#theWanderlist: A Guide To Sartorial Style in Hong Kong
Well the cat’s out of the bag. My boss and an co-worker just walked up to me yesterday at the studio telling me that they just saw my video (above) in the Hong Kong Airport’s video screens and wondered why that was. Yes, there are people out there that don’t read this blog, or could care less what I do after hours… and most those people work with me. Which is great. So when they do let me know that they’ve seen me on Airport screens, it’s a bit funny to me.
About that video… this past summer I collaborated with the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) and producers at Singapore’s LiTV, to create some content for Hong Kong’s new global AD Campaign in Asia as well as to mark the arrival of the city’s new concierge app, MY HONG KONG GUIDE.
The campaign, themed around the caption, My Time for Renewal, takes three guys; Celebrity Chef Alvin Leung, Model / Host Jason Godfrey, and Me, and introduces audiences to our favorite spots all over Hong Kong. Alvin tells carnivores where to get their fill of beef, Jason tells tourists how best to explore the city while getting the right amount of sun, and I teach guys where (in my opinion) is the best place to source a uniquely bespoke look. If you’d like to follow my Sartorial guide through this city… you can watch the video, use the itinerary on the app, and read the post below for more information about each of my Hong Kong menswear destinations I truly support and recommend.
+ ELEMENTS OF A SUIT // Sham Shui Po District
You can begin your sartorial adventure by sourcing your own fabrics, lining material, and buttons at the (in)famous Sham Shui Po district in Hong Kong. This little district is one of the poorest and most dense locations of public housing estates. However, it is also a destination for Electronic geeks looking for rare imports (prices are not that cheap), and Fashion designers looking to source materials and other items for their creations. I definitely know fellow blogger, Geneva, DIY blogger A Pair and A Spare comes here almost every week, and so does Paola, designer of her label, Tangram. Most recently, artist Michael Leung had formulated a Night Market Project initiative at Sham Shui Po, which you can read about here.
So much on offer here, it can be overwhelming.
However, for those who are brave enough to venture…
Will find plenty of very cool items to choose from.
So many shops line the streets for your sourcing needs.
With tons of fabric options for all your different suits.
For the sake of sourcing for the suit, there are a few areas on the street and some shops that do sell fabric for the outer shell and a suit’s lining. However, your tailor will also have a selection on offer. I suggest readers to come only to Sham Shui Po if only they have something particular that you are in search of, are trying to save a few bucks on material, or are looking for fabric for suit accessories like additional dress pants or dress shirts.
Remember, suiting fabric comes in various types beyond the Multi-Blend, Wool, or Polyester suits you are used to. Depending on the time of year or the event, you may opt for cotton, flannel, herringbone, linen, poplin, seersucker, or tweed.
+ BEST OF THE SPECS // Woo Ping Optical Co. in North Point
After Sham Shui Po, we ventured over to the iconic Mom & Pop owned, Woo Ping Optical, in North Point. This place has been around since 1974… and at arrival, I immediately noticed that nothing about that place has changed since the Seventies! Most notably, a really vibrant lady dressed in forever ‘81 (as in 1981), is always there to offer great customer service to all who visit.
At Woo Ping, they sell plenty of used and new Ray Bans from different eras (Generic, Japanese, and US Only models), and a bunch of retro Japanese glasses that still are very much back in vogue today.
The nice lady, Ms. Chan,… one half of Woo Ping Optical.
As it stands, frozen in time. Thank goodness.
Retro is now back in. You got the memo?
Which Japanese frames did I get? Guess.
The other half of Woo Ping Optical who refuses to get his photo taken.
I bought a pair of Japanese handcrafted green tortoise shell specs and prescription lenses to fit in. The perfect pair cost me around 400 hkd… TOTAL. Take that Lens Crafters!
Some behind the scenes of the updated Moustache shop.
Really excited to ‘design’ this summer wool jacket with Ellis and Alex.
The difference between a suit from Moustache and a suit from a tailor in TST, is that Ellis and Alex are real masters of the perfect “cut” with an eye focused on current fashion trends and styling. Meaning, you will most likely get a suit that is maybe a bit more playful and fashion forward with a cut that is right for your body type (ie. slimming), vs. a suit based off of a generic paper template which is easily adjustable for different measurements. The difference is a look that is 2014 versus 1984.
Moustache will also give the customer options for all types of outer shell and lining combinations, stitching types, collar and lapel shapes, pockets, vents, pleats, cuffs… really it’s like being part of a fashion designer’s process. While this may initially seem overwhelming, it’s really not, because Ellis explains the whole process so easily and he’s got a form he writes on to make it seem like everyone is putting together specs for a new race car or something. Plus, there are also some guys out there that don’t want the selection of 5 materials that everyone is forced to gorge on when getting a generic tailored suit or jacket. My summer suit is actually made of a lightweight maroon thin wool material, and lined with a lime green and black polka-dot lining. I originally ordered golden buttons, but ended up with red wool covered buttons. The whole look is comfortable, casual, and modern. These guys are so easy to work with and the suit is ready in about 4 weeks with two visits total before the pick up.
+ IF THE SHOE FITS // Shoe Artistry in Mongkok
Before we ventured back to Hong Kong side from Kowloon, we stopped over in a non-descript Mongkok building to visit Shoe Artistry located on the 2nd Level. Shoe Artistry is Hong Kong’s premier studio for handmade measure-to-make shoes and it’s founder, Central Saint Martins graduate Kit Lee, is a very passionate artisan.
Kit started Shoe Artistry as a way to help a friend find a way to make her own bespoke shoe to celebrate finishing her final degree. In the process they were able to discover the iconic MING KEE shoe makers in Jordan, and his collaboration with MING KEE allows Kit to find a new generation of consumers looking to create a bespoke shoe.
Very low-key shopfront, but Shoe Artistry is the best in Handmade shoes.
Colors and styles on offer make everything “on trend”.
Loving this shoe wall.
All the shoe forms for each client on the long shelf.
The difference between a hand made shoe and high priced Italian brand, is that at the end of the day, mass-produced shoes are designed to fit a variety of feet sizes and are most likely partly built by machines, whereas shoes at Shoe Artistry are 100% handmade, and are based off a hand drawing of your own unique foot. Shoes at Shoe Artistry are not cheap and run from about 250 to 500 USD depending on the complexity of the style. However, a bespoke shoe really does finish a bespoke suit quite nicely, AND the artisanal shoe’s design are custom made for each individual gentleman.
+ OLD FASHIONED BAR // Tai Lung Fung in Wanchai
Not really menswear or sartorial related, but since we’re on the right wavelength… a well suited man certainly will find himself right at home here at Tai Lung Fung, a watering hole tucked away behind the historic Stone Nullah Blue House. The chill space is actually more of a local then a destination bar, however its nostalgic decor and refreshing version of a Whiskey Old Fashioned makes this place a perfect night that is uniquely one-of-a-kind in Hong Kong.
That’s definitely where we ended, and I’m glad that we did. I can still taste that whiskey drink. Go before dinner or after (not during.)
SHOP Sham Shui Po . Exit Sham Shui Po Station / SHOP Woo Ping Optical Company . GF, 278 King’s Road, North Point, Hong Kong . T: +852-25717810 / WEAR Moustache . GF, 31 Aberdeen Street, Sheung Wan . T: +852-25411955 / WEAR Shoe Artistry . Office 4, 2F Prosperity Building, 61 Tung Choi Street, Kowloon . T: +852-27966018 / DRINK Tai Lung Fung . 5 Hing Wan Street, Wan Chai, Hong Kong . T: +852-25720055
The project, part of Canali’s 200 Stepsseries of videos and interviews published on L’Edizione, the brand’s editorial platform, aims to interview “male professionals” like myself from all around the world in a monthly series of videos and oral interviews examining each gentleman’s processes and craft. Each of the talent interviewed is dressed by Canali in tailored wear for that season, and is focused less on the 80-year old brand and more on the interviewees, their work, and inspiration.
Each 200 Steps story is created within a day’s shooting, and culminates in a 2-3 minute interview film, a 30-second “Word Association” film, and a full Q+A article explaining the full context behind each gentleman’s work. I was told that brand director, and a third generation Canali, Ms. Elisabetta Canali, picks the interviewees herself for the global website. I, for one, was surprised to have met her myself at the interview shoot here in Hong Kong. She’s quite cool in person, and was very “hands-on”… really overseeing the whole entire process.
For my story, Canali’s team wanted to focus on a designer-blogger’s thinking in relation to curation and the formulation of a story or perspective for the digital space. In order to express what I do and how this translates with tactility on film, their production team imagined a large square white canvas to hang centrally within the space… and throughout the two minute video, that canvas get’s filled with images i’ve taken over the years that have been placed on my various social media outlets thus far.
At first I was unsure, since i’ve only known my work to exist in a certain format online, and certainly not on a “white canvas”, however once i’ve spoken with their London team on the phone, and after they themselves have sent me mood board pegs of example “treatments”, portrait shots, and other reference concepts, I quickly got around to enjoying playing around with how they wanted to frame this whole thing to fit both me, my story, and their format.
Anyway, the rest is history as they say!
Some Behind-The-Scenes Photographs from our shoot….
The “White Canvas” at the start of the evening….
Gradually filling up slowly…
The canvas wasn’t allowed to sway back and forth, so the crew really took great pains to secure it on the set.
Each time a photograph was placed on the canvas, it was captured on film… sometimes two or three times.
The Director, Jon Clements, was really detail oriented as to the composition of the photographs on the canvas…
The production team at London’s Spring Creative, plus the brand team at Canali, picked out the all the photographs from all my social media accounts to be placed on this White Canvas. To be honest, when I started the website and the whole “Wanderlister” thing a few years ago… placing all these images online, there was no way I would have anticipated any of this to come to fruition from the content, that up to this point… i’ve only kept on the Digital Space.
Their team picked out the photographs to cover the five topics on my website; Architecture, Art, Design, Food, and Life/Style.
Taking a step back, seeing it all up there (I put up each of the photographs myself)… it was really something to see.
To step back and have all these things jump out from the computer, and be composed in the physical space like this was really cool, weird, strange, and in a way… a general cosmic affirmation of the whole thing that I do. Very interesting how it takes a collaboration with a big global brand, to really force one to assess and define their work. I definitely did some soul searching by doing this interview with Canali. Most of what I said was off-the-cuff, which surprised even myself. It’s like “A-ha”, so that’s what being an Architect by day, and a blogger by night in Asia is all about. It’s even news to me.
So for that, I thank Elisabetta Canali, the whole Canali House in Milan, and the guys Spring Creative in London for such a great opportunity. I really learned about myself though all of this as well.
Other 200 Steps profiles include the brand’s new Creative Consultant, fashion designer, Andrea Pompilo…
A wet and rain-soaked weekend is coming up, so I thought I’d share with you photos from two of my favorite Sunday brunch joints in Hong Kong… you know just in case those junk boating plans fall through. Whenever Sunday rolls around, everyone always asks the same question… What is the best brunch in Hong Kong??? And if you’re like me, you think it’s a Google search away, when in reality, the information you’d get online as feedback could even be more painful to get through. Let me help.
The “Best brunch” depends on a lot of factors for different people. Some are all about “views” and some are about “ambiance”. For me, that criteria is important, however in addition, I find the most important elements of a great Sunday brunch is that A. It has to be Western (unless it’s outright dimsum which is fine), B. It’s gotta serve amazing juice, coffee, and bloody maries, C. Eggs. It’s gotta serve eggs or eggy dishes well, and lastly D. The special Added extra something that only a unique restaurant can provide… and its not necessarily champagne. (Though that’s an easy tack on that’s very welcome.)
+ “Old World Becomes New Classic” // The Principal
The Principal, is one of Hong Kong’s classic hidden gems, located on a little tucked-in corner on Star Street. The restaurant, owned by the Press Room Group, IS a destination that doubles as a sleepy neighborhood locale. The interiors are fresh, clean, and crisp… and earthy. Reflected ceiling is in timber, the back wall is clad in light clay brick tiling, and the seating in a light beige and brown madras with a slight blue-grey tint. Tables all have a bit of plant life in a clay pot, everything seems very… mediterranean. The design for the fit out, by Australian studio, Hecker Guthrie, serves as a nice and subtle backdrop for the restaurant’s offerings, delicacies reminiscent of old world flavors, but adapted for a modern, urban palate which expects innovation.
Executive Chef, Jonay Armas, honed his craft in Michelin-starred restaurants in Spain, including La Terraza del Casino and El Chaflan in Madrid, and El Raco de Can Fabes in Barcelona. Regularly, meals at The Principal come in three “travel” inspired set menus, but for the Sunday Brunch, it’s the world’s buffet… direct to your table.
The menu begins with a “Picnic”, when the waiter brings to your table a wicker basket filled with items and things in glass jars, tin cans, and cheese wrapped in paper. Items in the basket, which are then carefully laid out on the table include; a Strawberry and rhubarb yoghurt mousse, cold cuts and cheese, liver pate, Moroccan-inspired hummus, Anchovies in Vinegar-garlic-olive oil, and freshly baked bread.
For some people in Europe, that’s it for Brunch… but if you’re a guest at the Principal, like me and my sister were… it’s the first course of a six course meal.
For the rest of the meal (you know, it’s 6 courses like I said), we were served a delicious ceviche, tempura made of seasonal vegetables, eggs cooked sunny side up in front of us and served with free range bacon, and lastly for savory, the Sunday Roast… a Spanish suckling pig served “Korean Style”, wrapped in lettuce.
And of course, there’s no full meal without… Desserts!
These beautiful creations include cakes that taste like Snickers Bars, frozen raspberries with pop rocks, Pina Colada Profiteroles, chocolate meringue lollipops, and of course… Churros. Delicious.
Service at The Principal is extremely on point, and attentive. And for a price of 740HKD, the six course Sunday Brunch also comes with bottomless Champagne (a Brut Le Mesnil-sur-Oger), a selection of Wine /Beer, Juices, fancy water, and Graffeo Coffee or Harney and Sons Teas. NOT BAD. Great even!
+ “Dockside and Farm Fresh Simplicty” // Fish & Meat
Fish & Meat is definitely one of my most favorite new restaurants in Hong Kong. Not only is it designed by one HK-based designer I admire (and whom I had the pleasure of interviewing before), Ben McCarthy of Charlie & Rose, but the Fish AND the Steak are both equally divine… at least for dinner! I was recently invited to taste the new brunch menu which has just launched last month… and it’s just not any other brunch menu… it’s brunch… with the addition of a BUTTERMILK. PANCAKE. STATION. I kid you not.
For mains on offer here (besides the Buttermilk Pancake Station itself with homemade toppings like Vanilla Cream and Caramel Sauce)… is an Organic poached egg Brioche with Truffle, Pan Fried Sea Bream with fennel and green pea puree, Organic Sunny Side Eggs, and a Cedar River Prime Sirloin… to name a few of what our table consumed.
Unlike The Principal, Fish & Meat is really visible to its neighborhood location on the corner of Glenealy and Wyndham Street, with the right amount of glazing on both sides to let plenty of sunshine in, and vantages to the city out. Ambiance? Design? Check. Views? Check.
Fish and Meat’s general philosophy, a sensitivity towards “farm to table” methods of sourcing, preparation, and serving are all on point even for Sunday Brunch and is evident. It really feels like you’re being served farm fresh food in a farm fresh environment. Compared to The Principal, you can get more relaxed here and be a little bit louder… but then again, it depends on what kind of mood you want for Sunday Brunch.
I also had my fill of the “Cold Buffet”, a selection of fresh oysters and mussels, and a few salads made of beetroot gravlax, crab, watercress, squash, asparagus, and even the basic Ceasar is also available. There’s a delicious farfalle pasta in red pesto and burrata also on offer for those carb-inclined.
Service at Fish & Meat is also quite good and personable, and generally matches the menu’s casual attitude. The mains are delicious, but you know… if you can do it… have the the Steak or the eggs. You won’t regret it!
So that’s my brunch wrap up, a picture summary of my two favorite brunch places. It’s not too sceney nor is it overwhelming. They’re both buffets on an intimate scale, and with each having their own unique offerings. If you check out any one of these brunch places this weekend, be sure to tag me on Instagram @theWanderlister, so I can inspect and comment on all your delicious #SundayBrunch #FoodPorn.
EAT The Principal . 9 Star Street, Wan Chai, Hong Kong . T: +852-25633444 / EAT Fish & Meat, 32 Wyndham Mansions, Central, Hong Kong . T: +852-25656788
Going to New York City for work and play gave me a chance to make some visits to a few cool destination stores by my favorite brands, for men. If you’re a guy and you only have a day or two to fit in some shopping in the city, I strongly suggest highlighting Nolita and Bleecker Streets to your lists, since these two neighborhoods carry a good selection of casual menswear brands to fit most tastes.
Please note, nothing in my NYC #wanderlist covers formalwear or suiting, but there are some selections available at a few of these stores that can offer a full range of styles for most any occasion. (For bespoke suiting, I recommend the NYC outpost of Hong Kong’s iconic menswear tailor, The Armoury.)
+ FINE THREADS // Black Fleece on Bleecker Street
In 2007, Brooks Brothers launched a youth oriented label,Black Fleece, in collaboration with Mr. Thom Browne, who won the 2006 CFDA Award Winner for menswear just a year before. Yearning to break free aesthetically, from their main Brooks Brothers line, the Black Fleece label allows for the brand to offer a selection of menswear for a new generation of guys who may not be so familiar with the traditional Brooks Brothers suiting, but are ready to embrace elements of “dandy” suiting in their day-to-day lives. With Black Fleece, designer Thom Browne gets to make clothing for a wider demographic of men who seek to embrace his modern look, underpinned by the Brooks Brothers level of quality and craftsmanship.
The corner store on Bleecker Street is intimate, carrying both men and women’s. Customers and staff know each other there on a first name basis, and when I went, everyone who showed up at the store, were pretty much return customers. This is a good thing for me to notice, especially because the clothes are so playfully quirky and a-traditional. I suppose the intimacy in shopping experience for Black Fleece is really about the support of their customers who just “get” the brand concept from the get-go. (And FYI, the service quality in Hong Kong’s flagship on Wyndham Street is absolutely the same level. Top notch and personal. I hope they keep it up!)
+ STREET STYLE // Saturday’s Surf NYC on Crosby Street
Yes, Saturday’s is an urban shop in New York City for those into surfing culture. I know… crazy right, because where can you actually surf in Manhattan!? While I was there, twice, during my last trip, I did witness a guy purchase a surfboard and then packing it up on the spot. So yes, in New York City, surf sells at Saturday’s Surf NYC.
Saturday’s is essentially a casual men’s shop selling “street style” with a splattering of elegant buttoned down looks and up-market T’s and sweatshirts. The reason why I support this local brand, which first opened its doors in 2009, is that while it speaks to a particularly niche and quirky customer (urbanites who are engrossed in surfing culture), its collection… from apparel, to bags, to shoes, to accessories, pretty much have a strong and consistent aesthetic base line which a broader design-focused demographic can appreciate. Everything is either grey, black, or primary colors in palette, and for the patterns or stripes that appear in their collection, it’s pretty bold in a pop art kind of way… yet clean and modern. This kind of stylistic integrity is a great position to be in, especially for a young brand wanting to make a mark in casual street wear.
Some of my favorite things about the shop… browsing Saturdays Magazine, the brand’s modern take on the classic surfer magazine and checking out the back garden where you can just sit and chill with a cup of delicious La Colombe coffee from their destination coffee shop in store.
+ ARMED CANDY // Miansai on Crosby Street
Miansai’s Crosby Street location in Nolita has only been operating for less than a year (opened in December 2013), but already it seems like the flagship has been there since the establishment of its brand in 2008. Founded in Miami, by New York born, Michael Saiger, Miansai’s men’s jewellery is now coolly retailed in 40 US States and 36 countries, including Mr. Porter (which ships internationally), and Kapok, Harvey Nichols, and Lane Crawford, here in Hong Kong.
The Crosby street location offers the full array of Miansai’s products, plus leather goods, with all items Made in the USA by its team of 30 craftsmen. If you’ve been shopping in Asia, and think you’ve seen all of what Miansai has to offer re: nautical themed bracelets, think again, this tiny shop in New York carries everything you’ve seen and so much more, including new designs, fixings, and clasps, recently launched for its 2014 collection of wares.
My favorite is the cuff design, made of .925 Sterling Silver, 14K Gold and Rose Gold, and for some items, 18K Gold. Have a sip and sit in the in-house tea room as you enjoy browsing and the trying on of all things Miansai. (FYI. You can also build your own bracelet.)
+ CURATED STYLE // Odin New York on Lafayette
10 year old menswear boutique, Odin, has been on the curated menswear scene way before menswear became a staple on everything from everyone’s Pinterest and TUMBLR boards, to their multiple-broque closets. Founded by partners, Paul Birardi (ex-buyer at Macy’s) and Eddy Chai (ex-advertising art director), Odin has held their own, courting working gents from all walks of life who care about fashion and style, plus now college students and even some female shoppers.
The store on Lafayette Street, a 2000 square foot, ex-Chinese Noodles factory, was a hands-on experience for the founders, building and designing everything themselves to house menswear multi-brands from the ground up. Since establishing the boutique, Odin has collaborated with American retail giants like Target, the Gap, and boutique labels like Matsuda, Rag & Bone, Common Projects, Mark McNairy, Alex Mill, Todd Snyder, and Engineered Garments.
The Lafayette Street shop offers personal styling services for a wide range of products available from the house’s own label to the likes of Thom Browne’s main line, which I bought a few pieces on sale.
+ ALL AROUND STYLE // Club Monaco Men’s on 5th
Not quite in Nolita and Bleecker (we’re talking 5th Avenue), but just a walk away from the iconic burger joint, Shake Shack in Madison Square Park where my friend Andy and I had our lunch, is the heaven that is Club Monaco’s 5th Avenue store. I don’t know about you, but I’m obsessed about all things Club Monaco (and its been a few years now), since I’ve done style collaborations with them in Hong Kong years ago and since their menswear line was taken on board by Menswear designer, Aaron Levine.
The 5th Avenue store is indeed a mecca for those who are “Club Monanites” (okay Made this moniker up) offering a full selection of CM classics, essentials, and specialty seasonal items in playful prints, colors, and elegant (ie. non baggy) and fitting menswear silhouettes. Accessories and outerwear complement easy to wear CM items from the brand and partner “Made-In-America” labels. Shoes include a great selection from Grenson and New Balance. The huge two-story store looks like an old-time Department Store from the turn of the century, and also fits a florist, a bookstore by the Strand, and an outpost by my favorite Williamsburg café, Toby’s, for those inclined to stay awhile after a full shopping experience.
+ GROOMING // Fellow Barber on Crosby St,
On Crosby Street adjacent to Miansai and Saturday’s, be sure to check out, Fellow Barber, one of four of these barber locations in New York City and Brooklyn. Fellow Barber is committed to offering all patrons a traditional barbershop experience without the pretense of a salon. Because everything is “traditional”, all Fellow Barbers are expertly trained to provide classic men’s cuts with straight-razor shaves.
The shop on Crosby Street carries a wide array of products, including shaving kits, body soaps, and moustache/beard wax for the discernible gentleman.
#theWanderlist: Intersecting Art and Design at West Chelsea's Hotel Americano
After my six day stay in Williamsburg, I packed up my bags and moved to the opposite end of the map, to Manhattan’s West side, where I spent my last two nights at the Enrique Norten-designed, Hotel Americano. Enrique Norten’s firm, TEN Arquitectos, is originally from Mexico, however projects like Grupo Habita’s 56 room boutique- Hotel Americano, opening in 2011, helped Norten establish a permanent presence in New York.
Compared to Williamsburg, the West Chelsea/High Line art district, is too a bit off the grid from Manhattan’s usual buzzy and traffic-crazed neighborhoods. So technically, staying at Hotel Americano, with its chain-mail clad facade veiling the hotel like a soft protective blanket, gives the building a character of introvertedness re-establishing a getaway experience right in the middle of the city.
The rooms have this minimalist Japanese x Scandinavian ambiance, with all the beds low on a timber-finish staging area. I stayed at the “Downtown King” room, where the soft glow of the window provides, a subtle Rothko-esque backdrop… and lifting this curtain allows for a more dramatic urban backdrop through the picture window.
Materials are minimal… mirrored stainless steel working desks, fair-faced concrete flooring cool the touch, white marble tiles within the bathroom’s interiors, a glass and steel partition with a fritted pattern separating the shower from the bedroom area… all very modern reflecting contemporary architecture palate without losing the comfort sensibilities of “home”.
There are aspects of the room which is considered luxury… the iPad with an amazing selection of music and muzak which I had playing in the background the whole time, a great selection of self-labeled snacks (like the rich sea salt chocolate bar which everyone needs to try), and (the one item I loved the most), a bathrobe in soft denim. It’s fantastic.Unfortunately some items, ie. room speakers were not working (they are supposed to easily connect to the iPad), no complimentary drinking water in the room, and no coffee machine. But those are minor gripes for a hotel with just the right amount of comfort and generally amazing low key and personal Manhattan service.
Public areas are cozy yet not cramped. The design is very streamlined and completely Manhattan-modern-minimalist done right. Ok, at the very least it reflects the general ambiance of this area of Chelsea, with the neighborhood’s rustic factory facades and cool gallery interiors of every ground floor space. I loved the negative/positives of President Obama in cool Instagram-ish glory in the lobby’s sitting area. We think we’re cool? He’s definitely been there and done that.
Speaking of “gallery interiors”, it was so cool to meet up with Hong Kong-turned-Manhattan graphic designer, Danielle Huthart, and art critic / consultant of everything, Shana Beth Mason, together for an art + hotel jazz brunch on my last sunny Saturday in the city before jetting back to Hong Kong. According to the latest M art map, I counted roughly 200 gallery spaces in West Chelsea around Hotel Americano. Like Shana says, the West Chelsea art scene is largely commercial, and the real experimental stuff worth seeing is in the Lower East Side (understandably). However, we’re already here for brunch, so we might as well see what’s around right?
Some cool shows we saw, digital prints on canvas by Linda Meiko Allen, titled Figmenta, closing July 31st, 2014 at the Nancy Hoffman Gallery.
Physical large scale collage works on display by Gabi Trinkaus at Claire Oliver which ends this month.
PACE Prints Chelsea has the latest neon works by Ryan McGinness on display.
Our two favourite shows… this sexy one, titled Goldenboy by Jeff Bark, which has since ended at the Hasted Kraeutler, consisting of prints and a sculptural tableaux.
And we also loved these very formal, yet hyper-real paintings by Pierre Dorion at the Jack Shainman Gallery.
Every year, Paul Kasmin’s gallery exhibits a free curated not-for-sale-show. I was so lucky to have been there when the space across the street from Hotel Americano was curating a superb show by Russian-Jewish painter Chaim Soutine, noted for his amazingly thick and messy brush strokes in muted colours, depicting animals and items he finds at the market. Not since a 1950 MoMA retrospective of his work has all his works made it for a non-sell exhibition under one roof.
A complimentary show by Walton Ford at Paul Kasmin’s other space on the corner of 10ave and Hotel Americano’s 27th street, feature vibrant watercolors of animal creatures from various fables depicted in a very illustrative moments.
Architecture lovers will love walking around the the neighborhood to revel in buildings that seemingly never age…
And the new sky-high mansions that take their place. This one below attempts at the quirk factor.
There are some more cool buildings, as one gets further south around W. 14th Street, like this Samsung shop with a twisted tower. If you know the designer’s name, please let me know!
There’s a wonderful building on 66 Ninth Avenue, called the Porter House, by SHoP Architects (with the black facade and vertical LED stripes.) You can’t miss it. It’s almost a landmark. It’a warehouse turned residential building.
Speaking of twisted, watch out for Renzo Piano’s new Whitney Museum to open next year.
And along the High Line park (a newly opened public green park ON TOP of the old High Line railroad tracks) designed by Diller + Scofidio, there’s an architectural view of the big everything else; the “white sails” building by Frank Gehry dubbed the IAC, on the West Side Highway, and adjacent to it Jean Nouvel’s 100 11th Avenue.
Speaking of the High Line, the second phase of the tracks just opened up, and it’s wonderful to be there. Views are framed… literally.
As for the first phase, the area closest to the Meatpacking District… the park’s architecture and its fixtures, are aging quite elegantly.
Across the street there’s a cool concept store called, STORY… claiming to have a “point of view of a magazine, changing like a gallery, and selling things like a store.” So basically the shop’s VM changes four times a year to a theme. And when I was there, the theme was “COOL”… which is appropriate for the summer. The “COOL” idea is reflected in the lightweight structure of straws, and held together by snowflake fixings at its intersection.
For restaurants, you can check out fusion-dim sum at the new, Buddakan NYC, a “modern-Asian” dining destination in a converted cookie factory designed by Christian Liaigre and founded by Stephen Starr also of Chelsea’s Morimoto. I enjoyed my drinks and food here and wish I had more than just bar snacks. The staff were very friendly, and the innovative selections, like their classic, “Edamame Dumplings”, is something definitely to look forward to, again on my next visit. It’s adjacent to the Chelsea Market… you won’t miss it.
I will miss this neighborhood. It’s in the middle of Manhattan, yet generally less rushed and more relaxed.
Thanks Smith Hotels and Hotel Americano for a great stay!
FYI. The red “summer wool” jacket i’m in the wearing in the #selfie above was tailored by Moustache in Hong Kong. I strongly recommend them and their work if one has time in Hong Kong to get anything tailored.
This month was the first time I really ever experienced Williamsburg. Before this visit i’ve only heard about the district or passed through it in Brooklyn… but have never been to hang out. On my last New York trip, I wanted to give Williamsburg a go for the sake of the blog. I ended up staying there for a solid six days!
Most would call Williamsburg a quintessentially “cool” neighborhood. It’s hard to believe that so much happens here, and its only about a size of 10 city blocks… a mere fraction of the total size of all of Brooklyn.
Additionally, Williamsburg style is now a kind of global style… at least within the last five years. What’s going on in this little corner of the world in terms of its “Old is New Again” lifestyle, i’ve seen exported replicated in many new destination hospitality and dining establishment everywhere else, including Hong Kong.
Basically I was back in New York City to attend a friend’s wedding and to get some work done for the firm. In the free time that I did have, I was able to check out aspects of what actually is cool to see and do in the Williamsburg ‘hood, and why it’s earned a reputation as a global trendsetter. Check out our findings below!
+ THE LOWDOWN
Overall, from a purely urban observation… I categorize Williamsburg as a calm sibling of Manhattan. The kind of frenzy that one would find in the main city, you just do not get in Brooklyn. Brooklyn’s generally low building heights and lush tree lined streets guarantee an oasis, reflecting its role as a historical suburb. With the on-going gentrification as of late, especially in Williamsburg, you get a careful mix of old buildings, juxtaposed with newer architectures. Some buildings attempt at quirkiness, in a subtle and usually non-offensive way. A good example of this is perhaps the new EMS station clad in glass I photographed above on the intersection of Roebling and Metropolitan Avenue by Michielli + Wyetzner Architects.
Of course there are worse offenders. On the way to the Domino Sugar Refinery to visit some public art, I saw new buildings lined up on the Kent Avenue waterfront reflecting that general middle-america aesthetic, the kind of mixed-use development and architecture design solutions which mirror urban redevelopment in anytown inner city. The rent here is indeed expensive (i’ve asked), but apparently going for only half the price per square foot still of a comparable property in Manhattan.
Speaking of public art, we ventured to see the summer’s “IT” show, new commissioned work from African-American female artist, Kara Walker, via urban art programmer, Creative Time. The piece, titled, A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, an Homage to the unpaid overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plan, is located at the soon-to-be-demolished-but-urbanistically-iconic Domino Sugar Refinery in Williamsburg. The exhibition is free, and when it closes in July, the refinery will be torn down to make room for more of the gentrified development expected of Williamsburg’s waterfront.
Walker, whose work is defined by her interest in race, gender, sexuality, violence, and identity, sculpts a female sphinx 80-feet long and 40-feet high in 80 ton blocks of white sugar. Life-sized child figurines, (perhaps children of the sphinx???), were cast in boiled sugar, reflecting the color of the sugar before undergoing refinement. The art was free, urban in scale, and open to the public, and got everyone from different boroughs into Williamsburg for the weekend. The work asks the public to contemplate the disappearance of the historical refinery for a more gentrified waterfront, and perhaps mull over the community of people who populated the neighborhood before gentrification took hold.
Besides the Kara Walker exhibition, there is hardly an art scene in Williamsburg. Artists DO live and work here, but showing is all in the Lower East Side, West Village, or Chelsea High Line (we’ll get to this in later posts.)
+ HOTEL LIFE
There are not too many new destination hotels in Brooklyn at the moment due to the city’s organic and slow approach to development. However, there are two prominent low-scale urban boutique hotels in Williamsburg adjacent to each other and along McCarren Park worth checking out. A destination for locals and seasoned travelers alike, one hotel is the Wythe Hotel, located in a converted factory, and the other, where I stayed via booking through Mr and MrsSmith Hotels, is the McCarren Hotel & Pool, a destination for Brooklyners in search for weekend sun at the pool or stars on its scenic rooftop bar.
I can’t really say much for the Wythe Hotel, since I didn’t have enough time to visit (I’ll check it out next time), but I was pretty content with my stay at McCarren Hotel. It’s got this quirky and minimalist Scandinavian-chic interior design in a completely new-build block development. Compared to most luxury urban stays i’m used to, McCarren is generally straightforward urban hotel when it comes to offerings, but the rooms are fully stocked with all the drinks and snacks you need, plus good wifi and a great espresso machine. The hotels’ bars and pool area is a local destination, and not intimate by any means because it’s such a nightlife and weekend destination for brooklynites.
With it’s central Williamsburg location, a mere 5 minutes walk to all the best “IT” cafes, restaurants, and tourist must-sees… this tastefully designed hotel is a great option for urban travellers and at the right price. My only gripe is I wish they had breakfast options in the weekend (which they don’t because the restaurant which caters for the hotel only opens for Brunch on Weekends). But besides this minor gripe, the staff was generally friendly and helpful with everything and anything I needed.
+ COFFEE HOUSE CULTURE
I really enjoyed having breakfast and chilling out at Toby’s Estate Coffee. Toby’s has two locations, the original roaster in Williamsburg on N. 6th Street and another one in the Flatiron District in the new Club Monaco Flagship store (will get to this in a later post.) But Toby’s prides itself in roasting all its coffee in Brooklyn, and sourcing beans direct from source in Congo, Bolivia, Rwanda, Brazil, Colombia, and Ethiopia without in-betweens.
For me the best part was the selection of food available on the menu. I can still taste the amazing “Espresso Glazed Bacon” with scrambled egg breakfast sandwich (please let me know if I got this wrong, but I couldn’t find the menu anywhere online). I also loved grabbing iced coffee and sitting outside to watch dreadfully “trendy” people pass. North 6th Street is such a scene! (The game I liked to play is count the tattoos… you figure it out.)
Another place to check out for coffee is Urban Rustic Market & Cafe, a few blocks down from McCarren Hotel on McCarren Park. Urban Rustic is a fantastic small grocers and full deli, seemingly offering all the kinds of sandwiches you can think of made to order, utilising “ethically sourced” ingredients. What this means? All meats are “cage free”, all eggs are organic and from local farms, and meats are roasted in house.
I again had a bacon, cheese, and egg sandwich here on onion bagel, with a great cup of simple all American black coffee. (There’s nothing like the bacon on offer in the states… it’s just more hearty.) Also check out Urban Rustic for sunset beers. They carry an amazing assortment of beer from all the local breweries in the New York State… this plus the comfy bench seating outside next to the park, you’ve got an amazing way to end the day right there.
+ WHAT THE HIP EAT AND DRINK
Williamsburg has a pretty amazing amount of destination cafes, bars, restaurants and eateries for such a mid-sized burrough. I don’t have any more room on this blog post to post all on offer, but I can pretty much zero in on a few of my favorites.
For breakfast it’s all about Pies ‘N Thighs adjacent to the Williamsburg Bridge for some unforgettable signature “Chicken and Waffles”. I don’t know how Americans can have a plate of three chicken plus waffle plus fixins, when I barely finished one plate sharing with a friend. I didn’t get to taste the donuts and pies here but I heard they were legendary.
For general gastro-pub fare plus some good people watching, there’s always the highly-rated restaurant, Five Leaves. I came here at the suggestion of my friend who’s friends with the owner. There’s plenty of inventive and playful food serving “New American” dishes at this bistro. The place is run by Ozzies and is a brunch favorite for locals. I was hooked on their truffle fries and deep fried oysters.
To keep it “real”, we grabbed dinner at Marlow & Sons, also on lower Williamsburg (near Pies N’ Thighs) adjacent to the Williamsburg Bridge. Marlow & Sons, was one of the first handful of restaurants which placed Williamsburg on the culinary map many years ago before anything in Williamsburg was considered hip. To this day, Marlow & Sons still serve innovative (also New American) fare, fully flavoured. Although their fish mains are the best here, the real highlight is their broad selection of oysters. The wine selection to pair the meal with is just as fantastic.
For those who like Mojitos and Margaritas (I Don’t), the cool hang out at Nights and Weekends, a-see-and-be-scene kind of bar with that almost “block party” kind of atmosphere. Drinks are are rum-centric and bar snacks, like fried shishito peppers, have a Caribbean bent. Everything is casual.
+ SHOP STYLE
What Williamsburg lacks in art galleries, makes up for it with the amount of retail places where you can spend their hard earned cash. The neighborhood is just inundated with design shops, bookstores, boutiques, gift stores.. you name it. I was close to buying a few things at GANT, but the staff was less than hospitable so I left… and I walked in (and quickly walked out) of the new Urban Outfitters there. For some reason I was always at Duane Reade… anyway, there’s a couple of shops I want to highlight, however.
Check out the new “style meets street” Menswear shop, Gentry, next to Toby’s Estate on North 6th Street, and has great frontage. Gentry is the brainchild of menswear connoisseur, Justin Dean (photographed above), and features a curated selection of the world’s top niche menswear labels including, knitwear from S.N.S. Herning, blazers from Ovadia & Sons, colorful printed buttoned down shirts from Gitman Vintage, and delicious dress shoes from Carmina. Justin is generally on hand to help customers find and style, a serious-yet-casual bespoke look that’s right for them.
On the opposite end of “curation”, there’s the all-in-one junks shop, Brooklyn Junk, located on Driggs Avenue. Brooklyn Junk is every junk shopper’s dream come reality. Plenty of eighties prom dresses here for aspiring Bushwick drag queens, lots of ceramic ware, mod lighting, and antique furniture here for the new home, and lots of memorabilia, knick knack, and old photographs that people just love to collect. I found my sister a beautiful leather purse for 10 US Dollars.
+ LIVING LOCAL VIA AIRBNB
It was my first time ever booking and staying with Airbnb, and I have to say… I absolutely loved it. Thanks to Airbnb, I was able to spend four nights at this loft in a converted factory all by myself. The cool owner of the loft, an artist named Daphne, was actually a friend of a friend (the website/app shows mutual friends), and lives next door in her own studio space. I only saw her when checking in, and was occasionally in touch via sms.
Overall, for those who can’t be bothered to stay in a Hotel, and would rather have a travel experience, as close as possible to a local way of life, Airbnb, has plenty of properties right within any destinations’ “it” neighborhoods. My loft was on the second floor of a multi-level artist factory farm, also in the center of Williamsburg. The sheets and towels were clean (maid service was offered), and the design and decor was truly my style, reflected by a masculine and old world aesthetic which I loved. The wifi was fast and efficient (great for working), and there was plenty of cable (great for being lazy.) The kitchen had all the utensils and things I needed to make simple meals (which I did not do), and the space was big enough for 2-4 people, just in case you were keen on inviting friend/s over.
My first impression? This was a great first time experience with booking and staying in an Airbnb property, and I would definitely do it again.
Overall I found my Williamsburg / Brooklyn experience really lovely and a nice respite from Manhattan’s busy streets. I’d like to thank some really cool friends… my friend Veronica for spending time with me and showing me Marlow & Sons, which I think is now one of my favorite restaurants in Manhattan.
Also I’d like to thank my best pal, Andy Chow, founder and curator of Doppelstandard (ex-Standard Vintage), for taking the time to hang out with me and show me around Brooklyn (and basically other cool parts of Manhattan.)
I’d also like to thank this gorgeous lady for allowing me to take a photo of her at the Kara Walker exhibit. She’s just gorgeous. That’s the face of New York chic, right there. Elegant, relaxed, urban, and sophisticated.
Others things to try… try walking across the Williamsburg Bridge from Williamsburg to the Lower East Side. It’s free, and a great way to experience the city… from both sides!