Where to Stay in Washington DC? The Sexy-Chic Thompson down in The Yards.

Thomson Hotel DC
221 Tingey St SE, Washington, DC 20003
https://www.thompsonhotels.com/hotels/washington-dc

I was super excited to stay in Washington DC’s new built to order hip neighborhood, The Yards, that took the defunct navy yard and magically transformed it into a epicurean and tastemaker paradise. At the center of it and a stone’s throw from the baseball field, is the luxuriously sleek Thompson hotel. A premiere Hyatt property, the rooms here are nothing less than dreamy, offering casual white glove service and some very clever amenities you wish you had at home. I also liked their cheeky sexy nod that we are in an adult’s playground part of town. While the hotel offers views that beckon you to explore DC, there is a strong case for not leaving the yards at all, with Maialino Mare (https://www.maialinomare.com/) right down stairs, honed by my favorite restaurateur Danney Meyer, which was so hot I couldn’t even get a table so here’s a bunch of pictures of food they might have if you go. And upstairs the party continues with their penthouse lounge Anchovy Social (https://www.anchovysocial.com/) which has killer booze, killer food, and killer views that give you a true glimpse into What it’s like to live here. Hmmm. They should come over to the bar and have fun. Regardless what kind of night you have in the morning you are met with perhaps the sweetest self serve continental worthy of a Pinterest board for sure, that will fuel you for your conquest of the great city of Washington DC.

The Best Meal I’ve Ever Had? Albi in Washington D.C. Delivers Desert Dreams to Your Table.

Albi
Address: 1346 4th St SE, Washington, DC 20003
http://www.albidc.com/

While exploring The Yards district nestled in the District of Columbia we discovered what would be our new most favorite dining experience, Albi. And when I say experience, I mean it. Here you journey through the rich complex flavors of Levantine cooking with chef/owner Michael Rafidi guiding the way. Drawing on home cooked Palestinian dishes, Rafidi gifts you with an unbelievable authentic fine dining experience while wrapped in a womb of warm architectural beauty.

Every Albi seat is enchanted by the traditional wood burning open hearth that adds palatable drama to every course, and their chef table offers more show then Cirque du Solei. While Albi is known for its ambrosia, their nectar game is as on point with a very serious wine program crafted by William Simons that brings eclectic eastern Mediterranean grape direct to your pallet. I was more interested in the small batch Syrian arak,  whose ceremonial preparation and astringent bouquet puts your meal in hyperdrive, both complementing these desert flavors while serving as physician on duty as a slowly administered digestif. Simply genius. All this sensory conditioning is perfect to prepare you for the epicurean tidal wave that’s about to crash on your palate.

Equipped with a handy user manual to these unique flavors, these onslaught of playful dishes that come in waves rave in your mouth, each more complex and soothing than the next. Best yet, the entire experience is elevated by the super friendly and knowledgeable staff that seem to be as excited as you are to feast on such unique and perfectly prepared dishes, and why wouldn’t they be? Embered mushroom and black garlic hummus, smoked beef cheek dolma, apple and pear fattoush with pomegranate molasses, and smoked belly lamb kebabs with habanada honey are a few magical dishes that if said out loud have a truly spell-like effect. While the menu is not vast, it is profound, right down to the deserts, and while not what I would consider cheap by any measure, every bite is worth every penny for this extraordinarily special experience. Bravo Albi, shukran lakum.

Madrid Nightlife: Gingko Sky Bar, Salmon Guru, & Fucking Monday do it right.

Oh Nightlife, bars, lounges and Clubs in Madrid … when the sun sets the city wakes up, and this capital of the Iberian peninsula knows what to do in the dark.

Your best move is to head to the VP Hotel at Plaza Espana to catch a mind blowing sunset from their Ginkgo Skybar. Stay a while to enjoy some nibbles and some of the city’s best music with live local bands nightly.

https://www.plazaespana-hotel.com/en/

Next, lounge a bit and slip into Salmon Guru, where the drinks are as weird as the name of the bar. here they take mixology to a new level, infusing smoke, light, and good times in a glass, where it’s easy to get down and have fun.

Home with Video

And if you are fortunate enough to be in town on a Monday (yeah I said Monday) you can witness the madness that is Fucking Monday. Descend into this cool, seductive space to discover the Madrid club scene at its best. Jumping bars and ultra hip lounges hosting electric games of beer pong await, until the party really gets started with a giant dance lesson. The genius that came up with this idea should get a medal as it sets the tone for the entire night, turning up the fun to 11 and breaking off the nob. Once the club gets bouncing there is no stopping it and the energy is frenetic. Young, old, rich poor, it doesn’t matter who the hell you are at Fucking Monday as long as you bring full tilt.

https://nightlifemadrid.com/monday-party/

AMSTERDAM Travel Guide.

Cheap, good and off the beaten path, so excited to share with you a few of our favorite places in Amsterdam.

Amsterdam is so much more then cheese, sex and pot (although they have that all as well and it’s fantastic) … what makes this town so rad is how well they know how to live. The folks that live here love life, and love loving life, and show it in everything they do, from their culture, to their food, and especially in their love for boats…

And if you want to get into the deep culture that is Amsterdam there are plenty of places to go deep. Sure they have world class museums like the Rijks and Anne Frank Museum, but there is so much more to explore, check it out.

 

Now you’re probably so frigging hungry you considered eating some of that cat nibble you saw at the cat museum (no shame if you did). Fear not there are a ton of great places to get your grub on from great Asian street food, to classic Apple Cake and cafe, to food halls that simply cater to all tastes.

 

Obviously you’re going to need to wash down all this deliciousness with something, and thankfully the Dutch do drinking well. From great beer, smooth Rosé and some intense old-school gin, you can wet your whistle in many different forms.

 

Lastly, it’s bedtime my friends, and time to rest your heads… there are a ton of great fashionable hotels, and of course, AirBnB’s galore, but if you looking for something budget, that is definitely an interesting experience, consider the Hotel School. Yeah. It’s a school, for hoteling, that you sleep in. You are basically the students homework. Surprisingly the service is top notch, and the cost extremely reasonable with a quick 5 minute tram ride to the city center.

That pretty much wraps up Amsterdam for us, stay tuned for the 10 other cities we traveled to this summer for WOW Airlines. You can read all about the experience at our other site, The Travel Agency. 

One Perfect Day in Reykjavik.

I have issues with the word tourist. In this travel soaked world we live in where cross continent airfares are often less then the cost of a good meal, the idea of tourists infiltrating your city can be a harrowing concept. When I accepted a long term project that would move me to Reykjavik, my immediate priority was to blend in and be a local. It would prove more difficult then I could have imagined, but with the help of local Guðmundur Einarsson, I would get a rare inside look at this heavily touristed city.

“Reykjavik is quite small. There is just over 100 thousand people that live here,” Guðmundur tells me with a smile, “then we receive about 2 million tourist a year. So, you can understand we are drowning a bit in foreigners”. Having 20 times your population be tourists can make it difficult to have anything authentically local, but luckily Guðmundur lets me in on a secret, “90% of all tourists only go to the same 3 places, so, if you stay clear of that, you can see the real Reykjavik.” So here is a perfectly local day through the eyes of a perfect local.

Our first stop was coffee, which lead us to Reykjavik Roasters (Kárastígur 1, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland). “It’s definitely well known”, Guðmundur says with a sigh, “but it is the best, and if you go early, you will beat the line. Better yet, there is a second location in Brautarholt that is not as busy” The coffee here is rich and delicious, and they import the bean and roast it locally which gives it a unique savory taste.

Taking our coffee to go we swing by Brauð (16,, Frakkastígur, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland)  which you need no directions for, as you can just follow your nose. The butter-sweet-and-salt filled fragrance of this tiny bakeshop will lure you in like a siren to a rock. While they are famous for their cinnamon buns, we also tag on two croissants per Guðmundur’s suggestion “I’ve been to Paris many times, but I still always crave my Brauð.”

We head down toward old town, where we duck down a side street and into a little house with a single key for a sign. This is Fischer (Fischersund, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland) which is more then a cosmetic/parfume store, it is a sensory experience. Here hand made scents and botanicals are created from local ingredients, offering you a local experience like no other. “When I visit friends overseas I always stop here, because these gifts are truly unique and truly Icelandic.” Says Guðmundur.

Keeping on a truly Icelandic path we head down to the newly developed Grandi section of town, down by the wharf. “This is my favorite part of town,” my host tells me quietly, “they’ve reclaimed this industrial area, and really none of the tourist have discovered it yet. Theres a great brewery, some really cool shops, and many places to eat, but I like to come here for the chocolate.” When I think Iceland, I don’t immediately think chocolate, but that was about to change quickly. Omnom Chocolate Factory (Hólmaslóð 4, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland) is located at the very far end of the district, but you can smell it a good kilometer away. “We are the northern most producer of Chocolate from actual fresh cocoa beans,” Óskar Þórðarson one of the founders tells us. “We know our providers personally, and we roast our beans in house. That’s what makes it like no other chocolate.” And he was right. Madagascar dark chocolate with black volcanic Icelandic salt is something that needs to be tried to fully understand.

Next we hopped a bus just outside the city to visit G man’s favorite distillary, Floki (Lyngás 13 , 210 Garðabær. Phone 6989691). “I’m going to give you true Icelandic whiskey, it’s unlike anything you’ve had before. It’s smoked with sheep dung!” He says with pride like a mother would say “its made with real butter” offering a cupcake. Surprisingly the sheep dung whiskey was sublime; smooth and complex, and unlike any other spirit I have subjected myself to before. “Alcohol was banned in Iceland for many years,” explains Páll one of the distillers, “so most Icelandic people have been distilling in their homes since forever.” Floki takes that mentality and scales it up, making traditional homemade whiskey only with truly all Icelandic grain. The result is a whiskey like no other.

At this point it was time for a rest, so we headed down to Reykjadalur hot springs. “This place is magic,” Guðmundur says with a tipsy smile, “most tourist head straight for the Blue Lagoon, which, between us, is man made. Reykjadalur is totally natural, beautiful, and best of all, free.” When we get there there is a pleasant 45 minute hike through the countryside which terminates and a picturesque serpentine stream shrouded in steam. There is a well manicured boardwalk and changing areas, and you can see people here and there climbing in at various points, the higher up the stream you go the warmer it gets, so you can drift up and down all day if you like. This was pure natural pleasure.

After our soak we headed back into town for dinner at ROK (Frakkastígur 26a, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland). “This place is new, but the food is excellent.” Guðmundur assured me. The restaurant’s interior is sleek and modern in a positively ancient building, and this beautiful contradiction resonates in the menu. You can try classic dishes like reindeer but with the modern twist of it being served on a bed of local blue cheese foam, or local salmon prepared in sweet mango sauce with avocado. Rok truly will rock your palette.

Afterwards we needed something sweet and the only place to go is Valdi’s. “This place has been here forever. My father used to go as a kid.” Valdi’s longevity obviously comes from the fact that their ice-cream is absolutely delicious and their flavors wild. Guðmundur insists I get the salted licorice which sounds like a punishment to an Italian raised on gelato, but I’m sure glad I committed to it, because it was extraordinary.

Next it was time for a little entertainment. “The bars here can get crazy, and usually packed with tourists,” my Icelandic Virgil warns me, “Pablo Discobar, B5, Kiki’s, Kaffibarin, are all amazing good times, but, packed. Best to go to them at 5am, that’s the golden hour.” We had some time until then, so Guðmundur took me to a Poetry Brothel hosted by Reykjavik Kabaret. “The burlesque scene here in Reykjavik is actually quite amazing,” he confides, “and the shows are not to be missed. I won’t tell your girlfriend you went to a brothel either, that is not the Icelandic way.” He says in all seriousness. The brothel was like walking into a Bar Luhrmann fever dream. The host Miss Mokki greeted us at the door in a hurricane of pears, beads, and feathers. “Gentlemen. Right this way to have your minds blown.” She said grabbing my hand and whipping me into the main room. The show was all around us, cabaret, singing, poetry recital, anything artistic you could imagine with a thick patina of sexual energy over it. As the drinks flowed freely the night heated up and the acts became more boisterous. “Many people think Icelandic people are often stiff and very cold,” Guðmundur says, “most people are often very wrong.”

In need of something salty and fatty to soak up the fun of the evening I was brought to the greatest secret of Reykjavik. “You have to promise not to tell anyone about this place. It’s special.” Here inside a little dive bar that will remain nameless, there exists the greatest burger north of the 60th parallel. It is not on the menu, and you have to ask for it by name, but if you do you will receive what has been called “the hangover cure before the hangover”; Icelandic blue cheese, gold onion, and soft bun holds this perfectly grilled patty, that is just perfect to wrap up a perfect day.

Full from all the delights from this gem of a city, I walked home in the still lit summertime hours of the early morning. Guðmundur had one more surprise for me, a little sculpture park that is always open, adjacent to the Hallgrimskirkja (Eiríksgata, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland). “People walk right by this park, and never know it’s here. It’s my favorite place in all of Reykjavik.” This is the life’s work of Einar Jónsson, all from the early part of the last century, are unlike anything I’ve seen before. Half deco, half Phoenician, all crazy, they were particularly moving in the glow of the midnight sun through the morning Icelandic mist. Here you can sit or stroll, or perhaps meet another wandering stranger, and share the experience that you had, which if you were lucky, were truly local, and truly Icelandic.

“Roberto, please just do me one favor,” Guðmundur quietly says with a deep gravitas.

“Of course Guðmundur. What?”

“Please change my name for the story. I would hate for anyone to know it was I that let the cat out of the bag, so to speak.”

denver. eat it.

Continuing on our series about Denver (sounds so very 60 Minutes right?) we come to a very important segment (for an Italian)… foods. When someone says Denver, the first thing I think of is John Denver. The second thing I think of is John Denver eating a Denver omelet. The third thing I think of is him ordering it saying “Bring me my omelet!” and the waitress rolling her eyes, and Cookie, the fry cook saying “is that Denver acting a fool again?” and them having a good laugh, perhaps wading in each other’s eyes a bit too long, and in that precious moment living a life of love together unreclaimed, only to go back to the steam and grease that binds them to this unfair world. But the food in Denver is actually really good.

The first night we hit up Williams and Graham, a dope little speakeasy with a simple, delicious menu and a vast libation selection. Just like we like it. When you arrive, you are greeted by a dandy pair, that pushes a faux bookcase aside to walk into the back room. Kitch and fun, this place is designed within an inch of it’s life, but done perfectly so you feel like you are having an experience, rather than experiencing something at Disneyland. Our barkeep was a fine gent, who used ice that was seemingly mined by an Eskimo Michelangelo, hand-picked and polished. Usually I tend to like my drinks liquid and in a glass, but do appreciate the care taken here. What’s more I had the Pork Chop, and when done right, juicy and full of flavor, it is a magical thing. We were certainly off to a good start, so good in fact, we didn’t take any pictures. Those ice cubes went right to our heads. I did take one shot, in the bathroom, which was of the wall of comments; basically a very lo-fi version of Yelp which I adored.

williams and graham yelp

W&G is up in the Highland section of Denver, which is, as far as I can discern, the Williamsburg of Denver. Yes, as a New Yorker I have the right, and the duty, to compare every city to my own as a point of reference. What I guess that means is that you will find chic, hipsteresque places and well-funded artistic types in your ranks when traveling these streets. We did. On our way back we got a fine view of downtown as Highland lives up to its topological name, and stumbled into a swank rooftop bar named Linger which, again, looked like we were in a Edward Hopper painting…

linger

The next morning, feeding a well deserved hangover, we went to Snooze, which is a bit of an institution in Denver. It’s the kinda place that bellmen hate to recommend, and you know you’re there a block before you’ve arrived as there is a healthy line for pancakes. I will say this – it’s worth whatever wait you may have to endure. Having lived in both LA and NY I can say with certainty that I have a PhD in Brunch, and this brunch would have been a Breakfast Rhodes Scholar. May I offer exhibit A to the jury: their pancake menu.

Pineapple Upside Down Pancakes Buttermilk pancakes with caramelized pineapple chunks, housemade vanilla crème anglaise and cinnamon butter

Sweet Potato Pancakes Our signature sweet potato buttermilk pancakes topped with homemade caramel, pecans and ginger butter.

BanaNutella Pancakes Our Buttermilk pancakes filled with a molten, Nutella center and topped with caramelized banana cream and candied hazelnuts.

Literally cakes made in a pan. and you can get all three. On one plate. All three in your mouth if you want. Yes. Have your pancake and eat it too. They have an entire section entitled “The Art of the Hollandaise”. Finally, someone gets it. I had the Havana Benny which is shaved ranch ham and slow roasted pork served over a savory Swiss cheese bread pudding, topped with poached eggs, Dijon hollandaise and diced house pickles.  After I finished slowly rubbing my face in it (as I was making out with my brunch), I ate it, and was in heaven.

Denver_serrini-3256

That evening, looking for something a little more posh to see how eclectic Denver dining went, we checked out Beatrice and Woodsley (what is with the double names Denver? Everything sounds like a hipster folk band. Mumford and Sons much Denver?). We went down to the Washington Park area of town which harbors lots of cool vintage shops, bars, and tattoo parlors, which made me feel like we were in the right place, although, we couldn’t find it to save our lives. We walked up and down the block, three times, once through an alley, and nothing. Finally, we realized the place we passed 4 times was it; a yellow windowed restaurant that we didn’t even notice. Inside, past the Hunter S. Thompson window treatment, is a wood and linen dining experience that would be more akin to South Beach then Denver, save the amazing chainsaws stuck in the wall.

The service was impeccable and the food fit the service. Pimento Cheesecake (have you ever?) and Crawfish Bignets (have you ever?) were followed by Butcher’s Steak and fresh Chicken Pasta. A fine meal, and great wine to boot.

After this delightful dining experience we cruised down the street hitting up all the bars and finally ending at a place called the Punch Bowl. What to say about the Punch Bowl…. hmm… its like a 20-year-old with unlimited funds built a place to hang out with his closest 500 friends. And yeah, there is a doorman, at a bowling alley. Gigantic, full of games, bowling, darts, archery, video games, hidden bathrooms, several bars, and Jägermeister comes out of the walls. It’s a mecca to making poor choices. And no, there are no pictures from this portion of the evening.

The next morning (afternoon?) we needed some greasy spoon surgery, so we headed over to Sam’s No. 3 which is like a Denny’s on steroids. Not sure what happened to Sam’s No. 1 and 2 but I have a feeling Sam’s  No. 3 beat the shit out of them, stole their woman, and their car, and came to Denver. This place was epic, the wait was a bit long for a greasy spoon, but the pot edibles were kicking in so all was good. Besides, they had crayons. Score.

Sam's No. 3

When we got to the table we ordered the thing in the middle of the menu with a big starburst around it. After years of professional drinking I have learned that whatever is in that starburst is the answer to all our problems. It was basically a wave of fried, fatty foods meant to numb and comatose your problems, and yes, they did. Of course the Bloody Mary had a full plate of food in it as well. Seriously in heaven.

One of the highlights of the morning was when I told Tom, who had all the pot we bought earlier in his pocket, that there were two big cops right behind him. Brilliant. In my head it went something like this:

priceless-pot

To go out with a bang for our last supper, we decided to find a fantastic steakhouse and just be men about it. We settled on the Chophouse, which could not have been any better. Of course, like any other business in Denver, the Chophouse brews their own beer, which was delicious and cold, and helped sooth the amazing cuts of meats down our gullets. One of the highlights was the onion rings, which required scaffolding to serve to the table. Like any fine steakhouse the service was amazing, and it made it a perfect last meal in the mile high city.

With bellies full, and hearts open, we left that night 12 pounds heavier but with a spring in our step. Denver, our stomachs thank you.