This Week’s NYC Happenings: THE LCL, Output, Village Pourhouse

Greenmarket Cocktailing at the Just-Opened THE LCL: Bar & Kitchen
The Gerber Group of Stone Rose and Whiskey Blue fame opens its first NYC restaurant: THE LCL: Bar & Kitchen, which holds down the lobby of the Westin Grand Central with a versatile bar, lounge, and dining room space. You will drink well, whether its Stumptown at breakfast, Organic Avenue at lunch, or a biodynamic wine for dinner. Enjoy multiple trends at once with farm-to-bar cocktails, rocking cold-pressed juice, organic booze, and greenmarket add-ons. On the dining side, look for elevated comfort food like Pat LaFrieda burgers and New York cheddar mac ‘n’ cheese.
THE LCL: Bar & Kitchen (212 E. 42nd St., Midtown East) opens today. To learn more about the restaurant, check out the listing at BlackBook Guides.

NOW: Beats For Billyburg
The team behind Cielo deliver the first proper dance club in Brooklyn with the opening of Output. Funktion-One covers a killer sound system, and global DJ talent provides the beats.
Output (74 Wythe Ave., Williamsburg) is open now. To learn more about the club, check out the listing at BlackBook Guides.

WEDNESDAY: Beer & Kisses
All gender clichés aside, a night of beer, cherries, and chocolate makes both halves of a date happy. This Wednesday, Village Pourhouse hosts a beer sommelier for flights and pairings. You’ll also get take-home notes, should you want to put anything to work on Valentine’s Day.
Chocolate and Cherry Beer Tasting at Village Pourhouse (64 Third Ave., East Village) starts Wednesday night at 7pm, repeated the following Wednesday. Tickets are $40. To learn more about the bar, check out the listing at BlackBook Guides.

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

Industry Insiders: Raphael Chejade-Bloom, Mr. Hospitality

As managing partner and director of marketing and entertainment at Gerber Group, Raphael Chejade-Bloom is in charge of the guest experience for the company’s many sleek nightspots, including the new Lilium at the W New York – Union Square. We asked him to divulge a few secrets to staying on the top of the nightlife game, and he didn’t disappoint. 

Where are you from?
I was born in San Diego, went to high school in Princeton, New Jersey, and college at American University in Washington, D.C.
Do you consider yourself an East Coast or a West Coast guy? Your temperament is kind of laid-back, but you do have that New York energy.  
That’s what I like to be. I have a funny, laid-back West Coast disposition, but I had some formative years on the East Coast. I can’t exactly say that Princeton was much for cutting my teeth, but it was better than hanging out on the beach all day.
How long have you been with the Gerber Group?
It’s been three years this month.
What is your job title and your main responsibilities?
I am the managing partner and director of marketing and entertainment. Day to day, I oversee everything consumer-related for the company throughout all of our properties. I work a lot with strategic partnerships and I’m booking all the entertainment. I like to say that if Gerber Group is a bar, I’m doing the front of the house.
When you book entertainment are you talking about DJs or live acts?
Both. We’ve had a lot of success in the last couple years doing live music. We try to work with artists before they get huge. One example would be Jessie J. We had her perform live for the first time in the United States before her album dropped. I think she did SNL a month later, so that was exciting for us. We’ve been doing a lot of events with artists who come in and do a show and then they will do a DJ set and then throw an after-party at one of our venues. We’ve had Foster the People. We’ve had Iron & Wine, and by the time this runs we will have had Young the Giant.
Do you work with all the venues—every Gerber venue in New York and beyond?
I oversee the entire portfolio. I do have a very dear friend by the name of Rob Goldstein and he is the southeast marketing director and I oversee his work, but he is pretty much running point in Atlanta, where he lives, Fort Lauderdale, and New Orleans.
The Gerber Group strikes a nice balance in New York nightlife. All of its bars are upscale and special-feeling, but there’s never a sense of snobbery at the door. They’re pretty welcoming.
Thank you. We are definitely not in the business of exclusivity. We are in the business of longevity. Consistency is key for us. It’s the benchmark of our brand. We are a classic brand, and we’ve been around for twenty years. We celebrated our twentieth anniversary last year and I think the welcoming attitude comes from the top. I’ve been taught that this is a business of hospitality first and foremost, and that’s what’s going to perpetuate the brand for another twenty years. 
This might be a sensitive question, but which is your favorite Gerber bar?
I am a little biased because I started as a manager at Whiskey Park, so I really like that one. It’s kind of the Cheers of the portfolio. Lilium is quickly becoming a favorite as well, because everyone loves the redo of the former Underbar. But Whiskey Park is where we all go if there’s a Giants game on or if we are going to hang out and just relax.
The music at Lilium is really great. The tracks they pick really hit the right notes. It’s such a comfortable place to hang out at, yet still quite chic.
Funny story. Before Lilium opened, I sent out an email to all of the top DJs throughout the company, and I said that we were opening this new bar and I want everyone to get together at Whiskey Park so we can do a musical test run. I want you to give your interpretation of a one-hour set for a Sunday night at Lilium. We tried to keep it under wraps, but I got a call from our corporate office saying that someone just called asking if they could enter our DJ battle that we were having at Whiskey Park for Lilium. And I’m like, what’s going on here? And I guess somehow it had leaked to a New York nightlife blog, which posted “DJ Battle at Whiskey Park for New Lilium DJ,” so that was pretty funny. The point is that we went above and beyond to make sure that the sound was right. And that’s for our core hours. We have extended our music offering on Friday and Saturday nights after 11 pm because people want to hear different things. But when you are going in there for our core customer hours – after work on a Tuesday or Wednesday, for example – you are going to hear the Lilium soundtrack, which I appreciate that you liked.
Any particularly memorable moments in the line of work?
I think having Foster the People at The Living Room at the W Times Square was pretty exciting. We had decided to pump a little more energy into the bar, and that opportunity came about with perfect timing. We had a line down the block. Foster was really hitting their stride at the time. It was right after BlackBook did its bit with us and Foster the People and they were right at the point of breaking out. It was really exciting. And then, on our twentieth anniversary, we had Fitz and the Tantrums perform live at Stone Rose Lounge, so that was pretty great. More recently, during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, we did the after-party for Betsey Johnson. Stone Rose Lounge was the official lounge for Fashion Week, and that was a formidable party. It was probably the most packed that I have ever seen Stone Rose.
Do you enjoy what you do? Are you having fun?  
Absolutely. I love the camaraderie of this business. That is really the most exciting thing. And, you know, I look at myself really as an industry apprentice. I’ve got great people that I work with. Scott is an amazing mentor. I feel very, very lucky. 
What are the most challenging parts of your job? What takes the most leg work to accomplish?
Keeping up with the programming can be a challenge. Everyone in the nightlife business is fighting with each other to get the hottest new act, the best new DJ, the new acoustic set, or the most exciting impromptu performance. The challenge for someone like me in the marketing space is maintaining the right energy and keeping consistent with the core values of our business.
A lot of people would like to do what you do. What advice would you give to a younger person that wants to get into the space that you’re in? What do you need to know to succeed?
Much of it is maintaining a sense of hospitality. You have to be wired for this business. Yes, at times you’re attached to your phone, but more often than not, you have to be receptive to personally interacting with people. If you’re a nice person and you enjoy taking care of people, you can go far.
What do you do in your spare time? Any hobbies or leisure activities that help you unwind?
I love working out and running, and I definitely like to spend my time exploring and traveling. I am a huge travel junkie. Last year I went to so many music festivals and special events, everywhere from Art Basel to Night Club and Bar in Vegas to Coachella, South by Southwest, Ultra, Lollapalooza. This year I will be going back to Coachella and back to South by Southwest. Anywhere I can go I’ll go. It’s important to get out of the city sometimes. 

Two Cinco de Mayo Cocktails from Gerber Group Bartender Michelle Romano

It’s Cinco de Mayo, the day Mexicans and Americans celebrate the victory of the Mexican Army over the French in the Battle of Puebla (May 5, 1862) with tequila shots and loutish behavior. Tequila shots are great, and loutish behavior is okay in certain circumstances, but I think we can do better. Fortunately, so does Gerber Group bartender and manager Michelle Romano (above), who was kind enough to invent two amazing cocktails for us that are worthy of the holiday. 

I dropped by Whiskey Blue Thursday afternoon for a tasting, and I’m glad I did, because it expanded my cocktail repertoire quite a bit. The idea was to just have one drinko for Cinco, but when Michelle told me it involved a jalapeno-infused tequila, I got scared. I like spicy food just fine, but spicy drinks – jalapeno tequila, black pepper vodka, etc. – don’t do it for me. I like the heat in my mouth, but not down my throat. So she took pity on the widdle baby and came up with a milder option as well. It’s called the Watermelon Cilantro Margarita, and it’s a good place to begin.  

Watermelon Cilantro Margarita

2 oz Excellia tequila
12 cilantro leaves
3/4 oz agave syrup
1/2 oz fresh lime juice
4 large chunks of fresh watermelon
In a cocktail shaker, muddle watermelon and cilantro with agave syrup. Add ice, lime juice and tequila. Shake vigorously and pour directly into highball glass.
This is a lovely and refreshing cocktail with a great smoothie-like texture. The cilantro and lime play nicely against the watermelon and you’re forced to drink it slowly because leaves keep getting stuck in the straw. Forced moderation is better than no moderation at all. A great drink. 
The second cocktail she made was the one I was afraid of, but I figured I’d give it a try, because Michelle knows what she’s doing behind the bar (more on that later). 
Jalapeno Cooler
2 oz Tanteo Jalapeno Tequila
12 cilantro leaves
1/2 oz agave syrup
4 large chunks of watermelon
In a building glass muddle watermelon and cilantro with agave syrup. Add ice and tequila. Shake vigorously and pour directly into a rocks glass.
With some trepidation, I took a sip. And then another. And another. Where was the heat? Ah, there it is, on the lips, on the tongue, and a bit in the cheeks. But nothing in the throat, nothing in the belly. It’s a spice that knows when to quit. Like I said, I’m fine with spicy food, but I’ve got nothing to prove. Give me a little bit of a kick, enough to wake me up a bit, but don’t start an inferno inside me. Michelle balanced the jalapeno perfectly agains the other ingredients. It’s still not something I’d go out of my way to order, but for those who like their cold drinks hot, it’s as good as they get. 
And as for Michelle, she’s one of the coolest bartenders in New York. I know this because she hosted us at Lilium when I sampled upscale St. Patrick’s Day cocktails with actor Jon Glaser. Not only were the cocktails amazing, but we all had a great time sitting around and shooting the breeze. To find out more about Michelle, let’s ask her.
Where were you born, where did you grow up, and what kinds of things were you into as a kid?
I’m originally from Mt. Shasta California, which is the very top of Cali near the Oregon border. I spent 25 years in Cali before I transplanted myself to the East Coast. I grew up climbing trees, catching lizards, and playing in the mud. I was a total tomboy and complete ham, loved to be the center of attention and had a wild imagination, but I guess that’s no different from me now. 
How did you get into bartending? What about it appealed to you, and when did you realize you had a knack for it?
I actually lied my way into my first bartending job. One day I just woke up and said "I want to be a bartender," so I Googled some drinks and shots, made myself flash cards with the recipes, and went to my favorite restaurant/club in town and asked them for a job. I told them I had bartended at another local bar in town (where the owner was willing to fake a reference for me). They hired me as a happy hour bartender and quickly realized that even though I knew what was in the drinks, I had no clue how to make them. But  what I lacked in knowhow I made up for in personality, and I had a great bar manager who was willing to show me the ropes. Shout out to Jeff Lennon! 
What exactly are you doing now? What is your title and basic responsibilities?
I currently work for two Gerber Group properties. At Lilium in the W Union Square, I’m the head bartender, team leader for all the staff and back up managerial support for the GM.  At Whiskey Blue I’m a full time manager where I do a lot of everything. Back of the house stuff like invoicing and payroll, as well as managing the floor and interacting with customers to enhance the guest experience.
What’s an average day like for you, if there is such a thing as an average day?
Lately every day has been something different. I just recently transferred to Whiskey Blue so I’m still getting my footing and the craziest things seem to happen when I’m running a shift. I’m constantly on call for both properties between staff, corporate, or other managers. My phone and email never stop, but I like it. I work well under pressure.
Any crazy stories you can share? Celebs-gone-wild, that kind of thing?
Honestly I have no celebrity dirt, but I wish I did! Gerber has such a good reputation among the celebrity circle so we have a regular flow of celebrities in our New York properties and everyone I’ve met has been really cool. I think the best moment for me was when I had first moved to NYC and met Chris Noth. I was of course a huge Sex and the City fan and my friend Sally always calls me her Carrie Bradshaw. Now I’m not one to get star struck, after living in LA you get pretty used to seeing famous people wandering around. But I’ll be honest when Chris sat at my bar for the first time it felt like the perfect New York moment. It took every ounce of my composure not to run up and hug him and call him Mr. Big!!
What spirits and mixers do you enjoy working with?
My favorite part of New York has always been the use of so many fresh ingredients and infusions. I’m really into gin these days. It’s become an obsession of mine to get non gin drinkers to enjoy a gin cocktail I craft. I Haven’t had someone dislike something I’ve made as of yet, knock on wood. I don’t want to give away my secrets but herbal gin infusions are where my head is right now.
What trends are you seeing in mixology these days? What is the Gerber Group of bars mixing up?
I’ve noticed that many bars are doing a play on flavors, mixing the sweet with the salty or savory. Like doing a sweet martini with a white pepper rim. Gerber Group has a new spirit favorite called Caliche Rum, which is new to the market. We actually just added two amazing Caliche cocktails to our cocktail lists company-wide. What I really like about it is that its a silver rum but it has some 30 year old rum mixed into each batch, giving it a lot more character than most silver rums you taste. 
What do you drink when you’re kicking back? What’s your favorite cocktail, wine, beer, etc.?
Well I love any beer I can put fruit in, and I even put fruit in some beers you wouldn’t think need it. like Stella with lime. I’m weird. If I’m drinking a martini its gin-based. I typically scope out the fresh ingredients the bar has and have them make me something I invent on the spot. Which I’m sure the bartenders just love! But if all else fails I’ll always go back to Hendrick’s with a splash of St. Germaine and a splash of grapefruit. Can’t go wrong there.
Any advice for aspiring bartenders out there? How do you make it to a high-end bar like a Gerber bar?
At the end of the day anyone can make a Jack and Coke. You have to have a personality if you want to get anywhere in the business. Too often I see bartenders who don’t smile, who look like they hate their jobs or hate people in general, and I think to myself "why are you even doing this? The money? Your tips can’t be very good with that attitude." Gerber hires personalities, not just bartenders. The reason I’ve gotten so far in this company in such a short period of time is because I’m a genuine, likeable person who enjoys what I do and works damn hard at it. 
Finally, what do you like to do when you’re not working? Any hobbies or leisure activities that keep you balanced? Photography, travel, etc?
I’m a jet setter. Last year I visited Spain twice and also Italy. This year I went to Costa Rica and am deciding where to head next. Every time I come back from a trip I feel renewed and reinvigorated towards life. I picked up photography a year ago and have fallen completely in love with it, and I’m actually quite good if I do say so myself. Those two things keep me balanced. Knowing that the world can look completely different through a camera lens drives me to see things other than how they appear on the surface and helps me to stay open to all the possibilities around me. 
[Photo: Eric Fischer]

Segregation in Clubland

Santos Party House continues to program incredible and forward thinking music. I visited the joint Friday night with some special friends. I was there for Larry, Spencer and Sara because I like their faces but I was also curious how the Friday was doing. It has been known as Q-Tips night and I wondered if they had lost a beat now that he has moved on.

The acclaimed RE-OPEN-ED now features DJ Just Blaze and DJ Soul Upstairs with DJs Gravy, Max Glazer and MC Micro Don downstairs. Just Blaze (from the press release) is “the multi-platinum producer and remixer who has laid tracks for Jay-Z, Busta Rhymes, Beastie Boys, Mariah Carey, MF Doom, Janet Jackson, Jay Electronica, Kanye West and many more.” It’s classic hip-hop, house, soul classics, electronic disco and absolutely fantastic. The crowd is a dance crowd, mixed and hot. That’s writers speak to say that there are more non-white people there than in most of the so called “great clubs” around town.

It is increasingly disturbing to see the segregation and racism that prevails in nightlife. I commented to an owner the other day that his club had one black person in it while many were waiting outside. He denied the plain truth as I stormed out. Whether it is a policy or just the prejudices of my doorman “friends,” the club world offers few places that mix it like we did way back when. A black president doesn’t mean much if a black man gets turned away from the door when uglier, worse dressed, way less cool white guys get in way faster. A trip around the town a week or so ago saw major hot spots with virtually no non-white customers. Sure there were a few Asian hotties with their frat boy boyfriends and models of all races. Outside on the door step, the average black or Spanish couple are left waiting. It amazes me how patient they remain. Years of abuse has turned into acceptance.

My close friend Brittany Mendenhall, 6’ feet , beautiful and with her own nightlife column, has to wonder about going to certain places as she has had trouble in the past. I’m saying it out loud, but not quite loud enough, that this is way wrong and needs to be addressed. This Santos Party is fantastic and I’m going to try to be a regular. I advise you to be there as well.

Downstairs I caught my old friend and mainstay Spa Club DJ Max Glazer with Micro Don. It was joyous mayhem as girls way too hot for me grabbed me and dragged me to the dancefloor. It wasn’t pretty from there, although it made people laugh–and how can that be bad? Santos Party House is what is left of the days of yore. Our complaints, laments and nostalgic waxings are easily answered by their Friday night party.

After reading my post from yesterday, wondering about her safety, Lindsay Risk, in Chile to help open the W’s newest property, sent me a facebook message from Santiago, Chile:

Hi, I just read your article. So sweet of you. I am ok, still really rattled. We keep having aftershocks that are making me and everyone scared and sick. We had one yesterday at 6.0, which felt like it was happening all over again, but I think the worst is over. I really appreciate you writing that to build awareness of the complete nightmare that these people are living. Red2One is destroyed, Whiskey Blue is ok and that doesn’t even compare to all of the people that have lost their homes and family. It is so sad and horrific. We are trying to form teams and benefits to aid and bring supplies. I will keep you updated and thanks so much again. I will see you soon…ahhhhhh.

An Interview with Gerber Group’s Mystery Man, Scott Gerber

A few years back, when I was a partner in SLDesign, I had the pleasure of working with Scott and Rande Gerber, who hired us to work on their rooftop at the W Hotel Buckhead. Rande Gerber is, of course, that former ex-model who is married to Cindy Crawford and is the face of such brands as the Whiskey, Whiskey Blue, Whiskey Sky, Whiskey Park, Whiskey Bar and Grill, Wetbar, Underbar…you get the idea. He also heads up those Stone Rose joints. With somewhere near 30 properties worldwide, Gerber Group is one of the world’s top hospitality brands.

The Gerber group just opened three new venues in the new W Santiago and a Stone Rose Bar and Grill at the JFK Delta terminal. They also offer the midnight bar collection, which is a complete line of seven essential cocktail mixers “made with all the finest all natural ingredients.” With all these amazing achievements and projected developments, Rande Gerber and the Gerber group are household names. However, my Chihuahua has almost as much name recognition as Rande’s brother and partner Scott Gerber.

A google search of his name took me to a ton of Rande links. But Scott Gerber is responsible for directing all of the business operations, including new business development, negotiating partnerships, liaison with property owners, overseeing management and coordinating construction of the properties. He is a gentleman and a scholar with a BS in finance from the University of Arizona. I caught up with Scott yesterday and shot him a couple of questions. He’s a very busy guy.

I googled you and found practically nothing. It basically just refers people to your brother Rande or the Gerber group. Why do you prefer being in the background? It’s much safer that way. [Laughs]. I run the business end of the business. Rande is more involved with the design and aesthetic.

We all know that Rande is much more than just a pretty face. Is there a clear separation of duties? Yes, there’s a clear delineation. Rande wouldn’t get involved with the day-to-day operations.

How many places are you operating and how many more are in the works? We operate 30 properties and we’re having conversations about 10 more. Probably we’ll start up 5 of these this year.

This JFK Stone Rose Bar and Grill fascinates me. Nowhere in my experience is food and service worse than at an airport. I guess that’s changing. Tell me about your synergy with Delta. Our midnight bar collection is being served on Delta flights. Instead of just getting a little bottle and a mixer we make margaritas and cosmos. We teamed with Delta on this and it’s an in-flight revolution. I travel every other week and I know what has been available to a traveler. Were often waiting for a plane for one, two or even five hours. At Stone Rose we have a full bar and menu so you have a relaxed and stylish spot while you are waiting. Our menu gives you a great sandwich or steak and a variety of bites like buffalo mozzarella salad, buffalo wings. Much more than the typical traveling fare.

I guess with increased security we are all forced to spend more time in the airports waiting. Did that extra time factor into your decision to open an airport location? Of course. Travelers are told to be there two hours before their flight. Everyone comes at least one hour early. We wanted to provide something besides the cheesy places that are currently the norm. You can now get a great drink and food while you wait for your plane. Delta asked us to get involved as they try to take their brand more upscale. They even have David Barton exercise facilities at their terminal at JFK.

As hospitality drives the major hotel chains, the Gerber group is the big kid on the block. The Stone Rose in JFK raises the bar and creates a whole new market for food and beverage brands. I’m sure that very soon other hospitality groups will get into the act. Will it be long before we see Pure at the Las Vegas airport? Or Tao, LAX? How about La Esquina, LaGuardia? Customers want things the way they want them, and that means everywhere. They want Whole Foods not Met Foods. They want high end design and style in their boutique hotel, not just in the room, but in the clubs and restaurants that bring the beautiful locals to them. Luxury, boutique brands, with increasingly enhanced amenities, will be available to them wherever they go. Thank god I have a place to hang and eat at JFK. The Delta brand means something more to me today than it did the last time I traveled. What a great idea. If I ever find myself in Santiago, Chile, maybe visiting my friend Lindsey Risk, I’ll stay at The W and visit the Gerber Group’s Whiskey Blue, W Lounge and Red 2 One. I know I can expect high design, great service and an understanding of my needs.

Industry Insiders: Eva Ziegler, Hotel Brand-Aid

If we start making a list of excellent career choices, Eva Ziegler may have to play role model right at the top. The Austrian-born marketing mastermind is the “Global Brand Leader” for W Hotels and head of the global launch for Le Méridien Hotels as part of parent company Starwood Hotels & Resorts. From her home base in New York, Ziegler spends her 9 to 5 working on strategic planning (establishing the Starwood brand, scope, marketing strategies, implementing design) for hotels across the globe. Arguably, the biggest perk is that her job also includes traveling to all of these hotels (from Istanbul to Bali). In a smooth Austrian accent, the charming power player makes it all look and sound effortless, in between jet-setting to exotic locations to conduct business, of course.

What’s a typical day in your job? I don’t think there is such a thing as a typical day in my job, and that’s actually the beauty of the story. My job is global which means that I am on the road a lot; different locations around the world, different people to meet and different cultures to understand. So, to some extent I don’t find a real routine in my job. You can only really love a brand if you really know your product. Brand leaders are not just people who do communications and paint pretty pictures but actually set the strategic framework.

When you visit one of your hotel locations, what are some of the first things that you look for? The first impression that you have is the people. When you meet the people it sets the tone and you kind of right away know the atmosphere that awaits you. The people are enormously important to the story. Also the overall look from a design perspective. It’s a very design-led brand. The first ten minutes are critical.

Which is your favorite location and why? Overall, as a person I love vibrant, multidimensional cities. Cities that are multifaceted and that offer a spectrum of things. My dream has always been to live in New York one day so to live here is one of my dreams come true. Also I love Istanbul. I love Hong Kong. I also love creative, artsy places like Barcelona. Around the world in general, I love places that are full of life and creative potential.

Hobbies you’ve picked up while traveling? I think helicopter skiing is one of the ultimate experiences of man and nature. To me it’s like complete freedom to some extent, when your eye has complete freedom.

How is Starwood fighting against the economic downturn? On our side we see the challenge as an opportunity to some extent, because it makes you rethink everything that you’re doing. So in the end, after the crisis, we’ll actually come out stronger than when we went in. The whole idea is to own the upswing. From a W perspective, we’ve opened seven hotels this year, with four more to go this year. By 2012, we’re going from currently 33 hotels to 60 hotels. We’re building for the long term. From a Starwood perspective, we’re “painting the house.” We’ve opened 250 hotels in the last three years, we renovated another 350 hotels, so 60 percent of our total portfolio will be renewed or new. We want to be in the best shape when the economy bounces back.

Where do you stand in Le Meridian’s global launch? Le Méridien is a very different story than W Hotels. The W brand was created in ’98 from scratch by Starwood. Le Méridien was bought in ’05 with a 35-year history. We wanted to relaunch the brand and transform it into a lifestyle brand. Basically, we’ve transformed the product. From the original 130 hotels we bought, we’ve exited 40. Out of the 90 hotels from the original purchase, we’ve renovated hotels in the double digits so far. We’ve also opened another 15 hotels. Le Méridien is meant to provide art in a new perspective. The ultimate thing is that Le Méridien should become a gathering place for the creative type. As much as the W is about socializing around cocktails and the bar, Le Méridien is more about engaging people in dialogue and conversation around coffee. To re-launch a brand is not something that happens in a year, it’s a long-term project.

What’s your number-one necessity when you travel? My first necessity is running shoes, and the second is my iPod.

Dream spot for a hotel? I’ve just seen a fascinating project of transforming old oil platforms into hotels. It turns into an entirely environmentally friendly solution. The idea of sustainability and being respectful to the planet is very important to me.

Your go-to spots in New York? Balthazar for brunch; Spice Market; Café Sabarsky which is a Viennese café for whenever I’m feeling homesick. Also Macchiato Espresso Bar, Milk and Honey and Whiskey Blue at W New York.