A Photo Diary to Change The Way You See Vegas Forever

It could be said that Vegas is as much about losing as it is about winning. Bugsy Siegal lost his life, I lost my virginity (a story for another time) and millions of people lose their hard earned cash every day in the city of Sin and yet we still go back again and again. The question is why?

When Sophie and I arrived at the Cromwell there was a 100 dollar bill in my pocket… at a certain point I had two hundred dollar bills in my pocket and by the end I had zero bills in my pocket… This kind of luck is typical in Vegas and the up and down nature requires that your accommodations stay consistently pleasant. In this way the Cromwell was incredibly successful. Billed as a boutique hotel in the center of the strip The Cromwell aimed only to be sophisticated instead of a life-size recreation of paris or ancient rome… and thus they delivered on this with a surprising amount of authenticity.

So whether it was the in room backgammon set or the coffee bar in the hallway or the amazing restaurant below the expansive club rooms the truth is I’m not sure… whatever it was it certainly made me forget about all the money I left at the blackjack table… and THAT… is certainly not lost on me.

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Sophie and I decided to go check out the much larger Ceasars Palace pool complex and were so pleasantly surprised to find that all the best seats surrounding the water were available… Fast forward an hour and two 20 dollar drinks and we’re presented with a bill for $150 for cabana seating… whoops!! 

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I never actually got to taste this desert… as we toured the gigantic and incredibly well appointed suites the Cromwell offered we came across this morsel prepared for a photo shoot that had just wrapped up… I still think about whether I should have just taken it back to my room…

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We had an amazing shower with quotes written in mosaics and that was certainly cool… I can’t help but feel a bit jealous that we never got to soak in these amazing oversized tubs… Guess thats what return visits are for…

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In Vegas you either get incredibly generic hotel rooms or something akin to bachelor pads from ‘Blade Runner’… The Cromwell felt like the home of that sophisticated British uncle you (I) wish you (I) had who regaled you with a story for each piece he brought home from around the world…

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Nothing is free… certainly posing Sophie with these lovely ladies was not gonna happen free of charge and of course I’d forgotten my wallet and we only had large bills… and of course just changing that money made no sense so these girls got a five dollar tip and we got a 3 foot tall margarita with enough tequila to kill a small horse… good times…

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Sophie is pretty comfortable on stage… and since we’ve been together she’s sung “Son of a Preacher Man” at no less than four different karaoke nights in three different cities… this was our Vegas addition and it was full of Vegas locals and a charming lesbian couples.

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Beauty Bar and I go way back… I’ve spent great nights in Miami, Los Angeles and New York at this booze franchise and this little visit to the Vegas outpost certainly didn’t disappoint… Also we love taking couple selfies…

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Sophie found her mantra!!

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Walking the strip is certainly an experience everyone should have. The hicks, the tourists and the locals all mingling in a smoke filled alcohol fueled bacchanal they call a city and everyone trying to pretend what they’re looking at is normal. 

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Our favorite street performer… this man was some sort of Reno 911 lookalike but I just like to pretend this is the official uniform for the Las Vegas Police Department…

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“Get them Get them!!” she screamed at me as these two Vegas birds of paradise slowly ambled across the crosswalk… Shooting is not quite as fast on a manual film camera but I did my best and I’m not terribly upset with how it came out… blurry bikini bottoms and all….

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Home sweet home for the two nights we spent in Vegas… a definite respite from the brash thematic behemoths that otherwise make up Las Vegas Blvd.

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Isn’t my girlfriend gorgeous… I certainly think so and it’s my camera so I can take as many pictures of her as I’d like…

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After about ten courses created specially for us by the chefs at NoBu we were pretty much filled to the brim with food amazingness. I’ve always said that regardless of how much food I’ve eaten theres always room for sweets at the end… So when the waitress asked us whether we should also do desert I figured how bad could it be…. I’m not sure if you can tell by the photo how much food they brought but I’m certain the chef was doing his best to disprove my theory. 

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Speaking of boozy franchises the original Brooklyn Bowl is three blocks away from my house and apparently now also exists Las Vegas and London… biggest disco ball I’ve ever seen…

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I think Sophie would be upset if I didn’t mention the fact that this band or singer who was trying to do a sort of Iggy Pop shirtless vibe was actually quite awful and this photo only really exists because I thought it was pretty lighting…

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So apparently Sophie is afraid of heights… I of course was not aware of this until we got about halfway up the High Roller and I realized she was sitting down with her face on her knees…. at the top you’re at the insane height of about 550 ft (taller than everything else in vegas) and I took this photo so she’d have something to remember it by…

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Elevator nook couple selfie… you can’t really see but that mirror is actually a big jumble of different types of mirrors… #cromwelldetails…

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It’s cool when these jumping photos turn out well… it’s even cooler when you shoot them once with film and have no idea they’re gonna turn out until you get the envelope back from the developer… and then you do a similar type of irish leap for joy…

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Twas the lobster that did us in…. both dinners literally pushed us over the edge with their Lobster dishes. Some kind of conspiracy huh… nope… just #highclassproblems

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Soph likes to watch cooking shows… our hope was that Miss Giada puts as much energy into her food as she does the enunciation of the various italian words she likes to use…all we could really say at the end was… Bravissimo!!

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While we waited for our second table (first time around they tried to put us seemingly in the back corner of the kitchen) we entertained ourselves by taking multiple Photo Booth shots…as if there weren’t enough photos being taken…

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First off I know what happens in Vegas is supposed to stay in vegas… but the things we did at the Cromwell should really be written about… this time though I’m gonna be PG and just let your imagination do whatever it needs to do…

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Waiting for your room (which isn’t ready yet dammit) can be a real nightmare…. luckily Vegas has plenty of ways to distract you…

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Seems serene right…. well later on that evening there were over a thousand revelers in various stages of undress turning this calm pool deck into one of the best clubs in the city. 

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I only wish it had been warmer… I know everyone keeps talking about global warming but then you come to Vegas in the middle of August and its 85 degrees… Suit yourself global climate but I just don’t understand you…

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I don’t allow so many photos to be taken of me… but when your girlfriend tells you to shut up and pose you just do what you’re told… then you reference the feet photo for the reason why…

Happy Earth Day! NYC’s Greenest Restaurants

When you’re feasting on a platter of cheese pierogies at Veselka, and loaded nachos from Wildwood BBQ, it’s nice to temper your finger-shaking “you said you’d order kale!” conscience with the fact that hey, you’re going green so scram. In NYC, only a select bunch of restaurants are actually Certified Green – meaning they’re using eco-friendly products and conserving energy and water – and the list just might surprise you (where are all those vegan restaurants?) Here are our favorites:

1.     Lupa Osteria Romana

2.     Nobu

3.     Le Bernadin

4.     L’Artusi

5.     Veselka

6.     Wildwood Barbeque

7.     Otto

8.     Dos Caminos

9.     Del Posto

10.   dell’anima

Know every inch of this city by visiting BlackBook’s NY City Guides, & follow Bonnie on Twitter here.

New York Opening: Cherrywood Kitchen

At Cherrywood Kitchen, a classed-up New American spot from chef Chris Cheung (Jean-Georges, Nobu), a cherrywood log burns on the fire and makes for a rack of ribs on par with the best of any Gotham barbeque offerings. In a twist of pairings, the apple celery slaw is the real spicy counterpart to the rich but milder ribs. You can eat them with a fork and knife—the bones just fall to the bottom of the plate. In fact, it may be best to keep your hands off, since Cheung doesn’t shy away from slathering on a sweet chili glaze, and the sexy librarian-themed dining room doesn’t exactly jibe with wet wipe packets.

The hands-off approach doesn’t quite apply to the rest of the menu. The market fish stew, which comes with or without the fish head pending your request, is also loaded with a workout’s worth of shellfish to pry open. Behind a frosted glass divide, the bar fare brings a kick of its own. Lobster tacos are a brilliant mix of hot and cold: chilled lobster meat dusted with Old Bay and stuffed in just-fried shells made of eggroll dough. The house variation of a Manhattan sees a smoked orange rind in Knob Creek bourbon, which I recommend over some of the alternatives that lean a little heavy on the sugar.

All said, the best part of the meal might actually be the bread to start. A complimentary loaf of ciabatta, which looks like a horned turtle, comes hot out the oven with a generous bowl of whipped blue cheese. Spread it, dip in it, eat it with a spoon. You can’t miss.

[Related: BlackBook New York Guide; Listings for Cherrywood Kitchen, Jean-Georges, Nobu; Download the free BlackBook app for iPhone and Android; Subscribe to the weekly BlackBook Happenings newsletter; More by James Ramsay]

Las Vegas Opening: Cognac Lounge at Caesars Palace

If there can be an entire restaurant dedicated to grilled cheese, then certainly a temple to one of the world’s most hallowed tipples seems more than reasonable, especially in Las Vegas. And the Cognac Lounge comes by way of equally hallowed culinary god Guy Savoy, whose restaurant in Vegas’ Caesars Palace has already earned two Michelin stars. Bottles are not "stocked" here–they’re "acquired." And several are exclusive to the restaurant and lounge, including the 140-years-aged Perfection by Hardy, a special Hennessy Ellipse, and the 1990-bottled Hine Talent, fittingly housed in hand-etched Baccarat crystal.

The strikingly contemporary room (no Chesterfields or Churchill portraits here, chaps), sets sumptuous brown leathers against a wall of architecturally assembled bottles, with a sleek modern fireplace–which does seem a bit superfluous in the desert–as a backdrop to it all. The Cognac Lounge decisively advances the rise of the legendary Vegas hotel as a formidable epicurean destination unto itself, with Nobu, Rao’s, and Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill already joining Guy Savoy in its dining corridors.

[Related: BlackBook Las Vegas Guide; Listings for Cognac Lounge, Restaurant Guy Savoy, Nobu, Rao’s, Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill; More by Ken Scrudato; Follow Ken on Twitter]

Make Fancy Japanese Food at Home With the Nobu Hand Roll Box

Let me tell you how to make a perfect sushi hand roll. Start by holding a piece of seaweed, shiny side down, in your non-dominant hand. Take a wooden paddle with your other hand and put a schmear of sticky rice on the seaweed, creating a little channel in the center of the rice. Then, using tongs, add your various components in that channel, like a strip of yellowtail, a scoop of salmon roe, a squirt of wasabi, and a sprinkle of chopped scallion. Take the near corner of the seaweed and fold it over the rice a little more than halfway up, tucking it in gently but firmly, before rolling it into a perfect little cone. Who am I to tell you how to make sushi? Well, I was only taught how to do it by Nobu Matsuhisa himself, during the unveiling of the Nobu Hand Roll Box at Nobu 57 on Tuesday night, and I’m pretty sure he knows a thing or two about sushi. In fact, he’s going to be honored with a lifetime achievement award at the 2013 South Beach Wine & Food Festival this Saturday at the Loews Miami Beach resort. So, yeah, after making one sushi hand roll, I’m kind of an expert.

The Nobu Hand Roll Box is a pretty neat innovation. It’s a way to enjoy the Nobu sushi experience at home, presumably when you have a dozen or so foodie friends over. And, as Nobu-san told us, while making perfect sushi is tricky, making a great sushi hand roll is actually kind of easy, if you have the right tools. And all the tools are in the stackable, black cloth-swaddled box, from tuna and shrimp to shiso and asparagus. And yes, the man himself demonstrated exactly how it should be done on Tuesday night, and we in the press gaggle lined up, one by one, to train under the master.

Interested? Of course you are. The Nobu Hand Roll Box is available nationwide, wherever there are Nobu restaurants. It costs $550 for the box, if you pick it up and drop it off yourself, and $750 if you can’t be bothered. It’s an extra $350 for in-house instruction by a sushi chef, but I’ll do it for half that.

As for Nobu Matsuhisa being honored at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, the tribute will take place this Saturday, February 23, 2013 at the Loews at 1601 Collins Avenue in Miami Beach. The event, including a fancy dinner prepared by an all-star roster of chefs, will run from 7:00 to 11:00 p.m. and costs $500 per person.

[Related: BlackBook Guides Listing for Nobu 57; Tasting Sake with the Daily Show’s Wyatt Cenac at Nobu 57BlackBook New York Guide; Download the BlackBook City Guides app for iPhone and Android; Subscribe to the free BlackBook Happenings email newsletters for New York, LA, and Miami.]

This Week’s Top NYC Happenings: Harlow, Pennsylvania 6, KTCHN

WEDNESDAY (tonight): Richie Notar’s Latest Parlor Harlow Opens 
Studio 54 and Nobu legend Richie Notar flies solo with Harlow, his glamorous new restaurant and parlor bar. Part of a 1926 gift from William Randolph Hearst to mistress Marion Davies, the space still has its original chandeliers and stained glass. Modern art (there’s a Warhol) updates the look, providing an elegant backdrop for a globe-trotting seafood menu. The raw bar nods back to Nobu with Japanese accents. For dinner, it’s creative combos like salmon with chorizo-Asian pear salsa, or Australian wagyu with fresh chimichurri.

Harlow (111 E. 56th St., Midtown East) opens Wednesday the 20th. To learn more about the restaurant, check out the listing at BlackBook Guides.

WEDNESDAY: Mightier Penn
High ceilings and popping red seats highlight the comfy confines at Pennsylvania 6 (pictured), the newest pub in MSG’s hood. Check out the space Wednesday night while celebrating the launch of Brooklyn Dry Irish Stout season with the malt masters of Brooklyn Brewery.

Brooklyn Dry Irish Stout Launch Party at Pennsylvania 6 (132 W. 31st., Garment District) on 7pm to 9pm on Wednesday the 20th. Get the inside-info on the pub at the listing at BlackBook Guides.

SUNDAY: Oscar Admirer
KTCHN at The Out NYC knows that the Academy Awards are more fun with champagne, a big screen, and a lively crowd. You’ll find all that, along with dishes cribbed from the 1929 awards, prizes for the deftest ballot jockeys, and edible Oscars to take home.

The Academy Awards Viewing Party at KTCHN (510 W. 42nd St., Midtown West) starts Sunday the 24th at 7pm. No table minimum; reservations required. To learn more about the restaurant, check out the listing at BlackBook Guides.

Find out first about the latest openings and events in NYC by signing up for BlackBook Happenings, the email brought right to your inbox every Monday. And download the BlackBook City Guides app for iPhone and Android.

This Week’s Miami Happenings: Bâoli, Dylan’s Candy Bar, Mansion

WEDNESDAY: French Turns Japanese
Bâoli’s executive chef, Gustavo Vertone, has brought on his sushi counterpart directly from across the street.  Formerly of Nobu, Chef Fnu “Danie” Armandani, is turning out some finger-licking good rolls using lux ingredients like Kobe beef, truffles, and caviar. As if Bâoli’s notorious Wednesday night “My Boyfriend is Out of Town” shindigs weren’t reason enough to drop in on this French debauchery central, we now have a BâoliRoll to keep us salivating.
Bâoli (1906 Collins Ave., South Beach) is now serving sushi. For details, check out the listing in BlackBook Guides.

NOW: Sweet Stuff
What’s sugar and spice and everything nice? Dylan’s Candy Bar on Lincoln Road. Get your glucose fix at the newly opened mecca of one mega toothache. Worry not, you Kosher, gluten-free, sugar-free, and nut-free candy enthusiasts. Dylan’s got you covered, too.
Dylan’s Candy Bar (801 Lincoln Rd., South Beach) is now open. For details, read the listing in BlackBook Guides.

FRIDAY: Mad Spinster
Local heavy-hitter DJ Craze and six-time DMC World DJ champion will take over the decks at Mansion with a new monthly residency kicking off this Friday. Putting his own spin on Top 40 jingles, DJ Craze is set to get shiz poppin’ on his home turf  until the end of February.  
DJ Craze is spinning at Mansion (1235 Washington Ave., South Beach) every Friday until the end of February. See the complete listing at BlackBook Guides.

Find out first about the latest openings and events in Miami by signing up for BlackBook Happenings, the email brought right to your inbox every Monday. And download the BlackBook City Guides app for iPhone and Android.

New Restaurants Turn To Potential Patrons To Open Their Doors

When the Tribeca restaurant The Elevens opens its doors this fall, it won’t be all thanks to an angel investor like Bobby De Niro, a partner in nearby Nobu, or a deep-pocketed industry player like Jeffrey Chodorow. First–time restaurateur Scott Kester raised a significant chunk of the $1 million capital needed to open the 65-seat restaurant and bar by offering neighbors the chance to become permanent “seatholders,” a position which entitles them to priority reservations and lifelong discounts. The cost? $500. “We thought it would be a good idea to build a community at the same time as raising capital,” explains Kester, who attracted 150 seatholders and hopes to enlist a few hundred more before the opening.

The Elevens is just the latest example of a restaurant turning to its (future) regulars to open its doors. As banks reduce access to large-scale loans and traditional restaurant investors take fewer risks, restaurateurs are looking to their communities and to a growing swath of micro- financing sites to raise money. They do it through Kickstarter, using the crowd-funding site to raise money in exchange for promised gifts and rewards. And they do it through Kickstarter emulators like Credibles, a site founded early this year that allows supporters to pre-pay for meals and services; Small Knot, which facilitates small loans from supporters in exchange for perks like private party invites or cooking lessons; and Lucky Ant, which solicits funds from neighbors living in the same communities as the businesses. “I can’t imagine spending money on a coffee shop in Portland, Oregon or Dallas, Texas,” says Lucky Ant founder and Lower East Side resident Jonathan Moyal, “but I’d be happy to fund one here.”

While Kester promised his neighbors seats at the table, that’s small fries compared to what Eric Fenster, the owner of Berkeley, California restaurant Gather, promised before it opened in 2010. Fenster and his partners raised the $2 million to open their eco-friendly restaurant (located inside a “green” community center) by recruiting 62 friends and neighbors as investors. Each committed a minimum of $5,000 [Berkeley!]. Though the return on investment for the restaurant industry is notoriously dicey, the cost of entry made it easier for first–time investors to get involved, and it offered the restaurant a built-in customer base. To raise an extra $20,000 in working capital right before the opening, the owners sold discounted pre-sale gift certificates. All the fundraising paid off. Soon after it opened in 2010, the restaurant won Esquire’s Best New Restaurant award.

Many chefs and budding investors find restaurants the perfect place to align their capital with their values. Anthony Myint, whose award–winning San Francisco restaurants Mission Chinese Food and Commonwealth both have formal partnerships with charities, included charitable donations as one of the perks during his successful $12,000 Kickstarter campaign for Commonwealth. He eventually raised about half the capital needed for the restaurant through the public sphere. Meanwhile, George Weld, the owner of Brooklyn breakfast favorite Egg, turned to Slow Money, a loosely organized group of investors focused on building sustainably minded businesses, when he started to raise money for his new restaurant Parish Hall. “Slow Money is more interested in making sure that we have a solid mission statement and actually do what we said we would do in terms of using local foods,” Weld explains. “It felt like a collaboration instead of trying to screw each other over.”

Danny McBride & Nick Swardson Answer 12 Inane Questions

In 30 Minutes or Less, the new suicide vest comedy (yep, that’s a thing) from director Ruben Fleischer, Danny McBride and Nick Swardson play socially-stunted nimrods who turn to crime to make a few bucks. Their plan? Strap a bomb-vest to a pizza boy (Jesse Eisenberg) and force him to rob a bank. While the relationship between Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari is the film’s heart, it’s the hard-R back-and-forth between Swardson and McBride, two seasoned comedians, that gets the biggest laughs. Last month, at the movie’s press day, we decided to stray from the typical junket banter with the two comedy stars to investigate some of life’s more pressing questions.

If you had to be a Siamese twin connected to a famous person, who would it be? DM: I guess in support of this film, maybe Nick? He’s never in a bad mood. But it would also be cool to be connected to a hot chick, but I guess if we’re Siamese twins, we’re siblings, so there can be no messing around. NS: Maybe Johnny Depp. That would be pretty sweet. I heard he owns his own island.

If you could live inside any cartoon, which one would it be? DM: I guess one of those weird old Merrie Melodies cartoons. Those are such weird, strange worlds, with the singing bees and stuff. NS: Probably Batman: The Animated Series. That would be badass. I wouldn’t want to be in Road Runner where shit’s falling on me.

If you could only watch one movie for the rest of your life, which one would it be? DM: Weirdly enough, maybe it’s something like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or The Goonies. Those were movies that when I was a kid, I fell in love with. If there’s nothing on TV, I’ll just throw those on this background, because it’s comforting, it’s nostalgic. You don’t even have to watch it. Just hearing those voices and hearing those scores puts you at ease. They’re not necessarily my favorite movies, but as far as comfort levels, those are the ones. NS: I would maybe say either Casablanca or Dumb & Dumber. I just think Casablanca is the perfect movie. I think it’s probably the best movie ever made. It’s got comedy, action, drama, romance—it just has everything. And I think it’s rare to find a perfect comedy, but Dumb & Dumber is up there for sure. A lot of comedies will fall apart, but that one is so fucking funny from start to finish.

What would be your death row meal? DM: I would probably want a big steak, a twice-baked potato, a good iceberg wedge salad, and a shot of tequila. That’s my meal right there. NS: Sushi. I fucking love sushi. It would be yellowtail sashimi with a little ponzu sauce. I’m a big sushi snob. I’m a regular at Nobu. It’s a block from my house in West Hollywood. They said I eat there more than anybody. The miso black cod is incredible. Nobu is bomb, dude. They have these Wagyu beef tacos that are fucking insane. They actually introduced me to Nobu as one of the regulars. I’m like Norm from Cheers at Nobu.

If you knew every day of your life was only going to be worse than the one before, would you want to continue living? DM: That’s tough, but no. NS: It depends on worse, how. I think at the end of the day I would be fine being homeless and living on the beach, so I would make the best out of it even if I lost all my possessions. If people were dying all around me, yeah, that would be a fucking nightmare, but I don’t think I would ever kill myself.

If you could live in any era, when would you want to live? DM: I would say, maybe the Old West. Just be a little outlaw Josey Wales, and see how that turned out. NS: I’ve always thought about that. There are moments it would be cool to live in, like the 1800s. I don’t want to live when there was no aspirin, when you can die from a fucking headache. I want to grow up in the 1980s or the ’70s. I’d like to be older, when I can party. I don’t do cocaine, but I’d like to go to a time when cocaine was awesome and cool. It always makes me laugh when I hear stories about the ‘70s. Everyone was fucking and doing drugs. Like meetings in Hollywood, there are so many stories where it’s like, Oh yeah, we were having this development meeting and there would just be a huge pile of blow on the table. That’s so fucking awesome. Why did that stop? If you could have a meal with any historical figure, who would it be? DM: Twain. It would be some good conversation. NS: Probably Martin Luther King, Jr. It would just be cool to sit down with him and be like, so, tell me about this dream?

What do you think is the worst part about being a human being? DM: The feeling of having to shit. I never shit in public bathrooms, I try to pinch it off. NS: The knowledge that you’re going to die.The fact that we’re aware that it’s all going to end. The worst part about being man is that we could only orgasm once.

If you had to have consensual sex with another mammal that’s not human, which one would it be? DM: Probably a sheep, because so many people have done it there’s got to be something good about it. NS: Dolphins are mammals, aren’t they? That would be weird, but you could fuck the blowhole.

Would you rather spend a year in prison or on a deserted island? DM: A year alone on a deserted island. I’m absolutely horrified of going to prison. Any of that kind of shit freaks me out. NS: A deserted island easily, that’s not even close. I get along with myself really well, and I’m wicked claustrophobic, so I could not handle being in jail for a year. And an island, dude. It’s sunny, chill, get some a fucking coconuts, find a volleyball to hang out with.

If you had to experience the pain of being burned alive for an hour, but it meant you’d be saving the life of a kid you’d never meet, would you do it? DM: It will take an hour? Tough luck for the kid. Fuck him. He could end up being an asshole. NS: Yes. That’s a no-brainer. It would suck, but you’d be saving a fucking life, dude.

If you had to give up music or movies, which one would it be? DM: I would probably give up movies. I love music. I’m a big music guy. After having met all these celebrities, musicians are the only ones I get star-struck around. I met Jack White and Alison Mossheart from The Dead Weather, they were big fans of Eastbound and Down. The Beastie Boys, I can remember being in the 5th grade, and my mom wouldn’t let me buy Lisence to Ill, and my nextdoor neighbor had it, and I remember putting our tape players together and me recording it. In my day to day life, music plays a much bigger role than movies. NS: Music, because I’d just listen to the soundtracks in movies.