Weekend in Quebec City: Hipper Than You Think…and Yes, Still Gorgeous

 

 

There’s a certain type of city – Savannah, Bruges, Oaxaca – that could easily cruise forever on its historic good looks. Canada’s entry is, naturally, Quebec City…the oldest burg in North America (she turned a youthful 410 this year). It, and none of the above, however, have ever really been known for surfing the, um, cultural bleeding edge.

Now, we’d certainly spent our share of nights out on the Montreal music scene; but this was our first touchdown in its pretty neighbor to the north. Yet what ultimately surprised us was that, although so many visitors come for the stunning historic beauty of the place (and its legendary Chateau Frontenac, where we did spend one night), QC was actually genuinely hipper than you might expect. Indeed, on our first evening, we hooked up with local electronic duo Fjord, at their stylish new Japanese restaurant Honō Izakaya, in the Rue St-Joseph area – which buzzes until late with creative energy. (Though antiques browsing along the Rue St-Paul was also a treat.)

Of course, we weren’t going to pretend that we did anything less than swoon over the city’s ethereal 17th Century good looks. But we were also their to uncover what makes it a dynamic, palpably contemporary destination.

Here’s what we did.

 

 

Hotel 71

Arriving on a drizzly day, we were instantly comforted by the feeling that we could easily have been fine with just holing up in this gorgeous boutique hotel until things dried out. The experience started at maximum enjoyment, with a glorious lunch at Il Matto, 71’s energetic, Italo-chic restaurant – where one can indulge in sublimely flavorful modern updates of classics like salmon tartare, linguine with mushrooms and other pasta and pizza specialties – all in a sleek setting with futuristic looking “cage” chandeliers hovering above.
Heading upstairs, the stylishly understated rooms were like veritable apartments in their proportions – with awesomely high ceilings, and prodigious windows framing (in some cases) captivating views of the St Lawrence River (we admit to having a thing for watching ships come in to harbors).
The lobby was a dream, a decidedly cosmopolitan spot for socializing and new-friend-making (which is always quite easy in Canada, of course). High-tech wine/cocktail dispensers allowed for the experience of fetching your own tipple (how civilized) and then lounging about on one of the fiery red couches. Don’t forget to look around – the hotel also collects art created by mentally challenged artists, and there’s a visceral honesty to the works. To wit, in the front window were Gaultier-looking corsets made from wire and bottle flip-tops.

 

 

Museum of Civilization

Since, um, civility seemed to be in exceedingly short supply back home, we were particularly drawn to the heady but approachable Museum of Civilization. Bleeding hearts that we are, we eagerly immersed ourselves in the zeitgeisty current exhibition This is Our Story, which looks at Quebec’s Aboriginal population. As immigration debates rage on, it couldn’t be more relevant.

 

 

Musee de Beaux Arts

A rather striking mix of 19th Century and modernist architecture situated amongst the trees in Battlefields Park, this is arguably Quebec City’s marquee museum. Nearly 40,000 works stretch back to the 17th Century to tell the history of Quebec art – though we spent most of our time in the excellent modern and contemporary pavilions, which offer convincing evidence of the region’s ongoing artistic vitality. Just opened is an exhibition on the work of revelatory artist Numa Amun.

 

 

Honō Izakaya

Buzzing with all sorts of buzzy people from the early hours on, the stylish Honō epitomizes the new QC spirit. Headed up by restaurateur Thomas Cassault, we pulled up a stool with he and Louis-Étienne Santais (who is his musical partner in electronic duo Fjord) one evening for a couple of hours of unapologetic decadence and excellent tunes on the soundsystem (everything from The Smiths to Felix Cartal). We were introduced to our new obsession, ouefs de caille marines, while tasting unusual types of sake  (like the sweet Honjozo, which gets stronger when heated up) and some impressively smooth Japanese whiskey. Rather than sushi, come for Japonais curry and white tuna tataki.

 

 

Le Clocher Penché

Anchoring the eastern end of the archly hip Rue St-Joseph corridor (Honō is at the other end), Le Clocher Penché – it translates dramatically to “The Bell Tower” – looks airlifted straight from a trendy little corner of Paris’ Marais. One of those rarest of restaurants with art aspirations that actually lives up to them – it’s veritably a dine-in gallery. And its charmingly lived-in atmosphere gives it an inviting authenticity…yet the crowd is as cool as they come. They serve classic market cuisine (listing all the growers and artisans on their site) like pressed Quebec lamb, raw/marinated sustainable tuna, homemade blood pudding, and some of the most divine chicken liver mousse anywhere – which for us, strangely enough, is kind of a really big deal.

 

 

L’Orygine

This is the absolute pinnacle of new Quebec City dining. There’s little reason, actually, why this hip bistro organique shouldn’t be considered one of the genuinely best restaurants in the world. First, the aesthetics. They may have actually invented “space-age rustic” here, with futuristic (and boldly turquoise) banquettes under potted plants hung from a romantically beamed ceiling. Picture windows frame the historic beauty of the Lower Town just outside, and there’s a second, more intimate and brick walled dining room.
Oh, but the food, glorious, glorious food. We took our place at the perfect-for-people-watching bar, and had our lives (and our taste buds) forever altered by the resplendent Discovery Menu. To wit, scallops in morel sauce, sunflower & beluga lentils, fried polenta with beet remoulade, red deer & hemp – all done without fuss or self-conscious over-concepting, yet with the flavor of each and every ingredient shining delectably through. And everything – everything – is unflinchingly local. Like, when we asked for a dirty martini, since no olives are grown in Quebec, it was served with a spray of shitake. Now that is dedication.

 

 

Le Drague

The sort of place that, if it was in New York, would be preeningly pretentious, Le Drague is technically a gay club. But it’s just so much flamboyant outlandishness that it is often packed with straight people, who have come to realize that this is where everyone is having more fun. The cabaret performances are uninhibited, to say the least – and there are DJs and dancing ’til the wee hours. Especially great for heating up during those cold Quebec winters.

 

 

 

 

BlackBook Rooms w/ a View: The New Moxy East Village Hotel

 

 

You’d be forgiven for being confused, but yes – there are now four Moxy hotels in Manhattan alone. Yet there has been a detectable sense of evolution with each, as we were made keenly aware as soon we entered the lobby lounge area of the new Moxy East Village. Here, the hotel exhibited its cool with more of a laidback aplomb, less attention-seeking brazenness.

But we were also intrigued its position along E. 11th Street, as the EVill hasn’t really had a notable hotel opening in what seems like a decade – unless you count the conversion of the Gotham into the Standard East.

Sufficiently piqued, we checked in to the Moxy EV to check it out. Here’s what we loved.

 

The Location

The Moxy is literally across the street from Webster Hall, where we misspent most of our young adulthood, watching bands like Placebo and The Jesus & Mary Chain shake polite society to its foundations. And the East Village will always be that place where the underground is still stirring things up below the onslaught of unnecessary condo towers now dotting its streets. So, when visiting, make sure to skip the twee hipster hangs, to instead catch the next David Byrne or Deborah Harry at Webster, Bowery Electric or the Mercury Lounge. Or just dance the outré night away at Coney Island Baby.

 

 

The Rooms

Hotels love to peddle those river views, or the possibility of glimpsing the Empire State Building from your bed. But to look out upon the quintessential NYC tableau, this is the place to be. The ramshackle charms of the East Village never fail to warm our hearts – and outside the Moxy’s windows you can take in the helter-skelter mix of 19th and 20th Century architecture, most of it endearingly grubby.
Inside the rooms, Moxy worked their spatial magic once again, making a comfortably manageable situation out of a relatively small amount of space, and doing it in style – especially in the retro-cool bathrooms. (Eco-conscious points for having eliminated the tiny plastic toiletries bottles.)

 

 

Alphabet Cafe and Bar

It’s true, we do go on endlessly about the awful music selection chosen for play in the endless proliferation of replica hipster cocktail bars. So imagine our thrill when we sauntered into the Moxy’s lounge area to the sounds of Teardrop Explodes’ “Reward,” a post-punk obscurity exhibiting the particularly excellent taste of anyone who playlists it. This continued on (love that Talking Heads track…) as we later pulled up a seat at the Alphabet Bar, which is essentially an extension of said lounge area.
It’s actually quite a social/epicurean scene in the space all day, from the bacon pissaladiere (courtesy of the well curated grab-and-go counter) we enjoyed there for lunch, to the perfect dirty martini served by our new favorite bartender Kimberly. And its stylish, comfy couches look out on a calmingly verdant outdoor courtyard – perfect for ratcheting down one’s Gotham-induced stress.

 

Cathédrale

Okay, sure – one wouldn’t expect the Tao Group to be planting its flag in the East Village, as their unwavering sense of theatricality might seem more suited to the Meatpacking District…or Vegas. But the Moxy EV’s glamorous Cathédrale restaurant is a totally transformative experience, with its spectacular, dramatic ceiling seeming to have been borrowed from The Vatican. But it also boasts clever Downtown nightlife references which are matter-of-factly woven into the design. As expected, it’s a total scene, with chicly adorned hostesses frantically shuffling the seating charts to accommodate the long lines. We opted for a seat on the buzzy terrace outside the bar area.
One also doesn’t expect to stumble across the Mediterranean in the East Village, either. But from the warm dates stuffed with almonds and roquefort (which we quickly added to our “dying meal” list), to the delectable grilled artichokes, to the particularly plump and tasty burrata, dinner at Cathédrale had us dreaming of our next trip to Marseille or Napoli. Oh, and please do ask for the bread – we don’t know what’s in it, but it will pretty much get you permanently back on carbs.

 

 

And Yet More…

A rooftop bar is coming in spring of 2020 – but even before that happens, absolutely make a point of checking into the Moxy East Village, if only to ride up and down in the artfully lighted elevators – which offer almost the same feeling as standing in one of Yayoi Kusama’s ethereal Mirror Rooms.

 

 

New England Epicurean: A Cultivated Autumn Weekend in Kennebunkport

 

 

Kennebunkport is one of those quintessential New England towns which, of course, will always wear its blue-blood associations with the Bush dynasty on its sleeve. We love it all the same – and having spent untold hours in the Berkshires and Vermont of late, we decided to edge a little further north to Maine for that inimitable experience: the autumn seaside weekend.

Endlessly picturesque, Kennebunkport remains a living ode to old-fashioned Americana, which actually aligns it perfectly with the current travel zeitgeist; yet there’s more to this charming village than nostalgia. Beyond the corner lobster shacks and sandy beaches, a sophisticated hotel and food scene has emerged. Could Kennebunkport become an alternative to the Hamptons, a less crowded Cape Cod, or even the “new” Nantucket?

 

 

Although best known as a summer retreat, Kennebunkport is indeed equally enchanting in the fall. And, without the traffic congestion, the drive is a very manageable five hours from New York City. Local hospitality has undergone a renaissance in the last few years, rising to the standards of urbane urbanistas, with a number of classic inns, beachside resorts, beautifully renovated manor houses, and even enclaves of tiny temporary homes offering right-size accommodations for virtually every manner of traveller.

We hit the road on a rainy Thursday evening, arriving at the Tides Beach Club just in time for a welcome glass of prosecco by the fireplace in its coastal-chic lobby. Then we headed up to our impossibly stylish, Jonathan Adler-designed suite and slipped between the high-thread-count Frette sheets.

 

 

The next morning we awoke to a cerulean sky, offset by the burnished reds and oranges of the changing leaves. From our balcony, we watched the waves gently rolling in across Goose Neck Beach while sipping our morning coffee. The crisp air, tinged with the sea’s briny tang, invigorated us for morning yoga at The Tides’ sister property, Hidden Pond.

A collection of one-and-two-bedroom cottages, Hidden Pond is nestled into 60 acres of pristine birch forest. Each cottage is uniquely designed and features full kitchens, luxury baths, stone fireplaces, screened porches, and yes, even an outdoor rain shower. On the property are two swimming pools (one just for adults, thankfully), and a raft of amenities that included watercolor painting classes, a cutting garden, mixology lessons, guided hikes, and a fire pit with s’mores every evening. There was so much to do…or not!

 

 

The resort’s full-service spa, Tree Spa, is just what its name promises. Connected by a catwalk woven through the trees, the services are performed in a trio of tiny treetop cabins. Trust us, there’s something supremely restorative and blissful about the scent of pine and sound of twittering birds drifting in through the window while getting a really good massage.

Earth, Hidden Pond’s restaurant, focuses on farm-to-fork freshness, with many of the vegetables and herbs plucked right from its on-site garden. The farmhouse-chic décor extended to its two private-dining sheds, outfitted in antique furniture and romantically lit with candles and twinkling fairy lights (really, you can’t even imagine). Everything is seasonal, so menus change often, but the Hidden Pond Cheeseburger with smoked mushrooms, caramelized onions, and creamy Gorgonzola is highly recommended. We also loved the venison stew with creamy polenta, tart cherries, and roasted cauliflower, as well as the local haddock with braised leeks and garden-fresh chard.

 

 

And yes, it’s a cliche – but a trip to Maine should always include something to do with lobster. So, appropriately, the next day we had to do our share of sampling. Overlooking the harbor side of the Kennebunk River, the casual Boathouse Waterfront Hotel and Restaurant could not be beat for both classic Maine views and an always-on raw bar. We started with a selection of local oysters and then had to choose between a classic lobster roll, lobster mac and cheese, lobster tacos…or simply a whole butter-poached Maine lobster.

Equally delicious was Ocean, at the Cape Arundel Inn & Resort – offering a fine dining experience, with classic French-Mediterranean dishes in a white-glove setting. Having not had our fill of lobster, we started with lobster caprese – chunks of lobster, mozzarella, and heirloom tomatoes, drizzled with lemon aioli and balsamic reduction. Also unbeatable were the seared sea scallops with trout roe and ginger emulsion.

 

 

Kennebunkport’s notable craft brewery and cocktail scene were showcased at Batson River Brewing and Distilling. Its clubby atmosphere attracts a younger crowd, who lounge on leather sofas or play board games while sipping on their signature brews. Standout cocktails included the Batson G&T, subtly crafted with local lavender, and the quintessential fall tipple: an old fashioned made with Batson River’s Langsford Road Bourbon, garam masala and caramelized fig.

After a night of drinking, restorative brunch seemed the only reasonable activity…and The Burleigh at the Kennebunkport Inn served what we could only imagine was the best in town. While the menu offers a well-rounded selection of breakfast classics, like omelets and benedicts, we went with the Maine blueberry pancakes. They’re the size of dinner plates, perfectly fluffy, and so buttery you might not even need to drizzle them with maple syrup or blueberry compote (but we did anyway).

 

 

Having filled our bellies yet again, we took a stroll around town and for some very local shopping. And after checking out the galleries of Maine Art Hill, we hit the shops at Dock Square: Minka, for sustainably made jewelry, skincare, décor, and accessories, Benoits Boutique for cozy sweaters, and Daytrip Society for Pendleton blankets and cute Maine-themed décor and souvenirs.

Highly recommended is borrowing a bike from the Kennebunkport Inn, and taking a ride along Beach Avenue, for the expansive ocean views and spectacular mega-million dollar homes. We worked up yet another appetite, and so stopped for handcrafted ice cream cones from Rococo – specifically the Earl Grey rose hip jam and pistachio, the goat cheese blackberry Chambord, and ginger sour cherry jam). For something a little more hipstery, there’s coffee and the ultra Instagrammable mini-doughnuts at Satellite Donuts.

 

 

We decided to wrap up our trip where we began, at The Tides Beach Club, sitting on the front porch of the classic waterfront property sipping its only-known-to-locals watermelon cosmopolitan, as the sun cast its final golden glow across the sandy Goose Neck Beach. Having had our fill of lobster, we opted for snacks from the more casual dinner menu, including popcorn chicken with chili and blue cheese dipping sauce, Maine crab dip with wonton crisps, and savory corn dog bites. It all still seemed very New England.

There was no heading home without seeing at least one of Maine’s architectural icons, so we took a slight detour to York to visit the Cape Neddick Nubble Lighthouse. Perched on a rocky weatherworn islet, the red and white lighthouse and lightkeeper’s home is rumored to be the one of the most photographed in the world. Its rich history dates to the late 1800s, and today it remains in use as a beacon for travelers coming from near and far…including us.

 

 

España Autumn: Indulging the Art, Food + Flamenco of Madrid

 

 

With Barcelona increasingly overrun with tourists, the lure of Madrid’s food, culture and relentless nightlife scene becomes ever more difficult to resist. And indeed, visitors numbers to the sensual Spanish capital ticked up by 5% in 2018.

We, ourselves, were returning to check out the exceedingly cool new-ish Only You Atocha hotel. The brand itself had launched in 2013 with a very different sort of property: the Only You Boutique hotel, in the trendy Chueca district, an aristocratic 19th mansion converted by star designer Lázaro Rosa-Violán into a surreal but drop-dead stunning maze of differently themed public areas and plush guest rooms. He was enlisted again for the Atocha, this time giving a distinctly Spanish context to the lobby-as-hip-playground concept familiar to denizens of hotels like The Ace.

 

 

And indeed, everywhere you might turn, there was something to grab our attention. To the right of the entrance, The Bakery by Mama Framboise, which serves decadent Tartaletas MF, a dozen flavors of macarons (goat-cheese-figs-pralines!), and Iberian ham toast all day. To the left was the Latin-Asian Trotamundos restaurant, with its buzzy corner cocktail bar. And just beyond, a dizzyingly dramatic atrium, where nouveau jazz happenings regularly bring in the city’s modern day hepcats.

But probably our favorite part of every day was shuffling off the hangovers while lingering over a lazy breakfast against spectacular vistas at the 7th floor Séptima – where in the evenings DJs soundtrack the views, late into the night – thus perpetuating the hangover cycle.

 

 

Upstairs the rooms were a great deal more plush and stylish than those in typical hipsterrific hotels, with smartly patterned bedspreads, exposed brick walls and white tiled bathrooms. For a particular splurge, we can’t stress enough the fantabulousness of the sprawling Terrace Suite – whose outdoor space could easily accommodate 10-12 enthusiastically gyrating party people.

Madrid itself – sometimes mistakenly passed over for the more archly hip Barcelona – comes especially to life as winter passes into spring, with its scores of pavement cafes, its teeming plazas for sexy-people watching and its streets that buzz late into the night (really, more like 6am). The food is transcendent, the nightlife is some of the best on the Continent, and its grand boulevards / grandiloquent baroque architectural icons make it one of Europa’s most under-appreciated capitals.

Here’s what we did.

 

The PradoThe Reina Sofia

The thing about classical art in Spain…it’s just different. It’s a country that still has a king, after all. And so a great deal of la historia de España is still told in a place like The Prado. It’s indeed a very Spanish museum, and even if you’re a contemporary art geek, you’ll find yourself drawn in to the narrative as told through the dramatic works of Velazquez, Goya and El Greco. The jaw-dropping collection also boasts Rubens, Titian and Hieronymous Bosch’s proto-surrealist masterpiece The Garden of Earthly Delights. Don’t kill too much time on the stiff royal portraits.
The Reina Sofia, just a short stroll from the hotel, is Spain’s most important museum of 20th Century art, with treasures by Miró, Juan Gris, Pablo Serrano, and, of course. The museum also holds significant contemporary works by the likes of Damien Hirst, Cindy Sherman, Man Ray, Julian Schnabel and Richard Serra. For a poignant look at the origins of the feminist artistic zeitgeist, Defiant Muses: Delphine Seyrig and the Feminist Video Collectives in France in the 1970s and 1980s runs through March 20.

 

Prado Museum 2017

El Prado

 

Art Gallery Tour

It’s not Berlin, surely – but Madrid’s contemporary art scene has genuinely started to garner international attention, with its annual ARCO fair having become one of Europe’s most important. The Art Gallery Tour people are your best bet for getting an insider’s view, with tours of specific districts like the hip Letras and posh Salamanca. They will also curate private tours to suit your taste. You can add a wine drinking element, should you wish to pontificate on what you’ve seen over a glass or two of Ribera Del Duero.

Barrio de Las Letras

Also a short stroll from the hotel, Las Letras is just that sort of neighborhood that defines Madrid, with atmospheric streets where charming little bars and cool indie boutiques reign – and there’s not a chain outlet in sight. The outdoor cafes on Plaza de Santa Ana and the narrow streets around it are great for lingering and people watching.

 

calle-huertas-barrio-de-las-letras

 

Palacio de Cibeles Restaurant Terrace

Atop the spectacular municipal building on the Plaza de Cibeles is a hidden away 6th floor restaurant and terrace. There’s a full gourmand’s menu – but come for cocktails, views and to soak up the vivid afternoon Madrid sunshine.

YOUnique Restaurant at Only You Boutique Hotel

Just being in this gorgeous hotel is an indescribable aesthetic pleasure. Its signature restaurant is a particular delight for a long, lazy lunch (okay, there’s really no other kind in Madrid), with Valencian paella, oxtail cannelloni, and skipjack carpaccio all beautifully presented. Ask for a table in the verdant, art-adorned garden. Come back in the evening, as the YOUnique Lounge is a stunningly designed setting for fancy cocktails – and the surrounding neighborhood jumps at night.

 

02-younique-restaurante191

 

1862 Dry Bar

Spain’s is a wine-beer-sherry drinking culture. The cocktail thing, mercifully, did not sweep into its major cities and strap all of its bartenders into old-timey suspenders. 1862, for instance, is distinctly Spanish bar, not some awful Brooklyn imitation. A crowd of urbane Madrilenos come to sip updated takes on the classics (Gimlet, Sazerac, Manhattan) by drinks wizard Alberto Martinez. Spread over two floors, it’s one of the city’s buzziest scenes.

Corral de la Morería

Flamenco is way hotter than you might actually think – and five decades after opening, Corral de la Moreria is still one of the hottest tickets in Madrid. In a classical but sensual setting, with Arabic touches, watch some of Spain’s top names in the genre heat up the stage (and the audience) with their visceral, passionate performances. It’s actually quite an intense, even somewhat aphrodisiac experience.

 

Flamenco Madrid

Opening Visit: The Andaz Munich Schwabinger Tor Ups the Bavarian Hotel Ante

 

 

We’ve been enthusiastically following Andaz’ European goings on, with stops at their London and Amsterdam hotels during the last year. So with the news of a pair of new openings on the Continent, as discerning, design-minded travelers, we made immediate plans for visits to Vienna and Munich.

Firstly, as opposed to so many hastily thrown together programs, Andaz actually retains local gallery curators to oversee their eclectic art collections – and it shows. And with so many hotels offering so many forgettable amenities these days, their collaboration with the The Society of Scent, an olfactory collective with their own fragrance laboratory, means each Andaz will ultimately have its own custom scent – with co-founders Frederick Jacques and master perfumer Jean Claude Delville creating signature experiences inspired by the hotel’s location.

 

Following our visit to Vienna, we hopped over to Germany, where the new Andaz Munich Schwabinger Tor exemplifies everything we love about the Bavarian capital and its perpetually chic inhabitants – from the food and fashion, to the world class museums and nightlife, to its bike-friendliness and gorgeous green spaces. The hotel is perfectly located between the Olympic Stadium, the Pinakotheken and the Englischer Garten, in the heart of Munich’s currently most creative quarter.

Opened earlier in 2019, Southern Germany’s most talked about new luxury lifestyle hotel is the product of a philosophy of pioneering design, and has already become a meeting place for the local and international cognoscenti – thanks to its epic lobby space, and minimalist but colorful aesthetic. But we must admit, the Andaz staff were as good looking as the hotel, period, with urbane General Manager Mattheos Georgiou assembling an energetic, totally plugged in team, whose recommends took us to some of Munch’s most happening places.

 

But inside, the hotel boasted one of Germany’s most luxurious and largest wellness destinations, The Spa at The Andaz, at 2,000 square meters. We wished we’d had more time to experience the 24-hour gym and personal trainers on-site; but we did get to lounge poolside on the terrace, with seemingly endless views of the city, after indulging in one of the premier treatments – and who could resist a WELL + BEE Bavarian Honey Massage or a DEEP + SLEEP for stress relief? The former effectively kneaded away the knots from a full day of exploring Munich by bike, which the hotel kindly provides upon request. It’s such a sought after program that the Andaz offers a limited number of lucky locals a yearly membership.

Every morning, a rejuvenating breakfast awaited at Bicicletta, the hotel’s ground floor coffee bar geared to bike lovers (or anyone, really), with fresh pressed juices and smoothies. Though if we’re being honest, we also loved just curling up in the cozy window seat of our cool, residentially styled room, watching the energetic Schwabing street life below each morning.

As we were not quite disposed towards the local currywurst spots, we were eager to dive in to The Lonely Broccoli, Andaz’ amazing, meat-forward eatery. With its globe lamps, warm woods, central, peep-worthy open-plan kitchen, two communal tables, and a private dining room, it was equally    endowed with energy and style. The menu was chock-a-block with a selection of charcoal-grilled and slow-roasted marinated meats of premium butchered pork, beef and lamb in assorted forms, accompanied by pickles, foraged salads, signature sides, and sauces like caramel port gravy and lemon-parsley bearnaise. For those not bothered about cholesterol, the signature Butcher’s Plate is a shamelessly decadent feast.

Now, like many European cities, Munich has not gone full tilt into roof bar mania. So no surprise, the hotel’s sexy rooftop M’Uniqo was already boasting lines out the door. It was a stunner of a hotspot – and the clientele was equally easy on the eyes. Once settled in, we sampled a curated range of rare and infused vermouths, and kicked back with classic and signature aperitivos. The bites were of the Venetian variety (cicchetti, to be specific), with pizzette, bruschette and dolci.

And as the sun set over the distant Alps from the city’s highest epicurean venue, we realized we had fallen in love with everything about the Andaz Munich Schwabinger Tor, as well as the city it calls home.

 

 

 

The Munich Hit List

 

  • Tantris, two-Michelin starred since 1974, one of the fifteen best restaurants in Munich. The building is listed, and its retro-fab interior design should be as well.
  • The FreudenHaus, the go-to place for lovers of stylish eyeglasses, hand manufactured for over 20 years.
  • Surfing Munich style – it’s a thing! See local surfers in action along the Eisbach, a small, two kilometer long river flowing through the Englischer Garten, with human-made waves.
  • The Badenburg in the Nymphenburg Palace Park, with free concerts in fair weather and a romantic view of the miniature palace on the lake.

 

Badenburg

 

  • Kaisergarten, a majestic bar and restaurant, for over a century located in the heart of Schwabing, in an Art Nouveau house opposite the St. Ursula’s church – with its lovely shaded beer garden and age-old chestnut trees. Bavarian-inspired cuisine with regional and seasonal offerings.
  • Odeonsplatz, a beautiful square, Hofgarten, an Italian-style renaissance garden, and Gartnerplatz and Glockenbach, both trendy neighborhoods full of independent boutiques, bars and pubs.
  • Jaadin Grillhouse and Chaada Teahouse, located directly across from the Andaz – we loved, loved, loved these spots. Both owned and operated by a Vietnamese brother and sister, with an eye for beautiful design. Offering delicious food and drink in the dining room with outdoor seating, and takeaway in the adorable storefront tea shop.
  • Haus der Kunst, Munich’s modern and contemporary art museum, in an awesome neo-classical building dating to 1937. And don’t skip the Golden Bar, consistently earning its title as one of the world’s best, its exquisite interior dating back to the 1930s.

 

Haus der Kunst

 

First Images: The Plush New Cour des Vosges Hotel Opens in Paris’ Marais

 

 

In the last few years, Paris had been swamped by international luxury hotel brands, which have attempted to upend the primacy of Le Ritz, De Crillon, and other “palace” legends.

But we’re very much intrigued by what’s happening the next level down, where often more playful experimentation gets a proper airing. And indeed, Evok Hotels’ new Sinner property is about as provocative a hotel as we could imagine. But now the burgeoning hotel purveyor has unveiled something decidedly more elegant, with the debut of the plush new Cour des Vosges hotel, also in the Marais.

A genuinely anti-scene hotel, it has just 12 distinctly luxurious rooms, with pink and blue pastel furnishings, candelabra lamps, azure tapestries, and four-poster beds. And really, what wouldn’t you give to be able to stare out over the breathtakingly beautiful Place des Vosges from a leisurely soak in your clawfoot tub?

Downstairs, there’s Brach – La Patisserie for light bites by chef Yann Brys, a 2011 Meilleur Ouvrier de France recipient. And the plush Tea Room also boasts an outdoor terrace.

The whole experience is more akin to staying in the extravagant 17th Century mansion of a friend with incomparably excellent taste. And did we mention it looks out over the Place des Vosges?

 

Bourbon + Boots: An Epicurean Weekend in Austin

 

 

Last week was a big one. We all heaved a collective sigh when a whistleblower stood up to White House corruption – could the Republic be spared after all? As the pundits speculated, we were ready do what any self-respecting American would in times like these: drink bourbon. 

Turns out, Texas is the place to find it. Dan Garrison, owner and founder of Garrison Brothers Distillery, hosted us in Austin, as we experienced firsthand the process of making and drinking Texas Straight Bourbon. From red and rural Hye, to weird and wonderful Austin, we sipped, swirled, tasted, and toed the line of political discourse. By week’s end, we found ourselves enthralled with Austin’s charm, Hill Country’s bucolic farmland, and the hospitable (and decidedly un-P.C.) cast of characters we encountered along the way.

Here’s what we did.

 

 

 

Garrison at the Fairmont Austin

We started our journey at the Fairmont Austin, a 1,048-room high-rise located off Red River Street, adjacent to the Sir Swante Palm Neighborhood Park downtown. The hotel’s enormity does not eclipse its charisma, and the space echoed its surroundings with local art, design, and music throughout. Fairmont Austin prides themselves, as Texans do, on imbuing the South Central spirit wherever they can. 
We met the Garrison Brothers at the aptly named restaurant, Garrison (purely a coincidence we were told) run by Chef Jason Purcell – formerly of such temples of gastronomy as Bouchon and Aureole. Over dinner, the gentlemen showed us the bonds bourbon can forge, and the delightfully effervescent cocktails it can anchor. 
The chef’s tasting menu featured items like citrus cured snapper and a creamy foie gras tart, paired with bourbon-based cocktails thoughtfully crafted by Andrew Grenz, the hotel’s beverage majordomo. One table favorite was the “Farrah’s Watching,” a zesty concoction made with – naturally – bourbon, amontillado sherry, corn, lemon, and celery bitters. 
Beyond the name, there was a natural kinship between the two Garrisons. From the wood-paneled walls, to the restaurant’s commitment to “open flame, wafting smoke, and high-quality meats” – all signs pointed to a Texas-born bourbon pairing, and the Garrison Brothers stepped seamlessly into the role. 

 

Garrison Brothers Distillery  

The next day we found out just where this bourbon comes from. On a winding hour plus drive to the Garrison Brothers distillery, we bore witness to America the Beautiful in some of its most rural forms: broad blue skies, cartoonish white clouds, tree-lined hills, and acre upon acre of ranches bearing lone stars, wood-burned signage, and the occasional Trump banner.   
Hye (part of Hill Country) is rapidly becoming a destination for alcoholic beverage production, specifically wine, artisanal beers, and bourbon. The hills are made of limestone, which removes iron from local streams and creeks. Iron is the mortal enemy of any whiskey, which is why Kentucky makes such a great breeding ground for bourbon: the entire central portion of the state sits on a shelf of limestone. 
Garrison realized the opportunity and capitalized on it. In 2007, he released his first run of Garrison Brothers bourbon – 2,000 bottles that sold out almost instantly; it was the first made outside of Kentucky and Tennessee since Prohibition. (Bourbon has to be American-made, but it does not have to be Kentucky-made.) He knew he was on to something. They now bottle some of the finest, richest bourbon on both sides of the Mississippi. We were more than happy to confirm just that.

 

 

Pitchfork Pretty + C.L. Butaud

Once back in East Austin, we made our way to Pitchfork Pretty, a vibrant, upscale eatry embracing the city’s local quirks and newfound cosmopolitan sensibilities. Executive Chef Max Snyder relies on local, seasonal ingredients from the restaurant’s own garden down the road, and the menu offered a unique collection of experimental-meets-down-home classics like habanero vinegar–brined fried chicken and poached quail eggs. 
It was here we also met Randy Hester, purveyor and founder of Texas-based C.L. Butaud wines. Hester was yet another friend of Garrison Brothers (we sensed a theme), and for the night provided a sampling of his 2017 Tempranillo and 2018 Albariño, the latter was aged in whiskey barrels. He’s one of a few attempting to elevate Texas wine culture, and he’s got the chops to do it: he worked at some of the best wineries in Napa, including Cakebread, Realm, and Colgin. While continuing to perfect the craft in a new climate, with new growers, he’s keeping his sales local for now. But we imagine it’s only a matter of time before his labels – some designed by artist Deer Dana – start popping up in the best wine shops around the country.  

 

 

Hillside Farmacy

For brunch the following day, we hit the seriously charming Hillside Farmacy. The building where the restaurant resides was originally built in the 1950s as Hillside Drug Store. It closed in the ‘70s, but the restaurateurs swooped in to revive the space, while maintaining its classic ambiance. 
The design – white-tiled backsplashes, copper-plated bar seats, and antique china cabinets – harkens back to its ‘50s pharmacy roots, but the menu is decidedly modern and fresh. The chef indulged us with a selection of brunch favorites like buttermilk pancakes with blackberry compote, BBQ shrimp with lobster gravy and grits, and a Monte Cristo sandwich we still can’t stop thinking about. 

 

 

HELM Boots 

Brunch, as it does, inevitably led to shopping – and we were fortunate to get acquainted with a local Austin favorite, HELM Boots. Owner Joshua Bingaman sat on a floor cushion in the store on East 11th Street and told us about the inspiration behind creating HELM. A former sneakerhead (he and his brother owned the wildly popular Subterranean Shoe Room in the Mission District in San Francisco), he recalled a pair of his grandfather’s work boots. “The boots, his coveralls, and his Lucky Strikes were what I remember most.”
Much like Garrison Brothers endeavored to transform perceptions about bourbon being exclusive to Kentucky, Bingaman shows there’s more to Texas than cowboy boots. A meld of hiking boot, dress boot, and moccasin, HELM even include a little nod to sneakerheads in their design: the white rim of rubber around the sole. 

 

 

South Congress

Our journey ended at South Congress Cafe, located on one of Austin’s more renowned avenues. Bunkhouse Group’s trendy Hotel St. Cecilia, Guero’s Tacos, the legendary Continental Club, and Allen’s Boots all called this highly trafficked stretch home.
We sipped, yet again, bourbon-based cocktails over crab cakes and beignets, and talked about Austin – how it’s changing, gentrifying, and how the influx of new city dwellers bring their own cultural influence to town. Change is inevitable. And though we may not always agree, there’s common ground to be found at tables like this one – over food, laughter, and of course, Texas Straight Bourbon. 

 

Garrison Brothers Distillery

First Images: The Ethereal New Standard Maldives Villas

 

 

Despite a reliable stream of boldface name visitors – Gwyneth, Sophie Turner, Orlando Bloom, Liv Tyler, Victoria and David Becks – the Maldives is by no means a scenester destination. Rather, those seeking serenity and de-stressing visit for its quiet, ineffable beauty.

Into this comes The Standard, Maldives, debuting next month. And despite the hotel group’s reputation for galvanizing the party crowd, that is not quite the hook of this ethereal new property. Rather, the 115 colorful villas (located at the Raa Atoll on Huruvalhi island, a quick sea plane ride from Male) is selling relaxation, and a lot of it. Jutting out into the crystal clear Indian Ocean, rooms are done up in playful, breezy chic – with soothing, light woods and plush, platform beds. Each has a private lounge deck and plunge pool.

Acknowledging the destination’s spirit-feeding seclusiveness, the Standard will feature six restaurants, from BBQ to local cuisine; and there’s also a glass-bottom nightclub, BeruBar, which surely promises excellent dancing-celeb photo ops. While in between diving and snorkeling runs, the The Standard Spa offers yoga classes, an aroma steam area, and personal treatment rooms.

The official opening will be sometime in November. But advance bookings are being taken through December 20 at a special rate of just $481.

 

Report From Aloft Live: Troye Sivan’s Insider Guide to Perth, Australia

 

 

Until recently, Perth lurked in the shadows of sister cities Sydney and Melbourne, due to its remote position on the West coast of Australia – though it is naturally blessed with over 270 days of sunshine a year, refreshingly fresh air, beautiful beaches and a significantly laid back lifestyle. In recent years it has experienced an economic and cultural boom, however, and with that the emergence of hip, burgeoning neighborhoods outside the city center.

Recently we had the chance to experience Perth through the eyes of Australian pop sensation Troye Sivan, as he returned home as part of the Live at Aloft Homecoming Tour, giving an intimate concert on the rooftop of the Aloft Perth hotel.

“Being able to return home and connect with my fans in Australia is always a really special experience for me,” he enthused. “And being in my hometown of Perth, where my musical journey began, is truly magical.”

 

Aloft Perth

 

The Homecoming is part of Aloft Hotels‘ continuing efforts to cultivate a dynamic music program, pivoting between established and relatively unknown artists. In conjunction with Universal Music Group, the eight stop tour takes artists back to the places they came from, and gives the fans that supported them from the beginning a chance to see their hometown heroes in a genuinely intimate setting.

Sivan continued, “I couldn’t be more excited to be a part of Aloft’s Homecoming Tour and share my music with both the community that shaped me and with the music-loving travelers staying at Aloft.”

Hoping to get to know his home city a little better, we asked him to give us the real 411 on Perth.

 

Northbridge

What was formerly considered the skid row of Perth, Northbridge has undergone a major makeover and has become the center of Perth’s vibrant nightlife scene. Just north of the Central Business District, the area still maintains a gritty feel, but the graffiti has now morphed into Instagrammable street art, which decorates the concrete buildings that are now home to galleries, independent boutiques, bars, nightclubs, outdoor cafes and restaurants.
As the neighborhood borders Chinatown, Northbridge is considered to be Perth’s melting pot, where you can find different cuisines from around the world, such as Vietnamese, Cambodian, Thai, Indian, Lebanese, Greek, Japanese, Italian, and Mexican. As you pass through CBD to Northbridge, stop by Perth’s newest outdoor cultural and retail plaza, Yagan Square, also the hub of the recent Perth Fashion Festival – which attracted Australia’s top designers and newcomers from around the world.

 

 

 

Brunch in Leederville and Mount Lawley

One of the favorite weekend pastimes of Perth is brunch. And two of its coolest neighborhoods, Leederville and Mt. Lawley, are home to five of the city’s best brunch spots. The Eat the Street Brunch on Beaufort tour takes you to all of them, sampling local delicacies and meeting with the chefs and restaurant owners.

 

 

Fave Restaurants

Embodying a breezy, 1970s-Los Angeles vibe is Henry Summer, an urban indoor/outdoor cocktail and wine bar that always feels like summer. Bask in the sun amidst a lush décor of plants and colorful furniture, with a farm to table menu that changes seasonally, featuring classic Australian grilled specialties or delicious veggie packed salads. It’s a perfect spot to grab a rosé, sangria, wine spritzer, or mojito to get into the spirit of summer. (N.B. Australian summer runs from December 1 through the end of February.)
Load up on carbs before a late night on the town at the hidden gem Francoforte Spaghetti Bar, known for serving Perth’s best pasta paired with organic wines. For an ‘only in Australia’ experience try the kangaroo bolognese. Though the menu is small, there are plenty of other more traditional yet delicious Italian options such as an eggplant sugo, kale pesto and guanciale carbonara.

 

Henry Summer

 

Fave Nightclub

For a glam, over the top night out I head to Connections, Perth’s premiere gay and lesbian club, beginning the evening watching their extravagant drag queen cabaret show. The real party gets going after midnight, when the upper floors open to a dance club as well as an open air rooftop terrace with plenty of potent cocktails to fuel the night.

 

Rottnest Island

A protected island off the coast of Perth that is only accessible by ferry, Rottnest is a beautiful unspoiled nature reserve, home to the smallest and most adorable marsupial in Australia: the quokka. Thanks to Instagram and celebrity selfies with this cute creature, the island has seen a major spike in visitors, as tourists follow them around the island to take the perfect #quokkaselfie. Explore the coastline by boat and witness whales and dolphins swimming in the ocean in their annual southward trek to warmer waters.

 

Aloft Perth

For cool, loft style living, the design oriented Aloft Perth is the surely city’s best choice. Stylish guest rooms are decorated with well-chosen contemporary art and bright pops of color, and feature panoramic floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the cityscape and the Swan River. Works by Western Australian artists adorn the hallways, embodying the unique landscape and cultural perspective of the region.
The seasonally driven Springs Kitchen has indoor and outdoor seating areas for casual all day dining – followed by drinks at the stylish XYZ bar, which also serves a light bar menu along with creative cocktails, against a backdrop of intimate live music performances.

 

 

The Aloft Live Music Series

The best thing about the Aloft’s live music events are that the performances are free and open to everyone; those looking to attend Live at Aloft Hotels Homecoming Tour should RSVP to alofthotels.com/homecomingtour. Obviously capacity is limited, RSVP does not guarantee entry, and attendance is on a first-come, first-served basis. However, a Marriott Bonvoy credit card gives one VIP access to cut-the-line, plus attend meet & greet events with the talent.