BlackBook Rooms w/ a View: The Mandarin Oriental DC



Considering the rarified international clientele that frequent the city, DC has always had a grand tradition of luxury power hotels to service them. But in truth, the mythologies that have propelled many of them on started to fade with the onset of the boutique hotel era. To wit, the now even quaintly monikered Off The Record bar at the Hay Adams, where once all the best political eavesdropping went down, is now just kind of a, well, quaint old basement bar.

On our most recent visit to the capital, lured by news of a high-profile new restaurant, we checked in to the plush Mandarin Oriental—which actually first opened its doors back in 2004, but had somehow eluded us until now. Upon entering the handsome, energetic lobby however, we instantly got swept up into the vibe. We felt at home there immediately, and wondered what took us so long.

Here’s what we loved.



All the way back in 2004, the Washington Post called the then new Mandarin Oriental’s location “unconventional.” Yet it’s sort of hard to imagine why, as the grandiose cultural complex that is the Smithsonian is remarkably close by—as is The National Mall and all its attendant monuments. If this was your first trip to DC, you might be downright gleeful as to such proximities. It’s also right on the Potomac. And unlike 16 years ago, the area just to the south of the hotel has also been enlivened by the District Wharf, the city’s dynamic new(ish) retail, dining and entertainment complex—which boasts some of the capital’s most talked about restaurants.
Indeed, La Vie, Officina, Del Mar de Fabio Trabocchi, Praline Bakery and 12 Stories for cocktails with a view are all destination worthy. But also, several very DC-centric boutiques offer unique shopping opportunities for flowers, books, jewelry and home decor.


District Wharf


The Rooms

Gorgeously patterned, luxurious draperies and matching carpets, elegantly understated wall-coverings, Chinoiserie cabinets, attractive beige/blue color schemes, grand marble bathrooms with Art Deco wood detailing…all the frippery of a great classical luxury hotel is represented in the Mandarin Oriental’s gorgeously styled rooms. Yet they feel startlingly modern and unfussy at the same time.
But the location of the hotel plays a major role in the unique appeal of these singularly luxurious sleeping chambers. Those facing front take in a tableaux of the neo-classical majesty that is amongst DC’s great architectural boasts; but others have ethereal views of the might Potomac through generously proportioned windows. Ours also looked out onto the Jefferson Memorial—and for devoted Founding Fathers fans flush with cash, the Oriental Suite offers a particularly striking view of the stately monument.



The Lobby

Since our visit coincided with the holidays, the lobby was glimmering with seasonal sparkle, mostly due to a particularly grand Christmas tree standing at center. But the rotunda style design made for excellent energy and accidental encounters—while the gorgeously patterned marble floor and dramatic circular ceiling can be said to make every entrance a grand one. (Plan to sashay in like a movie star, if at all possible.)
Later, with our Friday afternoon brains having shut down after a week of far too many stressful business dealings, we decided to join the afternoon tea time in the very chic Empress Lounge, a nearly perfect hotel bar, with Asian-accented furnishings, and tall windows offering garden views (there are terrace tables in spring and summer). We skipped the tea service—though it looked temptingly decadent—and opted instead for a delicious Tom Kha-Rita cocktail, with Patron Silver, Cointreau, Galangal-Chili-Ginger Syrup Lime Juice and cucumber. It was an experience that was really just the height of DC sophistication, with excellent people watching to match.


Amity & Commerce

Just as how in European luxury hotels, you can judge quite a bit by the quality of the club sandwich served in the lounge (or otherwise obtained via room service), in a posh American hotel restaurant, we always recommended considering the classic steak frites. And that’s precisely what we gravitated to on the menu at Amity & Commerce, the Mandarin Oriental’s theatrical new bistro and bar.
As soon as we walked in, there was the sense of drama, with soaring ceilings, elegant color schemes and spectacular lighting fixtures. And though it had a decidedly more contemporary feel than many DC five-star hotel restaurants, the name itself nods to Thomas Jefferson’s 1778 treaty which linked France and America.
We started with one of our current obsessions, the duck liver parfait with port gelée and thick slabs of toasted brioche, which was one of the best we could remember—and we eat a lot of it. Though the restaurant’s regular bread was so good, we had to summon all of our willpower not to fill up on it (order some to go, for a midnight indulgence back in your room). Overall, the menu was very of the moment, with baby kale & beets salad, tamarind glazed Angus short rib, pan seared diver scallops, as well as artisanal cheese and charcuterie plates. Our 8 oz. teres major steak was an incredibly flavorful cut, perfect for your monthly beef splurge, served with yukon fries, with bordelaise sauce. And well, they mixed a sublime dirty martini—not as easy as it sounds.
Combined with an after dinner brandy in the Empress Lounge, Amity & Commerce is genuinely one of DC’s must dining destinations…in a hotel that we will absolutely be returning to.


A 10 Point Guide To Brooklyn’s Greatest Hidden Treasures

Images Courtesy of Rachel Felder


It took Brooklyn just two decades to go from its hip-hop-incubating mean streets and Joey Bagadonuts cliches to skint artist colony to its current international profile as hipster-gentrification-and-urban-mommy-blogger ground zero.

Yet for every twee artisanal mayonnaise shop, there are still dozens of indigenous gems and “only in BKNY” destinations. Author, journalist and girl about town Rachel Felder set out to find the best of them, and in the process perfectly captured the indomitable somethingness that you simply can’t find in Manhattan, Queens, or Portland for that matter—resulting in the captivating and beautiful new book Insider Brooklyn: A Curated Guide to New York City’s Most Stylish Borough.

“My family goes back four generations there,” she says. “And when I was a little girl, having a connection to Brooklyn wasn’t something you boasted about. Now, of course, it’s the center of cool.”

It’s not at all comprehensive, as that would be beside the point. Rather the book seeks to tap into and convey a feeling, an idea about Brooklyn, a singular essence that remains in spite of the recent waves of faux-dive craft beer bars and artless mustache waxing shops.

Felder relates of the book’s inspiration, “I travel all over the world, and people are always asking me about Brooklyn.”

She’ll be appearing at the 92nd Street Y Poetry Center on June 21 at 7pm, the Hennessey + Ingalls Bookstore in LA on the 25th at 4pm, and Books & Books in Miami on July 1 at 8pm to discuss the book.

Here are some of her, and our favorites from Insider Brooklyn.

City Reliquary

Such a precious place, on an unassuming street in Williamsburg. It pays homage to old school New York, vintage soda bottles and subway tokens and the like. And if you’re looking for really quirky NYC souvenir, their little gift shop is the place to find it.

Sincerely, Tommy



The kind of shop you’d expect to find on Madison Avenue, but it’s in the heart of Bed-Stuy. The owner used to work at Chanel, but carries designers from local design schools. So you’ll find styles you won’t see anybody else wearing.

New York Transit Museum

In an unused subway station in Downtown. Not museum with a capital “M”, it’s more of a cool pop culture museum, which examines how far transportation has come.

Bellocq Tea Atelier



On an industrial stretch of Greenpoint, but you step inside and you feel like you’re on the Left Bank of Paris, the atmosphere is like a vintage wine shop. The two owners curate an impeccable selection of pure single teas, but they also do these great blends, like a green tea with Rosebuds in it. Their Darjeeling is the best you’ll find anywhere.

Marissa Alperin Studio

Brooklyn Heights is so beautiful, but visitors don’t always think to go there, and you’re missing out on one of Brooklyn’s great neighborhoods. Her studio is hidden in the most precious little nook across from Adam Yauch park. Beautiful ready made and custom pieces that are priced quite accessibly.

Tracy Watts



People just don’t make hats like hers anymore, she even makes them for Bergdorf Goodman. You can go to her Gowanus studio and choose from her collection–she does beautiful Trilbys. But you can also have a hat made to order. Heidi Klum, Jennifer Lopez and Maggie Gyllenhaal are clients.

Tilda All Day

A recent opening, owned by a consummate New Yorker who knows every customer. The beans are from Parlour Coffee just around the corner. They house cure the salmon, they pickle their own cucumbers, and they do really creative twists on comfort food.

Cafe Rue Dix



It appeals to young fashionable types and long time locals in equal measure. It’s a Senagalese café, so it’s French inspired–you can get a really delicious omelette there. But you can also enjoy unbelievable Senagalese fish stew; they even make their own hot sauce. It feels like stepping into a café you’d find more on the outskirts of Paris.

Lady J + 1

The owner was a student at Pratt, and just stayed in the neighborhood. Her jewelry is on trend without being too trendy, really precious but affordable and wearable. Great for stud earrings that you might want to wear mismatched. She also carries clothes from local designers.

Martin Greenfield



One of the best custom tailors in America, if not the world. Martin’s atelier is walking distance from Roberta’s, and he’s trained a lot of young locals on suit making. Clientele includes quite a few presidents, including Obama, as well as stars like Denzel Washington and Leo DiCaprio. It’s on par with Savile Row, it’s expensive, it’s where insiders go. Sometimes you see limousine drivers waiting outside.

Ten Questions With Cosplay Superstar Ivy Doomkitty

It’s hardly a secret that comic book films are now stacked with Hollywood’s hottest hunks and babes (Chris Hemsworth, Zoe Saldana, Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson). But in the last couple of years, geekdomania has veritably become a celebrity badge of honor, with a-listers of every stripe seemingly quite eager to flaunt their inner nerd.

This has played out most evidently in the mainstreaming of cosplay culture, with Lena Dunham, Neil Patrick Harris, Jaden Smith, Daniel Radcliffe, Shannon Woodward, Bryan Cranston, and most enthusiastically Katy Perry (we loved her as Freddie Mercury) all joining in the kooky fun. Even the New York Times has been all over it.

So, as this year’s Long Beach Comic Con (sort of a hipper, more indie counterpart to the big San Diego show) kicks off today, we caught up with one of the stars of the genre, the lovely and talented (and body confidence crusader) Ivy Doomkitty, to attempt to explicate this curious trend.

Oh, and just in case you were wondering, Doomkitty is not her real name.


How did you become such a superstar of the genre?

I wouldn’t say that I am a superstar. I began cosplaying as a fan of my favorite characters and things just kind of snowballed out of control. I’ve been blessed with many opportunities doing something that I absolutely love.

What do your fans love most about you?

Hmmm, I’d have to go with being real. I’m a very “what you see is what you get” person. I have panels at conventions discussing body confidence and being positive with one’s self. It’s my way of sharing my experience and also giving back to the community and fans that have given me so much.


What have been some of your best costumes?

I’d have to go with Altair from Assassins Creed, Dr. Doom, Power Girl, Ms. Marvel and Emperor Kuzco. I try to use a new technique with each new costume that I make and via trial and error, I learn and gain experience in that medium. I have several that I am currently working on for this year that will definitely push me above my limitations.

Who are some of the other most fabulous cosplay babes that you admire? 

At the top of my list, I’d have to go with Vampy Bit Me. She is the sweetest girl you will ever meet, is incredibly talented, and all around a fun loving person.

Have you noticed a lot of celebrities getting into cosplay? Any you can name?

There is definitely [America’s Next Top Model] Adrianne Curry. Also, various celebrities cosplay as their own characters from films at conventions just to be able to walk the floor undetected.

Why do you think it’s such a hot thing right now, and do you think it will outlive its trendiness? 

I think the success of comic book movies, along with shows like the Big Bang Theory and Heroes of Cosplay all helped introduce many people to “geekdom” and cosplay. The things that we were once shunned for liking as kids and teens have now become mainstream with the help of the media; and I honestly feel that is a beautiful thing. Cosplay was here before it became trendy and it will always be here.


What are you planning for the Long Beach Comic Con? 

I’m excited to have several panels, and will also be judging the costume contest. All of my panels are in room S6: Men of Cosplay (Sat, 12pm), Body Confidence and Positivity in Cosplay (Sat, 1pm), Cosplay Q and A (Sun 11am). I’ll be at my booth (CC2) taking photos with fans and signing autographs both days.

Do you find the LA fans particularly enthusiastic?

Absolutely! LA is my home and the fans here are particularly awesome.

What are you like in real life?

I love playing video games and watching movies with my cats on my down time. I also frequent teahouses and tend to get lost in whatever book that I’m reading at the time.


Trend Watch: Bubbles Are Chic Again

All images by Ken Goodman

Sodastream has had a trying year. In the wake of last year’s Gaza conflict, boycotts erupted over the company’s West Bank presence, causing them to announce the 2015 closure of their factory there. The stock price thusly took a big hit.

SodaStream Source machine event display 4. Credit Ken Goodman

But determinedly turning the focus back to their products, they’ve teamed up with superstar chef Paul Liebrandt (Corton, The Elm), he of the two Michelin stars and the 2011 HBO documentary A Matter of Taste: Serving Up Paul Liebrandt. And in defiance of the so-called blizzard of 2015, the NYC cognoscenti gathered at distinctly aroma-therapied Gramercy Park Hotel Terrace Tuesday evening to sample the, um, fruits of that partnership.

Chef Paul Liebrandt with guest. Credit Ken Goodman

Indeed, at least four (perhaps five or six—we’d actually lost count) bars turned out joyously fizzy cocktails—we were all about the Pimms—while teetotalers sipped the booze free versions of Liebrandt’s electrifyingly tasty new Sparkling Gourmet line. Divided into three categories, flowers, fruits and herbs, they’re as fun as they are flavorful: just pop a Nespresso-like container into one of Sodastream’s cooly retro-mod seltzer makers, and you’re on your way to hours of bubblicious liquid merriment.

Considering the palpable effervescence of the assembled, we’re pretty sure they’ve got a hit on their hands.

Sparkling gourmet flavor capsules 2. Credit Ken Goodman


Awesome Holiday Gift Idea: Space Travel!

Jewelry? Hawaii? A new Harley? Sure, they all sound like thoughtful holiday gifts for your (very) special someone. But in this, the 21st Century, nothing says “I love you” like the words, Honey, I’m sending you into space!

And World View Experience is now offering non-billionaires a chance to luxuriously escape Earth’s atmosphere for a couple of hours—leaving you with the ultimate reward of dominating the dinner party conversation for months to come. (Oh, you went to Morocco last month? How was that? We, you know, went into space.)

World View Experience image 2

A half-dozen passengers at a time (don’t worry—every seat is first class) board a sleek capsule which cruises by means of a high-tech hot-air balloon to 20 miles above this planet Earth, while the in-flight bar opens up for biz. Enjoy a tipple or three whilst taking in what we can only guess will be a rather glorious and life-altering panorama (Hey, I can see the whole world from here!) And since it’s a fully pressurized interior, one can simply come adorned in head-to-toe Gaultier—we recommend some vintage Fifth Element—sparing you the fashion nightmare moment of finding yourself in a roomful of people all dressed in the same space suit.

The dosh outlay? A $5000 deposit makes for a generous stocking stuffer installment towards the total $75,000 cost. Which, um, includes free wi-fi.

Earth travel is just so…2013. Isn’t it?

World View Experience image 3

Bai5: The New Coconut Water? Madonna, Kayne Think So

Now that the beau monde have become a little less cuckoo for coconut water (my, how easily distracted are thee), the antioxidant “energy” drink seems set to be the next great liquid infatuation. And the real buzz appears to be swirling around Bai5, which, in truth, holds itself up itself as a health-forward alternative to typical energy drinks.

Though the drink’s essence is culled from the enigmatic coffee fruit, and it has as much caffeination as a standard cup of green tea, the fruit itself is actually loaded with antioxidants. Bai resulted from Founder and CEO Ben Weiss’ clever alchemy of the coffee fruit extract, exotic juices, white tea extract and a sweetener of organic stevia.

Bai5 image 1

It ticks off every trendy box, from vegan to gluten- and soy-free to its fashionista-friendly five-calorie count. And Bai5’s millionaire fans surely can’t be wrong–indeed, the hip elixir counts Madonna, Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis, Kanye West, Diddy, and Heidi Klum amongst its glittering disciples.

But let’s face it—no one is imbibing it because it tastes like a rainforest. And while energy drinks mostly use flavoring to mask their elemental grossness, Bai5 thoughtfully comes in fun, vibrant, globe trotting flavors like Congo Pear, Costa Rica Clementine, Ipanema Pomegranate, Malawi Mango, Panama Peach and Tanzania Lemonade Tea. Each sip is a veritable portal to the Developing World!

Bai5 image 5

We caught up with the correspondingly globe trotting Weiss, and prodded him for some of his most enlightening recent travel stories.

INDONESIA  I travel often to Indonesia to source coffee fruit. I have a strong memory of sitting in a little coffee shop close to the Aceh airport with some of the Bai team members, including the those indigenous to the region. We were sipping on Kopi Luwak, or “civet coffee,” one of the locale’s most unique exports. It’s a delicacy made from coffee beans that have been eaten and defecated by the Asian palm civet, a weasel-like animal indigenous to the region. Apparently this process improves the coffee because the civet knows to only pick the best beans to eat, and also because the beans are infused with enzymes during the digestion process. It is known as the most expensive coffee in the world, and sells for $700 per kilogram.

COSTA RICA  I was exploring yet another beautiful coffee region in Costa Rica, as I often do to source the coffee fruit needed to make Bai. I like to explore the local areas and meet with coffee farmers to see how they harvest the fruit. On this particular trip I brought my family, and we decided to go zip-lining in the jungle; my 7-year-old daughter was the first to volunteer to zip away at 40mph through the rainforest. As payback, she made me do it upside down. It was amazing looking down at the lush green canopy, and hearing the howling monkeys below.


PARIS  During a recent trip to Paris, we were walking down the Champs-Élysées and decided to stop at a local pharmacy. When I glanced at the refrigerator I saw Bai5 sitting on the shelf next to several French soft drinks! While we’re not available yet internationally, our distributor is testing European markets and I just so happened to stumble into the right place. It was a monumental moment of pride for me.