Thompson Hotels Launches Inn-Sight Blog

Your friends and ours at Thompson Hotels (6 Columbus, 60 Thompson, Thompson LES, Gild Hall, Smyth, Hollywood Roosevelt, Thompson Beverly Hills, Hotel Sax, and Donovan House) have launched a new blog called Inn-Sight. Spinning off the Room100 concept of yore, Inn-Sight posts about fashion, art, culture, and of course travel, plus interviews and cool stuff happening in and around the various Thompsons. Plus, it’s overseen by our pal Steve Garbarino — check out his Editor’s Letter for the goods on what’s going down over there.

New Yorkers Relocating to New Orleans

Beloved BlackBook alumnus Steve Garbarino has a great piece in the New York Observer today: “The Cajun Expats,” concerning New Orleans’ post-Katrina revamp as an attractive new home for New Yorkers weary of the Big Apple’s rat race and cancerous economy. Media mandarins, movie folk, artists, PR mavens, and others are profiled, such as Sean McCusker (formerly of Complex) pictured above in front of his new restaurant space. All their reasons for relocating sound pretty compelling actually. Especially the parts about beignets and coffee. And beer, and roast beef po-boys …

Editor’s Letter: The Art of the Matter

On the subject of art, you’ve heard the skeptic standing in front of, say, an Alexander Liberman “Circle Painting,” ponder, “Well, I know what I like. But is it art?” Or is it just a circle that a Montessori geometry teacher may have rendered in oil on canvas with a protractor for a brush? When is a urinal a urinal, and not a Duchamp “readymade,” and so on?

Tom Wolfe had plenty to say on this matter in his 1975 treatise The Painted Word, with criticism of the hallowed gallery and museum world that still resonates today. Referring to the over-intellectualization of modern art, Wolfe wrote, “The notion that the public accepts or rejects anything in modern art is merely romantic fiction,” making the art world Picassoblue in the face. “The game is completed and the trophies distributed long before the public knows what has happened.”

Posed with the mission to conceive a mostly “arts” issue, we thought, shouldn’t every issue be an arts issue in the sum of its parts? Art isn’t paintings and sculptures and drawing and mixed media, exclusively (although it’s a good start, and we’re for all of them). It’s the canvas of popular culture we’ve been traversing and refining with each pound of tree flesh we send out monthly.

In this issue, there’s the art of comedy (Steve Coogan, who sends up the world of the stage in his new film Hamlet 2). There is the art of the “oral history,” where, elsewhere in these pages, Associate Editor Nick Haramis celebrates the great photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, by talking to many of his equally illustrious friends and cohorts.

At its best, fashion is art, and our anti-jazz-hands story inspired by Bob Fosse’s 1969 film debut, Sweet Charity, rises to the occasion. It is showtime, spot on. As does our accessories piece inspired by those fabled “key parties” from the swinging ’70s, when the Bicentennial year of 1976 stood for multiple sex partners, often “liberating” thy neighbor’s wife.

Just to ensure that we still are patrons of the conventional arts, we’ve included our own BlackBook gallery of up-and-comers—although, true to our belief that intuition, not schooling, can still get you “there,” one of our subjects (who paints guns and roses) has owned and operated a BBQ juke joint in Manhattan’s meat district for the past decade.

And there is our cover subject, America Ferrera, a self-styled artist and work of art if there be. See her beauty and hear her candidness on page 50.

This is my adieu. I’m appropriating a Rosenquist in my airport hangar as we speak in Lantana, Florida, while pulling a Schnabel à la Guernica on a friend’s courtyard Henry Moore. Say hello to Ray Rogers, our former Features Editor, who will be more than ably taking over the pop culture and style gallery, alongside Creative Director Bryan Erickson. You’re in good hands. They both collect serial killers’ art. And anything rendered in velvet or clamshells.

Counter Intelligence: The Waverly Inn’s John DeLucie

Nightly they come, exiting chauffeured limos and Maybachs, rushing by the paparazzi, and entering a Bilbo Baggins-sized door into the magical labyrinth called The Waverly Inn. There’s no need to name them. “They” have all been there, whether strolling from neighboring West Village brownstones (“Hey, Hah-vee! Can we get one shot?”), or “just in” from Los Angeles. Cannes. Sundance. Turks. Rehab.

And there are the editors, the owners, the Dillers, the glamour pusses, the disheveled ink-stained wretches with a National Magazine Award nom under their belts too. Co-owner Graydon Carter sees to the private A-list, which has not increased by much since it opened with no public reservations (but for the chosen few, access via a secret email and contact number) two years ago. Skeptics predicted a backlash, a fallout — didn’t happen.

The Waverly works because of its staff of wry and calm pros, and the guy in (and out of) the kitchen who keeps it real. In his chef whites (but thank you, no Pillsbury hat), John DeLucie, 46, traverses the wood-planked bar giving equal attention to walk-ins and presidential hopefuls. Lindsay Lohan with a gaggle of look-alikes does not faze either. She’s from Long Island, just like Amy Fisher!

A snob he’s not; his cuisine is accessibly sublime. Enough about the truffled macaroni. His chicken entrées, the beet salad, a perfect bowl of chili, those damnable biscuits are good enough for us. Here, we asked for dish, but got something more satisfying as DeLucie took morning time off to talk at Nolita’s no-less-buzzy Café Habana.

BLACKBOOK: How did you get the job as chef of the Waverly? CHEF JOHN DELUCIE: I was riding my Schwinn three-speed aimlessly around the Village one morning and saw a “FOR RENT” sign in its window. The former operators had seemingly abandoned the place. I was friendly with a neighbor who knew the landlord. I called [co-owners] Eric Goode and Sean MacPherson and said to them, I found a place for us. We signed the lease less than a month later.

What was your first impression of Vanity Fair Editor-in-Chief Graydon Carter? Initially, I was intimidated, but I soon found him to be a funny and engaging ball-breaker. He is so clever. I like being around him just to listen to his views on the restaurant, and on life in general. I can’t say enough about how his involvement has impacted The Waverly.

Did you like or dislike the idea of making food for celebrity-finicky palates? For some reason I have always found myself cooking for New York City’s cognoscenti, although not on the scale of The Waverly. It’s a career path, I guess. And the truth is, here, I have found that the boldest face names have been the most gracious and the least persnickety.

How did the truffled macaroni become such a “thing?” At the time we started it, most restaurants that were doing truffles were charging considerably more than us, but they were calling their dish “Pasta con Tartufi Bianco.” We called ours “mac and cheese with white truffles,” and the press went berserk.

Do you have favorite celebrity customers? I have a healthy respect for our clientele. They are some of the most accomplished, fascinating, and fabulous people ever. I would like them all to keep coming, so I’m going to remain taciturn about who they are.

Tell me about the book you are writing, The Hunger, and how free are you with what you say about working there? It will be published by HarperCollins next spring. It’s an anecdotal account of my cooking and life experiences in New York City over the past 25 years. It is wry and funny — I hope. The Waverly is represented, but not in the context of what some leading men’s magazine editor did or didn’t eat, or who he ate it with.

Where did you learn to cook? It originally came from my maternal grandmother. Growing up, my family lived in this giant brownstone in Brooklyn, and I would find my way to her kitchen and tugged on her apron. She would make me a snack of pastina with butter, or zucchini and eggs. Those food memories stayed with me. My mom was also a good cook, and there’s obviously the Italian thing; we have a marvelously rich food culture… and we also like to yell and scream and talk over each other at the table.

Where do you eat out in Manhattan? Any place where I can use one fork for the entire meal.

Do your peers give you guff about working at Celebrity Central? Chefs can be a covetous, jealous lot. I had a sous-chef who got into a brawl in a Lower East Side bar because a fellow chef — who worked in one of those midtown temples of gastronomy, with a lot of stars awarded to it by The New York Times — had referred to him as “the guy who makes those chicken pot pies.” Defending the honor of a flaky crust: I like it.

Cabrito Saves Carmine Street

For fear of sounding like Russ Smith, the Maryland crab-obsessed former editor and columnist of the New York Press, I will begin with talking about “my wife and I.” My wife Maddy and I have been pining not just for the fjords but for a Mexican restaurant in the West Village-SoHo zone that isn’t too purist, isn’t too cheesy — the latter, literally. In all of Manhattan for that matter. We like La Esquina in SoHo. We love the enchiladas and the watermelon margaritas at West 14th Street’s El Rey del Sol (but it’s a dump, Miss Davis). God bless Tortilla Flats in the West Village for its Velveeta-y chile con queso and the enduringly sweet staff. But how long can you worship Ernest Borgnine and Bingo, while suffering James Brown and those uproarious bridal showers where some dog in a “squinchie” and pleated denim shorts takes off her top, and then weeps.

I am talking too about a “Mezzican” joint that doesn’t serve their margaritas with jet-fuel Triple Sec, and within curvy, stupid, 24-ounce glasses, but simple tumblers. A glass that doesn’t have “fan fare.” It happened a couple of months ago. And we collectively say, “Yay! “La Etcetera.”

The frat-sy, Upper West Side-vibed Barfry — what a surprise — one day just simply was … gone. And faster than a mule with a leaking coke bag up its hindquarters, Cabrito was there in its place. The new joint is welcoming simply by having an open-air front with the C-shaped bar right in your face. The staff seems like they migrated from Orchard Street when the bars there were just bars. Good-looking, extremely well-informed, and dare I say, proud of both their food and their drinks.

Drinks, particularly during heat waves, are essential. And “The Margarita” should have italics on the “The.” It’s served in a short glass and is comprised of silver tequila, agave syrup, fresh lime juice, and that’s it. That is perfect. “No burn,” said the alcoholic. It’s $10 a pop. They also make a great Dark and Stormy ($12) , as well as other specialty drinks, such as the Sazerac ($12): Tequila Plata, St. Germain, Absinthe, citrus, and bitters. Our larger-than-life painter friend John is addicted, but he is addicted to life, so it’s a bad example. Maybe he’s addicted to everything.

The food rises to the level of the cocktails. “The seared yellowtail hamachi with caper sauce is sick,” says Smith & Mills owner Matt Abramcyk, who is sitting next to me right now. He means “sick” in the best way, homeboy. For starters, we’ve only tried the guacamole and chips, but it was the right spice, as in I-need-a-water-hot, and the right size. Heard great things about the jalapeno rellenos, which is $8; the special ingredients are cod and raisins.

The tacos, enveloped in homemade corn tortillas, are supreme. We went for them four early evenings in a row. Our favorite is the homemade chorizo, which are spicy as shit. But we also have brought home the seared skirt steak and fried and battered fish variety. All range between $5-$6. Purists are raving over the tongue tacos, braised in salsa verde. We also tried the cheese enchiladas ($14), which had a depth that was so much more than the greasy variety. I think there’s a tamale stuffed in there.

Maddy’s cousin, Woodrow, tried the carnitas ($18) the other night, and the pork tasted perfect right off the bone: fatty in a good way, smoky, delicious. And the bartenders heartily recommend the heritage pork green-chili stew ($16). The deal at Cabrito is that it’s a little bit uppity, a little bit blue-collar. It’s just the right mix. And we are so trying out the brunch, which includes the obligatory huevos rancheros but also, say, braised crispy tortillas with fried eggs and green sauce.

You want beans — big, hot, juicy beans (don’t get us started on beans)? There’s black beans, soupy beans, and refried beans, which we order for the three of us (we’re swingers) every time. They have flavor beyond the waxiness inherent elsewhere.

Elsewhere: where not to go now.

P.S.: For wimps, the menu lets you know what is vegetarian (V) and what is spicy (S).

P.P.S.: The place is already too popular, Thursdays through Saturday. And when it is, you can’t hear a thing. Music is mostly classic rock, which is fine. We were in bliss on a late Sunday afternoon with a storm coming in and owning the bar. Go early.

Garden Party

image The Big House: Back row, from left: Frank Romero, Mario Bonilla, Steven Amador, Carlos Hernandez, Carl Hubbard, Demetra Verrios, Amanda Grandinetti (director of food and beverage), Nicole Kovacs, Daniel Devereaux. Middle row, from left: Gerardo Carreon, Jesus Moreno, Jesus Anguiano, Baltazar Anguiano, Luz Diaz, Oliver Favre, Keilana Smith, Nicholas Cochis, Federica Carrion (director of sales), Jose Acorin (“Big Jose”), Jose Aquino (“Little Jose”), Nat Gunter (director of wine), Graham Miller, Steffanie Sampson-Thomas, Dalia Ermann, Ray Montoya, Stinson Carter (bartender), Anya Varda (with sunglasses). Front row, from left: Noemy Navarrete, Ana Mendoza, Lula Anguiano, Carol O’Brien (director of human resources), Romulo Laki (the singing waiter), Philip Pavel (general manager), Jesse McBride, Seulgi Oh, Will Carter (social butterfly).

image“I moved to Los Angeles 17 years ago, with nothing but a dance belt and a tube of chapstick. Look at me now, Ma. I slept my way to the middle.” —Philip Pavel, general manager (for 12 years; hometown: Hickory Hills, Ill.; interests: “wrestling, gladiator movies, bacon, anything involving a Sad Hobo Clown”)

“I gave the Chateau my youth, and it repaid me with stories. What more could you ask of anything?” —Stinson Carter, bartender (day job: novelist, writer-at-large, BlackBook)

“I am responsible for maintaining one of the few historical landmarks of Los Angeles. The Chateau Marmont is magical.” —Luis Mario Bonilla, chief engineer (for 27 years; hometown: El Salvador)

image“Working at the Chateau Marmont taught me that (for those who eat), a burger and fries go best with champagne. —Dalia Ermann, events coordinator (hometown: Gahanna, Ohio)

“I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints. The sinners have much more fun.” —Will Carter, host (for five years; hometown: Appomattox, Va.; age: “many years of hard livin’ and easy lovin’”; day job: actor, film producer)

“The Chateau is a unique vortex where anything and everything can happen, and normally does.” —Amanda Grandinetti, food and beverage director (hometown: Dunedin, New Zealand)

“The Chateau doesn’t pretend to be something that it is not, what you see is what you get, and hey, if it’s not for you, it’s not for you. But those who get it appreciate every nook and cranny of it, for better or for worse.” —Federica Carrion, director of sales (for 14 years; hometown: Rome, Italy)

Photography by Greg Endries

Getting Small & Loving It: The smart car fortwo on Two Coasts

The real danger of driving Mercedes-Benz’s twee new half-car, the e e cummings-named smart fortwo, isn’t that a strong wind on the highway can make you hold that wheel very tight. It’s the buffoons who honk and yell at you as if you’re Woody Allen in Sleeper. Or John Malkovich on the New Jersey Turnpike. “Hey Malkovich! Think fast!” Clunk. Going 65 miles per hour, heading from New York City to a friend’s house in Vermont, one douche actually started yelling at me to open my window. Like an idiot I did. And it was about the fourth time I had done it earlier in the day in the city. I do not learn.

“Hey guy! Guy!” this strap-on brayed at my already terrified wife and me in some Upper Yankee blue-collah accent that says “ayuh” instead of “okay.” “How much they want for one of ‘dose things?” (Answer: from $11,590 to $16,590, the latter for the convertible model). I had a navy-and-silver number that fell somewhere in between. Vinyl, not leather, seats, respectable in every way. I went through this same traveling freak show nearly a decade ago when I test-drove the new incarnation of the VW Beetle. And, of course, the Mini-Cooper, now as ubiquitous as the word “hipster.” But truth is, you can understand why people gawk, yell, beep at the thing. It’s like seeing “Little” Mike Anderson from Twin Peaks hitchhiking on some back road.

In Europe, mostly, and in 36 other countries, the smart fortwo is now part of the status quo of the Incredible Shrinking Automobile trend. Goodbye Ford. So long Chevy. And why not? It gets 40 to 45 miles per gallon on the highway. Nothing to sneeze over (whatever that means). I drove an automatic with “paddles,” but I’m not a turtle, so I left the gear-shifting to the transmission. Even driving automatic, you can feel the tug of the shift, which I liked for some reason I cannot explain. It’s like you’re more part of the machinery.

image

I warmed to it immediately, like I do a well-behaved pug, but my wife was having none of it. She looked at it, and actually considered passing on a lovely road trip when I suggested we take the five-and-a-half-hour scenic drive to Vermont. “It’s missing its back. It just … ends … like it’s been chopped off by the Jaws of Life,” she said, furrowing her brow. (The car is 8.8-feet long, the size of an average pro-basketball player.)

Once you get inside of it, though, you begin to forget it’s so small. We were able to pack two modest bags behind our seats. The ceiling height is just fine. The CD-and-stereo system was kind of awesome despite being modest. The visibility cannot be beat, since it seems like it’s made of windows, including the sunroof.

But then there is the issue of holding the road. This is a city car. To be able to park in the same spot that a motorcycle has just pulled out of in the West Village gives you a real sense of, well, pride! If it becomes a hit in New York, it is going to change a lot of lives for those people who sit reading their newspaper in normal-sized vehicles, waiting for a spot to open up or the street zambonis to scrubbing-bubble through.

The highway, however, is a different story. We felt winds as if we were in Dorothy’s Kansas home swept up in a tornado. Granted, I shouldn’t have been pushing the pedal to 80 miles an hour (the smart fortwo goes maximum 90; don’t do it). And sometimes it snows in April. Arriving on the unplowed streets of Wilmington, Vermont, we slipped about like we were children on their first ice skates. We could not get traction on hills — despite what the information packet on it tells us about weight distribution over the wheels, etcetera, anti-lock brakes, and all-weather tires. It weighs about 1,800 pounds.

That did not mean, though, that it wasn’t a lot of fun. As the snow fell, we could see from all directions. Windshield wipers and the defroster worked ably. It was like being in the proverbial snowglobe, a moving snowglobe. Momentarily, I hallucinated.

We made it home safely, and my wife said she’d consider buying one for the city, as that is the only place we live.

Over yonder on the West Coast, we drove the same entry-level model. Pulling up at valets, which is what you do in LA all the time, there was the obligatory question-and-answer routine, often in broken English. Driving it down Sunset toward the Beverly Hills Hotel, on a Sunday, for mimosas, I felt rather diminished, as every other passing car was a Range Rover or Lamborghini or another such Viagra alternative. But it was a blast taking the sweeping curves toward the Pacific Coast Highway. If you’re not on a seriously long trip, more like a day trip, the smart fortwo is near-perfect. You can only go so fast on the PCH (ask Gary Busey, Robert Downey, Mel Gibson) before getting pulled over by the jack-booted LA Gestapo.

The visibility factor also played in nicely while cruising up killer-on-the-road Topanga Canyon Drive. Mulholland, on the other hand, was a bit spooky, what with those scenic drops and missing safety guards. One carpenter bee in the car, and you’re suddenly “down there,” an amputee making porn videos in the San Fernando Valley.

I would not likely take a child in a smart, despite that it has a great deal of reinforced steel and air bags in all the right places. It has, however, tested well in driver magazines and safety tests comparing it to other diminutive roadsters. If you’re not fond of your toddler, then go to town. Live a little.

Armchair Traveler

At least I’m not alone. Owned and operated by André Balazs for the past 18 years, and months from its 80th anniversary, the hotel strictly protects its illustrious guests’ privacy. Leaking “names” is forbidden. But a regular inhabitant there cannot help but meet and often befriend others in residence, famous or not. And over the years, many have told me their tales of extended stints, and how the Gothic castle on Sunset has taken them in.

This includes Oscar-winning screenwriter William Monahan, who owns a house nearby the Chateau, but has holed up in the cottages and bungalows there for months at a time. David Alexanian, a filmmaker friend who recently co-directed Long Way Down—a documentary he shot last year with Ewan McGregor (click here for exclusive images of their wild South African trip)—turned one of the suites into his office and apartment.

Val Kilmer transformed his room and patio into a 24-hour think tank of creativity for a month. Christopher Walken kept a litter of Abyssinian kittens in his deluxe corner suite (he even ended up giving me one: “Wolfie”). The actor would often be spotted walking Sunset Boulevard to Bristol Farms to buy groceries for his full kitchen there. Gentlemen thespians Stellan Skarsgård and Justin Theroux specifically request the ghost-happy rooms to live in while making films in Los Angeles. Helmut and June Newton—dear, longtime friends of Balazs—were seasonal residents until, in 2004, the great photographer tragically died in his car outside the main driveway.

Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara never leave the pool (or seem to be out of their bathrobes). They’ve chatted us up like wizened grandparents, extolling life advice, while marking up scripts. Of course, it’s widely known that Leonardo DiCaprio loves “the Big House,” and even invited staffers to join a room party once. And while Lindsay Lohan had a perfectly respectable residence nearby, she opted nonetheless to reside at the hotel (until she abruptly didn’t). Writers like Dominick Dunne and Dana Thomas, as well as novelists like Jay McInerney and Todd Komarnicki, have finished stories and books there during long stays. There’s a whole tome of first-person essays about “doing time” at the hotel: Chateau Marmont Hollywood Handbook, edited by Balazs.

It’s not just that you can be yourself there. Or disappear there. Or blackout there (“it happens to everyone!”). It’s that everyone you need to meet with for work and for play come to you (even if they bitch about the parking). The building begs codependency. But it’s the staff—smart, calm, attractive, funny, seen-it-all—that is the true draw. I don’t know how many times I’ve sat under the garden’s arches interviewing some famous subject, and yearned for the company and conversation of a favorite manager, bartender, waiter, busboy instead.

Here, for our summer travel double issue, we decided to give a good portion of those veterans and newcomers a bow with an exclusive staff portrait of the unsung groundskeepers and housekeepers, as well as the better-known gatekeepers and personalities. This “cast” of characters couldn’t have come together so seemingly organically without the curatorial skills of Balazs, who knows how to spot “talent”—and nice people—like a seasoned film director. He opted to not be included in the pictures in order to give his players the center stage. Raise a glass to them.

Elsewhere, our fashion director Elizabeth Sulcer found herself quite at home at the tropicali TownHouse hotel in Miami Beach, where she and photographer David Roemer created a bathing suit fashion story that made me long for the Florida waters, a needed tan, a “dressed” Cuban sandwich, Key lime pie, and sweating, among other things.

This issue is all over the map in the best of ways. Okay, back to my Screwhound. One part Screwdriver. One part Grayhound. Add vodka.

Photo by Greg Endries

Out of Africa

McGregor, taking a break from his motorcycling, Simien Mountains, Ethiopia.

When we finished Long Way Round,” says Charley Boorman, son of Deliverance director John Boorman, “Ewan [McGregor] and I went back to our offices and pulled out a map of Africa. I think we had already decided before we came back from our trip that we were going to do Africa.” Says McGregor of their mission, “’One of the things that we wanted to do was to show the true and real side of Africa, all its many faces. We think of famine and we think of wildlife, and Africa’s got everything in between. What we found was that every country had its own identity, and is very, very different from the last.”

In May of last year, after 12 months of preparation, the duo set off from John O’ Groats, Scotland, along with director-producers David Alexanian and Russ Malkin, a small crew, and minimal provisions, to make their odyssey a reality.

“We were never in real danger, but very close to areas of conflict—like North Uganda, near Congo, and Northern Ethiopia, near the Eritrean border,” says Alexanian. “We traveled through Sudan, but were miles from Darfur.”

The journey—which lasted two months and ended in Cape Town, South Africa—took them through 15 countries, and a great deal of the sun-baked Simien Mountains. The Fox Reality channel will debut Long Way Down on August 2.

Looking back on the unlikely road trip, McGregor says, “It’s been incredible, a real privilege. You just don’t see some of the remote villages that we have ridden through, unless you are an aid worker. These are mud-hut, thatched-roof villages—not really places that tourists get to go.” Reflecting further, he continues, “We have had our ups and downs, though, as you would expect.”

image Boorman, meeting the locals.

Boorman adds: “We know how lucky we are. Apart from anything else, it’s been great fun to have been able to see all of this around us every day, to be with your mate, to be riding bikes through Africa.”

“We have faced the complexity of Africa,” says McGregor. “Some of the places you pass through are beautiful, like something out of an Indiana Jones film or National Geographic.”

For a famous Hollywood movie star to be freed of excess baggage seemed a relief to him. “You only have what you can carry,” he says. “There is something liberating about just having what you need, on your bike. A tent, a roll mat, a little bit of food, a bit of petrol in your tank, and a vague idea of where you’re going. There is something beautiful about that.”

image McGregor and Boorman taking a turn on a Simien Mountain pass in Ethiopia.

But Boorman is already feeling cabin fever, and wanderlust. “It’s been great,” he says, “but I’m starting to worry about stopping it, you know, because our lives for the last 12 weeks have been just riding the bikes, watching the landscape change around us, meeting people, and doing amazing things. And it’s going to stop. I’m starting to worry a little about that, you know? The idea of it ending is kind of sad. But it’s good: We’re here, and we’ve done it.”