From Intimate Buddhist Temples to Ethereal Thai-Nordic Cuisine: BlackBook Returns to Bangkok, Part I

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Bangkok is changing. Certainly, the less salubrious elements of the exotic capital can still be found, and, truth be told, fairly easily; but a cultural shift seems to have taken place over the last decade. The streets are slightly less hectic, the tangle of wiring that clings to the side of buildings like massive spiderwebs slightly diminished…and in-the-know expats have even started decrying gentrification.

Thankfully it has a long way to go in that department. The town’s intoxicating smell, a mix of a thousand open kitchens, incense, flowers, and the great Chao Phraya river, remains, singular and delightful; tuk tuk drivers still haggle over fifty cents on a $3 ride; and the sight of a massive golden Buddha will always be cause for reverence. For this moment at least, Bangkok is a perfect balance of old and new, gritty and Instagram ready.

 

Ratchaprasong

 

Most travelers past the backpacking stage will find the Ratchaprasong area, a couple of miles east of the Grand Palace, an appropriate home base. With its gleaming hotel towers and sprawling shopping malls, along with ubiquitous street vendors, bistros, boutiques, and mini temples, it’s as close to a ‘downtown’ as Bangkok has, and a shining example of said perfect balance.

It was here that we emerged, from the plush backseat of the hotel’s airport Mercedes, into the welcoming embrace of the plush new Waldorf Astoria – the first Asia Pacific address for the iconic New York brand. We had come, raised-lettered invite in hand, for the grand opening party; but with a few days to fill before the festivities, were excited to explore not only what the hotel was bringing to the neighborhood (spoiler alert: a lot), but how Thailand’s most high-profile city had evolved since we last visited.

With locals from Abercrombie & Kent to guide us, and the elegance of the Waldorf to return to, the next few days were a sensory delight.

 

The Waldorf Astoria Bangkok

 

The hotel is sumptuously designed and presented, with a staff that welcomed us with the traditional Thai Wai gesture at every turn – and anticipated our every move (though to be honest, we could have pushed that elevator button ourselves). We felt immediately cared for. The multitude of hospitality options, from bars and restaurants, to the magnificent rooftop outdoor pool, spa, and of course our suite, ensured our gastronomic, Instagramic, and pretty much all other needs, were met and exceeded.

Forcing ourselves out of our high-thread count sheets, we explored the shopping, eating and people watching options of our immediate surroundings. Two blocks north of the Waldorf is the enormous shopping mall (11th largest in the world, apparently) CentralWorld, which is bookended by two other equally impressive emporiums, including Graysorn Village, where we discovered the Michelin-starred Paste Bangkok. Consistently named one of the top restaurants in Asia, their dinner tasting menu was sublime, and of course included traditional Thai elements such as salted duck egg, massamam curry, and durian.

A lunchtime feast a few blocks east at Central Embassy mall was a much more casual affair; we attempted to make our own Pad Thai and Lemongrass Soup at the Issaya Cooking School, and, amazingly, they turned out pretty well. We didn’t go hungry.

 

Champagne Bar at the Waldorf Astoria

 

Dinner our first night was on the water aboard a boat from Supanniga Cruises that sailed up and down the brackish Chao Phraya. Champagne flowed as we indulged in a trad Thai meal of papaya salad, spicy shrimp soup, and assorted curries. Afterwards, as typified in the annual Loy Krathong festival of light, we set fire to small flower strewn banana leaf boats, dropping them overboard, along with our wishes and prayers, to float away.

Back at the Waldorf, still pondering if our prayers would indeed be answered, we settled in for a nightcap at the luminous 57th floor Champagne Bar, relishing the lights of the gleaming city below. Apparently, someone was listening.

And speaking of…as an overwhelmingly Buddhist nation – 95% of the populace are worshippers of Buddha – Thailand is of course home to thousands of temples, some small and quaint, and we visited several during our stay. We felt a particular sort of spiritual awakening coming on at the cozy Wat Rachakhrueworawihan, where we made offerings to the monks and donned traditional Thai sarongs.

Then it was off to take in the grandeur of the Grand Palace, home of the Emerald Buddha – which, despite the throngs of tourists, was an undeniable spectacle. On the grounds is also the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles, which was showing a startling collection that highlighted the Queen’s 22-year working relationship with French couturier Pierre Balmain, including an array of photos from her 1960 world tour to 15 Western nations. It was all a bit…007.

 

Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles

 

A day of market visits and creative arts exploration was next on the agenda. We spent a hot couple of hours checking out the stalls of vegetables, cooked meats, toys, coffee, and everything else you could think of at the 200-year-old Nang Loeng Market – all the while being careful not to step on the many lounging, bored, alley cats – then strolled the colorful and fragrant, obviously, Pak Klong Talad Flower Market, even stopping to try our hand at flower arranging at the quaint Oneday Wallflowers. Lunch was at the nearby urban-rustic styled Err Bangkok, where we snacked on stir-fried morning glories and egg-coated grilled sticky rice – the ubiquitousness of sticky rice in Bangkok not to be underestimated.

We were back at The Waldorf in time for dinner, a 10-course tasting festival at the hotel’s chic Front Room restaurant. It’s lorded over by the diminutive Chef de Cuisine Fae Rungthiwa Chummongkhon – we smiled watching her sternly directing kitchen staff three times her size – whose CV includes a stint at Frederikshoj in Denmark. She dazzled us with Thai-inspired Nordic cuisine; and after almost four hours at the table we retired to our room basically in a state of gastronomic euphoria.

Stay tuned for Part II.

 

The Front Room

First Images: Shinola is Opening a Hotel in Detroit

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There was a post-millennial rush for the most high-profile brands – Versace, Bulgari, Armani, Missoni – to jump on the “fashion hotel” bandwagon. Some succeeded spectacularly…others not so much.

Perhaps the next wave will be more “boutique” brands, as evidenced by the upcoming Shinola Hotel in Detroit – which also happens to be the beloved watch and accessories brand‘s home city. Slated to open in December (though as precedent has enlightened us, don’t necessarily count on that), it is spread over two historic buildings, the onetime T.B. Rayl & Co. department store and a former Singer sewing-machine shop. Interiors by Gachot Studios riff on that that history.

 

 

Boasting 129 rooms, it’s meant as a decidedly social affair – with an Andrew Carmellini lobby restaurant, mezzanine lounge and verdant conservatory. And dedicated “living room” spaces were conceived to lure locals in for the purpose of just hanging out, and meeting guests – giving travelers the full, immersive Motor City experience (expect to come across at least one person who’s been spinning techno since the’90s). Local Detroit gallery Library Street Collective sourced all the art for the hotel.

With creatives leaving the coasts for the reasonable rents and the sense of possibility that Motown currently offers, expect the Shinola Hotel to be the city’s new media HQ as soon as its doors swing open.

 

España Autumn: Indulging the Art, Food + Flamenco of Madrid

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After a sometimes brutal summer, during which the temps in Portugal and Spain reached 110 degrees fahrenheit, the onset of autumn could not have been more welcome in Southwestern Europe. Especially is 75 – 80 is more your comfort zone. 

We, ourselves, were returning to Madrid to check out the exceedingly cool new Only You Atocha hotel. The brand itself had launched in 2013 with a very different sort of property: the Only You Boutique hotel, in the trendy Chueca district, an aristocratic 19th mansion converted by star designer Lázaro Rosa-Violán into a surreal but drop-dead stunning maze of differently themed public areas and plush guest rooms. He was enlisted again for the Atocha, this time giving a distinctly Spanish context to the lobby-as-hip-playground concept familiar to denizens of hotels like The Ace.

 

 

And indeed, everywhere you might turn, there was something to grab your attention. To the right of the entrance, The Bakery by Mama Framboise, which serves decadent Tartaletas MF, a dozen flavors of macarons (goat-cheese-figs-pralines!), and Iberian ham toast all day. To the left was the Latin-Asian Trotamundos restaurant, with its buzzy corner cocktail bar. And just beyond, a dizzyingly dramatic atrium, where nouveau jazz happenings regularly bring in the city’s modern day hepcats.

But probably our favorite part of every day was shuffling off the hangovers while lingering over a lazy breakfast against spectacular views at the 7th floor Séptima – where in the evenings DJs soundtrack the Panoramic Drinks Sessions…thus perpetuating the hangover cycle.

 

 

Upstairs the rooms were a great deal more plush and stylish than those in typical hipsterrific hotels, with smartly patterned bedspreads, exposed brick walls and white tiled bathrooms. For a particular splurge, we can’t stress enough the fantabulousness of the sprawling Terrace Suite – whose outdoor space could easily accommodate 10-12 enthusiastically gyrating party people.

Madrid itself – sometimes mistakenly passed over for the more archly hip Barcelona – comes especially to life as winter passes into spring, with its scores of pavement cafes, its teeming plazas for sexy-people watching and its streets that buzz late into the night (really, more like 6am). The food is transcendent, the nightlife is some of the best on the Continent, and its grand boulevards / grandiloquent baroque architectural icons make it one of Europa’s most under-appreciated capitals.

Here’s what we did.

 

The PradoThe Reina Sofia

The thing about classical art in Spain…it’s just different. It’s a country that still has a king, after all. And so a great deal of la historia de España is still told in a place like The Prado. It’s indeed a very Spanish museum, and even if you’re a contemporary art geek, you’ll find yourself drawn in to the narrative as told through the dramatic works of Velazquez, Goya and El Greco. The jaw-dropping collection also boasts Rubens, Titian and Hieronymous Bosch’s proto-surrealist masterpiece The Garden of Earthly Delights. Don’t kill too much time on the stiff royal portraits.
The Reina Sofia, just a short stroll from the hotel, is Spain’s most important museum of 20th Century art, with treasures by Miró, Juan Gris, Pablo Serrano, and, of course, Picasso – whose mid-period work can be appreciated in the current exhibition Paris without Regret: Foreign Artists, 1944-1968 (opening November 21). The museum also holds significant contemporary works by the likes of Damien Hirst, Cindy Sherman, Man Ray, Julian Schnabel and Richard Serra.

 

Prado Museum 2017

El Prado

 

Art Gallery Tour

It’s not Berlin, surely – but Madrid’s contemporary art scene has genuinely started to garner international attention, with its annual ARCO fair having become one of Europe’s most important. The Art Gallery Tour people are your best bet for getting an insider’s view, with tours of specific districts like the hip Letras and posh Salamanca. They will also curate private tours to suit your taste. You can add a wine drinking element, should you wish to pontificate on what you’ve seen over a glass or two of Ribera Del Duero.

Barrio de Las Letras

Also a short stroll from the hotel, Las Letras is just that sort of neighborhood that defines Madrid, with atmospheric streets where charming little bars and cool indie boutiques reign – and there’s not a chain outlet in sight. The outdoor cafes on Plaza de Santa Ana and the narrow streets around it are great for lingering and people watching.

 

calle-huertas-barrio-de-las-letras

 

Palacio de Cibeles Restaurant Terrace

Atop the spectacular municipal building on the Plaza de Cibeles is a hidden away 6th floor restaurant and terrace. There’s a full gourmand’s menu – but come for cocktails, views and to soak up the vivid afternoon Madrid sunshine.

YOUnique Restaurant at Only You Boutique Hotel

Just being in this gorgeous hotel is an indescribable aesthetic pleasure. Its signature restaurant is a particular delight for a long, lazy lunch (okay, there’s really no other kind in Madrid), with Valencian paella, oxtail cannelloni, and skipjack carpaccio all beautifully presented. Ask for a table in the verdant, art-adorned garden. Come back in the evening, as the YOUnique Lounge is a stunningly designed setting for fancy cocktails – and the surrounding neighborhood jumps at night.

 

02-younique-restaurante191

 

1862 Dry Bar

Spain’s is a wine-beer-sherry drinking culture. The cocktail thing, mercifully, did not sweep into its major cities and strap all of its bartenders into old-timey suspenders. 1862, for instance, is distinctly Spanish bar, not some awful Brooklyn imitation. A crowd of urbane Madrilenos come to sip updated takes on the classics (Gimlet, Sazerac, Manhattan) by drinks wizard Alberto Martinez. Spread over two floors, it’s one of the city’s buzziest scenes.

Corral de la Morería

Flamenco is way hotter than you might actually think – and five decades after opening, Corral de la Moreria is still one of the hottest tickets in Madrid. In a classical but sensual setting, with Arabic touches, watch some of Spain’s top names in the genre heat up the stage (and the audience) with their visceral, passionate performances. It’s actually quite an intense, even somewhat aphrodisiac experience.

 

Flamenco Madrid

First Images: Lavish New Hotel Birks in Montreal

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Our love for Montreal knows no bounds – but even still, it always helps to have a brand new hotel to check in to from time to time, in order to keep that love fresh.

To wit, the plush new Hotel Birks, which is unapologetic in its lavish luxury and tasteful opulence. Indeed, despite its businessy location on Philips Square in Downtown, there’s very little of the pragmatic about it. Partly because it’s fitted into the grand Birks building, a landmark example of 19th Century neo-gothic architecture, near McGill University.

 

 

It boasts 132 rooms and suites, done up with plush furnishings in soothing tones – complemented by leather headboards and high-ceilings. Some even feature luxurious fireplaces, perfect for those cold Quebec winters. The uncomplicatedly named Le Spa offers facials, massages and exotically themed signature rituals.

For Francophilic epicures, Restaurateur Imad Nabwani (who also owns Downtown’s Le Pois Penché) lords over Henri, a modern brasserie connected to the hotel, with a menu leaning to Southern French classics. Local designer Zebulon Perron has carried the elegant aesthetic of the hotel’s public areas into the restaurant, with lashings of marble and metallic gold.

If you’re not much for either the “party people” hotels or the hipster sleeps, Birks is probably the perfect boutique hotel for you. For out part, we’re already booking our trip.

 

 

Muffalettas, Torniquets and a Dead Voodoo Priestess: It’s Halloween Season in New Orleans

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When tiring of chasing trendy destinations, we always retreat to New Orleans, for a timeless escape into the macabre and the decadent. Especially in this Halloween season, when the city decisively rises to the spine-chilling occasion.

It goes without saying, eschew Bourbon Street kitsch for the cobblestone roads less traveled, all darkened by a tenebrous history of the supernatural and enigmatic. But also make sure to catch the unmistakeable NoLa rhythm, by taking time to stroll through Louis Armstrong Park, and connecting with its jazz-filled roots. And be sure to catch the city’s sundry street musicians dotting the corners of the French Quarter on almost any evening – some of them are truly unforgettable.

Since Halloween is indeed upon us, be sure to check out Voodoo Authentica, to learn the real history of the religion and its present day practice (hint: you don’t stick needles in dolls to cause harm).

The Big Easy, of course, is filled with the profane and the sacred, the unusual and the expected – which is exactly what we seek out at this most haunted time of year. Well, that and really good food.

But beware – you just might see a ghost or two…

 

The Hotel

You can’t beat the convenience of the Aloft New Orleans Downtown, located just steps away from the French Quarter, in the heart of the business district, nestled amongst some fantastic historical buildings. We love Aloft’s tech-driven amenities, outdoor pool, eclectic lobby bar and very friendly staff.
It’s also just down the street from one of our favorite shops, Crescent City Books. Amongst the shop’s intriguing inventory, a vast collection of vintage and antiquarian titles, you’re sure to find something appropriately spooky.

 

 

The Places

Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve

You can’t go to New Orleans without visiting the bayou. Swamp tours do run aplenty here, but booking through Marriott Moments gave us easy access to a professional guide – a fifth-generation Cajun captain no less – on Louisiana Boat Tours. Winding our way along the mossy Cyprus-lined riverway, we spotted plenty of alligators. And our guide’s secret to getting those gators to to swim closer? He tossed marshmallows into the water which they happily devoured. Traveling in and around the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, named for the 19th‐century pirate and smuggler, brought this still vibrant fishing community and its attendant folklore very much alive.

St. Louis Cemetery

Yes, yes, New Orleans has the best cemeteries. Our personal fave is St. Louise Number 1, the most famous of the three Roman Catholic burial grounds in the city. The above-ground vaults dating back to the 18th century house a few famous (and infamous) residents including New Orleans’ first African-American mayor Dutch Morial and  renowned Voodoo priestess Marie Laveau. Weirdly, short-term Nola resident Nicolas Cage bought two family plots in 2010 and constructed a bizarre pyramid-shaped tomb to be his final resting place.

 

“Killers and Thrillers East Tour”

New Orleans supernatural activity is just about taken for granted, as our scrappy New Yorker-turned-New Orleans-resident tour guide Emily attested. In search of “female serial killers and mad madams”, including the spooky LaLaurie Mansion, there’s no better time than after dark to explore the city’s more gruesome side. Needless to say, with a history so rich with things that go bump in the night, you’ll be looking over your shoulder long after this nocturnal tour has ended.

The New Orleans Pharmacy Museum

For a cultural foray into the city’s drug-fueled past, visit The New Orleans Pharmacy Museum, on pretty, shop-lined Chartres Street. Delve into the museum’s well-edited collection of tinctures and tourniquets, turn-of-the-century syringes and eye salves, all with pithy explanation provided. On the National Register of Historic Places, and formerly home to America’s first licensed pharmacist Louis J. Dufilho, Jr. (circa 1816), be sure to give yourself time to check out this showcase of superstitious cures and other ghoulish wonders, all in the name of early medical treatment.

 

 

The Nightlife

There are plenty of po’ boys to be had at old school spots like Johnny’s, muffalettas from hipster local Cochon Butcher, and fresh hot beignets from Cafe Du Monde or Morning Call. All best paired with a refreshing Big Easy Bucha (@bigeasybucha), the city’s family-owned and operated kombucha company. We couldn’t get enough of the tangy, locally-sourced flavors like Voodoo Brew, Streetcar Sipper, and Cajun Kick. However, if you’re seeking to immerse yourself in true southern hospitality with a twist, stick to the city’s historic dining spots.

Brennan’s

A Crescent City tradition since 1946 for very good reasons. Chef Slade Rushing’s creole menu puts a modern spin on the local, predominant French and Spanish culinary influences. Seasonal fare abounds, while the brunch is simply to die for. The confectionary-like interior with its pink and green color scheme, features some of the oddest murals we’ve ever seen (dancing frogs, anyone?). This all creates the perfect atmosphere for such ambrosial offerings as roasted oysters, seafood gumbo, vanilla-scented waffles, and our favorite, the crab and chanterelle omelettes.

 

Bacchanal Fine Wine & Spirits

This Ninth Ward wine laboratory fuses live jazz, backyard dining and barbecue to create an impossibly cool vibe. First come, first served, and no reservations, means get to Bacchanal early to claim your table after you order at the shop counter. You’ll choose your own cheeses and meats from the cold cases – and whatever else inspires your palate. If the spirits move you, there’s also a second floor bar and dining tables indoors. But trust us, outside under the colored strings of lights is definitely the place to be.

The Court of Two Sisters

There’s so much to say about this stunning French Quarter gem, its history, its delectable weekend brunch, and its otherworldly atmosphere. It’s also believed to be one of the most haunted places in New Orleans. Named for the Creole sisters Emma and Bertha Camors, the two had a notions shop on Rue Royale, outfitting many of the city’s upper-class women with formal wear, imported lace and perfumes from Paris – which gave the site its name, The Court of Two Sisters. Today, locals report the two sisters sitting together at a table late at night, and the women watching over them as they dine. Since their passing within two years of each other in 1858 and 1860, the sisters lie in St. Louis Cemetery #3, as inseparable in death as they were in life.

 

Willie Mae’s Scotch House

This invitingly quaint Treme staple since 1957 is famous for its exceptional soul food, even recognized as “America’s Best Fried Chicken” by the Food Channel and Travel Network. Diners can choose between all white or all dark meat, both covered and cooked in the restaurant’s delicious signature batter to absolute crunchy goodness. We went with drumsticks and thighs, complemented by sides of mouth-watering fried okra, mac-n-cheese, and cornbread. Washed down with a giant sweet tea, all felt right with the world, with the late Willie Mae Seaton herself (a James Beard 2005 winner) smiling down upon us from her portrait in the main dining room.

Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop

Heralded as the oldest operating bar in the U.S., Lafitte’s was built in the 18th century. The 19th century welcomed pirate, smuggler, diplomat, spy and hero of the Battle of New Orleans, Jean Lafitte, who set up shop on the site with his equally swashbuckling brother Pierre. It’s said Jean’s ghost still lingers though, lurking in the corners just watching over the bar’s patrons, who down the purple-colored signature Voodoo Daiquiris. His specter is also believed to be joined by the ghosts of residents of the French Quarter who perished in the fires of 1788 and 1794 (which spared the small structure). This is a must stop on any haunted – or boozy – tour.

 

Weekend in Stockholm: A Stylish Guide to an Autumn Stay in the Swedish Capital

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As surely the most comely Scandinavian capital, there are always so many reasons to love Stockholm. Picture perfect, and with beautiful inhabitants to match, it boasts 13th century medieval castles and jaw-dropping architecture, spread over an expansive archipelago of islands. Its cutting edge design, vibrant culinary scene and legendary nightlife continue to make it an imperative destination for the style set.

On our most recent visit, we went for the ABBA museum, and stayed for the scenery and cocktails. Here’s what we loved.

 

ABBA: The Museum

For campy fun, visit the museum that houses the world’s largest collection of everything about Sweden’s most famous musical export. Marvel at the music, films, memorabilia and, especially, those ’70s fashions. It’s a fully interactive experience.

Vasamuseet

Though the 17th century war ship at the center of this maritime museum sank less than 30 minutes into its maiden voyage in 1628, it was dredged up in its entirety 333 years later and restored to its glorious splendor. Predominantly intact after laying underwater for over three centuries, this is a fascinating time capsule of Sweden’s nautical history.

 

 

Djurgarden

The lovely Djurgarden was formerly the royal hunting grounds, and now a national park – where you will feel worlds away from the pace of the city center, which is just across a short bridge. Visit the Rosendals Trädgård, a fascinating biodynamic farm and greenmarket which grows its own flowers, fruits, vegetables and herbs. Relax over a fika – the Swedish version of a coffee break – at their café, which serves casual farm to fork fare. For something a little fancier, book ahead for the opulent 19th century Villa Godthem, which was the former private residence of opera singer Carl Johad Uddman – and now serves classic Swedish cuisine in a plush setting.

Fotografiska

One of Scandinavia’s top photography museums, its current Noémie Goudal: Stations exhibition celebrates the story-telling French photographer. Its award-winning namesake restaurant is run by notable chef Paul Svensson, whose specialty is vegetarian seasonal dishes built on sustainability – and here, they come with panoramic views.

 

 

Langa Raden at Hotel Skeppsholmen

Greater Stockholm consists of 24,000 islands in a vast archipelago; the idyllic Skeppsholmen is one of the most picturesque, in the heart of downtown, and offering beautiful views. Taking advantage of the scenery is the gorgeous restaurant Langa Raden, located in the Hotel Skeppsholmen. Enjoy trad Swedish fare with a contemporary twist in a lush garden setting, right on the water’s edge. It dates back to the 17th century.

Tak

Offering panoramic rooftop views over Stockholm, this new-ish bi-level hotspot is helmed by Sweden’s rising newcomer Chef Frida Ronge. Trained in the fine art of the cuisine of Japan, she has gained numerous accolades for her Nordic-Japanese creations, which use seasonal local ingredients. When it’s not too cold, the alfresco rooftop terrace turns into an all-night party.

 

Tweed Bar

Located in the oldest part of the city, Gamla Stan, Tweed resembles a vintage British gentleman’s club, with Chesterfield armchairs set amongst antique nautical décor and plaid-lined walls. Its known for its extensive cocktail list, curated by Hampus Thunholm, who also created the beverage program for Fäviken (recently featured in Netflix’s Chef’s Table series).

 

 

Linje Tio

Recently named the 25th best bar in the world by Drinks International’s “World’s 50 Best Bars.” Has all the proper bells and whistles of a Brooklynesque hotspot, and is appropriately located in the hipster hood of Hornstull/Sodermalm. The creative cocktail menu changes seasonally; expect Negronis made with strawberries and saffron, and a beet-infused Absolut Vodka mixed with coconut, ginger, lemon and nutmeg. The front houses a barber shop which functions as an overflow lounge during peak hours.

Haktet Vänster

Roughly translating to “jail cell on the left,” this stylish “speakeasy” is fitted into two neighboring townhouses off Sodermalm’s busy Hornsgaten. Sip custom craft cocktails in a cozy space decorated in vintage kitsch, mixed with 18th century antiques spread around tufted banquettes. Though the menu features a bevy of original concoctions, the knowledgeable bartenders are always up for mixing something based on your taste preferences. It’s accessible only by an intercom.

 

 

Getting There: SAS Air

The easiest way to arrive into Stockholm is via SAS Airways, who offer the most non-stop direct U.S.-to-Scandinavia flights. They recently redesigned their long haul Airbus 330-300 aircraft with ultra-modern, hi-tech cabins, including SAS Business (fully flat beds), SAS Plus (Premium Economy) and SAS Go (Economy). SAS Plus cabins also feature spacious seats and free WiFi, large entertainment screens, in addition to lounge access, and extra luggage allowance. All travelers can enjoy onboard cell service. The seasonally changing Nordic themed culinary program was also redesigned by celebrated head chef Peter Lawrence. And through a partnership with Danish brewer Mikkeller, passengers can also select from more than a dozen craft beers, brewed with high-elevation in mind.

Stay: Downtown Camper

Stockholm’s latest hospitality hotspot – located in the downtown neighborhood of Brunkebergstorg – it’s themed around “glamping,” playing to Swedes’ love of nature and the outdoors. The lobby is reminiscent of a hip tech company’s HQ, with design nods to sustainability, and a skylit concrete lobby adorned with usable kayaks. Exuding that invariably chic Nordic minimalist aesthetic, the cozy rooms are awash in a neutral gray with wool throws and a window box couch to stretch out on after a day of exploring. Refuel in their signature restaurant, aptly named Campfire, which serves delicious and unfussy Scandi comfort fare amidst sumptuous sofas and tufted chairs.

 

First Images: The Canopy by Hilton Dallas Uptown Opens

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It’s only the fifth hotel under the new brand (others are in DC, Bethesda, Portland and Reykjavik) – but the Canopy by Hilton Dallas Uptown seems to ideally represent the ethos the group is building its fortune on. Indeed, just opened this past week along a stretch of Cityplace W. Boulevard, it boasts 150 rooms, yet manages to cultivate a distinctly trend-aware residential vibe.

To be sure, as one is entering the lobby, there’s an immediate sense of it feeling very much like the stylish living room of your very cosmopolitan best friend. A series of variegated sitting areas are assembled around a central bar, with rich, inviting furnishings, exposed brick (even on the ceiling), and thoughtfully chosen art pieces.

Upstairs, sleeping chambers eschew over-concepted design pretenses for a more cosseting feel – even though the smallest of them come in at an extremely generous 360 square feet – with floor-to-ceiling windows, area rugs and warm woods. Splash out on the speciality Travis or Cole suites, and you’ll be gliding around in 830 sq. ft. of space.

 

 

But the Canopy is definitely a social animal – as that aforementioned lobby is home to the Central Cafe, which keeps things buzzing from 6:30am until 11pm. The crowning touch, though? In a city that eventually embraced rooftop bar mania quite enthusiastically, this hotel easily has one of the best – in the fittingly named Upside.

If you can tear yourself away from the views that seem to stretch across the entire city (and maybe all the way to Houston?), you’ll join sybarites indulging in cleverly titled cocktails like the De Pêche Mode, Best in Show and Ticket to Ryde, with sides of Guajillo BBQ gulf shrimp and (would we kid you?) “Bacon Crack” flatbread. And with temps still hovering around the 80’s, expect it to be a scene all the way through autumn.

Though still Hilton’s newest brand, Canopy does seem to be hitting its mark – with Atlanta and Zagreb opening later this year. As well, an additional 14 are scheduled to debut by 2021, from Toronto to London to Hangzhou. We’re excited.

 

BlackBook Exclusive: French Songstress Mai Lan’s Fave Places in Paris

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It takes a particular skill to effectively cross genres like electro, hip-hop and pop; but for French songstress Mai Lan (Chapiron), that’s exactly the point. Well known in France for her groundbreaking, self-titled 2012 debut album, she pushed boundaries by reimagining hard-core rap tracks as lullabies. Her videos show her stood in front of French châteaux, rapping about vampires. Seriously.

No surprise then, that Anthony Gonzalez of M83 heard some of her new tracks at a listening session in LA, and couldn’t resist her mix of “childish chanting vibes, a really soft warm voice, but with a flow almost like rap.” The duo went on to collaborate on four tracks, including the opulent, visceral single “Go!”. According to Mai Lan, “[Anthony] is one of the ones I like writing with the most. It is levitating.” The collab actually opened the door for her own journey across the Atlantic to the States, to connect with an entirely new audience.

Her new solo album Autopilote sheds the acoustic guitars from her earlier work. In Mai Lan’s own words, on this album, she “wanted it to be very strong in some way. There is a lot of space on the vocals to be really alive. It’s very simple. A big bass, a big beat and voila!”

 

 

She also seamlessly combines her Vietnamese and French heritage. Raised by a family of artists and musicians, she was encouraged to experiment at an early age; in fact, it was a song – “Gentiment Je T’immole” – in her brother’s 2006 horror film Sheitan – that launched her music career.

Written and recorded mostly in Brooklyn, Autopilote is “maybe more an urban album, really city-ish, you can feel the subway, a little bit of anger and stress, but also you can chill on it too. And it’s really fun to dance to with your friends. But all the deepest parts of all the songs are really personal.”

How does she feel about her new American audience?

“The French people don’t care what I say,” she explains, “but when I write in English there are a lot of jokes, little wink wink. All those kinds of things that nobody can see in France but only English speakers understand.”

Back in Paris after a recent world tour, we asked her to reveal her most inspiring places in the City of Light.

 

Mai Lan’s Paris Favorites

Le Bois de Vincennes

It’s a forest at the door of Paris, where I like to go for some calm and fresh air. It’s huge and very packed. When you walk in there, you can suddenly totally forget you’re in the middle of a city.

Centre George Pompidou

It’s the museum of modern art in Paris, also called Beaubourg. They always present dope exhibitions with interesting points of view. And the permanent collection (Rothko, Francis Bacon, Yves Klein, Jasper Johns, Rauschenberg, Warhol, Christian Boltanski) is awesome. Even the building – by exalted architects Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers – is amazing, all covered with multicolor tubes. It’s in the heart of Paris, right by Les Halles. (Editors note: the rooftop restaurant Georges has spectacular views and great people watching.)

 

Dong Huong

My cantine in Belleville, this is where I can find the Vietnamese dishes I love, just as if I was in Saigon. It’s exactly the same tastes, smells and atmosphere. I always have the pho ga – it’s a soup with rice noodles and chicken broth.

Le Septime

For good gastronomic french cuisine, this is the place. The menu changes every night depending on what chef Bertrand Grebaud finds at the market (which might include canard des landes, veau de lait cru). It’s a little hard to get a table, as it’s always fully booked in advance – so you’d better call early.

 

 

BlackBook Rooms w/ a View: Hotel Excelsior Dubrovnik

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Dubrovnik is an absolutely stunning confluence of historic provenance and natural beauty. So who could blame us for readily making return trips here? Especially when we’re entering low-season – when the onslaught of tourists has dissipated, and you can relish the city’s beauty without the usual overcrowding.

Perhaps our fave place to lay our heads there is the 5-star Hotel Excelsior Dubrovnik (part of the Adriatic Luxury Hotels collection), whose glorious cliffside outpost along the Adriatic Sea continues to captivate and seduce.

The hotel was erected in 1913, with prime views of the UNESCO World Heritage protected Old City (a mere 5 minute walking distance away); but this old-soul doesn’t give away its age easily. The once royal property (called Villa Odak) was recently given restorative and renovated love, with a chic refurbishment of its 158 rooms.

 

 

And TLC it justly deserves, as it remains a living, breathing vestige of cultural significance. Today, the two halves of the hotel co-habitat with grace; the original wing greeted famous guests such as Elizabeth Taylor and Queen Elizabeth II…and the new tower section (built in the 1960s), recently hosted the cast and crew of a little show called Game of Thrones.

The attention to detail begins even before you see your room, when you first step into the airy, art-adorned lobby – which affords some of the property’s most awe-inspiring vistas. You’ll readily cultivate a Balkan state-of-mind when the panoramic dynamism of the Dalmatian coast and sunny sapphire skies engulf you at every turn.

All the room and suites have been laced with a fresh contemporary aesthetic – whose vision was spearheaded by local designers Studio Franić Šekoranja. All-at-once minimalist yet elegant and richly appointed, the focus is very much on those covet-worthy views of the Adriatic Sea. Principals Dean Franic and Saša Šekoranja note that they strived to mirror the beauty of the natural environment, appointing the rooms with honey-blond furnishings and ocean blue accents. Velvet seating adds a luxe touch to each chamber.

 

 

Our favorite part? With a signature Hendricks Rose cocktail in hand, it is exercising the art of fjaka and retreating to our private balcony terrace that overlooks the coast and Otok Lokrum island.

And if we’re segueing into the epicurean, we loved their in-house restaurant Sensus, for Chef Petar Obad’s modern interpretation of Mediterranean classics. We’re still relishing that grilled Dalmatian lobster + unctuous foie gras dish. But if you’re feeling bold, we urge you to leave the decision-making with the chef himself, who’ll take you on a multi-coursed, gastronomic journey with local, renowned Croatian wines to match – everything from Dingač to Postup to Plavac Mali will allow you to traverse the beauty of this country via what’s in your glass.

Or if you fancy yourself an elegant patio scenario, grab a table at Prora Beach Restaurant, a darling, stone-covered nook that oozes romance. You will thank yourself for indulging in their seafood paella, which features a fisherman’s bounty of plump grilled shrimp, mussels, scallops on the half shell, and sweet squid on a bed of delicate couscous.

 

 

If you’re hungry for adventure, the concierge desk arranges bespoke trips that connect you with local artisans and community-minded citizens. One of the highlights is a day trip through Pelješac Peninsula, which includes a visit to a Ston oyster farm, and a flight tasting at the legendary Grgich Winery; it all culminates with a feast at Antunovic Family Farm. The luncheon features traditional braised lamb and veal shank, Croatian peka bread, charcuterie, donkey cheese and milk, and walnut liqueur…all lovingly homemade.

If you’ve just closed that IPO, however, we strenuously advise staying at their sister property Villa Agave, which is conveniently situated next door. Like your own private piece of paradise, the sprawling property happened to be a favorite “home away from home” of director Francis Ford Coppola.

It comes with private catered meals, a sprawling hot tub, luxurious swimming pool, secluded cliffside beach, and on-site spa treatments from Hotel Excelsior’s Energy Clinic, out on the terrace, while enjoying views of the sunset.

Like the Pearl of the Adriatic itself, old and new worlds readily converge to produce an inimitable experience at Hotel Excelsior. And it’s especially lovely here in autumn.