Brugal Rum Throws Bash in Williamsburg, Hates Plastic Cups

This seems like a fun party for Brugal Rum. Glad I got here to King & Grove in Williamsburg before the sky opened up. It’s neat here at Upper Elm, the rooftop bar. The rain is lashing against the clear retractable roof, but there’s still light in the sky, giving the room a funky undersea effect. The DJ’s playing cool music. Here comes Daft Punk’s "Get Lucky." I’ll probably get sick of it at some point but for now I still like it. What’s that on the bar? It’s a clear box filled with red plastic party cups, the kind I used to drink cheap beer out of in college. It says "THE RUM THAT ISN’T FOR POURING INTO PLASTIC." I think I get it. Some people have only had rum the cheap way, with cloyingly sweet mixers. Brugal Especial Extra Dry rum is more refined, more sophisticated. It deserves to be served in proper glassware. Alright, let me try one of those cocktails they’re calling The Rivalry. Great, thank you. Hey, this glass feels lighter than usual. Wait a second, this isn’t a glass at all, it’s made out of plastic. What’s going on here? What am I supposed to think?

The party organizers probably didn’t realize that every rooftop bar in New York has to use plastic "glasses" these days in case some idiot chucks one over the railing. I’ve even had a martini in a plastic martini glass at Gansevoort Park Rooftop. Funny thing is they really don’t bother me, I kind of like them.

And Brugal’s point about plastic isn’t lost on me, just a little funny, considering every cocktail in this room is served in plastic. I’ve long felt that rum deserves more respect than it gets. Yes, a rum-and-Coke is a beautiful thing, but today’s best rums can stand on their own, and don’t need to hide in some sweet artificial neon-colored frankenpunch.

This Brugal right here can be sipped neat, or served on the rocks, or with a splash of club soda. It has that nice body that comes from the sugarcane it’s made with (well, the molasses that comes from the sugarcane), but it’s drier than most rums. I like that.

The older I get, the less I want sweet drinks. But I still like a good party, and this Rivalry I’m drinking is tasty. It’s the creation of bartender Danny Neff of Boulton & Watt, and has Brugal Extra Dry rum, apricot brandy, mango puree, lemon juice, tonic, and an orange twist. It’s not not sweet, but it’s definitely not one of those tooth-cracking sugar blasts that they serve–in plastic cups–at cheap beach resorts. It’s balanced. It’s grown-up. And it’s fun. 

Okay, Brugal, I’ll tease you about your wobbly stance on plastic cups, but you make a fine rum. ¡Salud!

Plastic Glass


[Related: BlackBook New York Guide; Listings for King & Grove Williamsburg, Boulton & Watt; More by Victor Ozols; Follow me on Twitter]

Can American Brewers Make Belgian-style Beers Right?

Back in the bad old days of, say, 1933-1993, American beer was considered the worst in the world, and maybe it was. The post-Prohibition era was dominated by mass-market brews that were inoffensive at best and insipid at worst, not that people didn’t still drink them by the gallon. But then things changed, drastically.

The craft beer revolution produced hundreds of new beers that were flavorful, complex, and fun to drink. In the span of a few years, American beer went from a punchline–sex in a canoe, anyone?–to the best in the world. In their all-American way, brewers like Sam Adams have been tinkering with ingredients and brewing techniques ever since, unencumbered by hidebound traditions and stultifying laws like Germany’s Reinheitsgebot. But there was one niche the Yanks had trouble cracking, the holy grail of brewing: Trappist beers.

Yes, those Belgian monks sure did have a lock on their unique style of suds, top fermented, bottle conditioned, and usually dark, strong, and intensely flavorful. Maybe they held their secrets behind monastery walls, maybe they were just really good at it, but, while American brewers have proven adept at copying–and improving–styles like English ales and German pilsners, the perfect Abbey ale remained elusive. 

Of course many have been attempted, and they taste quite excellent, but they lack that certain spark you’ll find in a Chimay or Rochefort. But that might be changing, if a new beer from Sam Adams is any indication. Coming this fall, Sam Adams Tetravis is the Boston Brewing Company’s latest interpretation of a traditional Belgian Quadrupel, and it’s fantastic. 

It’s also as close as I’ve tasted to a proper Trappist ale without being from Belgium. It’s gorgeously dark, mildly sweet, and features notes of fruit and spice. It’s blended with another beer called Kosmic Mother Funk, which gives it extra complexity and floral notes, and has a hefty 10.2% ABV. You’ll want the proper glassware for this one. It deserves better than a pint glass. 

Is it better than the best Trappist ales? No, but it’s very close, and a heck of a lot cheaper, at between $10 and $11 a bottle depending on where in the U.S. of A. you buy it. (In New York expect your corner bodega to charge $14-ish.) And if it’s commited any sin at all, it’s that of being welcoming and a bit more user-friendly than some of the clovier, spicier beers from across the pond. This is America. Nobody gets left out of the party.

And so America has proven that it can make Trappist-style beers. The next step is teaching people that you can drink these things anywhere, not just in some wood-paneled beer bar with a plate of cheese and charcuterie in front of you (though that’s awesome). Just once I’d like to see some fancy, large-bottle beers in a nightclub situation. Does bottle service always have to be vodka?

Let the people drink what they like, and celebrate American ingenuity until last call and beyond. 

[Related: BlackBook New York Nightlife Guide; It’s Your Beer and You Can Do Anything You Want With It; More by Victor Ozols; Follow Me on Twitter]

‘The Future Is Now’ Exhibition Opens Thursday at The Highline Loft

For those wondering when exactly we’ll see this "future" everybody keeps talking about, the wait is over. The future will arrive at 4:00 p.m. on Thursday, August 1, 2013 at the Highline Loft (508 W. 26th St., 5th Fl., NYC). That’s the official unveiling of "The Future Is Now," an art exhibition designed to serve as a "blueprint for the 21st Century’s multimedia art experience." Don’t expect hovercars and Jetsons-like modernism, because this art exhibition is designed to give you a real peek into the days ahead, which are at times beautiful and frightening, utopian and dystopian. Curated by No Agenda, Ad Hoc Art, and Melissa McCaig-Welles, it features the work of more than 50 visual artists who have interpreted the clues of today to articulate a vision of tomorrow. Among them are a few names you’ve heard of, such as Chris Stain, William Quigley, and COPE2–who was kind enough to artify the BlackBook logo a couple of months ago–as well as many you may not know, but should. 

But it’s not just visual art you’ll experience. Over the course of three evenings, the gallery will host art-inflected music from such acts as Rocket Sam, Archtyp, and Gray, the latter of whom was formed in 1979 by Michael Holman and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Sadly, Basquiat died in 1988, but today’s lineup still includes Holman as well as original member Nick Taylor, who will be performing on Saturday night. In the past, the band’s special guests have included Vincent Gallo and Justin Thyme, so you never know who might hit the stage with them.

As for the visual part of the evening, I feel that it might best be summarized in a work by Mike Fitzsimmons entitled Too Early for Technology (pictured), featuring a forlorn robot dealing with the same issues I had to plough through just four hours ago.

Visit McCaig + Wells for more information, then go see the future before it slips into the past. 

[Related: BlackBook New York Guide; More by Victor Ozols; Follow me on Twitter]

New Charity-Minded Sock Company Bombas Picks Up Where Warby Parker, TOMS Leave Off

As Scottish philosopher/economist Adam Smith explained more than two centuries ago, "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest." This means that charity isn’t much of a factor in capitalism. It’s all about taking care of your needs by making the necessary trades of products, labor, and capital with others who are taking care of their needs. Why, then, have companies like TOMS shoes and Warby Parker eyewear succeeded when they give away half of what they make? Through their "one for one" programs, every pair of shoes or eyeglasses purchased results in a comparable pair of shoes or eyeglasses given to people in need around the world. And now there’s Bombas, a new sock company that’s following the same business model, sending a pair of socks to a person in need with every traditional purchase. What would Adam Smith think? 

I think he’d be cool with it, because the idea doesn’t really mitigate his theory of rational self interest. As any Econ 101 student can tell you, charity’s not a one-sided transaction. Whether you drop a quarter into a homeless person’s tin cup or a quarter-million to fund an inner-city art museum, you’re purchasing the warm feelings that go along with your benevolence. TOMS, Warby Parker, and now Bombas are using charity to differentiate themselves from the many other companies that do what they do. They sell shoes, eyeglasses, and socks, as well as the satisfaction that comes with knowing you’ve helped someone, somewhere. And they add a tangible element to the deal. While you wiggle your toes or scrunch your nose and admire your new purchase, it’s easy to imagine some poor kid doing the exact same thing, and probably feeling twice as happy about it. 

As for Bombas, the company is the brainchild of David Heath and Randy Goldberg who, along with their business partners, did a bit of research and discovered that socks were the number one most requested clothing item in homeless shelters. Armed with that knowledge, they designed a line of bumblebee-adorned socks (Bombas is derived from the Latin word for bumblebee) that are stylish, high-tech, and comfortable, and committed to the one pair purchased = one pair donated philosophy. (Scroll down to the video below for details.)

I’ll let the sock experts weigh in on their quality, which involves a honeycomb support system, seamless toe, and Y-stitched heel, among other 21st Century sock innovations. All I know is that they’re extremely comfortable, allowing me to complete a serious run in Prospect Park yesterday even though I was hung over. So, benevolence aside, they’re very good socks, and they don’t cost any more than other high-performance socks. You can get a starter pack of three pairs, plus three pairs donated, for $24. 

But is the charitable element a way to make Bombas stand out from its competitors? Well, yes, but it’s not just that. Heath and Goldberg do care about the less fortunate, and clearly enjoy being able to help in their way. And with backgrounds in some of the most successful tech companies New York has produced in the past decade, they could have taken more traditional career paths involving the standard dealmaking so many contend with every day to make a living. Instead, they sell socks, and they help poor people, and they use one to aid the other. Try as I might, I can’t find a problem with that. 

And so we’ve got a world of poor people wearing designer eyeglasses, high-performance socks, and stylish shoes. Anybody out there care to complete the ensemble? Underwear, pants, and shirt-makers, I’m looking at you. 

[Bombas Socks Official Site; More by Victor Ozols; Follow me on Twitter]

Leblon Cachaça Founder Gives Tips on ‘How To Be a Brazilian’ (Hint: Be Gorgeous)

Steve Luttmann founded Leblon Cachaça in 2005, and since then the brand has grown significantly in the U.S., helped in large part by the image of Brazil it portrays, a world of sexy, fun-loving people laughing, kissing, dancing, playing soccer, and somehow getting sexier through it all. Cachaça, of course, is a Brazilian liquor made from distilled sugarcane juice, which makes it similar to rhum agricole. It’s the base ingredient in the caipirinha, a cocktail that most bartenders secretly hate because it takes extra time and effort to make, with the muddling of the limes and sugar, and people rarely tip accordingly. It tastes great, though, and is one of the ingredients of the good life, as defined by Brazilians. Other ingredients of the good life can be found in Luttmann’s new book, How To Be a Brazilian, in which he highlights all the ways Brazilians do things better than, well, pretty much everybody. 

The book is divided into 10 chapters, ranging from O Jeito Brasileiro (the Brazilian Way) and Praia (the Beach) to Paquerar & Namorar (Flirt & Love) and Comemorar (Celebrate). In each one, Luttmann, who has lived off and on in Brazil for more than a decade and is married to a Brazilian woman, describes the unique ways Brazilians go about their lives: their warm greetings, their casual attitude toward punctuality, their fierce passion for soccer, and their love for samba and great food. 

It’s interesting and well-written, but you might not get past the photos, page after page of some of the most gorgeous people on the planet. But what’s especially attractive about these people–because let’s face it, there are good-looking people all over the world–is that they seem so friendly and inviting. They seem like they’d actually love to hang out with you, and maybe make out with you. New York has its stunners too, but they often project an icy wall around them, giving away nothing as you search for some kind of cue. 

Even more sexy Brazilians

Luttmann makes it clear that being Brazilian isn’t about going to the beach and being good looking, at least not just that. "Brazilianness is a trait as easily recognizable in rural grandmas, middle-class third graders, urban street cleaners, and buttoned-up chief executives as it is in soccer legends and top models," he writes, though you won’t see any photos of grandmas or street cleaners in the book.

But that’s okay, because it’s as much fantasy as reality, and one that Luttmann has done well with as Leblon cements its place as the leading cachaça in the U.S. As Marcio, one of his Brazilian interview subjects, explains, "We know everything is going to be fine, because we know that God is Brazilian."  

Check out the video below for more info, and buy the book if you’re so inclined. Or else mix yourself yourself a caipirinha, take a big sip, and then lie back and dream of Rio.  

[How To Be a Brazilian; Leblon Official Site; More by Victor Ozols; Follow Me on Twitter]

Book Sir Richard Branson’s Necker Island This Fall For A Mere $60,000 a Night

Of course it’s gauche to talk about the Caribbean in July when everybody who’s anybody is gamboling along the Mediterranean, but fall will be here before you know it, and you need to make plans lest you wind up in some second-rate hotel on some third-rate island. A person of your stature deserves–requires–the finest of everything, which is why you need to hurry up and book a week or so on Sir Richard Branson’s Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands. The big news this season is that the island’s Great House is finally complete after a massive, bazillion-dollar top-to-bottom restructuring, making it well-nigh the finest, fanciest, luxuriousest chillout spot in the world.

Inspired by the Balinese design of the original Great House, which apparently wasn’t great enough, Great House 2.0 boasts breathtaking views of the Caribbean, Atlantic, and neighboring islands like Virgin Gorda, as well as amenities like jacuzzis, outdoor baths, a fully stocked bar, and kitchenette, although it would be awfully pedestrian to mix your own drinks and cook your own meals in this joint.

02 Necker

The Great House has nine bedrooms, including the 1,500 square foot master suite and a crow’s nest designed for the World’s Best Sunsetting®, but when you rent Sir Richard’s island, you also get the use of six individual Bali Houses dotted around the island, which I reckon are pretty schmancy as well.

It can all be yours for the low price of $60,000 a night, and calling that a low price is only sort of a joke, because the island can sleep a total of 30 adults, plus an additional six children in the Great House’s bunk room. That’s $2,000 per person, per night, or $1,666.66 per person if you make the kids pay up too. And that’s not a ridiculous price when you consider the absolutely ridiculous experience you’ll have.

03 Necker

You can swim, sunbathe, drink, windsurf, snorkel, scuba dive, kiteboard, play tennis, hang out with parrots and turtles, indulge in spa treatments, and go for a ride on the Necker Nymph. Hop on a water shuttle and head over to nearby Virgin Gorda and hit The Baths, one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever gotten sunburned on. Or check on your little boat while it’s moored at nearby YCCS Marina, which is specially designed for superyachts.

So, I’ve schooled you on this nifty place to have your next life experience. Now please do me the courtesy of letting me stay in one of those little Bali Houses while you’re there. I’ll keep out of your way except to mix cocktails and protect you from turtle attacks. Deal? Deal. 

For reservations, call 0800 716 919 (toll free) or +44 (0) 208 600 0430 or email

07 Necker

[Related: BlackBook Caribbean Guide; Necker Island Official Site; Three Days in Virgin Gorda; More by Victor Ozols; Follow me on Twitter]

New Mongolian Vodka Targets Manly Men

Walk into your local liquor store and head to the vodka section. What do you see? Vodka from Russia, Poland, France, America. Wheat vodka, rye vodka, potato vodka. Vodka filtered through charcoal, silver, diamonds. Organic vodka. Light vodka. Vodka with a programmable LED screen on the bottle. Vodka in a bottle shaped like a skull. Vodka that tastes like marshmallows, whipped cream, birthday cake. It’s overwhelming, and makes me wonder why anybody would launch a new vodka brand amid all that competition. Oh yeah, because it’s the best-selling spirit in the U.S. by a mile, with 10 of the top 24 booze brands being vodka, including numbers one through five. I guess that means there’s still some room for innovation, and, as they say in the marketing business, "product and peripheral differentiation."

And so, in the midst of this crowded, competitive, but still fertile market comes a brand new vodka with its own unique platform. It’s called Golia, and it’s from Mongolia. It piqued my interest because I don’t know of any other vodkas from Mongolia. There are some other differences, such as how it’s distilled through silver and platinum filters at least six times, and how it’s won some awards, but every vodka’s sales pitch includes similar claims. It’s the Mongolianness of Golia that’s unique. In practical terms that means it’s made with high-quality wheat grown in mineral-rich soil and really clean water. (Apparently the water in Mongolia is so clear that lake fish are visible 50 feet below the surface.)

Beyond that, it’s all about what they do with the Mongolian thing in their marketing. Well, how would you market a Mongolian vodka? You’d probably target men, since what Americans know about Mongolia is pretty much limited to Genghis Khan, warriors on horseback, and maybe something about falconry. And that’s exactly what Golia is doing. They’re aiming Golia at tough, rugged, adventurous guys, or guys who think they’re tough, rugged, and adventurous. They’re pricing it as a mid-range vodka, since cheap vodka is, well, cheap vodka, and there’s something effete and ridiculous about spending big bucks for a spirit that is, by definition, odorless, colorless, and tasteless. 

The tagline is "Prepare to be conquered," and I suppose that cuts both ways. The vodka will conquer the drinker, and the drinker will conquer the world. He may also wish to conquer the "Golia Girls" who will be part of the marketing campaign. Sadly, no photos of said girls were included on the flash drive. It’s also the official vodka of the Philadelphia Flyers and the New Jersey Devils, because they’re both hard-hitting sports teams with grit at their core. 

So there’s all that, but how does the stuff taste? I received a flask of it yesterday, and after passing it around the office a couple of times, I barely had any left to drink at home, over ice. But I managed to extract about a shot’s worth, and found it to be a crisp, smooth vodka with a slightly sweet edge and maybe the faintest note of grapes. My notes say that I found it to be the perfect vodka for galloping across the steppe on horseback and siring several thousand children, not that I’ve done that. 

So, Golia Vodka. It tastes good. It costs just a little bit more than Ketel One and a little bit less than Grey Goose. And it’s from Mongolia. Will it conquer the U.S.? Will it find a place on the VIP tables of nightclubs like GoldBar in New York? It’s an uphill battle, to be sure, but those Mongolians know how to scrap. I like their chances. 

Golia 2

[BlackBook New York Nightlife Guide; Golia Vodka Official Site; More by Victor Ozols; Follow Me on Twitter]

District 13: An EDM Band That Plays Actual Instruments

Electronic Dance Music. It’s the big thing these days, with kids going nuts over artists with names like Deadmau5, Avicii, and Krewella. It all sounds really cool in a nightclub, but I can’t be the only one wondering what exactly it is they do on stage at music festivals with not much more than a MacBook, a mixing board, and a MIDI keyboard. They turn knobs, they bob their heads, they take sips from bottles of Evian. This is live music?

Well, yeah it is, I don’t want to be crucified by a bunch of millennials for saying it’s not, but that doesn’t mean I can’t crave some good old fashioned instrument-playing every once in a while. And the fact that the music is electronic doesn’t mean it has to come entirely from circuit boards. Take rising Hollywood band District 13, for example. They’re an EDM act by any definition, percussion-heavy with synth-based melodies and soaring vocals good for dancing, but they play honest-to-goodness instruments to get that sound. And when they perform live, they look like an actual band. It’s refreshing.

Comprised of Shintaro (keyboards), Drake (bass), Faby (vocals), and Sig (beats), the band has been tearing up LA in recent weeks, selling out LA’s Amplyfi and getting ready to drop their first single, "Burnin’ the Night Out," a dreamy take on an ideal party (check it out below). They four met while studying at the Music Institute, instantly felt the chemistry, and started putting together some sounds. They began to gel with tunes like "In For The Kill (La Roux/Skream Remix Cover)" and "Cinema (Benny Benassi Club Version Cover)" before deciding that they had it in them to do their own thing. Who knows, maybe Benny Benassi will be covering District 13 next. 

This is a big summer for District 13. Not only will they be releasing their first original tunes, they’ll also perform at venues across LA, introducing audiences to their unique take on a world-leading genre. And if you do dig the instrument/electro hybrid, there are a few other artists to look up. Not only has Daft Punk recently de-emphasized computers for instrumentation, but electro history is punctuated with a few artists who went against the grain, like Swiss drummer Jojo Mayer, who’s somehow able to perform drum-and-bass rhythms on a standard acoustic drum kit (I’ve seen it, and it’s amazing).

Sig and crew seem well poised to follow in his footsteps and take it to the next level. 

[Related: District 13 on SoundCloud; District 13 on Facebook; More by Victor Ozols; Follow me on Twitter]

Norwegian Town Copies New York’s Dream Downtown Hotel, Installs Giant Mirrors to Redirect Sunlight

I saw a story on Reddit today that instantly reminded me of one of the more unique features of New York City. The town of Rjukan, which is normally covered in shadow for five months a year, is installing a bunch of massive mirrors on an adjacent mountain to illuminate its town square during its darkest times. As the Popular Mechanics story points out, it’s an attempt at a mood enhancer, and I think it will work. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a real thing, and not just because of its funny acronym, S.A.D. You need light in your life to be happy. It massages the brain in a pleasing way, even if overdoing the sun-worship can be hell on your skin. The article notes that it’s not a new idea, as the Italian village of Viganella has successfully used brushed steel mirrors to do the same thing since 2006. Want to know another place that harvests reflected sunlight to make people feel good? The Dream Downtown Hotel in New York. 

Prior to its debut in June of 2011, owner (and actor) Vikram Chatwal commissioned a top-to-bottom redesign of the iconic ’60s Albert C. Ledner building, featuring 316 guest rooms and suites and a variety of restaurants and bars including PH-D Rooftop Lounge and The Beach at Dream Downtown. The Beach is essentially a pool bar, but the pool, which is sandwiched between two tall buildings, wouldn’t normally get much sunlight were it not for a unique design detail courtesy of Frank Fusaro of Handel Architects: aluminum-clad walls on both sides funnel what little sunlight there is to create a bright, warm, and pleasing affect for the beach-bunnies and daiquiri sippers below. 

I saw it in action recently at an early-evening event for Chandon. What little light remained as the sun began to set over the Hudson reflected off one wall and then the other, ping-pong style, until the whole pool deck was bathed in a cosseting glow, making the models hired for the occasion sexier and beachier than ever, even though we were tucked between 16th and 17th Streets in Chelsea. 

And so we salute you, Rjukan, Norway, for playing god and putting sunlight where you want it, rather than accepting its natural course. 

[BlackBook New York Guide; Listings for Dream Downtown, PH-D, The Beach at Dream Downtown; More by Victor Ozols; Follow me on Twitter]