon Faget, hand-crafted jewelry whose family roots stretch back to the 18th century.

Spiritual Retreat

Spearheaded by the aforementioned High Priestess Sallie Ann Glassman, the New Orleans Healing Center is a holistic, safe, sustainable space that aims to “educate, heal, fulfill and empower the individual and the community.” Eager to understand more about the Vodou religion, we learned that it relates to “promoting physical, nutritional, emotional, intellectual, environmental and spiritual well-being.” Her Fet Gede Celebration is a procession centered upon feeding and honoring the dead, or as she explained it, “By honoring the deceased, we embrace the meaning of our own lives and open space for generations yet to come.”

All That New Orleans Jazz

We made a point to soak up the live sounds at the historic Preservation Hall, where, since 1961, they’ve endeavored to “protect, preserve and perpetuate traditional New Orleans Jazz.” Every night, NOLA’s finest channel the city’s musical legacy, stretching all the way back to the genesis of jazz itself. Best of all, no phones are allowed; it’s one of the rare instances where the musicians implore you to be present in the moment and just enjoy their vibrant living history. From Dixieland to swing tributes, the spirit of Louis Armstrong lives on gloriously in this place.

 

 

 

 

Epicurean NYC Staycation: The James New York – NoMad Hotel

Share Button

 

When some or other real estate person dreamed up the new Manhattan neighborhood of NoMad (North of Madison) in 1999, it was mostly still wholesale bead shops and discount perfume outlets. Several trendy shopping and nightlife options later, the amorphous area between The Flatiron and Murray Hill has surprisingly not actually become overrun with upscale chain stores, but instead has cultivated a particularly appealing restaurant scene – while its main cultural attraction, the Museum of Sex, now curates some of the most fascinatingly provocative exhibits in the city.

 

 

We recently checked in to the area’s newest hotel, the James New York – NoMad, a you-would-never-recognize-it update of the old Carlton. The boutique hotel brand was actually launched with the opening of the James Chicago a decade ago, followed by a Soho NYC edition in 2010, which became an instant scene for its happening rooftop bar Jimmy (D.C. is on the way).

The NoMad outpost is a decidedly sophisticated overall experience, with none of the nightclubby vibes of some of its neighbors.

Here’s what we did.

 

The Rooms

Taking “understated style” to a whole new level, repro-retro mid-century style furnishings make for clean lines and casual refinement. All the rooms are on the large side for Manhattan – and the 640 sq. ft. James Suites are surprisingly reasonably priced, considering the apartment-like dimensions.

 

 

Wellness

It’s literally built into your television at the James. The Four Bodies Wellness program, in partnership with Ruby Warrington of The Numinous, offers guidance in the physical, mental, spiritual and emotional well-being of guests, all before you even start your regular day. Especially great if you’ve just enjoyed a late night of cocktailing at The Seville (see below). We also did a sound therapy session, a tarot reading with Tara Carrara, and there’s even a dedicated meditation room downstairs, in partnership with Be Time.

The Neighborhood

Make the shopping rounds at Rei Kawakubo’s bleeding edge Dover Street Market fashion emporium, check out the vintage finds at Thrifty Hog, then get your Scandinavian design fix at Marimekko, before setting aside at least an hour to peruse the urbane reading selection at Rizzoli Bookstore. For a contemporary art fix, hit the 511 Gallery, Casey Kaplan Gallery and Ashione, the latter exhibiting museum-quality African art. Do not by any means miss the LEONOR FINI: THEATRE OF DESIRE, 1930-1990 exhibit at the Museum of Sex, a stunning survey of the feminist-surrealist’s provocative life and career.

 

Museum of Sex

CBD

You sorta knew this was coming: CBD room service. For those of you not familiar, cannabidoil is a legal cannabis extract that is known for its stress relieving qualities. And noted CBD chef Andrea Drummer has crafted an uncomplicated menu, from pear gorgonzola salad to spicy meatballs to caramel ice cream sundaes – so it’s well beyond “munchies” fare. And you can also order up beauty products like Ambika Ubtan Beauty Scrub and CBD For Life Eye Serum. You can even mellow out your canine travel companion with Bark Avenue Granpaw’s Dog Hemp Treats. Wooooof…

Scarpetta

After 10 years as one of New York’s most innovative and exalted Italian restaurants, Scarpetta made the move from MePa to NoMad, and the new location has been jumping ever since. In an absolutely gorgeous space with marble bars, arched ceilings and moody lighting, indulge in exquisite handmade pasta dishes like duck & foie gras ravioli (almost indescribably delicious) and black tagliolini with lobster and chorizo – as well as creatively turned out duck, venison and seafood creations. The live jazz brunch is one of the best Sunday scenes anywhere, with everything from ricotta pancakes to strozzapreti with saffron and pork shank…and a whole lotta soul.

The Seville

Indisputably one of NYC’s sexiest hotel bars, it’s possessed of a furtive basement location – yet somehow manages to be hopping from its 4pm opening time on. Combines plush, sensual style with great taste in music (The Ladies of Seville regularly man the decks), and lusty but unfussy cocktails – invigoratingly spicy margaritas, signature bourbon-vanilla manhattans – to rapturous effect.

 

Images, from top: Scarpetta; The Seville 

 

Catalonia Chic: BlackBook Weekends at Barcelona’s Glamorous Hotel Arts

Share Button

 

There are the obvious reasons why Barcelona is the 6th most visited city in Europa. It’s temperate climate, of-the-moment cultural institutions, renowned architecture, and exceptional Catalan cuisine add to its general play-over-work spirit to make it a sybaritic dream for epicurean travelers. But what keeps us returning again and again is that Barcelona never rests on its marquee attractions, yet rather has a spirited taste for the new and challenging.

We were recently beckoned to the sea-facing Hotel Arts, a Ritz Carlton property, to take in its “hotel within a hotel experience” called The Club. Encompassing a selection of rooms and suites located on the highest floors, we were able to bypass the ground floor lobby and head straight up to a private reception and check-in. (N.B. If you’re in possession of the Starwood Preferred Guest® American Express Luxury Card, and have reached Platinum Elite Status, The Club is at your service in every way. And by the way, the card earns 6x the points for each dollar of eligible purchases for staying at the Hotel Arts, one of the 6,700 participating SPG and Marriott Rewards hotels).

The lounge area serves – no kidding – five gourmet buffets (and bottomless champers) throughout the day. So when we were feeling peckish, but didn’t need a full meal, it was the perfect stop in between sightseeing, spa visits and dips in the infinity pool – which sits right alongside Frank Gehry’s surreal giant fish sculpture (pictured above).

 

 

Needless to say, Enoteca Paco Pérez, the hotel’s signature restaurant from exalted, eponymous chef (a two-time Michelin Star recipient) is not to be missed. With an emphasis on locally-sourced produce and the freshest seafood, the tasting menu began with a medley of prawns, razor clams and octopus. And we could hardly resist the langoustines in a creamy rice (think: Spanish risotto), while the Mediterranean tuna and squab in thousand-day mole sauce with dumplings entrees quickly vied for our attention.

A unique plate of truffled brie crunch was something utterly new to our taste buds – and oh so magically delicious. And it perfectly represented what we like most about dining in Barcelona: gastronomical twists on traditional dishes. Enoteca’s extensive cellar of over 700 “Protected Designation of Origin” Spanish wines made it a thoroughly holistic experience.

We were then given a sneak peek at the penthouses located on Hotel Arts’ very top floors, light-drenched and obviously boasting the most breathtaking of views. For those with an entourage, they feature up to three very tastefully appointed bedrooms (and zero paparazzi access). The suites’ extraordinary services include your own personalized concierge, and even the use of a Mini Cooper Cabrio. What could be cooler than that?

 

 

But we did manage to tear ourselves away from the hotel. And while seeing a Antoni Gaudí creation for the first time makes a breathless impression, returning again (like us) to the architect’s most hallowed works, never tires. This time we carved out an afternoon at Park Guell, one of Gaudi’s major accomplishments, alongside what is considered his masterpiece, the still-under-construction but nonetheless spectacular Sagrada Familia cathedral. The surreal park’s abundant gardens, signature tile-work and whimsical flourishes seemed to fuse effortlessly with an intentional functionality.

It can’t be forgotten that Park Guell (named after its promoter, Count Guell) was originally designed as a residential development which never got off the ground. Gaudi himself moved his family into one of the two model homes on the property – which he actually did not design – and lived there from 1906 to 1926, when it was officially opened as a public park. In 1984, UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site. Hire a guide, so you won’t miss any of the park’s unique design details and the stories that go with them.

 

 

We later meandered through the hip Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter), for a little historical immersion. But tired from a day of walking, we booked restorative treatments at the hotel’s exquisite 43 The Spa. (BTW, they use only our favorite Natura Bisse, Barcelona skincare products.) We can genuinely highly recommend the Sublime Diamond Journey Treatment; it’s a body scrub with, you guessed it, actual diamond dust (oh, the luxury). We loved how our skin really looked brighter and firmer afterwards.

The spa is located atop the hotel, with two separate bathing areas for men and women. We were delighted to discover the hydrotherapy pool, dry sauna, steam bath, shower, relaxation area, and another dazzling outdoor terrace.

Of course, Catalonians know how to live. And the city’s restaurant scene is at once vast yet invitingly intimate. Full of hole-in-the-wall tapas joints and sidewalk cafes, we opted for something a bit more grandiose in Marea Alta. Occupying the top floor of the Torre Colom, it’s designed to resemble the interior of a ship, in bright whites and blues. The maritime-heavy menu proved a seafood-lovers paradise. (Squid and oloroso tartare, Luis Mari’s wild turbot…).

 

 

On our last evening we were called to experience something new to Barcelona’s already booming nightlife scene – and W Hotel’s Wake Up Call music festival series was gearing up just as we arrived. Before diving in though, we fueled up with tapas on the outside deck at BRAVO24, indulging enough delectable, locally-produced jamon to carry us on into the night. (N.B. the W is another fabulous beachfront SPG + Marriott property).

The Wake Up Call evening’s lineup brought together some of the world’s best DJ talent, drawing an eclectic, dressed-to-impress party crowd. Martin Solveig got things going, with electrifying sets also by the likes of Cassius, Pete Tong, Edue Natored, Kunta K and Melvo Baptiste, revving up all three of the hotel’s buzzy nightlife venues.

Ebulliently drained from dancing all night, we retired back to Hotel Arts for an inspired nightcap by the talented mixologists at the elegant P41 Bar & Coctelarium…marveling at how we could never possibly tire of this glorious city.

 

BlackBook Interview: Peter, Bjorn & John on Melancholy, Climate Change and What They Love Most About Stockholm

Share Button
Photo by Johan Bergmark

 

Despite their significant international success and recognition, Peter, Bjorn & John have always been dedicated supporters of the music scene back in Sweden, where they run the artist collective and label INGRID (even David Lynch and Lykke Li have been collaborators). And since their 2016 album Breakin’ Point, they’ve also been signed to that very same label.

The second such release under that arrangement is Darker Days, which is out this month. It’s a bit of a departure for them, especially in terms of the overarching mood. To wit, “Gut Feeling,” feels like somber, mid-’80s Cure; while “Velvet Sky” is chilling, melancholy noir, with lyrics to match (“There’s a sign saying ‘Don’t fear the reaper'”). But while the solemn “Heaven and Hell” sends a decided chill up the already tingling spine, “Wrapped Around the Axle” – with its more upbeat Sergeant Pepper psychedelia – at least attempts something a bit more sanguine, less bleak…to striking effect.

Proving their unending cleverness, they also released a special 3-in-1 video, which sort of pits each member against one another for attention. Spoiler alert: no one really wins. As well, they’ll launch a short, 9-date North American tour on November 19, taking them from Allston, MA to San Francisco on December 9.

We caught up for a quick chat with PB&J, and also asked them to tell us what they love most about their home city of Stockholm.

 

 

 

What was the reasoning behind releasing the 3-in-1 video for all three singles?

John: The total “band-consensus” method we used on our previous album nearly killed us. So, this time we split up the band in three parts. In every part of the process. We wrote, sang and produced our own songs separately. We even choose to wear our own clothes in the press-photos this time. And, the 3-in-1 video was a natural extension of this process.

So it ties in conceptually with the album itself?

John: With PB&J you always get three for the price of one; but this time it’s personal…

What were you influenced by when recording the new album?

John: Swedish winter darkness, American political darkness and private mid-life darkness. I’m selling this album pretty badly, aren’t I?
Peter: There is no shortage of darkness to inspire in the present day. The idea behind the title was indeed mainly the Swedish winters, originally. But Trump, Brexit, old Swedish Nazis forming the third biggest party here at home, and above all climate change and the possibility that we are actually getting near the end of the world thanks to our western capitalist lifestyle isn’t exactly cheerful stuff. And it’s stuff you constantly think about; so it’s hard to keep out of songs.

It does seem the title is telling in regards to the content.

John: Yes, you can expect Swedish melancholy, Stockholm break-up mysteries and some Ingmar Bergman indie rock. There are hints of light in between all the gloom. I think it might be one of our strongest albums so far.
Peter: The lyrical content takes in ten shades of different darkness, from politics to personal. And actually one very positive hopeful song as a counterbalance. Composed, laid back, desperate and anxious indie-pop. It’s all a mess, but a good one.

What inspires you most about Stockholm?

Peter: It’s so varied. You can take a one day holiday to a part of it you haven’t been to in a while and get a completely different vibe just by looking around you. We’ve got water, nature, archipelagos, green lush suburbs and parks. And it’s got everything that a common big city offers, too: great food, exhibitions, theater, arts, lovely architecture and historical places…and lots of concerts to see.

And the music scene?

Peter: It’s wide and varied; and if we’re talking music, I get inspired by seeing musicians in different fields perform live. But also love to just talk to them and discuss and learn and jump between genres and personalities.

 

 

Peter, Bjorn & John’s Stockholm Favorites

Peter

One of the best things and maybe the most unique thing about Stockholm is the nature.That its so green and that water is everywhere. That you don’t have to go far out of the city centre to experience wildlife. To me that’s the biggest sell. As a country boy, I get the best of both worlds.
In the suburb where I live, there’s even a huge nature reservation area, perfect for strolls and running; and I’m fifteen minutes from the centre.
If you have time, take a boat out to an island in the archipelago. Or at least take a walk round one of the half-islands, like the lush Djurgården. Lots to see and do there, too.
One area where I spend lots of time is the phonily called SOFO. (South of Folkungatan, sort of like a business idea from the boutiques in the area I think –  but it is a convenient name to throw around). Some of my favorite bars, restaurants and cafes are here – like the pub Harvest Home and the Waffleplace Älskade traditioner; and there’s also the lovely Nytorget square and Vita Bergen (“the white mountains”), as well as some great record shops in An Ideal for Living and Pet Sounds. So I would definitely spend an hour or two strolling round this area.

 

SoFo

Bjorn

If anyone is into sports, I recommend going to a game with Djurgården’s ice hockey team. Their home crowd is nothing but unbelievable. The best and coolest team of course is Skellefteå AIK…but they’re located in Skellefteå.
If anyone wants to come say hi to us in the band, your best bet is probably a café called Kaffebar – it’s connected to the INGRID Studios where we hang out a lot. It also has artwork from our Gimme Some album hanging on the walls.

 

Kaffebar

 

John

We are proud of our Swedish public libraries. Some are bigger than others, though, and the Stadsbiblioteket at Odenplan in Stockholm is big and worth a visit. Swedish architect Gunnar Asplund drew this simple but fantastic cylinder-formed library in the 1920s. The outside doesn’t look that impressive, but the inside is kind of magic. When you walk in there you feel like this: “So many books, so little time…”
Siv och Åke is a superb vintage store, conveniently located between the INGRID Studios and the INGRID label office near Mariatorget. Over half my wardrobe is filled with items from here. Not sure if that could be considered to be the best selling point….but…..anyway….nice place and a fantastic staff.

 

Stadsbiblioteket

NYC Staycation: The Stylish New Mr C Seaport Hotel

Share Button
A suite at Mr C Seaport 

 

If you walked around the South Street Seaport any time within about a year after 2012’s catastrophic Hurricane Sandy, you might have wondered if the place would ever be revived. The area just below New York’s Financial District was once a surefire tourist attraction for the city (though mostly avoided by locals) – but it had been devastatingly flooded by the storm, with virtually all the ground level businesses wiped out.

Fast forward to 2018, and you’d really never know it. Now rebranded as the Seaport District NYC, it buzzes with revitalized energy, and is even angling for “fashionable” status.

 

 

The two most notable building blocks of that hoped for fashionability? The newly opened 10 Corso Como, Carla Sozzani’s bleeding edge fashion emporium, shipped over from Milan; and the glamorous new Mr C Seaport hotel, perched elegantly above the cobblestones.

The hotel brand is the brainchild of Cipriani scions Maggio and Ignazio, who opened their first in Beverly Hills in 2011, and have likely been scouting NYC locations ever since. Arriving for a recent staycation visit, we felt like we’d stepped off of Front Street and right into the trendiest new hotel in Rome, with its Euro-y style lobby of warm woods, gold accents and marble check-in desk.

Here’s what we did.

 

Mr C Rooms

We were smitten as soon as we opened the door to our room – all done up in a calming sort of minimalism, with plush touches like velvet wall coverings, lacquered wood, high ceilings, and sailing-themed artwork (there are a few with sizable terraces). Ask for a room facing Peck Slip, as the neighborhood energy coalesces nicely outside your window (and this being a European hotel, there’s actually a little smoking scene out in front). Mini-bars are eminently stocked.

10 Corso Como

All the way from Milan to the Seaport, we found the most trend-driven, fashionista-frenzying labels – Comme des Garçons, Maison Margiela, Vetements, Off-White – adorning the racks, along with exclusive collaborations like the Marni Dance Bunny pop-up, available until November 1. A smartly curated gallery is currently showing some of the most provocative of Helmut Newton’s photographs (maybe don’t bring the kids) until November 11. And there’s a restaurant/cafe with Italian specialties and sublime coffees. (N.B.  Other high-end fashion brands with shops nearby include Robert Cavalli, Cynthia Rowley and Sarah Jessica Parker’s SJP.)

 

 

iPic Theaters at Fulton Market

The future – or actually the present – of moviegoing, iPic shows the buzziest zeitgeist-capturing flicks, with a touch of urbanity added to the experience. Kick back in luxury seating, then order up sophisticated bites and cocktails to make a complete night of it. The attached Tuck Room is a nightclubby spot for killer happy hour cocktails, as well as excellent oysters and burgers.

 

 

Eat & Drink

Notably, a sizable outpost of veggie-mania mini-chain by Chloe. just opened along John Street, and has been perpetually packed with those craving their smoothie bowls, detox kale salads and avocado pesto pasta. We also loved the 5000 sq. ft. Industry Kitchen, for its clever cocktails (Pistachio Mule, IPA Daiquiri), wood-fired specialties and sprawling East River views; as well as the rustic-hip of the Bin No. 220 wine bar, where we shut the place down in deep, philosophical discussion with our bartender.

 

Bin No. 220

 

Bellini Restaurant & Bar

Mr C’s in house Bellini restaurant and bar has not yet received the full attention it deserves – but we cannot emphasize enough how utterly fabulous it is. With strikingly elegant interiors that look as if they were transported from the Via Camarelle in Capri, a well-turned-out crowd has this place buzzing every night. The cozy bar spills onto a stylish lobby lounge, perfect for an early evening prosecco. For the main event, we started with plates of Italian cured meats and cheeses, and then veritably swooned for their heavenly veal scallopine al vino bianco, and rapturous tagliatelle with saffron and pancetta. Finish with the ricotta cheesecake for a truly glorioso experience!

 

 

BlackBook Layover: 42 Hours in Dazzling Doha

Share Button

 

Situated on the Arabian Peninsula, Qatar is a nation that captivates the senses with its endless wonders. Wanderlusters and jetsetters take note: this country is the next emerging hotspot, especially when all eyes are on Doha (the capital city), whose current priority endeavors have been mostly about prepping for the FIFA 2022 World Cup. His Highness Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani has been the driving force behind it all; his visionary efforts and governing responsibilities (taking over for his father as of June 2013) have resulted in the nation’s immense growth and development, with everything that goes along with that.

In fact, Qatar is one of the fastest growing economies in the world. It’s mostly been about oil – but this has recently afforded the young nation (independence was gained in 1971) opportunities for expansion into other industries such as aviation and tourism.

The best way to get a feel for it is to pull an Anthony Bourdain, and plan a layover. Especially since those travelers who opt to stop for 24-72 hours when flying with Qatar Airways, can do it at no extra cost – and enjoy year-round sunshine, a bourgeoning cultural scene and celeb chef restaurants galore.

Here’s what we did.

 

 

Arrive

Land at Hamad International Airport in the evening. Opened in 2014, it is a state-of-the-art, 40,000 square foot facility, whose undulating ripple design was conceived by HOK. The captivating structure is only bolstering Doha’s reputation as a world-class destination…but looks aren’t all: with an emphasis on wellbeing and relaxation, facility features here include a rejuvenation lounge, and wellness area, pool, squash court and spa. You won’t find that at Laguardia.

Sleep

Four Seasons Doha is the epitome of palatial pleasure. If it’s not the attentive and thoughtful service, the private Arabian Gulf Beach access, or the bevy of fine fare to feast upon (which includes 10 bars and restaurants, along with impromptu visits from culinary legends like Chef Nobu Matsuhisa) that get you hooked – those sprawling suite accommodations, cushy king sized beds and airy balconies that overlook the shining waters definitely will.

 

 

Morning

Visit the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA). While approaching, be dazzled by “the eyes of Doha – conceived by visionary architect I.M. Pei – whose “gaze” peers out into the infinite beauty of the city’s Corniche waterfront, situated on the Arabian Gulf. Inside, 14 centuries of fine art and artifacts from across the Islamic world are housed under this one roof. And best of all, admission to permanent galleries (and guided tours) are free; only the specialty shows require an admission fee.
Brunch at Alain Ducasse’s IDAM inside MIA, his very first restaurant in the Middle East. Be welcomed with refined service, artistic plating and a cultural melange of French Mediterranean cuisine, with a heady Arabic twist. Most indicative of this? The wow-worthy flavorgasm of their tender camel dish, infused with foie gras and black truffles, completed with souffléed potatoes.

 

 

Afternoon

The newly minted Qatar National Library which opened in late April of this year is not only an educational hub, but a living artistic entity. The open concept design, conceived by OMA, is futuristically approachable, with touch screens and shelving robots. The library is anchored with its showstopping “excavation site”; made to look like an archaeological dig, it houses their cherished Heritage Collection, which consists of texts and manuscripts that stretch back to Arab-Islamic antiquity. Peruse the shelves and cozy up with a good book and turmeric latte from Safahat, their on-site café.
Situated in the center of Doha, Souq Waqif is a traditional cultural hub founded over a century ago where locals still love to congregate and socialize. The marketplace was renovated in 2006 to preserve its hallmark Qatari architecture. Here, a plethora of wares can be found, everything from live falcons to fanciful frocks; the infinite bustling alleyways and shops could tire out even the most ardent of shopaholics. And be on the lookout for antique goods and lively streetside auctions.
Then sit and soak up the atmosphere at Aspire Park, a stunning oasis that many aquatic animals call home for locals and visitors, it is a resplendent retreat from the bustle of daily life. First opened in 2006 for the Asian Games, today, the social space is perfect for soaking up lush greenery, playing sports, jogging and people watching. Our favorite spot is settling beside the tranquility of the streaming foundations, which allows us to delight in even more of Doha.

Souq Waqif

 

Evening

Local merchant boats called dhow have been afforded a second life. Today, visitors can sail away on these traditional wooden vessels in Corniche Bay, which evokes the country’s seafaring past and provenance as pearl divers. Then take a short stroll through the green pedestrian zone and watch out for a dazzling display of color; gloriously illuminated at night, Doha’s Corniche is a waterfront promenade of 2.7 miles (from its central business direct to West Bay) and offers progressive skyline vistas.
Get glammed up and head over to the W Hotel for a tapas-style dinner at Spice Market. A Jean-Georges restaurant, the menu and concept is helmed by Executive Chef Alvrie Manangka, who offers diners a culinary sojourn into Southeast Asian food. Share everything family style and be transported from one country to another via your tastebuds. Dining delights include shrimp, foie + truffle shumai; wagyu cheeks with yuzu plum glaze and spiced peanut brittle; and roasted black sea bass fillet with Cambodian-style curry sauce.

 

dhow

 

Morning Farewell

Before making your way back to the airport, explore the desert with an exciting sand dune bashing safari, ideally done when the sun is just beginning to peak up over the horizon. We recommend going with Q- Explorer, whose founders (born and bred Qataris Abdullah and Hameed) know the roller-coaster terrain like the back of their hands.
Finish the adventure with a serenity-inducing swim in the Inland Sea (Khor Al Adaid), an opulent natural wonder and UNESCO recognized nature reserve with its own ecosystem.
Qatar’s bucolic beauty, immersive experiences and deep reverence for longstanding tradition and culture makes a short stay a little difficult. But we were promising our return before we even checked out.

 

 

 

First Images: Philippe Starck Designed Hotel Brach Opens in Paris

Share Button

 

Remember when you pretty much knew exactly what a Philippe Starck designed hotel would look like? A little bit baroque, a little bit…stark?

But the icon of hospitality style never did like to be easily understood. And his newest project, the graceful new Hotel Brach in Paris (part of he Evok Hotels Collection), might really have you doing a double take. Inspired by 1930s Modernism (that was a particularly special time in the French capital), it exhibits a cozy residentialism – we may have just coined that term – not usually associated with Mssr. Starck.

Indeed, the 59 rooms and suites (each is unique, like a snowflake) are characterized by a lived-in, bric-a-brac chic, with warm woods, comfy furnishings, soaking tubs, and randomly – yet thoughtfully – placed art and artistic objects. In some cases, floor-to-ceiling windows frame the elegant surrounding architecture of the posh 16th arrondissement, for a truly immersive Parisian experience.

 

 

A rooftop terrace with Eiffel Tower views, a patisserie, and a health-conscious Mediterranean restaurant with an inviting, living room feel (helmed by Adam Bentalha, formerly of The Ritz and Royal Monceau) give it its epicurean allure. But the pièce de résistance is an impressive wellness facility flaunting a pool, steam room, jacuzzi and Himalayan salt cave – a rarity for a small Paris boutique hotel.

Having clocked no small amount of time at Paris’ palaces (de Crillon, Meurice) and celeb-magnets (Costes, les Bains), the Brach, to be honest, is precisely the sort of hotel we’re gravitating to these days.

Merci, Mr. Starck.