Never Mind the Politics: High-Tech Art, Egyptian Cats and ‘Doffles’ in the New D.C.

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ARTECHOUSE image by Hasnain Bhatti

 

As we approach the one year anniversary of that fateful day of November 9, 2016, it bears repeating that the post-election hysteria had people threatening to avoid at all costs a D.C. that had a White House occupied by…you-know-who. But seriously, it’s still our capital, kids – and these days a significantly more interesting one at that.

At the first sign of autumn, we rode the (Amtrak) rails down to the majestic Union Station, only to find it was actually still pretty balmy in D.C. – perhaps due to all the hot air being produced in the halls of Congress. But the city has plenty to be excited about: an awesome new concert venue, Anthem, from the 9:30 Club people (upcoming shows include St. Vincent, Morrissey and Erykah Badu); a fascinating new subterranean cultural space, Dupont Underground, in an abandoned trolley station near Dupont Circle; and, what we were especially excited for, the reopening of the Smithsonian’s Freer|Sackler gallery of Asian art.

For three days took in as much food and culture as the physics of time would allow. Here’s what we did.

 

The Embassy Row Hotel

The name says it: this playfully stylish hotel sits majestically amidst all those grandiose international embassies – though it aesthetically roundly rejects the stuffy pomp of some of the city’s more trad sleeps. Indeed, there’s an adult game room (challenge a politically ideological foe to some fierce foosball or ping pong), a grab-and-go coffee bar, the casual chic Station Kitchen + Cocktails, and easily the city’s grooviest rooftop bar scene, complete with poolside partying. (And yoga/meditation programs for speedy morning recovery.) Rooms have regal blue-and-yellow color schemes and dazzling skyline views. The hotel also hosts silent disco in the bar (full disclosure: as longtime clubbers, we admit to finding this concept a bit awkward), and it was packed out on a recent Saturday night.

 

 

ARTECHOUSE

It makes sense that technology has enough cultural frisson to now warrant its own dedicated galleries. And the whimsically cool ARTECHOUSE hosts exhibitions that tend to be quite visually striking – but perhaps also remind that tech maybe isn’t quite the same as dada, Abstract Expressionism and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Opening November 10 is Kingdom of Colors, an immersive experience conceived by French filmmaker Thomas Blanchard and artist Oilhack, with a soundtrack by composer Leonardo Villiger.

Freer|Sackler Gallery

As America’s relationship to Asia grows more complex by the hour (including threats of, erm, nuclear conflict), it’s surely advisable to brush up on that continent’s glittering history at the Smithsonian’s newly relaunched and most buzzed about gallery. But seriously, don’t come here with your thinking cap on too tightly – rather, bask in the sheer aesthetic majesty of centuries of Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Himalayan and Islamic art and artifacts. Current exhibitions include Encountering the Buddha: Art + Practice Across Asia, and a little less seriously, Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt. Don’t miss the Peacock Room.

 

 

The Phillips Collection

This is one of those sorts of museums we’re particularly fond of, as it’s like visiting the stately home of an exceedingly cultivated art collector friend (one who happens to own Rothkos, de Koonings and van Goghs). The current exhibition, Renoir and Friends: Luncheon of the Boating Party, contextualizes the proto-Impressionist’s most exalted painting in terms of the art, society and fashion of its times.

Blind Whino

We’re not sure if the name is intended to provoke – but the programming certainly does. This radical little community arts center in a now wildly reimagined 1886 Baptist church hosts perception-challenging performances and exhibitions, including the recent female-focused Superfierce. Check the schedule for the latest happenings.

 

 

FRESHFARM Dupont Circle Market

Okay, everyone’s got a farmer’s market now. But the Wall Street Journal actually named this one of the best in the country. (And that includes places where there are actual farms, obviously.) It’s also just half a block from the Embassy Row Hotel – so you can stock up on farmstead cheeses, gluten-free pastries, perhaps even a few seafood empanadas, and have a brunch bash back at the hotel’s lobby or game room.

Station Kitchen & Cocktails 

The Embassy Row’s trendy-fun lobby bar and restaurant does a daily special served in a bowl designed by students from the Corcoran School of Art & Design – and a portion of the price is donated to So Others Might Eat. The positive side of global warming? You’ll likely still be able to dine on the hotel’s colorful terrace (with an impressive view of the Indonesian embassy) until at least Christmas.

 

 

B Too

We’ve never even attempted to hide our Belgophilia – so this hip Belgian eatery was surely one of our favorite discoveries. And since Brussels is the EU capital, you might just find yourself rubbing shoulders with a visiting Eurocrat or two here. Brunch is a scene for mussels, Green Eggs Belga and, of course, Broodje met Gegrilde Zalm (that’s a roasted salmon sandwich, for those of you who never bothered to learn Flemish). The signature creation is called a Doffle (think: waffle-ized Cronut), which is so decadent it could spark a revolution.

Succotash

This is different. It’s got the Yosemite Sam name (“Sufferin’…”), and serves down home, though somewhat culinarily elevated Southern cooking from chef Edward Lee…but in the breathtakingly grandiose setting of the landmarked former Equitable Bank – which actually looks sort of like the once home of a baroque-era Austrian nobleman (book a table on the mezzanine for full-effect). The deviled eggs are killer, and the chicken & waffles and fried green tomatoes with cornbread are elegantly presented and every bit as good as they sound. Succotash is also nirvana for whisky aficionados.

 

Image by Clarence Butts

 

 

 

An Utterly Transcendent Food + Wine Tour of New Zealand’s North Island, Part I

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There’s a tendency for those of us who have chosen to reside in cities like NYC in our ridiculously overpriced luxury shoeboxes, to possess a particular sort of snobbery about the privilege of knowing that the chef-of-the-moment has just opened the most talked about restaurant in the universe right down the street. Which only makes it all the morning humbling to be reminded that they can do it just as well elsewhere, usually without all the haughtiness.

Which is precisely what transpired on our recent visit to New Zealand, where, during a weeklong stay, we ate and drank our way across the landscape to rapturous effect. Truly, the level of excellence we encountered could hardly be conveyed. From Auckland to Wellington, Hawkes Bay to Waiheke Island, we were duly impressed at every turn…and we didn’t even make it to the South Island.

Speaking of excellence, the delightful flight on Air New Zealand also reminded us of why US airlines could use a few lessons in impeccable service. And for some reason, the day-and-a half-time difference resulted in minimal jet lag…perhaps partially thanks to the employment of the appropriate medicinals?

Here’s how our epicurean tour of Kiwi country’s ethereal North Island played out.

 

Auckland 

After a painless 13-hour flight from LA to Auckland, our first meal allowed us an intimate look at typical Aucklanders out on a Saturday night – and at Depot, across from the famous Sky Tower, they were loud, proud, and knew how to have a good time. The restaurant specializes in casual fresh and sumptuous shareable plates, from oysters and clams to the NZ meat board, which included wild rabbit rillettes, popcorn duck tongue, wild pork salami, beef bresaola and smoked pork loin with cherry relish and fig & fennel crostini. Any doubts as to N-Zed’s chefs’ ability to sit at the big boys table were immediately dashed.
On our first morning we breakfasted at the popular SKYCITY Hotel, before hopping in a rental car and heading an hour or so north (more on driving on the left in another story). Our destination was the Brick Bay Winery and Sculpture Trail, and on the way we stopped for a coffee at the unbelievably charming Puhoi General Store, where the comely young checkout girl seemed genuinely excited that we were from Brooklyn; we only had to go 8,699 miles for that to happen.

 

 

Once at Brick Bay we delighted in strolling the 2km long trail and mercilessly critiquing the 45 sculptures on display; most received raves from us, however, despite our tendency towards cultural jadedness. Then it was back to the winery for a tasting from what is one of the Matakana Wine Region’s top boutique vineyards; we were particularly partial to their crisp rosé. The beautiful Glass House Kitchen restaurant paired BB wines with simple yet delectable menu items, such as the grilled chorizo and fried egg sandwich (with free range bacon, buffalo mozzarella, and roasted garlic aioli).
Matakana also has a town of the same name; and we took a stroll amongst the quaint boutiques and shops before stopping at Sawmill Brewery for a tour and tasting of the local suds. That included an impossibly delicious and healthy lunch of miso baked gurnard with asparagus and preserved lime gremolata. Co-owner Rei Harris’ tale of kayaking to work from his house “upstream” challenged us to come up with not horrible tales of our daily L-Train commute; we failed miserably.

 

Above: Orphans Kitchen; Sawmill Brewery

 

That evening we skipped a traditional dinner and went straight for one of the most creative and decadent desert experiences we’ve ever had the pleasure of…experiencing. Inspired by couture fashion houses, science, art, and technology, Giapo Petrucci and his wife Annarosa make ‘haute ice-cream’ in the form of mind-bogglingly inventive creations like the chocolate covered giant squid, at their namesake Giapo. The couple were so passionate about their creations that we couldn’t disappoint them by not trying them all.
The following day, before saying adieu Auckland, we checked out some shopping on Ponsonby Road, and had yet another impressive lunch at Orphans Kitchen. The simple, quaint restaurant on a boutique-lined street serves food so fresh there isn’t a standard menu; but our waiter suggested wood roasted chook with kiwifruit mole, kumara tortillas, as well as a side of oysters and a cheeky glass of Pinot…and who were we to disagree?

 

Waiheke Island

 

Our next stop was Waiheke Island, a stunning, 32-square-mile rock, just a 30-minute seaplane ride east of Auckland, that is home to over 20 wineries and close to 50 hotels. During the summer its 7,000 permanent residents are inundated by 50,000 visitors (think: The Hamptons, without all the hangers-on).
Auckland Seaplanes dropped us off at 10am on a seemingly deserted beach in a stunning cove, and promptly departed. We were about to start gathering wood and laying animal traps when we were welcomed by an amiable missionary from Man O’ War Vineyards, located about 50 yards from our position, who escorted us to the tasting room (so, we were “stranded” for all of about five minutes). Named for the battleships that Captain James Cook of the British Royal Navy sailed in the 1700’s, the winery is one of the island’s finest – although that impression may have been influenced by the thrill of drinking good vino at 10 in the morning. Their Sauvignon Blanc and Tulia Blanc de Blanc were the definitive standouts.

 

Man O’ War Wine Estate

 

We spent the remainder of the afternoon being ferried around Waiheke by a wonderful guide from local tour operator Ananda Tours, who had once worked in the Auckland music biz. He regaled us with a constant geyser of information about the island between stops at various vineyards and restaurants. First up was an alcohol-free vineyard (or “orchard”), which excelled in another dinner table staple, olive oil. The Rangihoua Olive Estate is an award-winning 100% NZ owned purveyor of the extra virgin variety, which we sampled in abundance.
Stony Ridge and Mudbrick vineyards followed, both of which were in the grand tradition of opulent wineries, the former focusing on luscious reds, the latter including cottages and a lodge for when one doesn’t want to sleep too far from the next bottle. We had a late lunch of local Te Makutu Bay oysters, olives, and the vineyard’s signature Shepherds Point Merlot in the Mudbrick restaurant, overlooking the rolling hills and ocean beyond.
Our final stop for the day was our room for the night at the gorgeous Boatshed, a boutique hotel where our four-course dinner was served in the downstairs sitting room with yet another ethereal view of the baycr The crème brûlée was to die for, and a sublime cap off to our visit.
In Part 2 we travel south and east explore Wellington and Hawkes Bay.

 

The Boatshed

 

 

 

 

Epicurean Fall Getaway: Wine, Whiskey and the Good Chocolate Stuff in Loudoun County

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Sunset Hills Vineyard

 

The lure of autumn weekends in New England has, let’s face it, been dampened by a climate change reality that finds the thermometer hitting 92 degrees in mid-October. So as the cooler temps at last began to register, we decided to forego the foliage, and instead headed south to Northern Virginia – Loudoun County to be specific – to investigate an artisanal tippling culture that has started to generate a palpable buzz.

What we found was a laid back sophistication, with just the right dose of southern charm, plenty of breathtaking scenery…and yet just a short zip from all that D.C. culture and urbanity. It’s also one of the wealthiest counties in America – so, as happens, there’s a serious equestrian scene.

Here’s how to do Loudoun County right.

 

Lansdowne Resort and Spa

A sprawling estate of greenery and serenity, occupying 476-acres along the majestic Potomac River in Leesburg…and it’s very much focused on the restoration of one’s health. The spa offers signature wine facials and wine wraps, Aromasoul ritual scrubs and River Rock stone massages; there’s also yoga, guided meditation, zumba and PIYO, a TRX Suspension Trainer, and an indoor heated pool. Amateur melittologists and horticulturalists will want to check out the onsite beekeeping program and commune with the herb garden that feeds into Lansdowne’s kitchens. Seriously, you could really just luxuriously lose yourself in this place for a few days – but make sure to take them up on their custom hiking and biking excursions, so as not to miss out on the beauty of the surrounding nature.

 

 

Loudoun County Wine Country

There are actually more than 40 vineyards now scattered around Loudoun County; and from Food + Wine to The Washington Post to Wine Spectator, many of them are starting to win raves. Our fave was the rustic-yet-modern Sunset Hills Vineyard, where the main tasting room is housed in a 150-year-old Amish barn, beautifully restored; there’s also a stunning terrace overlooking the vineyard. The winery itself is powered by a couple of hundred solar panels. Highly recommended are their Viognier, Cab Franc and Rosé.
Other top Loudon County wineries: Stone Tower Winery in Leesburg, for its small planting wines like Rousanne, Nebbiolo and Pinot Noir; Purcellville’s rustic Otium Cellars, with striking views of the Blue Ridge Mountains (try their Blaufränkisch); and the opulent Creek’s Edge in Lovettsville, for its Viognier aged in acacia wood.

Vanish Farmwoods Brewery

It’s true, even in Virginia, this small brewery comes off pretty hipstery. But they offer 20 excellent beers in a stylish, rustic-industrial taproom (and terrace), on the 53-acre Black Hops Farm. Ask for a flight of four, and make sure it includes the Ghost Fleet IPA, the Wraith witbier, and their exceedingly flavorful milk stout. On weekends there are decadent barbecues, and every other week they host Sunday Morning Yoga (with beer, of course). Weekdays, pick up tasty sandwiches, salads or box lunches from Leesburg’s South Street Under before heading to Vanish.

 

 

The Horse in Ancient Greek Art

A can’t-miss for the equestrian-inclined is the National Sporting Library & Museum in Middleburg. And this fascinating exhibition explores the role of the horse in Ancient Greek society and mythology, through an impressive collection of art and pottery.

Lansdowne Smartphone and Winter Wildlife Photography Classes

Face it, you’re always snapping away on your smartphone camera without really putting all that much thought into it. So book a session with Lansdowne’s resident photographer Gregg Stuessi, who will guide you around the ethereal grounds to learn some incredibly insightful techniques, those that will make your Instagram page seriously pop; add another class specifically for winter wildlife shots. Share the results at #LansdowneLife.

 

 

Coton & Rye

The Lansdowne is a particularly epicurean destination, as well – with half-a-dozen options for sating your autumn appetite. Absolutely do book a table at their signature restaurant, Coton & Rye, where the name hints at its culinary pièce de résistance. Indeed, its great point of pride is a namesake private label rye whiskey, created in partnership with the nearby Catocin Creek Distilling. Start with their signature Cherry Blossom Julep, which is made with that same rye, or The Boulevardier cocktail, with rye, aperol and sweet vermouth. German chef Marcus Repp’s menu takes in the best of local ingredients: Chesapeake blue crab dip, Tidewater seafood chowder, roasted rockfish, heritage pork chop with Virginia mustard crust…even the, um, Swiss cheese is sourced from the Old Dominion State.

 

 

Lansdowne Cooking Classes

Every Saturday afternoon guests and locals gather with members of the Lansdowne culinary team to learn how to better incorporate real (as opposed to the marketing-speak) farm-to-table ethos into their own cooking. And, of course, to eat the finished product.

The Conche

Located nearby in downtown Leesburg, this chic restaurant is built around its Chocolate Lab (get it?), which influences much of what celeb chef Santosh Tiptur presents on your plate. To wit, mac & cheese with chocolate covered applewood smoked bacon; New York strip with Burgundy chocolate reduction; deviled eggs with cacao nibs. Dessert is obviously insanely decadent, from the Guanaja sour cream chocolate cake, to the Manjari Madagascar chocolate mousse, to an artisanal chocolate platter that might just change your life. There are also cocktails made with chocolate bitters, and signature spiked Tipsy Coco drinks. For full immersion, book a chocolate making class.
Other Loudoun destination restaurants: Mokomandy, for contemporary Cajun-Korean fusion; The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm, which serves on-site-sourced organic dishes in a beautiful greenhouse setting; and Hunter’s Head Tavern, an authentic English pub in an 18th Century heritage building, with a menu of Certified Humane, sustainable Anglo and American comfort food.

The Conche

Louis Vuitton’s Stunning ‘Volez Voguez Voyagez’ Exhibition Opens in NYC

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Images by BFA

 

After being vacant for almost ten years, the former American Stock Exchange building in Manhattan’s Financial District has just been brought back to life for Louis Vuitton’s stunning three-floor exhibition Volez, Voguez, Voyagez. Curated by Oliver Saillard, it traces LV’s iconic journey from 1854 to the present day through ten thematic chapters, each in their own strikingly imagined space.

The show opens with the most symbolic object of the House: an antique trunk from 1906. It continues through the detailed makings of their classic trunks, revealing how the designs evolved and informed style during the rise of travel – at a time when expeditions, yachting, the automobile, aviation and trains has all captured the zeitgeist in their own way. While navigating through Volez, Voguez, Voyagez, you’ll find yourself beachside one moment, on the road less traveled the next, inside a cabin car of the Orient Express, gliding through the open skies, and then suddenly on the Oscars red carpet. (And indeed, the brand’s red carpet celeb fans turned out in force for the opening, including Alicia Vikander, Jennifer Connelly, Jaden Smith, Lea Seydoux and Alexander Saarsgaard.)

The Vanderbilts. The Rockfellers. Mary Pickford. Lauren Bacall. Ernest Hemingway. And today’s a-listers the likes of Ruth Nega, Nicole Kidman and Michelle Williams are all on display to attest to LV’s ceaseless star power. Marc Jacobs fans will swoon to the look back at the time when he was Creative Director of the House. And then there’s the Jeff Koons room, reminding us of just how much Louis Vuitton has influenced the look and style of travel for more than a century-and-a-half…and will surely continue to do so.

Louis Vuitton’s Volez, Voguez, Voyagez is on view at 86 Trinity Place, NYC, in the former American Stock Exchange building, though January 8. Admission is free to the public.

 

 

The Oscar Wilde Bar’s Discerning, Eurotastic Whisky-Sipping Guide

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Much as we love Camus and Baudelaire, one imagines if there were bars named for them, they might not be all that much fun. But NYC’s glorious new Oscar Wilde Bar is precisely as brilliant as a you’d expect a bar named for the legendary Irish wit to be.

But, cultivated tipplers that we are, we were especially thrilled to discover that it wasn’t all Jameson and Tullamore when it comes to their whisk(e)y selection. Indeed, esteemed Beverage Director Denise Prykanowski has stocked the place with the very best of the brown spirit, from countries you’d never actually expect it come from. After all, have you ever bellied up and asked, “Could I get a whisky rocks? And make it Austrian?”

Intrigued, we spent an evening there taking something of an EU tour by way of whisky (with one quick diversion to Taiwan.) And Oscar Wilde’s head bartender just happens to be one of our fave Downtown nightlife impresarios, one Johnny Swet – who threw in a couple of his best whisky cocktail creations for good measure.

And so here are Prykanowski’s top whiskey/whisky picks (along with her rather rapturous descriptions), and the recipes for Johnny’s Whisky Nowadays and Smoked Old Fashioned cocktails.

 

The Belgian Owl Single Malt, Belgium

Produced from all local ingredients in Hesbaye, Belguim, the whisky is distilled in copper pots from spring barley and aged for three years in American Oak (ex bourbon casks) from one distillery. A lighter, younger style of whisky that is approachable for the first time drinker or easy to sip all night long. Delicate and fresh with notes of ripe pear, apples, lemon, cocoa cream, and hints of vanilla on the nose and palate.

 

Navazos-Palazzi Grain Whisky, Andalucia, Spain

Produced from 100% Spanish corn and finished in fresh Valdespino Palo Cortado casks. A savory style of whisky with prominent sherry notes that give it flavors grounded in roasted nuts, dried fruit, toffee spices and a touch of salt. Perfect for sherry lovers.

Reisetbauer 12-Year Limited Edition Whisky, Austria

Hans Reisetbaur is well known for his eau-du-vies and he uses a farm-to-bottle approach for the production of this whisky. The barley is grown on his farm, malted, twice-distilled in traditional copper pots and finished in trockenbeernaulese barrels (Trockenberrnaulese is a sweet wine made from grapes affected by Noble Rot). The whisky is elegant and complex, opening up with red apples, cherries, mocha and fine herbs, with a slight sweetness on the finish from the barrels.

 

 

Penderyn Single Malt Welsh Whisky, Wales

Part of the Gold Collection from Penderyn, this medium-bodied whisky is produced from barley and distilled in a unique Faraday copper still, then finished in Madeira casks. Pale gold in color, it opens up with tropical fruit, hazelnuts, lemon peel with light baking spices and raisins on the finish. The higher proof gives the whisky a little edge and balance on the palate.

Kavalan Whisky Sherry Cask, Taiwan

A sweeter and fruitier style of whisky made from 100% malted barley, distilled in pot stills and finished in sherry casks. The tropical climate gives the whisky a deeper, richer flavors of dark red fruits, chocolate, dates and dried plums with underlying savory notes. A great choice for an after dinner whisky.

 

 

Johnny Swet’s Top Whisky Cocktails for the Oscar Wilde Bar

Whisky Nowadays

build in Collins
3 dash angostura
.25 honey syrup
.25 lemon juice
1 Montenegro amaro
1.5 templeton rye
In a tall glass, ice, ginger ale and twist

 

 

Smoked Old Fashioned

In a smoked glass,
3 dash orange bitters
0.5 smoked simple syrup
2 Jim Beam bourbon
In a smoked rocks glass, add block ice, lemon twist

 

BLACKBOOK PREMIERE: Sam Martin’s New Alaska-Filmed Video for ‘It’s Gonna Get Better’

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You may not know the name Sam Martin…yet. But the Grammy Award winning singer-songwriter-producer has penned tracks for the likes of Nick Jonas, Jason Derulo, Zedd…and been featured on megahits – “Dangerous” and “Lovers on the Sun” – by David Guetta.

His visceral new single “It’s Gonna Get Better” is a moving tribute to his wife, who was pregnant and quite ill at the time he wrote it (“You’ll look back / You’ll forget the pain,” he promises.) The hauntingly beautiful video for the song, which BlackBook premieres here, was shot in Alaska. And so enraptured as we were by the finished product, we asked Sam to take us back to the 49th State, for a peek behind the making of it.

 

 

The Place 

This is Alaska!! I had no idea it was such an intense place, and we didn’t even begin to scratch the surface. It’s massive and untamed and it made me realize I’ve been in the city too much. I grew up in Oregon and had been to Vancouver and out into some pretty remote places, but this was another level.

The Shoot 

Started in Anchorage, then in the late afternoon – with a storm brewing in the distance –  the director, John Peterson, arranged for us to fly in his cousin’s dad’s floater plane. I had promised to never get in one of those tiny death planes; but we went anyway. We just wanted to get a shot of us taking off in the plane, but surprise!, it turned into the best shot. Immediately outside of Anchorage is wild wilderness and alien-like landscapes, massive peaks – Mt. McKinley in the distance – and glaciers. We flew into nowhere land!! Then we saw a lake in the mountains with icebergs and a huge glacier going into the water. I asked if we could fly down there and get a better look; next thing I knew we were dodging icebergs and the pilot was landing his plane on this crazy remote lake that would kill us if we fell in. He parked the plane next to the rocks and we jumped onto this island that may have never been touched by man (at least that’s what it felt like), and those are the final shots in the video with the glacier in the background. Oh man, it was something special for us. Plus, if the plane had busted, we would have probably taken a week to get back to civilization…and I would have most likely ended up grizzly bear food.

 

 

The Locals 

The locals are winners! They take for granted how cool they are, normal life for them is to endure the wild. Fishing, wild adventures, landing planes on ice, etc. I asked the pilot, “Could you see yourself living anywhere else?” And he said, “I can’t imagine”. I realized, why would he? Hard to go anywhere else. Except I’d recommend attempting the occasional winter escape to Hawaii.

The Food

I wanted to get some razor clams but I couldn’t find any. I did eat a lot of seafood which was really tasty; we also went out to a really amazing burger joint called Spenard Roadhouse.

 

 

The Drink

I had to drive deep into the night, so I was banned from any and all substances except caffeine, which I could have used more of – because the drive from Anchorage to Seward in the night during a rainstorm with bad rental car windshield wipers was a life-threatening event…that required intense concentration. Don’t mess with Alaska storms!

A Secret

Seward was the original port for all of Alaska, and it was replaced by Anchorage when they built the railroads. Well, Seward is insanely beautiful, surrounded by 360 degrees of snowcapped mountains and calm water. Those are where the opening shots of the video were filmed. You want the secret to life? Well then, the secret to life is connection, and therefore connection with the local Alaskans, who will tell you their secret fishing spot. Stay tuned!

Getting there: Alaska Airlines

 

 

 

Florence’s Hip Santa Croce Neighborhood in Pictures

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Images by Ken Scrudato 

 

For better or worse, the great cities of Italy (save, perhaps Milan) cling tightly to their history – surely none more zealously than Florence. The glorious upside is that visitors can literally walk around in history (as opposed to the ersatz “authentic” peddled in Brooklyn and Shoreditch), in between browsing for Gucci and Ferragamo.

You can feel it even in the hotels. Indeed, on our most recent visit we laid our heads at Relais Santa Croce, an 18th Century palazzo turned rather lavish five-star. Though the rooms are actually pretty sleek and contemporary, the public spaces offer a veritable journey into the city’s past: to wit, a massive and totally preserved machinery room designed for the express purpose of lifting an extravagant chandelier; and the soaring-ceilinged, particularly awe-inspiring Music Room – now the hotel’s lounge – where once even Mozart himself entertained the aristocracy. (For proper effect, call up “Eine kleine Nachtmusik” on your headphones.)

These days, the a-listers tend more to the Hollywood types – indeed, Brad and Angelina are counted amongst the famous guests who’ve booked into in the sprawling, 170 square meter Presidential Suite.

 

 

The hotel actually takes its name from its charmingly scruffy neighborhood, where ancient streets are lined with cool vintage shops and sceney little enotecas and ristorantes like Gustavino and Natalino. The entry point to the area, at Piazza della Signoria, is now occupied by the Museo Gucci and its trendy namesake caffe.

But the true beauty of Santa Croce lies in its cultivation of an energy apart from the tourist throngs. Cool kids and scruffy old signori mix in the regular evening passeggiata; and virtually everyone stops to socialize on the steps of the Basilica di Santa Croce. Dominating a corner of those steps is the rather imposing statue of Firenze’s greatest poet, one Dante Alighieri – do pause for a philosophical moment with him.

 

Chicago’s New Prairie School is a Frank Lloyd Wright Inspired Bar

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Above image by Anthony Tahlier 

 

Jim Meehan has the intercontinental itch. Indeed, the founder of NYC’s pioneering cocktail bar PDT is about to open an outpost in Hong Kong, perhaps the first step towards building a “global tippling empire.”

Back in the States, though, he’s just unveiled a different sort of labor of love: the stylish new Chicago bar Prairie School, which pays enthusiastic homage to legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright. It’s not the first of its kind, actually – the modernist Loos American Bar in Vienna was created by, and (eventually) named for, its designer Adolph Loos back in 1908…and has been a fixture of the Austrian capital’s nightlife scene ever since. But let’s be honest, the reason there haven’t been more architecture-focused nightlife spots is…that architects are not exactly glamorous, 24-hour-party-people, are they?

And the urbane Prairie School decidedly rejects flash for the aesthetic ideology of its namesake, late-19th-Century architectural style. So interiors play to more organic themes, echoing the landscape of the American Midwest in the understated sophistication of its furnishings. So, expect lots of natural colors, softer lighting and uncluttered spaces.

But located in the buzzing nightlife corridor of the West Loop, Prairie School is – unsurprisingly for Meehan – also focused on ingeniously conceived, histrionically presented, and cleverly named cocktails. To wit, the Father-in-Law (Koval single barrel oat whiskey, Gonzalez Byass Noe P.X. sherry, Kilgus Farm cream) and Falling Water (Ethiopian Kochere coffee, Rhine Hall plum brandy, Cardamaro, egg), titled for a renowned Wright residence in Pennsylvania. Pair with a duck pâté or hearty-for-autumn bratwurst.

It’s part of the Heisler Hospitality group, responsible for Chicago hotspots like Lone Wolf, Revel Room and Estereo – so expect a similar standard of service and quality all around.

 

Above images by Jackie Gillum and Anthony Tahlier

Weekend in Stockholm: An Autumn Guide to a Stylish Stay in the Swedish Capital

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As surely the most comely Scandinavian capital, there are always so many reasons to love Stockholm. Picture perfect, and with beautiful inhabitants to match, it boasts 13th century medieval castles and jaw-dropping architecture, spread over an expansive archipelago of islands. Its cutting edge design, vibrant culinary scene and legendary nightlife continue to make it an imperative destination for the style set.

Here are some of the highlights from our most recent visit.

 

ABBA: The Museum

For campy fun, visit the museum that houses the world’s largest collection of everything about Sweden’s most famous musical export. Marvel at the music, films, memorabilia and, especially, those ’70s fashions. It’s a fully interactive experience.

Vasamuseet

Though the 17th century war ship at the center of this maritime museum sank less than 30 minutes into its maiden voyage in 1628, it was dredged up in its entirety 333 years later and restored to its glorious splendor. Predominantly intact after laying underwater for over three centuries, this is a fascinating time capsule of Sweden’s nautical history.

 

 

Djurgarden

The lovely Djurgarden was formerly the royal hunting grounds, and now a national park – where you will feel worlds away from the pace of the city center, which is just across a short bridge. Visit the Rosendals Trädgård, a fascinating biodynamic farm and greenmarket which grows its own flowers, fruits, vegetables and herbs. Relax over a fika – the Swedish version of a coffee break – at their café, which serves casual farm to fork fare. For something a little fancier, book ahead for the opulent 19th century Villa Godthem, which was the former private residence of opera singer Carl Johad Uddman – and now serves classic Swedish cuisine in a plush setting.

Fotografiska

One of Scandinavia’s top photography museums, its current Autumn Salon exhibition focuses on nature and climate change. Its award-winning namesake restaurant is run by notable chef Paul Svensson, whose specialty is vegetarian seasonal dishes built on sustainability – and here, they come with panoramic views.

 

 

Langa Raden at Hotel Skeppsholmen

Greater Stockholm consists of 24,000 islands in a vast archipelago; the idyllic Skeppsholmen is one of the most picturesque, in the heart of downtown, and offering beautiful views. Taking advantage of the scenery is the gorgeous restaurant Langa Raden, located in the Hotel Skeppsholmen. Enjoy trad Swedish fare with a contemporary twist in a lush garden setting, right on the water’s edge. It dates back to the 17th century.

Tak

Offering panoramic rooftop views over Stockholm, this newly opened bi-level hotspot is helmed by Sweden’s rising newcomer Chef Frida Ronge. Trained in the fine art of the cuisine of Japan, she has gained numerous accolades for her Nordic-Japanese creations, which use seasonal local ingredients. When it’s not too cold, the alfresco rooftop terrace turns into an all-night party.

 

Tweed Bar

(To properly navigate Stockholm’s electric nightlife scene, we enlisted the help of Ricardo Dynan, the Global Brand Ambassador for Absolut Vodka.)
Located in the oldest part of the city, Gamla Stan, Tweed resembles a vintage British gentleman’s club, with Chesterfield armchairs set amongst antique nautical décor and plaid-lined walls. Its known for its extensive cocktail list, curated by Hampus Thunholm, who also created the beverage program for Fäviken (recently featured in Netflix’s Chef’s Table series).

 

 

Linje Tio

Recently named the 25th best bar in the world by Drinks International’s “World’s 50 Best Bars.” Has all the proper bells and whistles of a Brooklynesque hotspot, and is appropriately located in the hipster hood of Hornstull/Sodermalm. The creative cocktail menu changes seasonally; expect Negronis made with strawberries and saffron, and a beet-infused Absolut Vodka mixed with coconut, ginger, lemon and nutmeg. The front houses a barber shop which functions as an overflow lounge during peak hours.

Haktet Vänster

Roughly translating to “jail cell on the left,” this stylish “speakeasy” is fitted into two neighboring townhouses off Sodermalm’s busy Hornsgaten. Sip custom craft cocktails in a cozy space decorated in vintage kitsch, mixed with 18th century antiques spread around tufted banquettes. Though the menu features a bevy of original concoctions, the knowledgeable bartenders are always up for mixing something based on your taste preferences. It’s accessible only by an intercom.

 

 

Getting There: SAS Air

The easiest way to arrive into Stockholm is via SAS Airways, who offer the most non-stop direct U.S.-to-Scandinavia flights. They recently redesigned their long haul Airbus 330-300 aircraft with ultra-modern, hi-tech cabins, including SAS Business (fully flat beds), SAS Plus (Premium Economy) and SAS Go (Economy). SAS Plus cabins also feature spacious seats and free WiFi, large entertainment screens, in addition to lounge access, and extra luggage allowance. All travelers can enjoy onboard cell service. The seasonally changing Nordic themed culinary program was also redesigned by celebrated head chef Peter Lawrence. And through a partnership with Danish brewer Mikkeller, passengers can also select from more than a dozen craft beers, brewed with high-elevation in mind. Roundtrips from Newark start at just $549.

Stay: Downtown Camper

Stockholm’s latest hospitality hotspot – located in the downtown neighborhood of Brunkebergstorg – it’s themed around “glamping,” playing to Swedes’ love of nature and the outdoors. The lobby is reminiscent of a hip tech company’s HQ, with design nods to sustainability, and a skylit concrete lobby adorned with usable kayaks. Exuding that invariably chic Nordic minimalist aesthetic, the cozy rooms are awash in a neutral gray with wool throws and a window box couch to stretch out on after a day of exploring. Refuel in their signature restaurant, aptly named Campfire, which serves delicious and unfussy Scandi comfort fare amidst sumptuous sofas and tufted chairs.