SoHo NYC Restaurant Review: Piccola Cucina Estiatorio

(photo Ron Bernthal)

By Ron Bernthal

Chef Philip Guardione used to spend his days and nights on Manhattan’s Prince and Spring streets, where his two popular restaurants, Piccola Cucina Enoteca, 184 Prince, opened 2010, and Piccola Cucina Osteria, 196 Spring, opened 2013, attract locals and tourists who love his Sicilian-inspired cuisine as well as the street scene in the vibrant SoHo neighborhood.  A European venue, Piccola Cucina Ibiza, operates on the Spanish island of Ibiza from April-October; Piccola Cucina at Ox Pasture is a seasonal “pop-up” in Red Lodge, Montana; and an Eastside Manhattan restaurant is expected to open in the near future. These days, however, chef Guardione can also be found on nearby Thompson Street, where his latest culinary venture, Piccola Cucina Estiatorio, at 75 Thompson, opened in 2017, and has no trouble filling all 23 tables for lunch and dinner. Almost all the produce served to customers at his restaurants is shipped in from Sicily, a point that chef Guardione stresses during media interviews. “Everything tastes different in Sicily. The Mediterranean waters around Sicily is different. It has more salt. The fish tastes different,” he said.  “We import everything, even the people,” he added, speaking about his mostly-Italian wait-staff and the cooks in his restaurants’ open kitchens. Because fish and seafood is so central to the cuisine of Sicily, where chef Guardione grew up and, thus, to the menu in all his restaurants, my companions and I as Piccola Cucina Estiatorio definitely wanted to try several of the fish items on the menu,  served in every way – raw, grilled, baked, broiled, in salads or pasta. . The raw fish, called crudo di mare, included salmon ceviche, tuna tartare, yellowtail carpaccio, and salmon sashimi.  These were all fresh and cold and easy to share among the group. The yellowtail, topped with orange and fennel was especially good.  The seafood appetizers were also wonderful, with portions of grilled octopus and fried sardines crisp and delicious as was the bruschetta with guacamole and lobster, which seemed to be a popular appetizer at the other tables as well. The menu offered ten different pasta plates, including pasta alla Norma (maccheroni with eggplant in tomato sauce with ricotta cheese), and spaghetto nero (black ink spaghetti with scampi langoustine and zucchini flowers). For those who like pasta with seafood, it was not a problem to find sea urchins, or clams, or cured fish roe in pasta dishes, served in huge bowls of course, with warm bread on the side.

The Sicilian wait staff were friendly and efficient, explaining the menu and delivering food and wine with smiles and good humor. (photo Ron Bernthal)

The fish of the day, whole filleted sea bass, was moist and tender, served with grilled vegetables, while the baby lamb chops (the only other meat available was ribeye steak) were accompanied by lemon potatoes and steamed spinach. The table went with bottles of Sicilian red and white wine, with other Italian regional wines listed as well.  I had to order a bottle of Arianna Occhipinti 2016 Il Frappato Igt Terre Siciliane Vittoria, the full name of which, coincidentally, includes my daughter and step-daughter’s first names, and the last name of friends from Scranton, PA. For desserts the table shared wonderful cannoli, tiramisu, and crème bruleé with fruit.

The dinner crowd at Piccola Cucina Estiatorio will often fill the 58-seat venue, reservations are encouraged. (photo courtesy Piccola Cucina Estiatorio)

On a warm, summer night the SoHo neighborhood was alive with bicycles, motor scooters, slow moving cars looking for parking spaces, groups of couples strolling arm-in-arm, and single Village women with ice cream in one hand and a dog lease in the other. Inside, a friendly, very noisy group of diners filled the restaurant, conversations were shared among tables, wine was flowing, Sicilian spoken among the wait staff and between the cooks in the lively open kitchen. The scene and atmosphere looked and felt like Palermo’s Piazza Olivella, and there’s nothing wrong with that.     

Nassau Journal: The Pointe and other projects revitalize Bahamas capital

Umbrellas hang above part of West Hill Street, in Graycliff Historic Village, a Nassau neighborhood that is being revitalized with new businesses and beautiful historic restorations.

Story & Photos by Ron Bernthal

The islands of the Bahamas are the closest Caribbean islands to the U.S. mainland, and have long been a favorite winter weekend flight destination for sun-starved Northeastern residents, or for year-round cruise passengers from U.S. or European seaport cities.

In the past few years however, the historic city of Nassau, the Bahamian capital located on New Providence Island, has made great strides enticing more visitors to stay for longer periods of time. In 2018 the island nation of the Bahamas hosted 6.6 million visitors, the most in any year, including 4.9 million cruise passengers, another new record.   

Atlantis, on Paradise Island, connected to Nassau by a road bridge,  has been bringing in thousands of visitors since opening in 1998,  adding new accommodations and amenities ever since. Another mega-resort, the $4.2 billion, 1,000-acre Baha Mar, opened in 2017-2018, with three hotel properties, 42 bars and restaurants, a 100,000 square-foot casino, 11 swimming pools, tennis, golf and spa  facilities, and dozens of retail outlets, just six miles outside Nassau along Cable Beach. A new water park and other facilities are expected to open late 2019. The three hotels in the resort include the Grand Hyatt Baha Mar, the SLS Baha Mar, and the Rosewood Baha Mar, offering a total of  2,300 rooms, suites and villas.

View of the Caribbean from a balcony in the new Baha Mar resort complex, opened in 2018 just six miles from downtown Nassau.

Fred Lounsberry, CEO of the Nassau Paradise Island Promotion Board said that the new Baha Mar hotels and an ongoing revitalization project in downtown Nassau called The Pointe, are expected to attract additional visitors from the U.S. and Europe.  “Baha was barely open a year when we saw tremendous increases in North American visitors coming to New Providence,” said Lounsberry. “These properties, along with the increase in air lift and new development in downtown Nassau, have helped the Bahamas in general to increase visitor arrivals by 21% in mid-2019 over the same period in 2018.”

“People were becoming more and more jaded with the retail shopping strip along Bay Street in Nassau, so they wanted new experiences” said Dionisio D’Aguilar, Bahamas Minister of Tourism & Aviation, during the International Travel Partners Conference, held in Nassau with airline and tour operator representatives. “We felt the time had come to really give that refresh, to invest resources into reinvigorating the Port of Nassau’s stature in the Caribbean.”

The SLS Baha Mar Skybar, a sleek and modern rooftop bar overlooking Cable Beach, is among the 42 restaurants, bars, and lounges at the new Baha Mar mega-resort near Nassau. (photo SLS Baha Mar)

Private and public investment in downtown Nassau is revitalizing parts of the city center that has not seen new hospitality projects of this size in decades. This sun splashed port, founded in 1670, has had many of its historic, blue and pink stone houses beautifully converted into boutique hotels, restaurants, and art galleries. The Graycliff Hotel & Restaurant  is a stunning, mid-18th century,  colonial mansion set in lush tropical gardens with 20 lovely guest rooms, two swimming pools, the Graycliff Restaurant (the Caribbean’s first 5-star restaurant), and, with over 250,000 bottles of wine, the world’s third largest wine cellar. At Graycliff’s sophisticated/casual restaurant a recent lunch menu offered grilled octopus with sweet potato salad, tuna tataki with sesame seeds and prime filet with Graycliff coffee beans.

Original paintings and period furniture in one of the public rooms at the Graycliff Hotel & Restaurant on West Hill Street.

The small Graycliff Cigar factory rolls and sells Bahamas cigars that rival Cuban cigars in a workshop adjacent to the Graycliff Hotel.

The property is located in the center of Graycliff Historic Village on West Hill Street, and includes the heritage museum, and small workshops that sell and produce handmade cigars and chocolates.  A few blocks away is the 288-room British Colonial Hilton Hotel, originally opened in 1923, now offers newly renovated rooms and suites overlooking the harbor entrance where cruise ships sail past bedroom windows entering and leaving the port.

Cruise ships move past a guest room window at the British Colonial Hilton Hotel, along the passage connecting the Caribbean to the Port of Nassau.

Adjacent to the British Colonial is where The Pointe project is quickly progressing, with local residents anticipating a slew of new employment opportunities, and the Bahamas Tourist Board expecting even more additional visitors in 2020 with the opening of the $250 million Margaritaville Beach Resort, Jimmy Buffett’s first residential resort in the Bahamas.  Other new projects at the seven-acre The Pointe will be One Particular Harbour luxury oceanfront residences, as well as new retail and entertainment options. Owners at the 126-unit One Particular Harbour development will have access to all the attractions and amenities at Margaritaville, which will be the second Margaritaville resort in the Caribbean, joining the Margaritaville Beach Resort in Grand Cayman.

“The Bahamas, one of the most beautiful places in the world, is an absolutely perfect location for a Margaritaville lifestyle destination,” said John Cohlan, chief executive officer of Margaritaville. “We’re excited to combine our casual-luxe brand with the local Bahamian culture, known for its warmth and hospitality, to create a one-of-a-kind paradise to vacation, visit, live or just kick back and relax. Nassau is an ideal destination for our lifestyle brand as we continue to expand our global hospitality footprint.”

The Pointe project One Particular Harbour, of course, gets its name from Buffett’s popular song One Particular Harbour and the album by the same title.  The venue celebrated its topping off ceremony in late April, 2019, a milestone that included the debut of the new Seven Entertainment Center at The Pointe, which includes a movie theater, bowling lanes, a bar and a karaoke lounge.

The Pointe is Nassau’s most visible transformation, but the city’s new art galleries, cafes, and upscale restaurants have captured the attention of resort guests in other areas of New Providence Island, as well as cruise passengers who have always strolled among the gift shops of downtown Nassau, and will soon have a new and more exciting environment for their port call.   “It’s been a gradual change,” said Fred Lounsberry, about the new development projects in Nassau as well as the newly opened Baha Mar resort complex. “If you had taken pictures of these areas five years ago, then looked at them today, you would say ‘wow.’”

Fresh conch salad is available at this small shop in Graycliff Historic Village.

Much of Nassau’s restoration projects is due to a group of community leaders and organizations that joined together almost four years ago to create Historic Charles Town (the city’s original, 17th-century name) to restore and revitalize the historic quarter. Not only did the organization help improve resident and visitor safety in the downtown area, but gave the tree-lined neighborhoods a walkability that wasn’t there before.

New mixed-use building in The Pointe area will provide residential and office space in revitalized area of downtown Nassau (Instagram photo Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate MCR Bahamas Group)

The transformation of Nassau has certainly revitalized the city, a big plus for Bahamas tourism, but it may also be a model for other Caribbean cities where similar revitalization and historic preservation projects are sorely needed.

The “Mixed-Use” Concept: A View from South Africa

Melrose Arch Smart City, Johannesburg (Image courtesy Amdec Group)

By Ron Bernthal

In urban areas, different types of properties evolve at varying rates. Coffee shops and small eateries might spring up in a gritty area before the appearance of shared work spaces. Studio apartments might be drawing in more people and leading to round-the-clock activity in places where once there were desolate areas after dark. Or, perhaps start-ups and entrepreneurs might emerge initially, followed by food markets and cafés, then shops and accommodations. There is no set sequence, but the property mix is ultimately, and usually, similar — commercial (offices), retail (shops) and residential (apartments).

Whether economically or through legislation, local authorities and city planners can do only so much to address urban decay by supporting regeneration through new building projects, and often through historic preservation as well. Ultimately, areas will go through peaks and valleys at their own pace, and the unfortunate reality is that more often than not, growth and regeneration cannot be sustained as tastes change and trends move on.

However, there are areas within modern cities around the world where conditions are more favorable for prolonged prosperity and where property and lifestyle trends can be more closely aligned such that areas can continue drawing people in, versus falling out of favor over time. These are mixed-use developments, where different types of properties co-exist and each can thrive thanks to the connection and integration of uses with the others. No matter the size, the boundaries of these neighborhoods are fixed and daily operations are centralized, bringing many benefits to residents, businesses and visitors, chief among them security and convenience.

The Yacht Club, Capetown (Image courtesy Amdec Group)

“If a mixed-use development is planned and managed well, it has the capability to move with the times. Through ongoing evolution, it can renew and reinvent itself, remaining relevant and sought after,” says Nicholas Stopforth, Managing Director of Amdec Property Developments, owners and operators of Melrose Arch in Johannesburg, Harbour Arch and The Yacht Club in Cape Town, and projects in Australia and other locations. They acquired the Melrose property in 2005, long before the mixed-use concept was as prevalent as it is today. In the interceding years, they’ve managed to turn it into the popular and thriving mixed-use neighborhood that it is today, a perennial favorite with residents, tenants and visitors.

“In an era where time is scarce and crime is often a concern, the mixed-use concept has a lot to offer, not least because it can keep evolving,” Stopforth said. “We believe in it because our aim is to build communities by creating environments where people can live, work and relax, all within close proximity, and with the peace of mind that they are safe.”

Habour Arch, Capetown (Rendering courtesy Amdec Group)

Mixed-use developments in other countries are changing the way we live, and positively impact our lifestyle because they have the potential to become communities in and of themselves. If you live and work here, you get to know the other people who live and work here too. This leads to social interactions among neighbors and local businesses, which in turn improves quality of life and is known to boost longevity. If you spend leisure time here, you’re likely to get to know other people who do the same. And so, these positive cycles are perpetuated and eventually become the norm.

As the Amdec Group’s largest and best-known property, Melrose Arch is a prime example of the mixed-use property model. Over time, the initial investment has shown exceptional growth. Today, Melrose Arch comprises over two-million square-feet of mixed-use property, with an additional four-million square-feet in the planning phases.

Along with a large component of commercial office property on-site, the development also includes dozens of bars, restaurants and coffee shops. More than 100 top retailers, ranging from major national and international brands, to small, independent stores, call Melrose Arch home. There is a flagship Virgin Active gym in the neighborhood, as well as the high-end Daytona automotive dealership.

Five new restaurants have opened at Melrose Arch recently, including the popular Tiger’s Milk, reflecting the vibrancy that continues to draw people in. The new arrivals coincide with the first residents at One on Whiteley, the latest apartment block to be added to the Melrose Arch neighborhood. The response to the building has been overwhelmingly positive, underlining the market demand for high-quality, safe and secure apartment accommodations.

Harbour Arch, aerial street view, Cape Town (Rendering courtesy Amdec Group)

In the future, we could be living, working and relaxing in close proximity, spending much less time commuting in traffic, and more time enjoying the things we love, with the people we care about. Through constant improvement and progression, mixed-use neighborhoods are reshaping the way we live for the better.

Atlas Kitchen: Hunan style on Upper West Side NYC

by Ron Bernthal

Before I moved out of Manhattan in the 1970’s I spent a lot of time on the Upper West Side, between 110th and 116th Streets.  So it was nice to return for a visit to a “newly” opened (fall 2018) restaurant on 109th Street and Broadway called Atlas Kitchen.

Perhaps it was because the restaurant’s name was similar to the name of my father’s former chinaware business, Atlas China, and the fact that the new restaurant was actually serving Chinese cuisine persuaded me to visit my old neighborhood.

The restaurant has a lovely interior, with a beautiful mural of mountains and towers by the artist Qiu Anxiong in the style of traditional Chinese watercolors. The staff was welcoming, and very patient explaining to my dinner companions and I the various menu items, many of which were unfamiliar to us. Yes, they do serve the more common Kung Pao chicken, beef with broccoli, and sesame chicken, and white or brown rice was served upon request in small, white china bowls.

photo Qingshan-Wang

But most of the menu at Atlas Kitchen is adventurous and interesting, and includes appetizers like spicy duck togue, chicken feet with two spices, and sour & spicy white and black fungus. There are eight main poultry items, including Hunan style spicy duck with pork blood, and braised chicken wing, feet and gizzard with vinegar sauce, and 17 items are listed under the noodle/rice category, which also includes a selection of dumplings and soups.

photo Marisa Bernthal

My table ordered a mixture of the familiar – sliced pork with garlic and sautéed chicken with ginger, along with a few of the restaurant’s more popular dishes – Hunan style braised rice noodle, organic cauliflower in drywok, and a wintermelon with pork ribs soup.  All dishes were excellent, especially the soup (a meal in itself) and the cauliflower.  The crunchy rice pudding dessert was also good, and the selection of beverages – Chinese beer, Wong Lo Kat iced tea, coconut water, Wang Wang milk, and watermelon juice was very diverse!  Next time I will try some of the seafood – braised fish with perilla (a healthy, Asian leaf with the flavor of anise), sautéed spicy Little Neck clam, or the steamed whole fish with green pepper. Also available are lobster, sea cucumber, coral shrimp and king-crab.

photo Marisa Bernthal

The chef, Kaiyuan Li, has worked at New York City restaurants for more than 20 years and his specialty, as noted in the names of many of the menu listings, is cuisine from the Hunan region of China, although culinary styles from the six major regions of China are also available.

Located in the south central part of the Chinese mainland, Hunan is known for its natural beautify, surrounded by mountains on the east, west, and south, and by the Yangtze River on the north. It is one the most beautiful provinces in China, but does not receive many American visitors.  Its capital city, Changsha, is hardly a well-known name, but for thousands of years, the region has been a major center of agriculture, rice and tea production, and orange groves. Most of Atlas Kitchen’s menu is dotted with one or two little red chili symbols (spicy or very spicy), indicating that the many Hunan-style dishes are hot and peppery, just like most of the cuisine consumed by the 67 million people in Hunan province.

photo Marisa Bernthal

The restaurant space is a good size, with about 15 tables in the main dining area, and a pleasant communal dining table in a private area in the back. The décor is mostly beige and brown, with a light wood ceiling, nicely designed drop-down light fixtures, and of course the delicate and beautifully illustrated Qiu Anxiong artwork on the walls.  It is a simple and serene atmosphere, quite soothing actually, perhaps to off-set the fiery nature of the Hunan cuisine.

 Atlas Kitchen

 

CATALINA ISLAND JOURNAL: Twenty-two miles off the coast of Los Angeles, Catalina Island struggles to maintain its bison herd.

 

Bison roam the backcountry on Catalina Island (photo Catalina Express)

Ron Bernthal

Twenty-two miles off the coast of Los Angeles, Santa Catalina Island is more than just a one-day tourist destination.  It is a stunningly beautiful island for environmentalists, history buffs and – any folks who love the American bison!  In 1924, the film “The Vanishing American” was being filmed on Catalina Island and several of the scenes required bison. The Hollywood crew used trucks and boats to move 14 bison onto the island from the Great Plains with the intention of eventually returning them to their prairie home. But the bison never made it off the island.

At the end of the film’s production schedule the company’s funds dried up and the studio did not have enough money to transport the “extras” back to the mainland, so the bison stayed on Catalina, ate the grass and, with no local predators, had lots of babies. Since their original stranding, many efforts have been implemented to help manage the growing population, not only to protect the natural environment but to keep the bison herd healthy and happy.

From 1924 to about 1996, 59 additional bison, mostly males, were added to the general population, to improve herd genetics, and the program has worked surprisingly well considering Catalina Island, a more Mediterranean-feeling destination than the American prairie, was not their original habitat. But the bison took to the mountainous California island so nicely that Catalina officials have had to draw down the herd over the years to lower the high birthrate. From 1969 to the present, more than 2,000 bison have been taken off of the island and brought to a Native American reservation in South Dakota. This method of “selective culling”  has helped keep the bison population on the island quite healthy and still somewhat wild, they are confined within a very wide area of grazing land by a complex system of fences, but can also appear quite close to humans at any time of the day or night, like right outside a guest room window at the Banning House Hotel in Two Harbors (see photo).  In the 1980′s the herd’s numbers were in the 500′s, but have since been brought down to about 150 in an attempt to better manage the herd.

Larina Cassidy (L) owner of Catalina Backcountry Tours and tour guide Pastor bring visitors into the island’s wild and hilly backcountry and its beautiful beaches (photo Ron Bernthal)

Catalina Island is privately owned. Chicago entrepreneur William Wrigley Jr. (yes, the chewing gum magnate) was able to purchase the entire island in 1919 during a bargain priced “fire sale” after Avalon, the island’s only town, burned to the ground during a fire four years earlier. Wrigley wanted to create a recreational paradise on his beautiful island and built a magnificent Art Deco waterfront casino in Avalon that opened in 1929, turning the small town into a famous destination that attracted Hollywood celebrities as well as one-million visitors each year, who arrived on the huge steamers Wrigley built to carry them over to Catalina from the nearby California coastal towns.

He even arranged for the Chicago Cubs, his hometown team. to play spring training games on Catalina every year from 1921-1941, and from 1946-51. The island was controlled by the U.S. military during the war years. Today, only a plaque noting the location of the Cubs’ training facility remains on the grounds of what is currently the Catalina Island Country Club, although its clubhouse is the same structure that Wrigley built for the Cubs in the 1920′s.

Avalon Harbor, c 1900 (photo courtesy California Historical Society)

 

Of course, one of the most popular attractions on Catalina, then and now, were the bison who wandered around the interior of the island without a care in the world. The present owners of Catalina Island, William Wrigley’s descendants, still have a strong passion for protecting endangered species, as well as Catalina’s fragile ecological terrain. In the 1970′s, as the island became an even more popular tourist and part-time residential destination, the family turned over 80 percent of the island into a conservation area managed by the Catalina Island Conservancy. The Wrigley family allowed the bison to stay on the island, and their presence continues to attract curious leisure travelers as well as ecology scholars, painters and photographers. Catalina is also home to 22 Sensitive Ecological Areas as well as 26 endemic plant species. The island hosts a variety of native subspecies such as the Catalina Orangetip Butterfly and the Island Fox. However, the introduction of a non-indigenous species like bison is almost always destructive to native species and the bison herd, with their massive grazing levels, are no exception.

Private home in Avalon (photo Ron Bernthal)

Presently, Catalina Island Conservancy officials, local biologists, tourism managers, and business owners are debating two different bison management plans.  Everyone agrees that the “tourism-friendly” plan would let the bison roam freely, and could support a total of 189 bison, but this plan can possibly damage more of the native ecosystem. The more “eco-friendly” approach would restrict bison movement to a small portion of the island, keeping them out of the Sensitive Ecological Areas, but would allow only 17 bison to live on Catalina. Not only would this much smaller bison population disappoint many visitors and history buffs, but the rapid removal of so many bison would make the island’s dry grass grow to levels not seen in decades, possibly resulting in more wildfires.

Morning view of wandering bison and Two Harbors from guest room screen window at Banning House Hotel. (photo Joanna Tricorache)

IF YOU GO:
The 74 square-mile island has very few paved roads and 90 percent of its 4,096 residents live in the island’s one true town, Avalon, the commercial, tourism and transportation hub on the island’s southern end. Thus, the interior of the island is extremely lightly populated, with few structures.  Most visitors stay in the small hotels and BnB’s built close together along the narrow streets of sun-splashed Avalon harbor.  The Banning House Hotel (https://www.visitcatalinaisland.com/hotels-packages/two-harbors/banning-house-lodge), one of the few properties outside Avalon, was constructed in 1910 by the Banning Brothers, early island pioneers, and is located on the northern side of the island, in an area called Two Harbors. Banning House is a casual, 12-room hotel overlooking the harbor, with visitors arriving by taxi along the unpaved road from Avalon (60-75 minutes), or via the year-round Catalina Express (www.catalinaexpress.com), a fast and comfortable ferry service that operates from San Pedro, Long Beach or Dana Point, on the California coast, to Avalon or Two Harbors.  The trip takes about one hour, tickets can be reserved online. Another option for travelling between Avalon and Two Harbors is the Cyclone, a seasonal boat that operates daily from mid-May to end-September, weekends only during off-season.  

Catalina Express ferry arrives into Avalon Harbor (photo Catalina Express)

Believe it or not, this rural island with its bison, fox, scrub brush and cacti, scenic harbors, and isolated beaches, lies within Los Angeles County. The Catalina Island Conservancy restricts travel by car, even for residents. It is impossible for visitors to rent a passenger car on the island, and locals have to wait years for permission to bring a private automobile onto Catalina — many residents travel around by golf cart. Taxi’s can take visitors anywhere, but individuals or groups with bicycles, and campers and hikers on the Trans Catalina Trail will need to arrange backcountry visits with the tourism office or backcountry tour operators as the island’s system of roads and gates play a unique role in preserving the ecosystem of this private island.

The Santa Catalina Island Company (https://www.visitcatalinaisland.com/island-company) maintain the strict environmental and preservation regulations because of the large amount of visitors who arrive into this fragile environment by ferry every day during the summer high season. There is also a small airport on the island, with a few scheduled air carriers flying in from Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Orange County’s John Wayne Airport. Private planes also make use of the airport, which is located at the highest point on the island, at an elevation of more than 1,600 feet, and has gained the nickname “Airport in the Sky”.

 

Beautiful Destinations, Design-Savvy Accommodations

The Mira, Hong Kong (photo Design Hotels)

by Ron Bernthal

Canary Islands
Complemented by lavish mahogany floors and rich, olivewood furnishings, Hotel Bohemia’s Suites & Spa décor gives guests the sensation of being completely enveloped by nature. Stunning sea views provide the setting for aperitifs in the ground-floor bar, while soft flowing drapes and smooth grey stones help to soothe guests in the custom-built Siam Spa. Rising above the rippling sand dunes, the new landmark Hotel Bohemia is a quiet oasis surrounded by towering volcanic peaks. The original building that stood here was constructed in the 1970s, and at that time it consisted of 115 rooms. But by reducing this number of rooms to 67, the hotel has been able to create wide-open living spaces that stretch from inside to out.

Gran Canaria Bohemia Hotel & Spa (photo Design Hotels)

The angular vertical shutters, mirroring the rise and fall of the surrounding dunes, allow warm light into each room, casting impressions of the ocean and mountains across the walls and illuminating the fiery colors that decorate each room.
Bohemia Suites & Spa is a sophisticated lifestyle oasis for adults set amidst the volcanic beauty of Gran Canaria. The hotel’s rooftop 360 Restaurant offers panoramic views of the ocean, and the dunes of Maspalomas. The hotel’s 67 rooms and suites are fully integrated living spaces, where balconies and bedrooms merge seamlessly into one, and where guests can fully enjoy their visit on this sun-splashed volcanic island.

Gran Canaria Bohemia Hotel & Spa (photo Design Hotels)

Gstaad/Saanenland, Switzerland
Opened in 2017 in Switzerland’s Saanenland region, Huus Gstaad merges local design with house-crafted touches, as this Alpine retreat strikes the right balance of straightforward, comfort food with eclectic, contemporary dishes. In a glorious Swiss Alp setting the 136-room Huus Gstaad rises as a classic Alpine chalet. Located about 3,300-feet above sea level near Gstaad in the Bernese Oberland, the former Steigenberger Hotel has been reshaped by architect and designer Erik Nissen Johansen, a noted Norwegian designer and artist. Inside the hotel, rooms feature high quality traditional materials accented by modern touches.

View of valley and mountains, Gstaad, Switzerland. (photo Ron Bernthal)

The property offers fine restaurants, a lovely wellness and spa area, conference facilities, a lounge “living room” with unparalleled views and an accompanying fireplace, and a library of 500 books. Outside, guests can enjoy 150 miles of slopes and trails for skiers of all levels, and activities that include river rafting, family canyoning, rappelling, rope park adventures, and bike tours.

Huus Gstaad (photo Design Hotels)

Built in a classic Alpine-chalet style, while projecting a beautiful sense of modernity. The seven-story chalet overlooks the villages of Saanen and Gstaad in a picturesque setting with fantastic views of the surrounding mountains. Working with a building originally constructed in the 1980s, Erik Nissen Johansen removed walls and enlarged windows to expose the region’s extraordinary grandeur and natural beauty, giving guests a true taste of the Alps with a sophisticated twist.

Huus Gstaad (photo Design Hotels)

Hong Kong
The Mira Hong Kong’s dark monolithic structure, in a boutique-lined shopping district, hides a bold but unpretentious hotel. The design and architecture of The Mira makes for an immersive experience that is quite captivating, with stunning features and eclectic art choices that create a strong impression. The interior design changes on every floor, but the futuristic theme remains consistent throughout. Despite a vibrant city neighborhood outside the hotel, the quiet Mira is a world unto itself with some of the five of the city’s best food venues and bars, an award-winning spa with cutting-edge treatments, an indoor infinity pool with a starlight ceiling, and a spa lounge.

Overlooking orchid-scented Kowloon Park, The Mira Hong Kong is located in the heart of Tsim Sha Tsui. From its award-winning 21st-century spa to the mirrored walls of its contemporary bedrooms, the curving white fins of the lobby’s vaulted ceiling create a nice open space, with jade-green stalks of bamboo adding soothing textures to the private cabanas at Vibes bar. Each of the hotel’s 492 rooms and suites is equipped with a sleek, portable, and complimentary WiFi device for use on-the-go, allowing for 24/7 connectivity and sharing the signal with up to 10 devices.

Reykjavik, Iceland

View of Reykjavik (photo Ron Bernthal)

Located in the heart of Reykjavik, within easy walking distance to shops, cafés, bars, and restaurants, Ion City is situated in a historic, renovated building that retains its original architectural beauty, but its exterior walls feature a motif inspired by traditional Icelandic weaving. Inside, guests will find a luxurious interior of clean lines, Icelandic art, and a gray and white color scheme, contrasted by wooden floors. Sunlight comes in through large windows that offer panoramic views of Reykjavik.

ION City Hotel , Reykjavik (photo Design Hotels)

A stay at Ion City also includes farm-fresh cuisine, a go-to bar for guests and locals, a gym, and a private dining room. Sumac, the property’s in-house restaurant, offers delicious Middle Eastern dishes with ease. A hideaway in every sense, Embodying the spirit of adventurous travel and cool Nordic design that dwells in its sister property Ion Adventure Hotel, the 18-room Ion City Hotel is the citified version of Ion’s original award-winning countryside retreat.

Rovinj, Croatia

Rovinj, Croatia

Creativity is key at Hotel Lone in Croatia’s Rovinj, where two restaurants and a sushi bar merge traditional and modern Mediterranean specialties with international flavors shaped with fresh local ingredients and crafted by a passionate young team. Like a luxury cruise liner nestled on the hillside, the seductive, minimalist curves of Hotel Lone’s design are influenced by the area’s unique natural landscape. Situated in picturesque Rovinj, Hotel Lone is only a ten-minute walk from the central town square. With four large auditoriums, three meeting rooms, and a Mediterranean-inspired wellness spa, the hotel was created to offer guests the perfect symbiosis of work and play. The 236 rooms and 12 suites gracefully bend away from the coastline, with many offering views of the island-speckled coast. Delicate strains of locally grown rosemary, lavender, and olive oil tempt guests into the wellness spa, while the open-plan lobby – bedecked in mirrors and cool white stones – allows the outstanding natural beauty of the surrounding area to flood the interiors.

Hotel Lone, Croatia (photo Design Hotels)

With the collaborative architecture studio 3LHD behind its look and feel, Hotel Lone is an inspirational place for those seeking balance. Built to resemble a luxurious ocean liner floating on the hillside, Maistra Inc’s 248-bedroom hotel is a Y-shaped minimalist delight wrapped in an ancient forest on the Adriatic Sea. The facade is defined by dominant horizontal lines and terrace guards designed to evoke the image of slanted boat decks. Thanks to the unconventional shape of the hotel, each of the bedrooms affords an invigorating sea or park view. Self-assured contrasts are a major component, like in the alternate black-and-silver stripes of the curved exterior. Hotel Lone is also the first design conscious hotel in the Adriatic region that caters to business travelers, with a conference center that includes a 650-seater auditorium. Although it might not be apparent at first glance, the lush natural landscape has influenced the entire design concept at Hotel Lone. The tall and airy main lobby is dressed in white-beige stone – the color of the region’s beaches – and set off by soft, sandy-yellow furnishings. For the ultimate hideaway, guests in need of solace should head to the indulgent spa, where natural tones of wood, stone, water and gold create an atmosphere of timeless tranquility.

Hotel Lone, Rovinj (photo Design Hotels)

Saarlouis, Germany

La Maison, Saarlouis (photo Design Hotels)

A stately historic mansion replete with its own park, La Maison Hotel is defining a new market for upscale hotels in Saarland, a state in the west of Germany, about 10km to the border of France and 45km to Luxemburg. Saarlouis city was named after Louis XIV, and La Maison nobly reflects this namesake. Throughout the villa, the life of the King of France is chronicled in pictures and graphics, connecting the modern interior with the history of Saarlouis. The hotel provides plenty of opportunity to indulge. Its Louis restaurant, located in a former court house, showcases chef Martin Stopp’s signature style that stands for both tradition and innovation. The creative chef’s ever-changing menu is inspired by fresh ingredients, quality, and heritage. While a modern glassed winter garden, which is suspended over the park, accommodates the bistro Pastis and the delicatessen shop, which are cascaded in an inventive lighting design that includes copper saucepans.

La Maison Saarlouis (photo Design Hotels)

Combining original and modern details, La Maison is where history and the contemporary intersect. A gourmet’s mecca, La Maison Hotel is in Saarlouis, in western Germany on the River Saar, as the name implies. It was built as a fortress in 1680 and named after Louis XIV of France. Even today, the fortress dominates the city’s hexagonal street plan. Saarlouis was once famous for its nearby steel and iron ore production and its nearby mining facilities, but now is known for the Ford Motor Company plant, the city’s largest employer, producing the Ford Focus La Maison is one of the city’s fine dining venues, thanks to the creative and indulgent Louis restaurant, led by chef Martin Stopp, that draws diners to this Saarland property, which has become a destination in its own right for international visitors. . The stunning renovation of La Maison Hotel was carried out by CBAG.studio, run by architects Christine Beaumont and Achim Gergen, both natives of Saarlouis. Upon entering the lobby, guests behold a sculptural white staircase that leads to the suites on the first floor and also connects to the hotel’s cutting edge new building. The older building’s ground floor holds the lobby, restaurant LOUIS, the hotel bar, and a private dining facility connected to a big terrace in the historic park, as well as a glassed winter garden extension that accommodates the bistro Pastis and the delicatessen shop. The hotel’s cutting edge new extension, housing 38 rooms, wows with its bronzed, folded–aluminum exterior and oiled oak windows, sitting in sleek contrast to the historic facade of the villa. With interiors by Stuttgart-based designer Birgit Nicolay, the historic villa’s five spacious grand suites and the new building’s 38 guestrooms feature herringbone hardwood floors, bespoke leather furnishings, state-of-the-art audiovisual equipment, and even mood-pads, with which guests can alter lighting settings according to their individual preference.

La Maison Saarloujis (photo Design Hotels)

Amsterdam-Noord Journal: New Metro Line Spurs Revitalization of Northern Neighborhoods

New North/South Metro Station in Amsterdam Noord (photo: Joanna Tricorache)

by Ron Bernthal

Amsterdam is experiencing a population boom these days because of the city’s attraction as an über progressive urban hub in the European knowledge economy. According to the Amsterdam City Council, as many as 150,000 people are expected to migrate into the city between now and 2040.

Central Amsterdam is already busting at the seams due to its tight geographic footprint around the city’s famous canals, especially in the last decade as global tourism has tremendously increased the number of overseas visitors to its central neighborhoods. In order for Amsterdam to physically expand, and do so intelligently, the Amsterdam City Council developed the comprehensive new Structural Vision Amsterdam 2040 Master Plan, integrating innovative urban design and neighborhood revitalization strategies, smart technology systems, and more advanced mobility options for residents and visitors, much like Gӧteborg, Sweden, and other European cities are doing.

Canal in Central Amsterdam (photo: Joanna Tricorache)

As part of its plan to create a new “Metropolitan Amsterdam” the city is populating huge swaths of post-industrial riverfront landscape in its outlying neighborhoods, including the area called Amsterdam Noord, located north of the River IJ. The EYE Filmmuseum, opened in 2012, and the three-story, transparent Kraanspoor office building are part of the revitalization, both built on the site of the once decrepit former ship building yard called NDSM Wharf.

In 1937, the NSM, forerunner of NDSM, was the largest shipbuilding company in the world, building tankers as well as huge passenger ships. Later the company merged the Dutch shipbuilders of NDM, becoming NDSM (Nederlandsche Dok en Scheepsbouw Maatschappij). Utilizing the large NDSM Wharf the company built cargo ships, bulk carriers and war ships for the Dutch navy.

Shortage of new orders caused NDSM to finally stop building ships in 1978, but the company continued repairing ships until around 1984, when the era of Dutch shipbuilding came to an end. The empty buildings left to waste at NDSM’s East Wharf were soon filled with squatters, often craftsmen, artists and their families and friends who settled in and united, naming themselves Kinetisch Noord. In Amsterdam, of course, the politics and sensibilities are somewhat different than the rest of the world, and the Amsterdam City Council actually liked the idea of this new ‘broedplaats’ which translates somewhat into “an innovative breeding space for new ideas.” The group now receives subsidies from the City Council to further develop the area an make good use of the large boathouse and the huge outside terrain and ramps.

Cafe Noordlicht on the River IJ in Amsterdam-Noord

This area, including many parts of Amsterdam-Noord that were not originally part of the NDSM Wharf site, is attracting artist studios, galleries and pop-up festivals, as well as major arts and media companies, such as MTV Europe. The modern 17-story A’DAM Tower hotel, formerly the old Shell Oil headquarters building, towers above the terrain, offering a revolving rooftop restaurant with a stunning, 360-degree view of the river and city skyline. On streets leading to the NDSM site there are new, colorful buildings testifying to the area’s recent creative renaissance. A free pedestrian/bicycle ferry, called the ‘Buiksloterweg‘ runs every few minutes to the NDSM site from the city’s Central Station just across the river, taking about ten minutes to make the crossing.

The EYE Filmmuseum is the only film museum in the Netherlands, offering multi-cinema’s, educational workshops and lectures. It opened along the River IJ in Amsterdam Noord in 2012. (photo: EYE Filmmuseum)

Adding to the numerous new residential, retail and office development projects in Amsterdam-Noord, Dutch authorities have recently opened the new Noord/Zuid (North-South) Metro line that extends almost six miles, connecting Amsterdam-Noord to Central Amsterdam, running under the River IJ that is making life easier, and the commute shorter, for thousands of residents in the northern neighborhoods. “It’s a major step towards the future of the city,” said Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema after the new, $5.3 billion Noord/Zuid Metro line opened this summer.

(photo: Ron Bernthal)

Amsterdammers and tourists can now ride the entire new route six mile route from Station Noord to Europaplein in just 15 minutes, although it took $5.3 billion and almost 22 years after the project began, to make this happen.  Still, the seven new metro stations along the route -   Station Noord, Station Noorderpark, Centraal Station, Station Rokin, Station Vijzelgracht, Station De Pijp, and Station Europaplein – all designed by the Dutch architecture firm Benthem Crouwel, have been so beautifully and efficiently created that the cost and time devoted to the project has almost been forgiven. The Dutch love their home grown architects — Rem Koolhaas, Ben van Berkel, Rene van Zuuk, Wiel Arets and Willem Jan Neutelings have all helped make modern Dutch architecture a much envied global phenomenon, and having the new Metro line designed primarily by a Dutch firm was of course well received.

Art work at one of the new metro stations on the North/South Line. (photo: Joanna Tricorache)

Benthem Crouwel designed two stations above ground, and five below, saying that they created the stations as a “new public layer” for the city, mirroring the canals and streets that cross the city at surface level. Station entrances have been left uncovered, with escalators leading directly to entrance halls that in turn have direct views of the track to create a sense of continuous public space. All the stations have been designed to be distinctive, but all are unified by plans that make it as easy and fast as possible to travel from street level to train carriage.

Creative spirit in Amsterdam-Noord can be seen on building facades (photo: Ron Bernthal)

Clearly, a major urban project like tunneling a new urban metro line 75 feet deep in Amsterdam’s boggy soil, and underneath the city’s River IJ, provided plenty of construction challenges. When the city was founded in 1300 it was on reclaimed land, and houses had to be built on stilts. Advances in boring technology made in the past few decades made tunneling deep under the city without disturbing the unstable soil possible, but the Metro line construction still left historic brick houses in some city center neighborhoods leaning at awkward angles, and issues with water lines and electric cables were often stubborn obstacles. During the digging operations construction workers were constantly finding historic artifacts buried in the soil under city streets, many of them hundreds of years old.  Fortunately, local historians were able to identify and save most of the best preserved items and 700,000 of them are now displayed in a large glass case between the escalators at the new Station Rokin.

Historic artifacts found during construction of Amsterdam’s new Metro are displayed in a large glass case set between the elevators at Rokin Station (photo: Joanna Tricorache)

Except for small ferries and a few crowded roadways, the district of Amsterdam Noord (North) was cut off from the rest of the city by the River IJ, but that changed forever after the shiny, new trains on the Noord-Suid Metro line started running under the river to connect Amsterdam-Noord with the city’s central business district, including the RAI Convention Center, the city’s largest meeting venue. Now Noord commuters, students and shoppers can have easy and fast access to the city center and points south. Even the small, historic fishing villages like Holysloot and Ransdorp, both established in the 12th-century, and the harbor at Nieuwendam, which enjoyed a 16th-century Golden Age before Amsterdam did by transporting goods to France, are now more accessible to tourists.

(photo: Joanna Tricorache)

Bikers can now better explore the area’s parks and sport complexes, and visit the historic dykes of Nieuwendammerdijk, Schellingwouderdijk, Durgerdammerdijk and Buiksloterdijk. The shopping has improved in Noord as well, with local butchers and bakers, outdoor markets, flea markets, a good-sized shopping center called Boven ’t Y on Buikslotermeerplein, and a large vintage and industrial design furniture store. Even before the new metro line appeared there was a variety of lovely restaurants and bars, such as the Noorderlicht Café, IJkantine, Pllek, Hannekes Boom, De Ceuvel and Hotel de Goudfazant, all of which are now seeing increases in evening and weekend customers.

Colorful buildings in Amsterdam-Noord are representative of the district’s new, creative environment (photo: Ron Bernthal)

With the new Metro now making Amsterdam-Noord as close to the city center as the popular canal neighborhoods further south, the revitalization of Amsterdam’s northern communities will continue in the decades ahead, with new mixed-use projects, schools, seaside cafes, and design-friendly residential housing, as well as restoration efforts in the traditional 1920’s-era Amsterdam School-style tuindorpen (garden villages).  It is a big step forward for Amsterdam’s Master Plan 2040.

Newport Beach Journal: Local Developer Blends SoCal with New England to Achieve a Design and Culinary Gem

The glass-enclosed open kitchen at The Mayors Table Pacific Pub & Kitchen at the Lido House, a new hotel in Newport Beach, CA (photo Joanna Tricorache)

By Ron Bernthal

Located on the site of the old Newport Beach City Hall, on Balboa Peninsula, Lido House is one of southern California’s newest and most modern hotels. Opened in May, 2018, the Orange County hotel property, and its signature dining venue, The Mayor’s Table Pacific Pub & Kitchen, has been buzzing with local residents, out-of-town visitors and LA celebrities during its first summer.

The Duffy Boat Salad at The Mayors Table (photo Lido House)

A companion and I visited the restaurant and toured the hotel during a recent visit to Newport Beach, about a one-hour drive south of downtown Los Angeles. The restaurant focuses, of course, on fish and seafood, offering not only fresh salmon, halibut and scallops, but other delicious menu items like Thai-seasoned lobster roll with black bread, Hinoki-scented black cod, Pacific seafood chowder, steaks, and a popular Duffy Boat Salad with local baby greens, blackberry and goat cheese preserve, candied almonds, and ice wine vinaigrette. The salad is named after Marshall “Duffy” Duffield, the current mayor of Newport Beach as well an inventor and longtime owner of the Duffy Electric Boat company that bears his name, known for the ubiquitous “Duffy” electric boats that visitors can rent to explore the sun-splashed Newport Bay and Newport Beach Harbor.

The Mayors Table (photo Joanna Tricorache)

The Mayor’s Table, with its tastefully designed furnishings, colorful artwork by local painters, a large bar serving eclectic cocktails, and its beautiful, glass-enclosed “open” kitchen, has become a destination in its own right, and the synergy that exists between the restaurant and the design-friendly, 130-room Lido House hotel and cottages surrounding the restaurant makes for an enjoyable and unique hospitality experience.

Lido House lobby (photo Lido House)

Lido House developer and Newport Beach resident and entrepreneur, Bob Olson, turned the old city hall site into a deluxe boutique hotel. Although Orange County is now awash with new hotels (Three openings in 2018 — Hampton Inn & Suites in Irvine, Hilton Huntington Beach, Lido House — three openings in 2017; four new hotels in 2016; and nine hotels under construction), Lido House has seemed to hit the right nerve, partially because of its culinary reviews and innovative design, but also because Mr. Olson, who lives nearby on Balboa Island, was determined to include community input and support in his original proposal to develop the site.

Lido House project rendering courtesy R.D. Olson Construction

“The ‘Newport nautical’ style of the hotel is described as Cape Cod, with a Newport Beach twist, and it really resonates with guests and residents,” Olson said during the hotel’s opening ceremonies in May. “Our whole concept here is, ‘We’re locals, we’re for locals, we’re about locals, and we want our hotel guests to feel as if they’re locals as well, and to feel like a part of our community.”

The Mermaid, Champagne and Octopus three-story mural on a wall of the hotel attracts a lot of attention (photo Joanna Tricorache; artwork by Rick Rietveld)

Newport Beach, along with Lido Isle, a large recreational harbor, and nearby Balboa Peninsula, has a style similar to the architecture of coastal New England. In Newport Beach many homes and beach houses line inland waterways and feature a Cape Cod aesthetic, but on the sun-splashed California coast, with its balmy climate and year-round outdoor vibe, Newport Beach and the other seaside towns from Los Angeles down to San Diego, have expanded their home environment to include large windows, indoor/outdoor patios and modern, art-filled interiors.

The Topside rooftop deck and bar offers views of Newport Beach and the Pacific Ocean (photo Lido House)

Many of the hotel’s design features, including most of the artwork, comes from artists and crafts people from Newport Beach and the surrounding communities. The Cape Cod design theme means dark roof shingles and gray clapboard siding, fireplaces inside and out, and a lighthouse tower in one corner. A lovely rooftop lounge and bar, called Topside, offers comfortable furnishings and views of the ocean. In the lobby are photos of Newport Beach’s former celebrity resident John Wayne, and blueprints for Wayne’s 136-foot yacht, Wild Goose, are displayed in the hotel’s lobby. There are also two large “landmark” ficus trees on the front lawn that have remained on the site since its city hall days, and the developer worked hard to include them in the final design.

King guest room at the Lido House (photo Lido House)

In addition to the hotel’s 130 guestrooms, there is a presidential suite, several executive suites, and five exquisite and pricey custom-designed, three-story cottages. Each cottage is 1,300 square-feet and includes a rooftop patio, personal barbecue and fireplace. Five local designers (Grace Blu Designs, Mehditash Design, Brooke Wagner Design, Erica Bryen Design and Blackband Design) were hired to give each cottage a separate identity, and all overlook some of the private hotel spaces, including a saltwater swimming pool with private cabanas and an English garden.

View of Lido House swimming pool and cabanas (photo Lido House)

Lido House, a member of Marriott’s Autograph Collection, is located within walking distance of the Lido Marina Village shopping and dining district and nearby beaches.

Lido House
www.lidohousehotel.com

Review: Kimpton La Peer Hotel, Los Angeles

Bar at Kimpton La Peer Hotel, Los Angeles (photo Joanna Tricorache)

 By Ron Bernthal

I have always liked the Kimpton brand when it comes to urban boutique hotels, and the new Kimpton La Peer Los Angeles property, opened in 2018 in West Hollywood’s Design District, did not disappoint.

Interior design and artwork (photo Laure Joliet)

For this property Kimpton partnered  with  award-winning,  Icelandic-born  interior designer  Gulla  Jónsdóttir  as  lead  creative  designer. Jónsdóttir studied architecture in Los Angeles and runs a noted design studio in the city.  She said about her work at La Peer,  “With  this  project, we’re taking design  cues  from  our  neighbors in West Hollywood, from  fashion people to  high-end  furniture designers, artists and  poets.”   This is a design-centric hotel that evokes the trendiness of the neighborhood (on La Peer Street, between Santa Monica Boulevard and Melrose Avenue) as well the Art Deco style of 1930’s LA.  The hotel offers 105 guest  rooms, a  4,000 square-foot rooftop  terrace, indoor  meeting  and  event  facilities, a poolside  fitness  center  and  indoor  and  outdoor  dining  and  lounge  spaces.

La Peer Hotel King Room (photo Laure Joliet)

My room, with its Mies van der Rohe’s “less is more” décor, colored in charcoal greys, beige and black, did not have a great view, but the wood desk, framed wide-screen TV, plush bedding and large glass-enclosed shower made up for the non-view.  On a shower shelf were large plastic bottles of toiletries from Atelier Bloem, including oolong tea shampoo, geranium conditioner, and a mandarin & citrus body wash with eucalyptus, lemon, white flower and sandalwood, fragrances inspired by the floral mosaic of Amsterdam’s floating flower market the Bloemenmarkt.

The hotel’s small pool, accented by lush landscaping and handcrafted lanterns, is outside under the warm California sun, and like many outdoor spaces in LA, it merges easily with the indoor environment of the lobby lounge and bar. Custom  designs  are evident in the lobby with curved  brass  ceiling  details,  a  leather  cocoon  wall,  and  six-foot  round  light  sconces  that  emit  a cozy glow  in  the  lounge.  The  patio  bar  and  pool  lounge  are quiet,  and exude  a casual  European  atmosphere, a  nice vertical garden wall is adjacent to the pool.

La Peer Hotel Swimming Pool (photo Joanna Tricorache)

Although there a few works of art in the guest rooms, a gold Jeff Koons balloon rabbit sits on every bedside table, site-specific works by Los Angeles artists Tanya Aguiniga, Guerin Swing, Elena Manferdini and Retna are scattered throughout the property and are evocative of the city.

Within walking distance (yes, walking in LA!) is a collection of interesting boutiques, art galleries, restaurants, bars, outdoor cafes, and movie studios. Newer venues in the area, a 10-15 drive from the hotel, include the LA outpost of the bar/restaurant Employees Only, often voted one of the best bars in the world; the speakeasy Bathtub Gin, tucked away behind a coffee bar; and a branch of the acclaimed Milk Bar, the award winning bakery from chef/owner Christina Tosi, soon to be located on Melrose. The La Peer is presently the only upscale hotel in the Design District, and despite its somewhat pricy room rates and museum quality artwork, the staff is friendly and casual, and the ambiance is definitely unpretentious

Kimpton La Peer’s Art-Filled Interior (photo Laure Joliet)

Adding to the mix of eclectic art and design in the public areas the hotel’s dining venue, a trattoria called Viale dei Romani, is where noted chef Casey Lane overseas the breakfast, lunch and dinner service. Although a delicious continental buffet breakfast is mainly for hotel guests, locals will come by for the chef’s wood fired seafood and house-made pastas offered at lunch and dinner. And, like at all Kimpton properties, the La Peer offers guests complimentary wine during cocktail hour

www.lapeerhotel.com

Review: DIPLOMAT BEACH RESORT, HOLLYWOOD, FLORIDA

By Ron Bernthal

The view from my 21st floor balcony is nothing short of spectacular. The winter sun rises over the ocean’s horizon with a calming, but shattering brightness. Fishing boats move southward towards Miami, hulls filled with fresh grouper, sea bass and snapper. In a few hours the sun will move directly overhead, the ocean will turn from grey to blue, and the ever-present sea breeze will feel sultry to the sunbathers and swimmers on the beach far below. By sunset the sky is streaked with fuchsia and departing cruise ships heading to Grand Bahama ply the edge of the Atlantic, deck lights glowing like hundreds of pale yellow discs.

Front view of Diplomat Beach Resort, west-facing rooms overlooking Intracoastal Waterway across the street from hotel. (photo Ron Bernthal)

 

 

Fresh off a $100 million transformation, the 36-story Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood, Florida, offers 1,000 guestrooms and suites, 10 different dining venues, two pools, 26 poolside cabanas, a large spa and fitness center, and 209,000 square-feet of meetings and event space in the adjacent Convention Center, the largest hotel convention space in South Florida.

One would think that such a large convention-style property would be too business-like for the leisure visitor, but it’s just the opposite. With a spacious, live foliage-filled lobby, easy access to the pools, beach area and nearby Intracoastal Waterway, it seems like the adjacent Convention Center is, emotionally, a world away, yet physically just steps away if an exhibition or meeting is part your agenda.

Front desk of Diplomat Beach Resort, with changing video screens behind front desk. (Photo Ron Bernthal)

Each dining venue within the hotel creates its own distinct space and décor, from noted chef Michael Schulson’s award-winning, Japanese-inspired Monkitail and its hidden Nokku bar Karaoke lounge to celebrity chef Geoffrey Zakarian’s Point Royal, a coastal American restaurant and raw bar.

Japanese cuisine at Monkitail, named Best Hotel Restaurant in 2017 by USA Today. (Photo courtesy Diplomat Beach Resort)

Executive chef Nicolay Adinaguev’s luxury boutique steak restaurant Diplomat Prime, the poolside/beachfront Playa, Counterpoint’s morning pastries, Canteen convenience food market, and The Landing’s Bristol Burgers provide additional dining venues. Guests can recharge at the resort’s newly renovated 24-hour fitness center, and at the full-service, 24 hour, 14,000 square-foot Diplomat Spa + Wellness area overlooking the Atlantic.

Other recreational hotel amenities include jet skiing, ocean kayaking, paddleboard rentals, and a new Dip + Slide water play area. There are off-site lighted tennis courts, an 18-hole golf course managed by Troon Golf, and The Marina at Diplomat Landing, a secure docking space for yachts and mega-yachts.

Pool and cabana’s near beachfront (photo Ron Bernthal)

The current Diplomat Resort is a relatively new building (2002), the former Diplomat Hotel opened on the same site in 1958, as a 750-room property that became a celebrity destination in the years to follow. The 1960’s were the former hotel’s prime years, starting with Lawrence Welk filming his first TV shows from Florida at the hotel in 1962, and continuing through the decade with visits from Sen. Robert Kennedy and family, and Arthur Godfrey in 1965; Judy Garland played the hotel’s Café Crystal in 1966; Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra and Liza Minnelli performed here in 1967.

Sammy Davis Jr., at Diplomat Resort, Hollywood. (Historic photo courtesy Diplomat Beach Resort)

Tony Bennett and Lena Horne performing at Diplomat Resort, 1960′s (Historic photo courtesy Diplomat Beach Resort)

The property closed in 1983 for a $20 million renovation, reopening in 1984 with Ronald Reagan addressing the International Longshoremen’s Association. Bob Hope performed at the hotel’s 1984 New Year’s Eve event. During the late 1980’s the Diplomat struggled financially and closed for good in 1991. The property was imploded in 1998, and under new ownership the Diplomat was redesigned and opened in stages in the early 2000’s becoming the Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa in 2002. The hotel was acquired in 2014 by the Thayer Lodging Group, and joined Curio – A Collection by Hilton brand that year as well, at the same time announcing the $100 million property enhancement project, which was completed in 2017.

My room, like half the rooms in the hotel, features an unobstructed view of the ocean, the others face westward, overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway. All guestrooms have luxurious, beachy, midcentury-style furnishings, with hand tufted rugs and white bedding backed by driftwood headboards and nautical touches. The design theme for the east-facing rooms is Sunrise, with modern, vibrant earthy tones that, as the property describes, “provide a soothing, calm atmosphere accented with blue ocean colors.” Room amenities include a spacious, granite and marble appointed bathroom with glass-enclosed shower; Bose CD player/radio; high-speed Internet connection (throughout the hotel), and in-room fridge.

Moon at sunset (photo Ron Bernthal)

The Diplomat is within a 10-minute drive from Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport and 30 minutes from Miami International Airport.

Diplomat Beach Resort