A BlackBook NYC Valentine

Who says New York is cold and heartless? Every February 14, at least, we stop staring at our smartphones for a few hours and instead look adoringly into each others eyes. Here are some of our favorite places to share those looks of love.

Jo’s

Our vote for the perfect new generation romantic restaurant, it has the low lighting and cozy ambiance to inspire a bit of snogging–but is as hip as its Nolita address would suggest. In fact, Jo’s has been leading up to the 14th with their 13 Days of Love promotion, so those wanting to beat the crowds can come in to win special prizes on the 11th, 12th and 13th. On V Day, take her shopping for all manner of pretty little things in the neighborhood, then tuck into Jo’s special Southeast Asian menu, which includes a glass of the bubbly.

Indochine

Still the sexiest restaurant in NYC, locals can rekindle their romance with its unshakeable glamour–and visitors can come by to discover the legend. Since Valentine’s Day is the last day of Fashion Week, impress your love with what is sure to be a few A-list celeb sightings. And while the prix fixe menu plays to the current surf-and-turf trend, there’s also an option for starry-eyed vegetarians.

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London’s hippest digital gallery is dazzling Times Square with an artful take on romance. Tracey Emin’s series of artworks "I Promise To Love You" will be shown every night in February from 11:57 pm to midnight. Pledge your eternal love amidst the blind of the neon.

W Hotels

The quartet of NYC W Hotels (Lexington, Times Square, Union Square, and Downtown) are offering both "Taken" and "Available" packages. For those already hitched, the former includes in-room dining, champagne, a lovestruck music playlist, and a total do-not-disturb policy, including late checkout. Our faves are Union Square, for Todd English’s recently revivified Olives restaurant, and Downtown, for its 5th floor Living Room bar and lounge, with those spectacular, romance-inspiring views.

For other great ideas for after-dark destinations, check out the BlackBook New York Guide and download the BlackBook City Guides apps for iPhone and Android. And to keep up on the latest and greatest openings and events, subscribe to BlackBook Happenings, our free weekly email newsletter, delivered to your inbox every Monday. 

Industry Insiders: Brad Wilson, King James

Back in September, the James New York opened in Soho. It’s hard to make a serious racket in New York’s over-saturated hospitality market, but with their rooftop bar Jimmy attracting a young, professional crowd, and the recently-opened David Burke Kitchen fast become a hub for foodies, the James is staking its claim as one of the city’s premiere hotels.

Brad Wilson is the man largely responsible for the James’ emergence, having spearheaded their first major opening in Chicago. As VP of Operations for W Hotels Worldwide, Wilson was a member of the founding team of what’s now one of the world’s largest and most popular hotel chains. He jumped ship in 2005 to join The James Hotel Group as its CEO, and is now the COO of parent company Denihan Hospitality Group. Here’s Wilson on his start in the hotel business, why he left W, and the future of the James.

What was the first job you had in hotels? I was an elevator operator in Chicago at the Drake Hotel.

Was working in the hotel industry aspirational? It was, actually. That was the year before I went to college. My mother owned a catering firm and bakery, so I kind of grew up in the kitchen, working catering jobs, leaving school and chopping carrots, then eventually serving. So I always wanted to progress, originally thinking I would go into the restaurant business. The whole events process kind of defined my life, and so my mom taught me to throw really good parties, and that’s kind of been the direction of my life since then. When I was young, I was first thinking about going into restaurants.

Where did you develop the business acumen that you obviously need in your position? I went to Cornell hotel school, so I have a Bachelors in hotel management, but I have a MBA from my mother. After I left Cornell, I actually did work at the Plaza in NYC, and was the manager of the Oak Room. After being there for a while, my mother had started a commissary bakery, baking desserts for a lot of the big restaurants in Chicago, so she asked me if I would come back and take the wholesale bakery she was working on and develop a retail line of bakeries for that. So after a couple years at the Plaza, I left and went to Chicago to open this new business, which was a chain of retail bakeries. We did everything from really great brownies to cookies, and the world’s most amazing cinnamon rolls and coffee cake. It was my job to go out and find a location, hire an architect to design and build it, staff it, open it, develop the delivery systems, the accounting systems, and all this stuff to just build the business. So I jokingly say I got my MBA from my mom, because she gave me this truly entrepreneurial opportunity. It’s a very small microbe of what I do today. Today we find locations, we build hotels, we design them, create them, and open them. A lot of what I do is not that far off from what I did before, but just on a much larger scale.

What mark did you leave on the W that we can still see today? I’m the guy that actually coined the phrase, “Whatever, whenever.” So I guess that’s a big one, because they overuse that today. Back then, I was proud of it.

During what stage of W’s evolution did you get on board? I was one of the first people hired for W. I think there was one woman, Diane Briskin, that did the marketing, that was hired before me. I came in right after her to develop the operations side of the branch for our first opening, which was the W New York on Lexington. I was there before it was called W, when it was called Urban Eclectic Group. image The lobby at the James.

Were you involved in the birth of the James or did you come in when it already existed? I guess I was pre-birth. I came in shortly after the first James opened in Scottsdale. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the James Scottsdale, but it was kind of this fun-in-the-sun little resort, not so much the James you think of today. The guys that had partnered to do that hotel — which was Danny Errico, the founder of Equinox gym, and Steve Hansen, the owner of Be Our Guest restaurant — opened that hotel, and then turned to me. I had worked with Steve when he had done some restaurants for us at W, so we were all friends, and they really wanted to get into the hotel business and create a company, so I came in to build a hotel company out of this initial hotel project.

The staff at your New York location is stunningly nice. We believe that nice starts at the top, and in turn we try and really build a nice culture. We use a term around our office, “Classic hospitality,” which at a boutique hotel seems kind of odd to say. We really try and come back to the ideas of a guest-centric focus. It’s nice to be well-designed and all that, but in the end it’s nice to be well-designed for the guest. We really try and focus on that and we really feel that if you’re in the hospitality business and you start with nice, hire nice, be nice, nice will come out to the customer. Every comment I get is like, “Your people are so nice!” We get it all the time from Chicago, and everyone was saying it’s because you’re in Chicago and it’s the Midwest, and that you won’t be able to do it in New York, but we do.

Were you worried about opening another hotel in an already crowded New York Market? How will you distinguish yourself? We’re going to define ourselves by quality. A lot of hotels go through whatever their trick is of the moment, whether it’s the shark in the lobby or whatever. But if you build it on quality design, not just trendy design, but quality design — our top designers are really rooted in classic modernism, and you’ll find we’re going all the way back into mid-century hand-craft that you’ve seen in Frank Lloyd Wright — not on things that are flashy and unique, a true sense of elegance that’s a little more sophisticated will emerge. It’s more subtle than a lot of our boutique competitors. Hanging out in our lobby is not quite so showy.

The lobby in New York is incredibly welcoming and homey. It’s kind of interesting, because when I was at W, we did a lot of the “wows,” and we had this flaming bar and all that kind of stuff. One of the things I saw a lot of earlier in my career, as far as boutique hotels go, is that people don’t actually want to come to their hotel and have people in their face with martinis and that kind of stuff. Sometimes you just want to be a little intimate and have a quite moment. We have those opportunities, where you can retreat.

Can you talk about the future of the James? One of the reasons I left W was because I thought it was becoming too big to be kept into a consistent model. So big is not necessarily our goal. I do think we can be in several cities, and we certainly want to be in LA and Miami, and then after that, San Fran or Seattle, Boston, Washington…

Do you view W as competition? Not really. I can see us competing with Morgans to a certain extent. We do independent luxury and it’s a slightly different niche than the W — the customer is a little bit different, and they might even reject the idea of W being too much of a chain.

What Will Happen When District 36 Opens?

District 36 opens this Saturday with a mission to become house-head heaven. The perceived impact of this opening is keeping some operators up late at night. Well, not really, they’re up late anyway. The question is, will there be an ensuing game of musical chairs, with some clubs losing business or closing because of this new entry? Or will the scene become more invigorated, with more people going out? House music is a religion, with cults and sub cults. House heads are lemmings, following their favorites anywhere and everywhere while disregarding other genres of music. It’s an international scene with circuit DJs getting paid six-figure fees and enjoying deity-like status. Sound systems designed by heroes as famous as rock stars in this community are constantly improved upon as technology allows and evolves. District 36, like most new places, claims to be bringing it to a new level – or an old level. These terms are not contradictory in this scene. The new technology may make it sound a bit better, and state of the art lights and visuals may enhance the experience, but the perceived purity of classic dance halls, with their mega, no-frills dance floors or comforts like seating, is often sought.

This Saturday, District 36 is bringing DJs Lee Burridge vs.Danny Howells, with residents Taimur & Fahad. They advise eager fans to arrive early, as they will be open with a “reduced capacity.” Will house heads jump around from joint to joint and catch the action at multiple venues in a single night? It seems unlikely that this will happen. Those high DJ fees and expensive sound systems need to be paid for. The hip social clubs like Avenue, 1Oak, and SL, where mash-up or open-format is played, have banished the cashier booth in lieu of the revenue stream provided by bottle service. The house heads drink water and fruit juices. Admission fees vary depending upon the artist at the Serato or turntables, but it’s not uncommon for a $40 or $50 cover charge. That means the average Joe wont bop from joint to joint. The question is, who gets hurt the most? Pacha, the NY branch of the international club empire, brings big talent and history to the scene, but if District 36 hits it for only 10% of its revenues, survival becomes an issue. The lay person looks at a mega club and sees all those people paying and drinking, and thinks its gold raining from the sky. But a look at any club’s cost of doing business will shock the inexperienced.

These days, besides the usual staffing, rent, insurance, payroll and cost of talent, operators must add large legal and lobbying fees. Crackdowns on clubs by city agencies seemed to target house spots more than any other joints, except those places with a hip hop or urban following. House heads traditionally don’t drink much, but are known for partaking in mind-expanding, or energy-boosting drugs. The clubs offering big DJs are attacked by big city task forces who inspect, and fine clubs to death.

Cielo may be hit hardest. It is small, and may not be able to compete in a war between the bigger clubs. If places like Pacha and Webster Hall up their games, and book all the world’s talent to win, or just survive, little Cielo may find it hard to compete. However, it may find a niche. With multiple venues bidding for the services of big names and a possible loss of some patrons to the diluted market, prices will surely go up. DJs will win, and in some ways the public will as well, as NYC will once again be an important city for house music. Cielo might thrive with a cheaper ticket and great tradition. District 36, before it opens, ups the ante, changes the game.

Tonight I must pay homage to the dashing and dapper Michaelangelo L’Acqua who is W Hotel’s global music director, and will playing a DJ set at the Living Room Bar at the W Hotel Downtown. He will be joined by DJs Jamie Biden and DJ Dl. It’s an early gig from 7 to 11.

Industry Insiders: Michaelangelo L’Acqua, Global Warming

When Michaelangelo L’Acqua first entered the high stakes world of music-meets-high-fashion, he couldn’t have been more blissfully unaware. L’Acqua has spent a decade working with designers like Tom Ford, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Michael Kors, John Varvatos, Jil Sander, Chanel and Diane von Furstenberg on nearly 150 fashion shows and 200 commercials. L’Acqua is far from naïve about the industry, and as a seasoned vet in an ever-thinning circle, he’s diving into his new position as the W Hotels’ first ever Global Music Director with unbridled enthusiasm and bohemian sensibilities. L’Acqua has been busy producing the W’s 8th CD, crafting a digital mark for the brand and drumming up more than a few live performances. More on L’Acqua’s W plans, history in the industry and memories of the “velvet mafia” after the jump.

Fashion backstory: I used to play in funk and soul bands. Then, I wanted to be part of the bigger picture so I moved into production. After I’d been producing music for a while, I got invited to produce a Cynthia Rowley fashion show with my old partner who didn’t know anything about producing. We did a bunch of remixes for the show, and the next thing we know, a production company called Kevin Kline and Associates heard about the remixes and how people were just going nuts about them. They asked me to audition, and then, I was on a plane to meet this guy Tom Ford. I had no clue who he was. When I landed in Paris, I turned to my old partner and said, “How is he related to Ford trucks?”

On Tom Ford: When I met him, I was like, “Hey, Buddy! How you doing?” Everybody else was like, “We don’t look at him in the eye directly. You have to have a ten foot distance away from him at all times.” Working for Tom was one of the most intense moments of my entire life in the creative world. He’s a man who had such unbelievable vision in what he wanted to accomplish in fashion and in life. When I started, it was one of the largest moments in fashion. It was the passing of the torch. Yves Saint Laurent was just stepping down. Saint Laurent hated Tom Ford because he thought he was selling out to a person who wasn’t like Saint Laurent. He was such an epic character and Tom was more of a marketing genius. Tom acquires the most talented people in the world and orchestrates them to create his vision. For me not to have known anything about fashion and then thrust into that world was insane! I’d have to create a soundtrack like a score for a film and visualize it from the words that Tom would say. He’s the only other man that made me cry other than my father. He’d refuse the word “I can’t.” I used to say, “I can’t do this!” He’d just look at me and say, “That’s not part of my vocabulary. You’re gonna do it or you’re back to oblivion.” Every move you made could be your last, but if you did what he wanted, you were like a prized dog.

Career highlights: One was the first season of Gucci where Tom was inspired by the movie Magnolia , and I did remixes of Aimee Mann songs for the show. The level of attention we received having no one know who we were at the moment was incredible. Then, the first season of Yves Saint Laurent when Yves Saint Laurent stepped down, everybody was waiting for that show. There were people who were expecting Tom to fail and people who were expecting Tom to be the next God. We were told, “If you fuck this up, not only will you never work in fashion again, but we’ll probably break you. We’re gonna get the velvet mafia on you and you’ll be in some ditch somewhere.” Other shows that stand out are John Varvatos when he won the CFDA Award for Men’s Designer of the Year. We did the show in Florence, and it was this America rock icon show inside of an abandoned church that had been burned out. We opened it up with Jimmy Hendrix playing “Star Spangled Banner.” Every single person in that room just had chills straight down to their toes.

On DJing: I grew up in a time when you had to be the baddest motherfucker on the block. If you weren’t, you wouldn’t get the job and you never got hired again. Now, it’s changed. A lot of it is about who looks good in a skinny tie and all this other shit. I watch DJs, and it’s not about the skill that they put into their craft. I still approach it like the years where I was an artist or a musician. I wish more kids put more time into their craft these days.

Favorite DJ’s: There’s this one guy, Lincoln Madley. He’s a slick little brother–plays everything and his knowledge of music is phenomenal. There are a couple guys I like in the city. One guy’s named Jesse Marco. He’s real good. There’s another guy named Ian Boyd who is really good. And, my old friend Jordy.

On being the Global Music Director for W Hotels: It’s the culmination, the convergence of all the things that I do and that I have done. From working with advertising agencies, in fashion and scoring commercials, producing records, behind the scenes executive producing to managing egos and talent in the corporate mindset. I find myself working with the W at a time when the industry’s completely falling apart. There are no rules anymore. Whatever worked three years ago, chances are, is not working now. I feel like an artist. I’m a creative person who can just throw some stuff up on the wall creatively. Then, pick the pieces that mechanically work well together. Present it with a partner like the W and say, “This is the direction we can go.” People are now being forced to be more creative and let go of the institution or they’ll sink with the institution. I feel I’ve never been more creative in my life than right now. Working with the W has given me the platform to really help them have a voice out there.

Current projects: We’ve just launched a new record, Symmetry, and I’m in motion to prepare for the next record. I think we’re gonna depart from your standard compilation. We’re taking it more into original content. Within that, it’s developing the relationships and identifying the right artists that could be a part of this record. That’s a day-to-day project even though it may be nine months out. Then, we have the Symmetry live events. We start the first one in Los Angeles with Janelle Monae. We might be doing something with Kelis in Miami for swim week. We’re developing our DJ series, as well. So, we’ll do record release parties and we’ll pull in maybe Golden Filter, maybe Aeroplane in six or seven different cities throughout the US. We’re working hard to develop our digital initiative so that we can come out in 2011 with a whole new interactive platform.

Go-to places: I love places like Bianca and Florio’s, Momofuku Noodle Bar, Barrio Chino, all these Lower East Side joints. La Esquina. There’s a bar called Ella on the Lower East Side that my friends own. I’m excited for the Downtown W, happening in the next few weeks.

Side gigs: I’m producing a festival in Southampton in August. We secured the rights to the land and it’ll be a 1000 to 1500 person festival. An all-day event with ten bands of epic proportion. Then, I’m producing a Mafia Opera that I’ve been writing. It’s a cross between Tony and Tina’s Wedding and Rocky Horror Picture Show. It’s an homage to Martin Scorsese’s mafia films. I’m hoping to premiere in August at a place like The Box. The project’s called Tommy Shine Box and The Mirrors. Everybody sings.

Anthony Mackie Talks About Being the Next Jesse Owens

It’s a little surprising, isn’t it, that Hollywood hasn’t raced to get a Jesse Owens biopic greenlit yet. You’d think with the rags-to riches-to redemption biopic craze and the inspirational anything-is-possible sports movie obsession that Owens, an authentic American hero, would be ripe. At the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Owens defused Adolf Hitler’s weird “master race” thing by winning four gold medals in front of the Führer himself. Back home, his hero’s welcome was stunted by much of the same racial prejudice he was met with overseas. This movie will be everything to all people. Revelatory historical lesson, Nazi thriller, inspirational sports pic, and the feel-good movie of the year! So what’s holding it up? Truth be told, actor Anthony Mackie, who stars as Tupac Shakur in the upcoming Notorious B.I.G. biopic Notorious, has been slated to play the track star for a couple of years, and last week I had the chance to ask him about it.

“We’re putting it together now,” the charismatic actor told me at W New York. “It’s going to be a big thing. We’re chronicling his life from birth, to the ticker-tape parade down Park Avenue to The Waldorf Astoria, where he does all this stuff and basically defeats the German Empire. Then he gets to the Waldorf Astoria and he has to go around the back entrance. It’s like, really? He should’ve stayed in Germany … they treated him better over there. So the whole movie was based around this quote that he gave. He was like ‘Everybody asked me how I felt when Hitler didn’t allow me up to the box to shake my hand … well, you know the President didn’t invite me to the White House either.’ That sums up the whole movie. Hopefully that will come together.”