André Balazs Just Changed How We Fly to the Hamptons

André Balazs, you son of a gun, you’ve done it again. In the game of Hamptons showmanship, the hotel kingpin and Chelsea Handler boy-toy has just revealed his hand, and it’s a straight flush. Introducing StndAir, a one-craft airline and Balazs’ attempt to reinvent East End travel for people with cash to burn.

Launching today and flying through early October, StndAir’s one plane is an 8-passenger Cessna 208 Caravan Amphibian aircraft, which will be available for swift passage not just to the Hamptons, but to anywhere within a 300 mile radius of New York City. As the press release points out, that includes Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, Cape Cod, and the Hudson Valley. Really, though, does this plane belong anywhere other than the airspace above the Spielberg estate? We think not.

The $495 one-way ticket (you read that correctly) comes with more than just a bag of roasted cashews. Passengers will be treated to a bottle of rosé, Swedish Fish, and StnAir Branded Water. The cherry-red airship takes off from the East River seaplane base on 23rd Street. When you fly over Balazs’ Standard Hotel, wave goodbye to the sun bathers at Le Bain and spit on those unfortunate souls who think a stroll on the High Line is the proper way to spend a summer day.

NYC: The Bunker Club, the Best New Nightlife Discovery

What a rush last night was! I’m not sure how long it’s been since I’ve been able to say that and mean it. To spend the morning glowing despite my hangover (thanks for that, Kanon Organic Vodka). Sure, it’s Fashion Week and everyone is buzzing about yet another shift in New York nightlife. Don Hill’s, The Darby, and Lavo have been touted as “game-changers” by our own Steve Lewis, and these varied new options have people going out in droves. But the shift really was palpable last night.

I was already succumbing to a mid-week slump, ready to retreat to bed early. But the evening’s itinerary was too enticing: The Last Magazine was throwing a party at a new spot called the Bunker Club, below Bill’s Bar & Burger, and Dossier decided to throw their party (with Kate Lanphear) at the buzzy Nolita taqueria Tacombi. The venues were not obvious choices, but, as I would soon find out, “game changers” themselves. I rolled up to a mass of fizzy downtown partiers smelling of beer and tacos on Elizabeth Street, and immediately felt that inner nightlife switch flip on.

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Kate was, per usual, the sharply dressed belle of the ball, hosting a post-Proenza show, which included, as she put it, “sorta anti-fashion cocktails for my homey and hero Dan Martensen.” He had set up a space next door to Tacombi, and was working with Dossier to take portraits of guests for a photo book, a “time capsule of fashion/art/film,” Lanphear explained. The crowd, so wonderfully varied, was eventually herded into Tacombi without protest. When was the last time you went to a party that was void of those entitled assholes who refuse to wait in line? There was no such madness amongst the mannered pals of Lanphear and Elle Creative Director Joe Zee. I’m dreading the fact that I might sound like another scene-whoring asshole myself, but the politeness put me at ease. Steve Lewis dropped by and was swayed towards staying in his neighborhood instead of moving to Williamsburg, like he thought he was going to do. Katie Gallagher, a designer whose show was styled by Lanphear this week, was clad in her signature geometric threads with her—dare I say—visionary graphic artist boyfriend Nikolay Saveliev. The couple is great to look at, but their soft-spoken manner and easy disposition make them lovely to chat with as well. The crowd was dotted with downtowners, fashion and anti-fashion folks alike. The sort of unfinished, raw restaurant looked like the perfect backdrop—a pseudo-outdoor camping party.

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I was reluctant to leave the party early, but there’s something about the Meatpacking that seems to make my pals skittish. “We should go now, or else we’re going to be waiting forever to get in,” one of them said. Indeed, a line had already formed outside of Bill’s Burgers, but it was a line that stood out like a sore thumb amidst the suits and tarts scampering around the nabe. Femme-bots, feathered caps, pirate tramps, and other artsy-looking mischief-makers weren’t waiting as patiently as the patrons of the former party, but the vampy Bettie Page-ish doorwoman was just doing her job (and doing it well). Former BlackBook chick Briana Rasinski was somehow involved with the basement bar. I texted her a wary, “I think I am heading over to your place?” Briana is an incredibly keyed-in nightlifer. She somehow knows everyone and, along with her brother Brett (who is tapped into the Waverly Inn crowd) and Matt Abramcyk of Beatrice notoriety, the team seems to have isolated that missing link in nightlife, and recreated it.

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After bounding down the silent staircase, we were met with a blast of bass as soon as we opened the door. The space—a former wartime bunker—is big, but filled with nooks and secret spots. The layout is conducive to spending your whole evening at one bar. The main bar area is a sunken living room, with cozy furniture and weathered rugs, perfect for pre-gaming and catching up with friends. Once you’re suitably tipsy, the dancefloor is a few steps up, perched on a higher tier, surrounded by more tables and comfortable chairs. When you first descend the staircase, excitement builds because you have the full view of the entire place. DJ Maia Wojcik, careful not to use the old “this is the new Beatrice” adage, simply noted: “This is the closest thing I’ve seen to the Beatrice.” Indeed, the crowd was similar: artsy, good looking, successful, and more importantly, varied. Andre Balazs, mixed in with Alexander Wang and Alex Richards. Top models (not “B” models, as Steve Lewis says) like Anouck Lepere and Maryna Linchukhung were out in their best MOD looks. Of course, it was fashion week, and it was The Last Magazine. But this place seems like it has enough passionate people behind it to really light up the scene. Are the crowds going to be similar, even after fashion week has left the building? “Yes! Brett has the Waverly crowd, Matt has the Beatrice crowd, so it will be that familiar cross section of both—the prestigious and the party crowd,” she said. “How happy are we that we have a place to go out again?”

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It seems a few select industry players have finally been able to pinpoint that intangible thing we’ve been missing in nightlife, that element of nostalgia—a shred of the familiar, house parties, living rooms—mixed with a jolt of innovation. New openings come and go, and those commercial “hotspots” that are produced en mass, for the masses, are void of feeling, and are likewise consumed without feeling. Excitement wanes, and the place, which was only superficially great, fades. But it seems places like the Darby, Don Hill’s, and, as I found out last night, Tacombi and Bunker are living up to the buzz they’re generating, largely because the people behind the new spots are more passionate, and more attune to their crowds. I have a feeling there will be a lot more to write about in nightlife this fall.

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Benetton on the 18th Floor

The most exceptional thing about the 18th floor of the Standard, formerly the Boom Boom Room, is that the place looks as gorgeous in the day as it does at night. I can think of few bars, even those in immaculate hotel lobbies, that don’t hold the stench, grime and absence of the night before. But Andre Balazs molten cream couches, muted woods and gentle, reflective surfaces were as welcoming before sunset—when the winners of Benetton’s international “It’s My Time” tiptoed around the press and fashion honchos—as they were long after (when those same models, helped by some Moet champagne, jumped into group shots, hugs, and dancing).

Soroya is the winner from the UK. “I’m from London, but originally Ghanaian-Jamaican. My mum’s Ghanaian, my dad’s Jamaican,” she says. Her story seemed just too good to be true: she got involved when she went online to vote for a friend—entered herself, and ended up winning. And what has she found most surprising since she began her career as an official model? “The perception of models. Today, we were just having a meal in pizza hut and one of the guys asked ‘What do you do’? And I said, ‘I’m a finance student’. And he went ‘Oh my god! You’re a finance student! So that means you’re smart’. And I was like, ‘Well….yeah. It is possible’.”

Well if she’s so smart, why was she eating at Pizza Hut? “Oh, well…food. I love food. I’ll eat anything when I’m hungry.”

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Benetton has never been one to shy away from the changing times, or controversy. Their “It’s My Time” campaign was the first ever global online casting cast, wherein 20 winners, who will appear in Benetton’s 2010/2011 campaign, were selected from 65,000 entries from nearly every country on the globe. The result was 20 kids (the oldest is 30, the youngest is “Prague Girl” and she’s 15.) who have real lives and looks and none of the hangups or training of professional models. Hopefully, for Benetton, the result will be a campaign with a very real, very contemporary feel.

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“A lot of people thought the new technology would be a challenge for us,” says Alessandro Benetton, the company’s president, “closing the gap between old technology and new technology, old media and new media, younger generation and older generation. The basic conceit of new technology for most people is coldness, instead, these twenty friends you see tonight [the winners were brought together this week in New York] were already friends through the internet. It was refreshing to see that the attitude does not depend on the technology. The younger generation can dialogue much more than we think through these new technologies.”

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With fashion and luxury’s snail-pace acceptance of the changing media, it’s refreshing to see a company like Benetton, with the help of some first class advertising, embrace the power of the Interweb. While a modeling contest isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel, “It’s My Time” puts Benetton leagues ahead of its mega-brand competitors (speaking of which, does GAP still exist?).

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While I interviewed Benetton, the DJ switched to a Michael Jackson track, and I found myself in one of those symbolic moments, speaking to a man whose brand came to embody the brightness, flare, and marketing successes of the 80s (Brunello Cuccinelli recently revealed that he started his company by producing cashmere sweaters in the 80s by copying, Benettons outrageously bright colors), while the 80’s ultimate figurehead, maybe its Godhead, played all around us. “He was a breakthrough, in many respects,” says Benetton. “Unique.” When Benetton reflects on the 80s, he thinks of MJ, of “Studio 54, the music, but mostly when I think of the late eighties, I think of the end of the cold war.”

Ah yes, the good old days, back when you could put up a billboard of an African American man kissing a white woman and it was considered groundbreaking.

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A Room with a Free View

I spent the weekend at the brilliant Gramercy Park Hotel. It was a blogger thing with fellow writers and editors from Nylon, Huffington Post, Urban Daddy and Mr. and Mrs. Smith cocktailing and dining. Even my old pal Scott Solish from Eater was there. It was breakfast and dinners and fine wine and strolls through the ultra private Gramercy Park. We slumbered in feather soft beds in rooms with views. I always look gift horses in the mouth, kick the tires and ask direct questions while looking people right in the eye, but nobody wanted anything of us “except to experience the property.”

I asked one of the PR peeps if there was any reason for the timing of this tour. I was told that they just wanted us to see the hotel and what it had to offer. I said the getaway was “sort of like a flare reminding New York and the rest of the world that they were still here” and that was an acceptable explanation for them. Except for visits to my man Nur at GPH’s Rose Bar and an occasional walk through the lobby and bar to see the art, I suppose I haven’t “considered” the hotel lately.The place really is undeniable. The staff was bright, sophisticated, informed and informative. The restaurants were brilliant. Danny Meyer’s touch was everywhere and my summer slim-down diet was severely sidetracked. Maialino on the ground floor was a fun feast. The roof club brunch was wonderful and on such a lovely day.

In a town that has been dominated by news of Andre Balazs and the Standard Hotel of late, it was enlightening to revisit Ian Schrager’s Gramercy. These properties set the bar, one doesn’t have to be hipper, cooler, hotter than the other. They are the ultimate in the boutique hotel experience.

I keep promising my take on Jon Lennon, Adam Alpert and Jus-Ske’s new company “4am” but something keeps coming up . By the time you hear my story about them they’ll have renamed it to 6am. I got a frantic call Saturday about the Roxy. My source told me that the Roxy was going to be reopening with Peter Gatien in the deep background. My crazy (but too lazy to check for himself) pal went on to say “Wow, that’s nuts. Gatien is the reason the Community Boards need to exist.” I laughed and went straight to the horse’s mouth. Since this horse is a dark horse, I’ll keep his name blacked out. My man said, after 3 full minutes of laughter, that the story is not at all true. The Roxy will not return as a club but may reincarnate itself as a roller rink and restaurant if the Community Board agrees. The chit chat turned to the revelation that a new mega club is planned for a West 50’s location. The project is well funded and so far away from baby carriages and retirees that it might actually happen. I know the players that were mentioned and they are seasoned pros with no baggage.

Boom Boom Room Might Be Going Private

Over the weekend, the Post ran a potentially crushing item claiming that Andre Balazs, presider over the Standard regime, is looking to turn his already-exclusive club the Boom Boom Room into an impenetrable members-only fortress.

Apparently, regulars aren’t satisfied with the level of exclusivity at New York’s most exclusive nightclub, and are pressuring their overlord to take control of the situation. In an e-mail to Page Six, Balazs wrote, “”We want to ensure that our friends, whether they come nightly or less frequently from out of town, are always taken care of.” Have you ever tried getting into the Boom Boom Room? It’s impossible, unless your name is Willem Defoe, who cruised right in shortly after we were rejected. Whatever ends up happening, Zach Galifiankis is probably very concerned.

Industry Insiders: Axel Huynh, Craziest Baby

Event producer Axel Huynh is the force behind Crazybaby! Event Planning, Communications, and Celeb PR, who list clients like Evian, Fiat, Citizen K, Pernod and Moët on its resume. Last year, the Paris based company threw the party voted Best of Cannes 2008. BlackBook caught up with the multi-talented party genius as he set up Terrazza Martini—one of the exclusive tents on La Croisette during Cannes.

How did you get your start throwing parties? I realized that I wanted to be part of this industry the day I started modeling. I was 18 and walking the runway at a Jean-Paul Gaultier fashion show. The excitement of the event intrigued me and soon after, I was hosting parties and organizing crazy fashion shows at a Parisian cabaret called Folies Pigalle.

What is the mission of your company, Crazybaby!? The mission of Crazybaby! is to entertain in style. We put our own eclectic spin on new and fresh events to make them stand out as unique. I constantly push creative boundaries and follow up every idea with a question, “Does this make a statement?” and “Will people talk about this after they leave?” Passion is the key word!

Is passion what makes a great party? I think a great party is all about balance between guests. I like to mix the crowd between A-listers and artists, famous and unknown. I love contrasts.

What are your favorite bars and restaurants in Paris and beyond? In Paris, my favorite bar is Mathis Bar because it’s really cozy. Au Pied de Cochon restaurant because you can eat till late in the night. In LA, my favorite spot is the Chateau Marmont. I also love the Raleigh in Miami, especially their poolside brunch.

How was your experience at Cannes last year? Last year I did many parties at a bunch of different locations. From the Evian Royal Spa on a gorgeous yacht in the Bay of Cannes, to a pool party at a villa owned by French designer Pierre Cardin, which was voted the “Best Party of Cannes 2008” by a leading French fashion magazine.

Do you think things will be toned down because of the global economic situation? Last year, there was barely a corner cut. This year, the cutbacks will only serve to make the great ideas shine brighter, which is why we’ve been working every minute for Terrazza Martini. It’s impossible to understand before you see it come together, but during the last few months, I’ve put together an unstoppable team. Every detail of this tent will be perfection, from the design to the guest list.

Who are people in the nightlife industry that inspire you? These individuals are not necessarily from the nightlife industry, but I’m inspired by talented minds and by people who have their own vision. Andre Balazs, because I love the spirit of his hotels; David LaChapelle for his creativity through photos; Federico Fellini for his amazing films; Jean-Paul Gaultier for his originality and inventiveness.

And what’s the least inspiring thing you’ve seen at a party? I attended an event once where a model tripped on a carpet and ended up pulling the step and repeat down with her. What a disaster.

You gotta love a good fashion disaster if only for the catty comments that follow. What’s the bitchiest thing you’ve ever overheard at a party? I once heard a doorman tell a woman leaving a club that she had to get her own cab because he only got cabs for “young, hot guests.” The woman was outraged.

What’s more important when throwing an event: securing an amazing space or finding good liquor sponsors? I don’t think I can choose. A great space with nothing to drink is boring. It’s like champagne without bubbles. It doesn’t make sense.

Who are 5 people you’d like to have on your dream guest list? Andy Warhol, Jackie O, Audrey Hepburn, Peggy Moffitt, Barack Obama.

Complete this sentence: The party doesn’t stop until… …the shiny disco ball falls.

What are you up to tonight? I’m finishing up the final details for Terrazza Martini at Cannes. So many ideas, so little time.

Industry Insiders: Mark Birnbaum, Hospitality Honcho

Mark Birnbaum, the man who makes up the other half of Tenjune, speaks to us on the opening of the Chandelier Room at the W Hotel in Hoboken tonight, his icons, and why New York’s Meatpacking District is still the center of clubdom.

What’s the story with the opening event for the Chandelier Room? It’s tonight, 7 till midnight. The full facility will be open for all to see, even though the W has been open and operational for about a month. There will be a full red carpet outside and several live performances. There’s a piano bar in the lobby — very Frank Sinatra. There will be a lounge singer and a woman singing on the piano, like in The Fabulous Baker Boys. DJ Cassidy will be spinning. The Chandelier Room will be open inside, including the ballroom and outside. The Living Room Bar will host our surprise performer.

Describe the décor. It has a large, oversized chandelier. There are very high ceilings, and the windows are huge. As soon as you walk in, we have floor-to-ceiling windows that face Manhattan virtually throughout the entire space. The walls are all windows. It’s beautiful. To the left, you have a fireplace, and behind the fireplace is a private room which you can see into. It’s a small room for about 25 people. That room also has windows overlooking the city and a flatscreen TV. The outdoor space has another bar and clear views overlooking Manhattan. It has a retractable awning in case of rain, and it’s very loungey, with outdoor carpet and another fireplace.

What are the differences in owning and operating a club in New York and New Jersey? For starters, here we have the support of an entire hotel above us. People are coming because they’re excited to see the new W. This isn’t promoter-driven, it’s venue driven. Not to mention, in this area it’s the only game in town. In New York City, you have hundreds of hotels and boutique hotels. There isn’t really competition for us out here. The W appeals to a different demographic in general than Hoboken is used to. If anything, it anchors people to the town, keeps people in Jersey, and gives people a reason to come to Hoboken from surrounding areas. I think it’ll certainly help the businesses around here, like the restaurants and the parking garages, and even the other bars. You have to give people a reason to come out here. There are a ton of Hoboken residents and people who live in surrounding areas who work in Manhattan, and they’re thrilled that now they can stay put and stay local with something of New York City quality. A lot of people in this economy are saving money where they can, and this will save a commute into Manhattan from Hoboken. People can get slightly less expensive drinks, with essentially the same vibe.

Do you have any favorite joints in Hoboken? I like the Nine Bar, near the W, and the restaurant Zylo in the hotel happens to be very good as well. It’s a Tuscan steakhouse.

Do you think that Manhattanites will make the trip to visit the space on a regular basis? We’re not relying on it. There are plenty of people in the area, but I will say yes. Think of how many coworkers people have that are coming in from New Jersey. Now people from New Jersey can say, “Come to my spot for the birthday party or the after-dinner drinks.” Some people will come from Manhattan to hang out with their friends, since there’s a worthy place to hang out. The place is rocking now, filling the lobby from 7 at night to 2 in the morning. And it’s right across the river. For us, it’s a 10 minute commute from Manhattan. My apartment literally stares into the W Hoboken, and I’ve been watching it get built for the last four years. What establishments do you frequent in the city? The Waverly Inn has the best atmosphere and crowd. Hillstone, formerly Houston’s, has the most consistent product — best ribs and best spinach dip. And Acapella has amazing food and service. It’s the full experience of Italian dining

Who do you admire in the hospitality industry? Keith McNally, the restaurateur behind Balthazar, Pastis, Schiller’s. He has vision, confidence, guts, innovative design, and the best atmosphere with everything he does. He is a true pioneer. Andre Balazs, the hotelier behind Chateau Marmont, The Standard, and The Mercer. He has laid out a framework for me to guide my own business strategies.

What positive trends are you seeing in the hospitality industry? With this economy, customers that spend their hard-earned money are expecting the best hospitality and service. We’ve prided ourselves on always taking the best care of our customers, and as a result people stay loyal to us. I’m happy that it’s appreciated, and these days it really shows.

And negative trends? The cost of doing business in our industry makes it very difficult to turn real profits

What is the most-anticipated event you have coming up in 2009? After the Chandelier Room, we have two new New York venues opening in May. A two-story restaurant and a below-ground club located in the old Lotus space on 14th Street. Where’s your dream space for a new venture? I must say, we are in our dream space. Tenjune is smack in the middle of the Meatpacking District, which we feel is the greatest location in the country for the business we are in. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

NYC Opening: The Standard Hotel

imageSet to the tune of jackhammers, the opening overture of The Standard New York begins Wednesday, with a “friends and family” rate of $195 a night. Only a handful of rooms are available, as the hotel is still very much under construction — so much so that in lieu of room service, rooms will be equipped with a binder full of local restaurants that offer in-room delivery. These construction rates are good through February and include free wifi and complimentary continental breakfast. The lobby and the topmost floors are not finished, and neither is the restaurant (clearly). When else are you going to stay in the Meatpacking District, at an André Balazs property, for under $200 a night? To book a room, call 212-784-5530 or email nyreservations@standardhotel.com.

Art Basel: Calmer, Quieter, Didn’t Suck

Word on the street, beach, the fairs and in hotel lobby banter was that Basel 2K8, as a whole, couldn’t hold a candle to last year’s event. Even so, hordes of New Yorkers made the airborne trek on Friday for the weekend wrap-up. As if Basel-goers needed to clock in more time at the Raleigh hotel, the venue hosted the Tommy Hilfiger & Vanity Fair gala to benefit Free Arts NYC. Regrettably, the soiree can be classified a poor man’s version of the Visionaire event of the previous night (no male models, no champagne fountain).

Tommy and Ally Hilfiger, Paul Sevigny, Marc Jacobs, and Katie Lee Joel cozied up in beachside cabanas and took in large projection videos of images from Free Arts NYC and TH artists. The door was as tight as that of the other VF party (Oscar edition), despite the fact that past the metal gates there was little to no mayhem worth reporting. East Village Radio DJs Andrew Andrew noticed that crowd congestion everywhere had decreased in comparison to past years, but claimed that they were partial to a semi-sedated Basel. For pure entertainment purposes, guests flocked to the Mark Van S. Digital Photobooth and headed out solely to snag the TH/Jeremy Blake image tote bag.

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The human-blockaded entrance to Casa Tua was equally as incongruous — once inside, few could understand the curbside hype. Andre Balazs, Naomi Campbell, and industrial designer Yves Behar made appearances for the Bruce Weber & L’Uomo Vogue party. Upon entering, I leapt at a rare opening on the floor next to Mr. Weber.

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The man of the moment revealed that he was thoroughly enjoying the week’s events (also a man of few words) and that the”30 Americans” show at the RFC was a personal highlight. The bar upstairs was bustling with salsa music frenzy, and I sat for a moment to catch up with artist David Foote. Although David is a first-time Basel attendee, he confirmed that popular opinion reveals that Basel has lost the heat.

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The opportunity cost of line-waiting was missing out on the Estelle & Tory Burch festivity at the Fontainebleau. This was the A-B list destination of choice for Lenny Kravitz, Paris Hilton, Venus and Serena Williams, Russell Simmons, Beyonce, and Jay Z. As a consequence, I trudged down Collins Avenue in utter devastation for omitting the Estelle event and flubbing a raging social agenda — when astoundingly, I stumbled across Brooklyn artist Ellis G. in action. This street-based artist outlines shadows with sidewalk chalk at night, making for city ordinance-friendly graffiti. Although mid-bike, he stopped to chat with a group of bystanders and touched upon the fact that Basel nightlife seemed incredibly quiet, especially in his typical nocturnal hour.

As I decided to call it a night, I returned to the age-old did-it-suck-or-didn’t-it question. In general, the vigor and enthusiasm levels had significantly decreased just since Wednesday, and the rumor mill was still brimming with analogies of the present and the Basel of yesteryear. Gallerists weren’t able to adhere to my life theory (cash is king: sell, sell, sell). And every time that I threw this one in cocktail party conversation, it was met with a disapproving stare. But there was lots of champagne nevertheless, and dammit, if enjoying Basel ‘08 was wrong; I just don’t wanna be right.