The Chic New Upstate Weekend Getaway: Rivertown Lodge

Photography: Matthew Williams

With Labor Day around the corner, there are a few weekends left to properly flee the city sweat and escape to rural pastures. We recommend heading north to historic Hudson, NY and booking a night at the chic (and affordable) Rivertown Lodge.  Located on the town’s main strip, in what was originally a 1920’s movie theater, this 2-story hotel is attracting five borough dwellers and international Instagram photo seekers alike.

The idea of this hotel was to serve something like a public ‘living room’ for Hudson. The lobby includes both vintage and custom pieces all with a Brooklyn Makers spirit. The mini retail concept shop features goods from local artisans and a built in kitchen cultivates the communal vibe over a stellar breakfast bar and Tandem Coffee.

Rivertown Lodge Lobby 3 : Photo Credit: Matthew Williams

Located adjacent to the lobby is the bar which has an atmosphere of modern maker meets traditional tavern. The hand-crafted cocktail program is designed by award winning mixologists Natasha David and Jeremy Oerter.

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The room design is spot on for minimalist lovers. Custom beds by Workstead are crafted from turned cherry posts and layered with embroidered blankets. Additional furnishings include tables created by Sawkille in nearby Rhinebeck, NY, vintage wicker side chairs, upholstered reading chairs and lighting designed by Workstead specifically for the hotel. Bathrooms include raw brass fixtures, muted green and blue shower tile, custom-designed shelving and mirrors by craftsman from Brooklyn to Hudson.

Rivertown Lodge Bridal Suite 2 : Photo Credit: Matthew Williams

For late night provisions and conversation with your fellow travelers, there is a communal porch to congregate on. And if you’re feeling anti-social and just want to hang with your person, head to the backyard where you’ll find a fully tented ping-pong table for all the privacy you need to finish summer out with a casual game of table tennis.

Dream Catching in the Riviera Maya

Picture this: A very generous relative lends you the keys to their fabulous beachfront house while they’re away on holiday. Score! Now imagine your relative is an Italian Duchess, the house is a Mexican estate in the Mayan Riviera, a celebrated chef mans the kitchen, the spa is award-winning, and the staff has been instructed to treat you as if you were the Duchess herself. It may be a hotel in name, but Hotel Esencia is so intimate and familial that you instantly feel like the fantasy is real.    

Along the stretch of highway connecting Cancun (where you land) with Playa del Carmen (about one hour south), you pass a myriad of resorts easily identifiable by enormous, garish signs demarcating their entrances. Twenty minutes south of Playa, you would be hard pressed to find the entrance to Esencia, denoted simply by a gravelly road flanked by two large potted plants and camouflaged by a phalanx of tropical greenery. It’s as if you’ve just arrived at someone’s intentionally hidden abode. You can almost sense the cab driver’s jealousy as they pull in and knowingly volunteer, “Es muy bonito!”        

Nestled on fifty acres of lush property, Esencia faces a perfect mile of pristine white sand and aquamarine waters. Exuding effortless luxury and understated elegance, it was indeed once the private estate of an Italian Duchess dating to 1988. By 2005, it was converted into a 29-room Shangri-la, now catering to a discerning, well-heeled crowd of Americans, Europeans and Mexicans. Guests run the gamut from young honeymooners canoodling to 50-something couples on a romantic getaway to families in need of some well-deserved R&R. Even at capacity, one seldom notices other guests. It’s the supremely intimate ambiance and the naturally serene environs that set you at ease and ultimately convince you that the place is all yours.                  

Eschewing standard hospitality models, the whole check-in process takes place in the immaculately appointed living room of the main estate house. With no front desk in sight, you instantly feel like this won’t be your typical stay. As you tour the grounds, you take in the seamless blend of colonial Spanish and local Mayan influences. Terracotta rooftops rest majestically atop pristine white stucco walls marked by graceful arches, arcades and balconies—Mediterranean sophistication in full glory. White stucco paths snake among the forest of trees and plant life like the ancient paths that helped the Mayans navigate their way home a millennia ago. In this case they lead to and from a series of two-story, split-entrance houses where the majority of guests stay. One of those paths winds directly to the palapa-styled thatched roof spa where Mayan architecture and heritage meet pampered nirvana. Here, undulating adobe walls and lime floors get the Mayan accent treatment: painted ceramics, carved wooden sculptures, wicker chaise lounges, and bright decorative pillows all painstakingly handcrafted by local Mayan craftsmen. Esencia authentically wears its Mayan inspirations on its sleeve with clear nods to the region’s proud past, a knowing reminder of the ancient ruins (Chitchen Itza, Tulum, Coba, El Bakam) within striking distance.

If there is one unmistakable piece of Mayan décor that dots the property, it is the ubiquitous handmade dream catchers. They hang suspended in various sizes at the entrance to each structure, warding off evil spirits and spiritually cleansing you of all the stress you’ve brought from the real world. Guests seem to stroll around in perfect peace. The zen smile stretching across their faces is contagious. When you’re here you feel completely removed from the outside world and your orientation pivots knowingly towards the beach. The only noise you’ll ever hear will be the birds chirping and whistling in surround sound. To wit: the property is teeming with life. Iguanas, geckos, and pacas roam freely like a natural preserve. It is, after all, their home, too. And they seem to be in the same state as all the guests—one of ethereal bliss.  

For complete peace of mind and utter privacy, travelers sans budget restrictions should opt for one of the two cottages. These two-story zen palaces epitomize luxury and relaxation: private plunge pool, wooden pavilion with hammock, private patio with outdoor dining table, spacious master bedroom terrace with hammock, rain showers, double vanity, expansive den with dining room table, personally stocked wine fridge, TV room, chaise lounges galore, and a separate double bedroom should you have kids (or lucky friends) in tow. However, true luxury is in the details. The array of Molten brown products are replenished daily, as are the handmade exfoliating natural soap bars. The heavenly bed will have you peaking under the sheets to note which mattress brand to upgrade to upon your return home. Ditto for the pillows and duvet that render each sleep as dream worthy as the next. Between the precise digital temperature control, the elegant mosquito canopy netting, and the nightly rotating oil scents positioned at your bedside, you’re assured that extended peaceful slumber you’ve been craving.  

Setting your mind at ease even further, the Esencia team takes the concept of service to another level. From the wait staff to the cleaning ladies to the front office, an overall sense of purpose and natural camaraderie pervades. This familial warmth manifests itself in the hallmark of quality service—eagerness to please, yet never overly intrusive. Before entering your room for housekeeping or turndown, they always call first to ensure uninterrupted privacy. In fact, the staff is in constant communication between the restaurant, spa and beach, cueing maid service on the optimal moment to tend to your room. At morning group yoga, the British instructor, Vicky, patiently walks you through each pose as if it were a personal lesson. One mention of sunburn at the spa and your masseuse disappears into the outside herbal garden and reemerges with an impromptu remedy. Cocktails arrive in chilled glasses without fail at both restaurants. Water and wine glasses get refilled instantly (note: water, ice, fruits and vegetables are safe to consume thanks to Esencia’s in-house water purification system). Request a dinner for two on the beach and arrive to find a line of tiki torches leading to your romantic night under the stars. One waiter, Juan, has worked at the hotel for over five years, and had previously worked with the same owners at their first property—also for five years. That degree of loyalty is telling. The low turnover and impeccable service is a clear indication of happy employees taking pride in their jobs.  

Another mainstay at the property is Chef Bernardo, the kitchen maestro churning out indelible gourmet Mexican dishes day and night. Hit the beach after morning yoga and refuel on outstanding breakfast plates like Chilaquiles, Chile Relleno, or the Frittata Esencia under the shade of your palapa. Bronze yourself on the tourist-free white powdery beach, then switch scenes at the poolside bar and restaurant to sample the Agua Chile, Azteca or Verde—three standouts among twelve delectable house-crafted ceviches. Not to be outshined, lunchtime apps like Cochinita Pibil Panuchos and the Fish and Steak Tacos easily demand repeat orders, while the Tuna Focaccia entrée will have you lapsing out of etiquette and licking your fingers. Head back to the beach, dip into the adult pool (there’s fortunately a separate kid’s pool), then drop into the spa’s herbal-infused steam room unannounced for a quick aromatherapy session before your pre-dinner siesta. You’ll need to recharge to truly savor the meal ahead.

Even if you’re staying in Playa del Carmen or Tulum, dinner at Esencia is not only a must, but also head and shoulders above the purported top-tier restaurants in either resort area. Simplify the dinner menu selection by closing your eyes and just pointing. From Lobster Taquitos and Duck Carnitas to start, Grilled Reef Lobster and Shrimps “Tamarindo” to follow, to daily specials offering unique spins on traditional Mexican classics—you can’t go wrong. The wine cellar is equally top notch spanning New World selections from across South America and Baja, as well as Esencia’s owners’ own Argentinian vineyard, Ikal. Not to be missed is the latter’s rich and velvety 2008 Malbec. Cap the evening with the Chocolate “Bomb” paired with a top shelf tequila flight where gold medal winner, Clase Azul, takes the prize. Finally, retire to your room well sated and confident that every day of your stay you’ll get to relive the fantasy.     

The life of a Duchess certainly has its advantages. Thankfully we can all benefit from her good fortune by way of a visit to this Riviera Maya pearl. After just one day, you feel right at home, completely tranquil. Following one week, despite longing to stay, you’re also prepared to come back to reality with renewed vigor. These disparate feelings should normally be at odds with each other. However, upon leaving the property, you come to realize that the dream catchers were not only warding off the bad dreams and setting you at ease, but also forever capturing the best dream of all—your stay at Esencia.

Loopy Doopy Bar Is Not a Goldman Conspiracy

The Loopy Doopy Rooftop Bar at the Conrad New York hotel might fit neatly into the general conglomerate of Manhattan rooftop bars, but for one fun fact: the building is owned by Goldman Sachs. As part of what’s been dubbed “Goldman Alley,” Loopy Doopy—named for the Sol DeWitt piece in the hotel’s lobby—goes along with the Shake Shack, Vintry Wine & Whiskey, and Salvatore Anzalone’s barbershop to form Battery Park City’s new all-inclusive comfort zone for the 8,000 Goldman employees that come and go about the company’s main tower.

“On a Tuesday night, usually, you can’t move it’s so packed,” the bartender tells me, pouring a Maker’s and soda right before closing up—at 8:15 pm—because of high winds.

“And it’s all people from this company?”

“Goldman? Well, they own the building, so they probably encourage them to come here, I don’t know.”

“And they’re cool?”

He shrugs, swapping through facial expressions until he finds one that fits. “Yeah—I mean—yeah.”

This Tuesday, it’s a mellow scene. It’s Goldman people, but even better—Goldman interns. Skinny boys in blue and pink dress shirts huddle around like asparagus, not quite certain how to hold a drink in their hand. Twentysomething girls in pretty dresses sit at the bar, looking slightly disappointed that every other male there is still a child (myself included. Though I did carry the briefcase my mom bought me that I’ve never used). 

My old friend, whom we’ll call Wes, meets me at the bar so I feel like I have some reason to be there. He happens to be an advisor (or something) at JP Morgan, and I happen to be interested in figuring out what the hell Libor means.

I won’t bother to quote, because it’s super convoluted, but the important part is, Barclays took over Lehman Brothers after the financial collapse. And now that this interest rate-fixing scandal has come to light, everyone at Barclays except the chairman, Marcus Agius, is getting in trouble. Why hasn’t Agius gotten in trouble? Because he married a Rothschild. And the Rothschilds somehow have a stake in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which they intend to maintain, in order to control the cost of money and the value of everything they hold.

If that sounds weird, or Ron Paul-ish, the answer is yes, you’re welcome. What else is a little weird is that this massive investment bank owns a hotel and a couple restaurants and a gym and a barbershop, and their employees are “encouraged” to patronize them and stay within a one-block radius of the office for anything they’d need. I’m not saying there’s a definite conspiracy theory to be hatched, but for such a massive company that relies on manufactured financial products and manipulated interest rates (even if indirectly), it’s sort of weird that they intend to keep their sheep so close to the shepherd, especially since New York is a fine enough pasture from tip to tip. And what I also know, from watching enough Hitchcock movies, is that if something strange and menacing has to go down, it usually happens on a rooftop. Cheers.

‘Fifty Shades of Grey’: Where to Do It Yourself, All Over NYC

Whether you love it, hate it, or just get off on it, there’s no denying Fifty Shades of Grey is an S&M-ridden force of nature. Guys are reading it, libidos are reawakening, and the sale of rope at hardware stores has significantly increased

So why not get in on the action? Here are our top five places to do it yourself, live the Fifty Shades life, all over NYC. Fuck yes.

Holy cow, oh my. Am I blushing? Did I just bite my lip? 

Please don’t hit me. 

New York Opening: Blue Ribbon Sushi Izakaya at the Thompson LES

Perhaps no New York restaurant "empire" has been built as quietly at that of Blue Ribbon. McNally and Batali are forever in the headlines, while the Bromberg Brothers and their Blue Ribbon restaurants have carried on with the business of cultivating the most devout following in NYC. But the new Blue Ribbon Sushi Izakaya will be their first foray into the world of fashionable hotel dining–replacing, as it is, the Susur Lee’s ambitious Shang at the Thompson LES.

The new Blue Ribbon Sushi Izakaya is a fun, shareable plates version of their revered sushi eateries, with communal tables contributing to the buzzy vibe, and an understatedly sexy interior. Fitting, for its location in this ceaselessly hip hotel, expect a cool, late night bar scene.

Rome Opening: Gran Melia Rome

This sexy new Gran Melia Rome hotel is an instant magnet for those seeking a truly contemporary luxury experience in the Italian capital. It’s something of an urban oasis, as much a resort as a hotel, with sprawling grounds boasting a river and a serenely located swimming pool. Rooms are done up in classy, muted color schemes, and each floor represents a different classically- inspired art theme.

But Gran is also aiming to seriously up the epicurean quotient of the Eternal City’s hotel scene, with Michelin-starred chef Alfonso Iaccarino helming the Vivavoce gastronomic Mediterranean restaurant, in addition to a more casual poolside eatery and lounge, and a gorgeous panoramic roof garden. A YHI Wellness area offers personalized training and beauty services, as well as a dip in the "Vitality" pool.

Industry Insiders: Michael Capponi, Club Kid on a Goodwill Mission

Like the city he hails from, Michael Capponi’s life is a story of triumph over adversity. Credited as the man who helped land Miami’s South Beach on the jet-set party map by promotiing such influential nightclubs as Warsaw and B.E.D. Miami, Capponi battled addiction and health problems until a successful stint in rehab gave him a new lease on life. His career has taken off from there, with his development company, Capponi Group, and club ventures like The Wall at W South Beach, and pool parties at the Mondrian. But after spending months in Haiti assisting with the 2010 earthquake recovery effort, Capponi decided to build a hotel there, creating a world-class destination for vacationers, while giving locals opportunities to rebuild their lives as he himself has done. 

What has turned your attention to humanitarian work?
In the mid-nineties I dealt with a lot of personal and life-altering things, ranging from major drug addiction to brain surgery and ending up in the streets for a stint. Since my recovery in 1999, I have really tried to contribute to good causes and have lived with a motto of " duty first."
 
Has your career in nightlife helped you with your efforts in Haiti?
While nightlife remains a somewhat controversial topic, it has opened more doors for me than anything I have ever done. In over 20 years in nightlife, I have had the opportunity to meet thousands of people, presidents, dignitaries, celebrities, moguls, developers, publishers etc. When you start looking and connecting all the dots, you realize that all those relationships can really serve Haiti in a big way.
 
How are you putting those skills acquired during your club days to work? 
I think my main skill set is that I’m hands-on. Also, I understand development as a developer but, most importantly, I understand the art of rebranding, PR, and promotions. It’s all these key factors that are needed to help recreate a positive image for the new Haiti.
 
Are you worried that our attention on Haiti is waning?
No, I don’t see Haiti being forgotten. There was too much money donated and too much media and celebrity attention devoted to it. People like Donna Karan and Sean Penn continue being in the headlines, reminding people how important it is to stay focused on that island.
 
What is your plan of action there?
After 18 aid trips, I realized that Haiti needs to be fixed in a completely different manner. I’m developing a hotel on the southern coastline of Haiti, in Jacmel, where my focus will lay on creating tourism there, while preserving the local culture. Really, I thought about a hotel to create jobs there, and give tourists a nice place to stay when visiting. It maybe a small model, but with it I hope to lead the country into the world of self-sustainability.

Paris Preview: W Paris- Opera Hotel

With W’s proliferating like bunny rabbits around the world, who would have imagined it would have taken them this long to make a home in the City of Light? Located in a grandiose 19th-century Haussmann building in the 9th arrondissement, the W Paris – Opera’s fabulous position offers convenience to opera-lovers and hipsters alike.

Don’t come looking for cheeky neo-Empire style, though. This hotel is unabashedly mod, with a digital undulating wall at its core, sort of a giant mood ring, but themed around the seasons. This contrasts wildly with heritage-protected mosaic flooring and stained glass windows, which were incorporated into the design. A signature bar and restaurant are on the way. Book a suite with a view of the Opera Garnier, naturally. Opens February 14th, so get ready to fall in love. Or, at least fall asleep there.

Hotel Packages: A Ritzy Park Escape

I have summery public parks on the brain. When friends visit the city, I immediately turn into a super-tourist, heading straight for Strawberry Fields in Central Park with my wicker picnic basket (then I have to fight for a place to park it, but that’s another story). The Ritz gets that I don’t want to be dragging my foreign friends on tour buses or to a sweaty tourist mosh pit (e.g.Times Square), which is why they’ve introduced a Summer in the Park package.

Package: Summer in the Park Includes: Deluxe room, daily continental breakfast, bike and private gondola ride with The Ritz-Carlton Central Park, a gourmet picnic in the park. Option to cycle downtown and picnic along the Hudson on the gorgeous waterfront. Guests can also enjoy a tour of Manhattan by Sail with The Ritz-Carlton Battery Park. Booking: May 1st through October 16th Pricing: $725 per night at The Ritz-Carlton Central Park for a two-night stay with one full day bike rental for two, one picnic, and a Venetian Gondola ride at the Lake in Central Park. Pricing starts at $445 per night at The Ritz-Carlton Battery Park for a two-night stay with one full day bike rental for two, one picnic, and a 90-minute sail with Manhattan by Sail.