Jon B. Reopening Juliet Supper Club?

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As I left the subway yesterday afternoon, I wondered if the rain had stopped. I approached the stairway to heaven and all things Meatpacking District when a man who looked like he had just seen Godzilla turned to me and said "It’s fucking Noah’s Arc shit out there.” Armed with a $4 umbrella, I went toward the rain, which seemed more like a portend to an Al Gore "I told you so" monologue than a midsummer relief. As I bravely entered the maelstrom, tourists huddled under awnings, looking like scared wet puppies. They looked at me like I was a fireman entering the burning tenement. I decided to sing and skip through the puddles and had the most fun. I entered my meeting at the Soho House with wet feet and a youthful grin. There, I kissed cheeks and shook hands with fabulous friends who told me secrets that I swore I’d wait on.

Someone asked me if I had been to Jon B’s new restaurant, punctuating the remarks with "air quotation marks and ending with wink, wink." I said, "No, I haven’t gone to RSVP yet and I don’t think I will.” They asked me if he was going to run it like a restaurant or if he would it do that for a while and then let it devolve into just another Juliet Supper Club. I said something like, "A leopard can’t change his stripes,” or “A horse is a horse of course of course," and the dude thought I wasn’t making sense. They put booze in those drinks at Soho House.

Another chatty fellow told me he heard from a lawyer that works with another lawyer that’s getting the liquor license that Jon B was going to reopen Juliet, which has been shuttered because of doing everything badly. This fellow swears that Jon will open there again as a restaurant. "OMG!" I offered while trying to escape. “It will be Deja Vu, Bang ,Bang, Bang all over again!” While the suits chuckled at my escape quip, I ran to the couch to take my meeting, waving to beautiful, wonderful, fabulous people at the bar. Soho House is all things to some people. I’m considering hanging there constantly for inside “wink, wink” scoops.

This Saturday night I am heading to Le Poisson Rouge to catch DJ/producer/old friend Frankie Knuckles. I chatted with him about the gig and the state of dance music yesterday. Le Poisson is really an important spot and has been since day one. It was good to catch up after too many years. Frankie will be joined by Miguel Migs, Sleepy & Boo, Mikey G, and Dan Fisher. It will be nice to hear some good ol’ house music. Electronic dance music is like a mosquito to my ears. I seek some vocals and the company of adults.

Last but not least, and the subject of tomorrow’s post, is this Sunday’s Xtravaganza Ball at XL. It will be everything. Tivo True Blood, On Demand The Newsroom, put your seriously chic outfit on, and head to this ball. I cannot recommend an event more strongly. This is the realest of deals. Please come done-up as that is the requirement at balls such as this. But be warned: there are few balls such as this. I must leave right now for my fitting, as I have been honored to be a judge and must look fierce. Tell you more tomorrow!

The Virgins’ Donald Cumming on the Band’s Comeback, His New Sound, and Being a Life-Long New Yorker

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Donald Cumming has led and continues to lead quite a life. From the trials and tribulations of his youth to those that accompanied signing with a major label, the 31-year-old born-and-bred New Yorker has no shortage of stories illustrating his hustle, his hang-ups and his regrets.

Cumming’s cult band The Virgins—which loosely formed in 2006, was signed to Atlantic in 2007, experienced a meteoric rise in 2008, and continuously toured the world after that—has kept somewhat mum for a few years, but returns today with their sophomore album, Strike Gently, out now via Julian Casablancas’s indie imprint Cult Records.

In the interim since his debut, Cumming has overhauled his sound—essentially morphing from shiny pop to folk rock—and begun playing with three entirely new “dudes,” as he is wont to collectively identify his bandmates. Max Kamins (bass), Xan Aird (guitar), and John Eatherly (drums) round out the updated ensemble, which last month played an intimate set at Soho House and tomorrow plays SXSW. The remainder of March and early April the foursome will tour the US, and they can next be enjoyed in NYC at Bowery Ballroom on April 1.

Connecting with Cumming, who I’d feel more comfortable calling Donald, was particularly special for me, as The Virgins was the first band I ever interviewed. Last time, we crouched together at Highline Ballroom in the designated “VIP” section. Five years later we could be found at his studio space in the East Village—walls lined with blankets in an attempt to muffle their rehearsals—sitting on his beat up sofa beside an open window while he basically chain smoked. “It’s, like, my shame,” he told me, explaining that in part his shame stems from the fact that cigarettes are tested on animals and for the past few years he’s been vegetarian-turned-vegan.

He seemed to me to be in a better place, and said so. Married for two years to Canadian visual artist Aurel Schmidt, Donald, the only child who dropped out of high school, ran away, and did odd (and undisclosed) jobs to make ends meet, seems to have found his footing again. He was gracious and humble and open to talk. We caught up for an hour and a half, and what follows is the most meaningful, entertaining, and informative aspects of our conversation. Donald discussed a number of things, including his take on The Virgins’ audible departure, what he’d do if he didn’t have his music career, and how, despite a challenging childhood and professional woes, he feels ever so fortunate.

Tell me a bit about this switch. New members, new sound…
It’s been a minute. The dudes [and I] wanted to do different things. I love those dudes, those guys are like family to me, [but] we were ready to move on. We changed a lot. These guys, I’ve known them a while. We played together in a country cover band. When I was writing new songs, I started playing with these guys, and it felt really good. It just made sense that, since we were friends—we’d been hanging, playing music—they would be the dudes I worked with. It was a cool vibe; when we started writing new stuff, the songs grew naturally. It worked right away. I love these dudes and the way they play. We don’t have to tell each other much. Everybody does their thing.

What was the process of bringing the album together?
We’d been writing songs, started playing around the city. Because we had an opportunity to do a one-off, we had a single. We had, like, half this record written and started recording. We didn’t know who was going to put it out. We probably thought we’d end up putting it out ourselves. Through a mutual friend we found out Julian [Casablancas was] interested. We played him songs, talked about what [we] wanted to do, and he [told] us about the label. It felt really cool. The vibe was good right away.

Sounds pretty painless.
It was. This experience has been amazing. A lot of painful shit happened with the last album, with the label we were on.

What compelled you to maintain the name while transitioning the style?
The first thing I ever made was a demo in my room. I started giving [it] out and put “The Virgins”—I thought it would be cool to be in a band. Then, when I got a deal really quickly, I didn’t have a band, so I put the band together [and] made the EP. Things were progressing logically, except we had [signed with] a major label. When we went to make the record, a lot of stuff didn’t fit for me. It changed our direction, without us having control. We started having to deal with the business model and projected earnings and all the things that come with being on a big label.

It’s the name of my band. It was my name before the label, before the record and, after, it’s still the name of my band. When we started making this record, it was like going back to when things flowed naturally. We made what we felt like making. It didn’t feel like a change of direction. It felt like getting back on track. Personally, [“The Virgins”] doesn’t mean anything to me. It’s a name. I don’t have any attachment to it, emotionally or aesthetically. It just seemed like it would be more trouble changing it than leaving it alone.

Why the aesthetic shift?
For me, the music isn’t different. It’s just songs I believe in. I was deciding whether or not I even wanted to make music anymore, the conclusion I came to was, I’m not interested in doing anything I don’t believe in. It wasn’t a decision to change the style. I had to make what I wanted to make. I couldn’t have done anything else. If it throws somebody off, there’s not anything I can do. There might be fans that are like, “Oh, this sounds different.”And I understand. It definitely does. But, it just sounds like the way we play. We’re just doing it, and it sounds different. It’s not an ideology where we have to present a new thing. We didn’t say, “Let’s do it differently.”

Can you share a bit about your uncertainty surrounding continuing to make music?
Making the record with Atlantic was kind of crazy. I don’t want to go into it, but we all felt [that] wasn’t what we were trying to do. It affected all of us. Then we toured extensively. It was a strange experience. It wore away at me. I couldn’t identify with the music [anymore]. It got to the point where I was like, “I hate this. I hate this whole thing and I don’t know how to fix it.” So, I guess I had a bit of a spiritual crisis. [Laughs]

That was 2008?
’08 through ’10. Maybe ’11. It went on and on because we just kept touring.

Did you do anything else between then and now?
A ton of shit, but I needed to get my brain together. Besides getting married, finding out what means most to me, follow[ing] goals to their logical conclusions. There’s always somebody with an opinion, a reason you shouldn’t do what you want. Most times in my life, when I haven’t done what I wanted, I’ve ended up regretting it.

When I saw you perform last month, I kept thinking about Tom Petty and Bob Dylan. Have you gotten that before?
No. It’s great to hear. Everybody has their own take. So far it’s been stuff I like. It’s cool with me.

So, where do you like to play?
I love Mercury Lounge. I’ve enjoyed every show we’ve played there. It’s my favorite spot in the city. It sounds good. It feels connected. You’re sharing an experience with a room full of people. Obviously it’s cool when we play bigger venues, but the bigger the place the less personal things feel.

Do you become homesick pretty easily?
No. I really like traveling. It’s one of my favorite things about being in a band. Making records is amazing—it’s its own special thing—but the fact that you get to travel is quite cool.

And you grew up in Manhattan.
I grew up a few places, but I lived on Canal and Greenwich when I was a kid and, when my parents split, I [divided] my time between [there] and Astoria, with my mom. I’ve probably moved 10 or 11 times.

You have a favorite neighborhood?
I love Chinatown. I don’t live there anymore, but it’s peaceful and I like that. It’s gentrified, but doesn’t look like a mall. It’s heartbreaking to walk around the city and see how fucked it is. But, I love New York.

You’re a lifer.
Oh yeah, for sure.

Me too. So, of course this city influences your music.
Of course. All my memories are here and all my friends are here. Every place reminds me of somebody or something. It has an affect on me.

You didn’t finish high school, did you?
No.

And no college.
Yeah.

You’re self-taught. How many instruments do you play?
I attempt to play the guitar and the piano. That’s it. I’m not that guy who masters instruments. I get by. Shit’s not sounding so crisp anymore, you know what I mean? It doesn’t have that pop. I’m not the world’s tightest rhythm guitarist. Any little addition to my repertoire feels like a big achievement. [Laughs]

What’s been the biggest challenge?
Getting back to a place where I [can] express myself and feel like [I’m] making music for reasons valid to me. I didn’t know if that would happen again and was prepared for that not to happen. I feel grateful to have had the experience [of] making this record and excited to make more and play with these guys. I just feel really fortunate.

Do you do anything else apart from this?
I mean, I’m not really qualified to do anything else.

If you couldn’t make music, what would you do?
Honestly, without wanting to be overly romantic, washing dishes. That was [a] job I had that felt pretty all right. But you can’t support yourself doing that. Well, obviously people do. I don’t want to sound flippant. I’m lucky to make music for a living. But, when I washed dishes, I had some good friends and some good times. That’s a job I look back on without frustration or anger. A lot of things I’ve done for money in my life I really regret.

Regret?
[Deciding] to do something because I needed money, as opposed to believed in or wanted to, that stuff stayed with me. I’m not resolved. I needed money, so it was good to alleviate whatever problem I was having. But, I don’t have that money now. And those things are indelible. So, is it worth it? I don’t know. When I was younger, I avoided all work all the time. I was always broke. Beyond broke. No money whatsoever. I would paint myself into corners. If an opportunity came up to [make] money, I had no choice. I feel like it was cosmic punishment for not working. Like, you do shit for money you don’t want to do. I’ve got hang-ups about this obviously. [Laughs] I’m grateful to be a professional musician, to support myself with music. But washing dishes was a job I don’t have bad feelings about. I just got into tight situations. You do what you gotta do.

Did you receive monetary support from your family at all? Were you “privileged,” as they say?
No, not at all. My dad had a liquor store, my mom worked in an office. My dad was an alcoholic and basically went bankrupt. Closed the store. Moved in with his boyfriend. He was a committed alcoholic and died when he was 41, 42. I was maybe 11 or 12. My mom worked in Jersey, I went to school in Manhattan and we were living in Queens. She would take me, then get on a bus and go to work. It was tiring for her. When I was, like, 14, she met this guy from Florida and moved there. I went with, but didn’t get into it. My life was here. So, I ran away. I left home and moved back when I was almost 16. I had a little bit of money from social security—from my dad dying—and I started renting a bedroom from my friend’s mom. I got a job working at a coffee shop and was trying to go to high school. But I stopped going to school. I stopped working. That led to figuring it out. I wouldn’t trade it or change anything.

Wow. So, no regrets?
Only petty stuff that fucks with my ego and shit. I regret not going to school. I regret not going to college. I’ve always had to do shit on my own. It might have been cool to have a professor and be with other students, finish an assignment, and get feedback. I would have been down. But, I was way more focused on the opposite of that. I wouldn’t recommend it.

Switching gears, you’ve got a certain look. Can you comment on your personal style?
I only buy used clothes. I don’t believe in manufacturing clothes. It’s a drain of resources, putting all that shit into the world. I believe in secondhand. I’m vegan. I don’t wear animal products that are new. There’s definitely enough clothing on the planet, not only to clothe everyone, but [also] to stop fucking with animals, stop polluting the world, stop using plastic, stop exploiting people—all that shit. Like, I’m just not down. I could go on and on.

Didn’t see that coming! What prompted the veganism?
I bought The Animal Rights Handbook: Everyday Ways to Save Animal Lives by Linda Fraser at a secondhand store, because I liked the cover. I was already vegetarian and it was on my mind. I felt super guilty eating cheese and was like, “Fuck, I know I shouldn’t be doing this.” I didn’t know what was going to be “the thing,” but I knew it was coming. I started reading this book and that was it. I have never thought about going back. It’s not difficult at all. It makes perfect sense. It’s quite strange how willing people are to not give a fuck. 

Singer-Songwriter Sam Sparro Still Soars, His Music Still Shimmers

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It’s possible this sentiment is exclusive to me, but it feels like forever since I got down to a romantic dance ballad that I was head-over-heels happy about. But a catchy tune like “Black & Gold,” with a campy video to match, off of 30-year-old Sam Sparro’s eponymous debut album, is sort of what I’m referring to. 2008 welcomed this Aussie-born, L.A.-raised singer-songwriter to the stage with the record’s release—though he was no stranger to the limelight. Indeed, Sparro got his start as a youngster, singing in the choir and appearing in fast food ads, among other things. The way I see it, this sweet diva was born to be a star.

2012 witnessed his reemergence on music store shelves (oh, who am I kidding—iTunes and Spotify) with Return to Paradise, a sonically upbeat but lyrically somber collection of new originals and remixes. In fact, though the pop disc dropped months ago the globe-over, just yesterday it came out in the states. Unlike his previous outpouring—which was an isolated electronic event comprising Sparro, a producer, and a computer—his sophomore effort hears him break out in a big way with multi-instrumental, layered, and enormous-sounding songs. As he says with a hint of sophisticated cheek, “I like to imagine I make dance music you can think to."

The natural born belter was in New York last week, performing an intimate set at Soho House on Thursday, followed by a headlining gig at Webster Hall Friday. I caught up with Sparro backstage during sound check, interviewing him whilst percussion reverberated throughout the East 11th Street venue. If the talented man weren’t already a riot to talk to, he sported a do-rag and baseball cap, “to flatten my hair so it’s really flat,” he reasoned, so a smile was never far from my face. We discussed a host of things, from his adolescent airs to having his heart broken, from discovering his sexuality, to the eclectic individuals who make up his planet-plodding crew.

Read on for more from one of the most down-to-earth entertainers I’ve ever had the pleasure of sitting down with. Then keep an ear out, as he’s poised to punctuate 2013 with still more new numbers.

Congratulations on the record at long last releasing in America.
I’m excited it’s finally out. It was pushed back and pushed back and pushed back. Elsewhere, this album’s been out for six months already and I finished it over a year ago. We’ve just been dealing with a lot of red tape. My label, EMI, was sold to Universal, and that sort of affected the release in the states. The business at the moment is a bunch of ups and downs. Like it always was…

So, in what ways do you feel like Return to Paradise is a departure from the previous album?
I think there are similarities between them. But, I definitely feel like it’s a more grown-up album—a more introspective record. The first album is very much me and a producer in a small studio on a computer, and this one is a lot of musicians playing in different studios around the world making live music. So, it was a very different process. And a really fun one. A fantasy of mine was to record horns and strings and piano and bass. A lot of the music I grew up listening to was that.

Speaking of growing up, you were raised in a musical family…
When I was a kid my father was a gospel musician. He was signed to a Christian label and toured with his Christian rock band. He actually wrote a lot of songs that people sing in churches still today. We used to travel with him a lot and I would sing backing vocals and in choir at church. That was my childhood. I think you can still hear that influence in my music.

Oh for sure. Minus the Christian message…
I’m a spiritual person and I’m pretty open-minded about what that means. I don’t practice a religion, but I believe in a higher power.

In addition to church choir, I understand you sort of got your start in commercials…
I wouldn’t say it was the start of my career as a recording artist, but it was something I did as a child. I was always hungry for attention and my grandmother, an actress, was very supportive and encouraging. She insisted that my parents get me an agent.

How old were you?
Probably about 7. My mom hated it. Eventually, after I did about three or four commercials and some modeling jobs, she got tired of my attitude and pulled me out.

So you were a diva.
Apparently, yeah. Apparently some friends came to the house and I had just been in a McDonald’s commercial and I said, You must recognize me from some of my TV work.

You were, like, 8?
Probably. I think it was for the best that I didn’t continue doing that.

I’ll say! Who knows where you’d be today?! So, fast forward, how did you spend the time between these records?
I was working on this album for two-and-a-half years, spent a year-and-a-half on the road for the first record, and I was sort of paralyzed for a while after that, creatively. I was feeling very lost and stuck and sort of blocked. It took a while for this album to take shape. But, I feel like I’ve picked up momentum again. I’ve been writing so much new stuff. There was a lot going on in my personal life, too. I went through the most major breakup of my life, which really influenced this record. It was a pivotal thing in my life and it took a lot of my energy and my time.

Is it safe to assume “I Wish I Never Met You” is about said relationship, which ended in heartbreak?
Yeah. I don’t really mean that, but I felt like that for a while at the time.

Has the individual reached out since hearing your song?
We’re in touch. It’s not good to hold grudges.

And you’ve found love again.
Yes. I’m in love.

May I ask, did you always have a hunch you were interested in men?
Yes and no. I think I was in denial for a long time, but I always knew I was different. I came out when I was 17, 18. I’ve always been gay, that’s for sure. I was born this way!

Preach! So, how did you assemble this super skilled team?
Some have been with me almost five years. Some are newer. Vula [Malinga, backing vocals] and Charlie [Willcocks, keyboard], they’ve been in the band five years. Everyone lives all over the place, too.

Where?
I live in L.A. My drummer Guy Licata lives in Brooklyn. The other four live in London. But, Brendan [Reilly, backing vocals and sax] is from L.A., Vula is South African, born in Texas, grew up in London. Naz [Adamson, bass] is from London. I’m from Australia. We’re like the United Colors of Benetton. [Said with sass]

Does everyone get along?
Yeah, we hang out together. We really enjoy each other’s company. We have so many inside jokes; it’s hard for people to follow what’s going on. We just laugh and laugh and laugh.

Is that what you did last night after your set?
We just stayed at Soho House and giggled and ate.

Sounds lovely. Is there a diva in the group? Ahem…
The other two singers more than me! We call them L’Oreal and Maybel-mean.

[Laughs] Is the latter hyphenated? How would you spell that?
We’ve never written it down. It’s an oral tradition only.

I’ll be the first to put it in print. I saw you and Vula had a dance-off last night.
We have fun on stage.

Where did you learn your moves?
Oh my god. Vula says I’m a frustrated dancer from way back. She’s like, Oh, you wanna be in a boy band!

Do you?
No, but I do love dancing. I grew up obsessed with Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson and Madonna and all the great pop stars of the eighties and nineties. I used to take tap and jazz as a kid. I wanted to be a hip-hop dancer. I just think it’s in my veins or something. I don’t know.

What would you be doing if you weren’t doing this?
Probably nothing good. [Laughs]

[Gesturing to what looks like a stripper pole] What does that mean? Using the pole?![Laughs] Possibly! I don’t think it would be pretty. I think this is what I was born to do and this is what I’m grateful to be able to do. I honestly don’t know what I would be doing. I can’t imagine doing anything else. I mean, I would like to work in other mediums of art. But, who knows. I’ve worked in a factory, I’ve done office jobs, I’ve been a waiter. It’s just not a life I want. I have to be creative.

A factory?
I worked in Surrey in a Toshiba spare parts factory. It was grim. I was about 17. I mean, it’s that dirt-poor-struggling-to-survive-waiting-for-someone-to-hear-my-demo…and working in a fucking factory…cliché. It was short-lived, but it did happen.

And now look at you! You’re in New York, with a show last night and a show tonight. How do you like it here?
I love New York. I’ve been talking about moving here for a while and I think next year my partner [and I] are gonna live here part time. I love New York City. I think it’s the best city in the world. It’s a huge inspiration. It’s such an exciting place. I love being caught up in the pace of it. It gives me a bolt of energy.

As compared to L.A.?
They’re very different cities. I love living in L.A. It has its own interesting history and influence in the world. I think it’s misunderstood a lot—misrepresented. It does have depth and soul, but you have to find it. It’s there. I love California. I think it’s a beautiful place.

Slam Donahue Rocks The Rooftop Of Soho House

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Sometimes you just have to spend a hot summer evening by a rooftop pool listening to some sweet tunes, am I right? Last night, rising Brooklyn outfit Slam Donahue performed atop the Soho House hotel, with good vibes to spare.

Songs like “Where Are You” and “How To Be Cool” channel the kind of airy euphoria that’s reminiscent of the Go! Team’s arrival on the scene or eclectic production duo Javelin, though they keep their pop principles in plain view. Slam Donahue also previewed tracks from their forthcoming Hemlock Tea EP, which was produced by Ayad Al Adhamy (Passion Pit) and will be released this fall on Cantora Records.

Download Slam Donahue’s Big House Nice Dreams mixtape for free here.

Is Paloma Faith the UK’s Answer to Lady Gaga?

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Paloma Faith played Le Baron last night. She’s an English chanteuse—chant-OOZE, the intern who studied French corrects me—who is being positioned as the new Lady Gaga. Yesterday afternoon, since I don’t do anything after 7:30pm, I went to see Ms. Faith perform at the Soho House. There were a bunch of music editors there and we were served chicken and salmon beforehand. Then we were led into a screening room and shown the music video below on a big screen: 

The video is pretty bombastic. It also makes absolutely no sense. Though I liked the song, and continue to like it, the video disinclined me to Ms. Faith. Or maybe more accurately, it made me resent whosoever decided to position her as the next Lady Gaga. After the video, Ms. Faith emerged out of a side door. She was wearing an amazing up-do and a cable knit gown. She had two back-up singers including one called Baby Sol who was amazing looking and sounding. There was a pianist. Without speaking, Ms. Faith launched into her song  "30 Minute Love Affair." 

I still didn’t love her at this point though my positiion was slowly melting. After the song—which she later explained was about the time she fell in love with a busker when she was 14—she began to talk. She has a very strong and not at all posh English accent. She also has a dorky laugh. It’s a loud guffaw and it’s  totally adorable. When she let out the laugh, which was clearly happening because she was nervous to be shown off to a room of music editors, it made me really really like her. Regardless of the trappings and her positioning, Ms. Faith is a sweet girl with a tremendous voice. I think it is misstep to gird her in the trappings of an outré performance artist since it places this overly weighty mantle on her that I don’t think she can, or should have to, bear. It also sets her up in opposition to Ms. Germanotta which is a strategic error. (Granted, who knows when Gaga will ever release new music.)

Ms. Faith played a few songs, including "Picking Up The Pieces," which she explained she sang because she wanted to prove she could actually sing it (she could). Oh, before I forget! Watch this: 

Anyway, back to the important stuff. Her album, Fall to Grace, is huge in the UK and will be released sometime in the States by Epic, who just signed her. That is, according to her, "up to us." Us in this case being the assembled music editors. She sang a few more of her songs. Among them the most musically strong would be a track called "Just Be," though she adorably and incoherently explained it as a song about being in a long term relationship. "I’ve never been in one," she said, "but I imagine this is what it’s like."  Then she laughed and it was great.

After her set, she stood in the front of the room "in case we wanted to talk to her." I couldn’t think of anything to say so I didn’t really. I also have no idea whether she’ll be "huge" or if this is something I’ll tell my kids about and they’ll think I was cool. Chances are, regardless, they’ll never think I"m very cool.  Musically, Ms. Faith has the talent to make it big here. Though her material, at times, fails her and the marketing approach around her—high fashion, weird, lots of allusions—does not serve her, she’s the real deal. She’s not Adele. She’s not Gaga. She’s just herself.  So instead of watching the video or buying the hype, listen to the album with your eyes closed. And if you ever get a chance to hear her laugh, go unto her and hear it. 

Gabe Cardarella Stays with Starwood, Spikes Your Hot Chocolate

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There’s no better way to learn about hotels than from frequent travelers, and if those travelers come bearing cocktails, then we’re all in. Gabe Cardarella, bartender and brand ambassador for Dewars, told us a little bit about his booze-soaked existence (in a good way), and filled us in on his favorite drinks

Where are you based and how long have you been there?
If you travel as much as I do for work, then calling anywhere home can be difficult.  The best answer I can give you is JFK, ORD, LGA, DFW and LAX.  I travel a lot.  Being the Ambassador for the best selling blended whisky in the United States to means I have a lot of ground to cover.  At the moment I’m in Hollywood, hosting a series of tastings at Jim Henson Studios, giving consumers a look into our double-ageing process that is so unique to our brand.

How many days a year are you on the road?
Last year I traveled roughly 240 days, this year closer to 280. The demand for the Scotch category as a whole is growing not just in the US, but all over the world, Dewars is no exception. This past summer, I spent my time visiting our Caribbean market in places like Curacao, Puerto Rico and Aruba where Dewars is one of the most popular spirits. 

Sum up your job in one sentence.
My main task is to bridge communication from the brand to the market place, sharing our whisky’s story with trade and whisky enthusiasts. 

What are your favorite cities to visit?
Every year I’ll spend a few weeks in Scotland, visiting out distilleries, brush up on the lasted techniques and spend time in our blending lab and bottling plant in Glasgow. Scotland is a beautiful place, everyone is very friendly and a limitless supply of Scotch, naturally making it one of my favorite places in the world. Next month I’ll be traveling to Hawaii for a week, which I’m sure won’t be so bad either.

Where/which are your favorite cocktail bars right now?
In LA, La Descarga is one of my favorite bars for custom cocktails, they’re making fantastic cocktails using scotch, my favorite being their take on the Dewars 12 Manhattan.  When I’m in the Midwest, Delilah’s in Chicago has one of the best whisky selections I’ve ever seen and places like The Brandy Library and Soho House in New York are great places to have a dram of whisky, to name a few.  For me, nothing beats a great dive bar.  Give me a good jukebox, bartender that knows my name and glass of Dewars 18 and I’m a happy man. 

What’s is your drink right now?
Lately I’ve been doing a lot of Dewars 12 Rusty Nails.

What’s the last great meal you’ve had?
Any time I can get a home cooked meal I’m psyched. If you’re reading this, Grandma, time for some spaghetti. 

What’s the best hotel you’ve stayed in this year?
The Scotsman in Edinburgh.  You get your own private loft with beautiful views of Princess Street. 

What makes a great hotel?
It’s all about the points. I’m loyal to Starwood, in fact just went platinum my last stay. Comfortable beds and a TV remote that works is a nice touch too. 

DEWAR’S Holiday Cocktails:

DEWAR’S Hot Toddy

1 part DEWAR’S® 12 Blended Scotch Whisky

3 parts hot water

1 tea bag

Honey and lemon juice, to taste

 Coat the bottom of a mug or an Irish coffee glass with honey. Add DEWAR’S 12 and the lemon juice. On the side, heat water in a tea kettle and add the tea bag to make hot tea. Pour the hot tea into the glass and stir.

DEWAR’S Hot Chocolate

2 parts Dewar’s 12 Year-Old

3-4 parts hot cocoa

Whipped Cream

In an Irish coffee glass, combine DEWAR’S 12 with hot cocoa/hot chocolate; top with whipped cream and a dusting of cocoa powder.

Industry Insiders: Amanda Middlebrooks, House of Mirth

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To cater to the eclectic devotees of New York’s exclusive Soho House, a private club pampering those in the arts and media, it helps to see things from a member’s perspective. That’s what makes Amanda Middlebrooks such a perfect fit as its marketing and member communications manager.

Earlier in her career, the Florida native worked for A-list caterer and party planner Serena Bass, who moved her company’s offices into the trendy Meatpacking District building in 2008. Soho House management was so impressed by Middlebrooks’ poise and business acumen that they hired her to handle partnerships and events.

“I try to put myself into the shoes of a member,” she says. “How to create an environment where connections can be made, what space I would most enjoy, even what cocktails I would like to drink on the roof — thanks to quite a few hours of research.”

While Middlebrooks draws on her experience every day, she says the secret to her success is a bit more fundamental. “I’ve found that the best tools are a smile, and thinking fast on your feet.”

Courtney Love Stole David LaChapelle’s Car

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Courtney Love, who is now 46 and out of excuses to do this kind of thing, carjacked photographer David LaChapelle’s SUV from New York’s SoHo House on Monday night. She sped off to director Brett Ratner’s house, promising to return and collect LaChapelle, but she ended up hanging out at Ratner’s till near dawn while the “fuming” LaChapelle had no idea where his car was.

According to Page Six‘s source, “LaChapelle was freaking out, saying Courtney had taken his car. He was frantically trying to reach her and his driver on the phone to find out where the hell they were.” Apparently “the fun started” when Love and LaChapelle were at SoHo House, devising ways to get Ratner to come meet them. Presumably the conversation went something like this:

LaChapelle: LOL, maybe we should go kidnap him in my car!

Love: (slips away to the parking lot)

I feel for David LaChapelle in this situation — it sucks to get played by a friend! — but he was really asking for it, allowing Courtney Love to go anywhere near his vehicle. Plus, aren’t you people too old to be coming up with wacky schemes to force your friend to come out drinking with you?

The story was confirmed by a SoHo House rep and a “sleepy” Ratner. No word on the current whereabouts of David LaChapelle’s car.

Britweek Kicks Off in L.A.

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Just as Wills and Kate get set to tie the knot, a fortuitously-timed Britweek kicked off last night in Los Angeles. “I think the Britweek board must have a direct line to Buckingham Palace, because they set the date for this year’s Britweek last year,” Consul General Dame Barbara Hay said Tuesday evening at the British Government’s stately home in L.A.’s Hancock Park district. (Perhaps surprisingly, the city boasts the most U.K. expats.) She, along with a clutch of English actors, fashion names, and local business leaders, were all on hand to celebrate Britweek’s launch. Appropriately, catered food consisted of fish & chips.

Actress Laura Waddell, who has been a Tinseltown resident for just over a year, came dressed for the occasion, and reminisced about her native country on the purple carpet in front of the Consul General’s home. “I get really homesick sometimes, but there is a shop in Santa Monica where they have real chocolate Easter eggs,” she gushed excitedly before noting L.A. was a bit lacking in proper pubs. Sir Ben Kingsley seemed to see a bit of England everywhere in Los Angeles. “Right there, roses,” he deadpanned, while pointing at a bush. “There’s a rose garden right behind us and it’s a little bit of England.” Although sunny Southern California might not be the most obvious place for Brits to get a fix of home, Kingsley noted many of London’s best exports were easily found. He name-checked Soho House, saying he’d been “many times” and that he “enjoys it as my wife is a member.”

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa also dropped by to give a speech.

So what, exactly, is Britweek? According to Mindy Gail, the Executive Director of the annual event, Britweek is the “celebration of the British influences on the lifestyle culture businesses of L.A. We celebrate those contributions in art, music, film television, design and fashion.” Translation: Many small events taking place at various venues all over L.A. this week. Many are quasi-private/rsvp only, but many are also open to the public, such as Thursday’s Jaguar and Virgin Atlantic-sponsored fundraiser at L.A. Live, honoring English AEG CEO Timothy J. Leiweke. Heidi Klum’s favorite Brit, Seal, is performing at the event Thursday, and ticket information on the dinner concert can be found at the official Britweek website, along with all this week’s English calendar for Anglophiles in L.A.