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Hard to believe it has been five years since the last NPS visit to Pittsburgh!  Dang.  The great news is that the Hotel Monaco in Pittsburgh is like stepping into a Kimpton time warp—in all the good ways.

The first good thing was discovering that our ancient Kimpton points of yore (which were transformed into some kind of mystery pointy prickly spire IHG points) were still valid and useful!  Who knew?!  So a quick cycle with GM Rob Mallinger hooked us up with our very favorite room at the favorable price of zero.

You may recall that 835 is the bomb.  And the staff at this hotel is just awesome.  In particular we want to give shouts out to Matt for an outstandingly personal welcome and to Annalisa for going above and beyond the call of duty to retrieve some data for us while we were out and about.  Outstanding.

Welome to 835. Wine, cheese, a personal note. Yes, welcome indeed.

 

835 Living room

 

 

 

835 bed room

 

 

This shower is not at all plastic. Yays.

 

 

 

 

It snowed. Classic Pennsylvania. Arriving after 7, we found a sea of fundraising private school hipsters dressed to the nines. It was well nigh dinner time.  Fortunately, Rob set us up at Union Standard where there were oysters, Negroni’s and other good eats. Sadly, by the time a leisurely dinner was consumed, the plan to hit up Butcher and the Rye had the kibosh put right on it. Who closes a good bourbon bar at 11 on a Saturday night? Well, apparently the James Beard winners do.  Alas.

Union Standard

 

A dirty martini? On this blog?! WTF?!

So it was back to the commoner (found in the basement of the Monaco) for a nightcap.  Though the clientele leaves a little something to be desired (Trump country assholes abound in the PA private school world), there was good Rye.  Not to mention Gina, a delightful barkeep.  (The bar itself was established by Kenny many years ago and then properly curated by Mike Ryan before he headed to Sable to build another gem.)  The commoner bar is still world class.

At the commoner, Gina and some rye

So how do you recover from all that Rye?  With some “Pittsburgh hash” at Pamela’s (a great greasy spoon diner for breakfast).  Right next door, you’ll find some very interesting tiny ass doughnuts at Peace, Love, and Little Donuts (sic).

Pamela’s, a Pittsburgh tradition

 

Just like it says

The Warhol museum is a great place to visit in Pittsburgh.  Excellent art properly curated.  See pictures here.

Excellent Taiwanese comfort food can be found at Cafe 33.

And there is live music in Pittsburgh.  Saw an intimate show of aging punks featuring John Doe. See lots of pictures and videos here.

john doe krisin hersh grant-lee phillips pittsburgh

Day two breakfast was just super good. Great espresso, tasty crepes and art.  Make sure to go to Geppetto Cafe in Pittsburgh for breakfast.

Geppetto Cafe Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh is hoppin.

This old school Kimpton thing going on at the Hotel Monaco is well worth five showerheads with a couple of plus signs tacked on for good measure.  Wish there were more like this in the rest of the country!

Ah the Lorien, it has been a while! Since NPS last visited, IHG has done all it can to change the Kimpton chain it acquired into something we don’t recognize. The good news is that many excellent people remain, like Steph Vogel who we count as a friend.

We were assigned little nicely renovated rooms without plastic showers. Just right for this one night extravaganza. NPS was in 414.

arty bed

The shower is OK, not plastic, but who picked out that shower head?!

Thanks for the Negroni Steph!

Negroni with Watershed by Catoctin Creek

Chef prepared us dinner (we didn’t order, just reveled in what arrived). Delicious.

Must say that all of the cocktails are too sweet at the Lorien now.

We called in the usual set of favors to get the booth at the Colimbia Room. Perfect evening for talking, drinking and figuring out life.

Columbia Room menu

Breakfast the next morning was the highlight of the visit! Great to see Steph and catch up.

Then it was off to a day of art at the Hirshhorn, the Phillips, and the Renwick…oh yeah and Richard’;s house too! Just look.

Make sure to go back to the Hirshhorn. It is vastly improved

Lunch at Bistrôt du coin. Always French as all getout.

The Phillips is a favorite most anytime

Dinner with Richard was followed by an evening of conversation. Anytime.

All in all, an incredible visit. Life affirming on all counts.

Four showerheads for the Lorien. This IHG thing. Harumph.

The Thousand Kyoto

November 28, 2019

Outside art at The Thousand

The brand spanking new hotel called The Thousand in Kyoto is a high design treat. Open, artful, tasteful, and gorgeous. We arrived via Shinkansen from Tokyo and walked the few hundred feet to the hotel. We had some tea.

Green Tea at The Thousand Tea Room

Yoshi meets the progeny

Kubota Ramen

Our first order of business was meeting Yoshi (@kemono4shikazu) who NPS met last time around in Kyoto. Yoshi is a delightful person. He took us to Kubota Ramen, a great way to start out a visit to Kyoto.

We stopped by Saredo coffee on the way back to check in.

Check out Yoshi’s super terrific band!

We booked an incredible Japanese style suite at The Thousand and were assigned 803. An amazing room indeed!

Leave your shoes in the anteroom

Pile your suitcases by the closet

Suite 803

The suite features a terrace overlooking the train station.

Of course the shower here is NPS approved.

The shower room includes a tub

And also of course, the toilet is complicated (and plugs in for power). Not sure what

Plug in your toilet

Not sure we even want to know what “pulsate” does.

After stashing our stuff and a short respite, we headed out to Nishiki market for some consumer spending.

Bees Knees Kyoto is a great bar

As it was cocktail hour, we stopped in at the incomparable Bees Knees bar. Great cocktails and super people. We had some Japanese renditions of classics (CR#2, Last Word, Aperol Spritz), and then it was
off to dinner.

We wandered into Steak and Wine Ginjiro for a very touristy meal of Kobe beef and bad wine. These kinds of restaurants pervade Nishi-kiyacho Ally and can probably be safely skipped. The food was good nonetheless.

Table art at Ginjiro

Never flown

Kobe

Our attempt to visit the French bar was thwarted by crowds of tourists so we had some ice cream and refactored our plan. Next we went to Nokishita711 for some gin. Simply put, Nokishita711 is a very strange place. NPS is not so sure whether that is good or bad. A “root of all evil” cocktail was interesting indeed. But the whole scene is just a little too too.

Nokishita711

Um, a cocktail?

And then for the last few cocktails and shots of the evening, it was back to Bees Knees. We had a few with the owner. Too many shots later, we somehow managed to make it home.

We bow to the owner of Bees Knees

Sazaracs

Sleeping in late was mandatory after the raging party at Bees Knees. It was all those extra shots all around that did it.

The good news is that there is no more perfect food to cure a hangover than ramen. In Japan, evemn commercial ramen is great.

A visit to Fushimi Inari in the late afternoon put us at the top in perfect time for sunset. Magical. See lots of pictures and videos on apothecaryshed.

Get a fried chicken dinner at Sugar Hill. Delicious.

The gym at The Thousand is pretty standard issue for a hotel. Seems bigger because of mirrors. Up early to work out is good.

Breakfast on day two Kyoto was at Kawa Cafe, a French/Japanese fusion place right on the river. Highly recommended (though it is rather strange that a cafe can’t make a macchiato!).

Kawa visitors

Deliciousness at the Kawa Cafe

The walk back down was beautiful.

Walking Kyoto

In fact, being in Kyoto for autumn is a thing. Do it!

Autumn in Kyoto is gorgeous

The obligatory trip to Arashiyama included the temple gardens. Should have done that last time!

Bamboo for you

Arishayama Shadow

Obu cafe is worth a visit.

Lunch in touristland

Excellent espresso in Japan can be found at Karusa Kyoto.

Best coffee in Kyoto?! Could well be.

The Straight bar makes an excellent Japanese Negroni.

A once (or twice) in a lifetime experience involves dinner at Pontocho Misoguigawa. Just wow.

Dinner at Pontocho Misoguigawa is not to be missed.

And to top off the evening, some jazz and a Gin Rickey at Hello Dolly.

Hello Dolly jazz

A gin rickey (DC’s signature drink) in Japan

Mount Fuji from the Shinkansen. See more on apothecaryshed.

Fuji

Kyoto, NPS will be back for sure!!

Five very impressive showerheads for The Thousand Kyoto

After a 19 hour trip from Washington, the Tokyo Station was a welcome sight. A quick taxi ride to Rappongi and we arrived at the Grand Hyatt Tokyo. NPS is traveling with the progeny. We’ve been here before, and it is great to be back.

Taxi stand Tokyo Station

Tokyo on arrival

Checkin was smooth. We requested a Twin Club Deluxe room with an extra bed to suite three adults. Our room 1013 is on the concierge level where the club is. Super convenient for breakfast and cocktails.

1013 twin club

The bathroom is spacious and well appointed with an NPS approved shower

Omnipresent screen

1013 is a very nice room, just fine for three adults.

The elevator hallway

A late dinner at The Oak Door steakhouse was impressive indeed. One of the best steaks NPS has ever eaten. Just wow.

Porterhouse (off menu)

The sides were just as fantastic as the steak.

And then it was time for much needed sleep. Sleeping on planes in pods is a fitful and pretty much unfulfilling experience. (United Polaris remains among the best in the business for international travel).

Some tips for Japan travelers. Make sure to reserve a wifi device for your wanderings so you can connect your phone(s) through that. You can pick up your device on landing at Narita at the fourth floor post office. Then get some cash if you can. Japan is all about cash. Finally, try to get a Japan Rail Green pass before you arrive. This trip, the US Post office screwed up delivery of our passes by imposing a six week delay. That meant we had to purchase passes on arrival (still recommended, but more expensive). The US Post Office sucks.

Shibuya mural

Day one in Tokyo started kind of late due to the inevitable jet lag suffered by the progeny. We started at Shibuya station to see the famous mural, the dog statue, and the world’s busiest pedestrian intersection. We also had some soup.

Tokyo Sunglasses

Next was a walk up towards Meiji Jingu that took us by an excellent sunglasses retailer, and the pedestrian shopping streets (very different) Ometesando and Takeshita. Trifles were acquired.

Espresso on the Street

Meiji Jingu

Meiji Jingu is a magical place. Any source of peace is much needed for NPS at this juncture. Shinto.

Meiji Jingu

We exited the north end of the shrine by some yellow ginkos and walked up to a small mall to share a bottle of french wine.

Samurai Museum

There was just enough time to stop in at the Samurai museum (well worth a peek) before dinner.

Sushi at Makoto Sushi was outstanding.

Then it was off on a cocktail bar crawl of sorts. Sadly Ben Fiddich was full (a reservation is a must, but the only slot we could get by phone was for 6pm, too early for us). So we found a nearby dive bar. Three bar was very professional. Nice ice. Great Negroni measured with care.

We walked from Three Bar through piss alley. Golden Gai was our final destination for the day. We visited Baobab (the first vinyl bar in Tokyo) to listen to some old funk and drink some rum. Then it was off to our final destination Le Parrain (a godfather themed, old school, very smokey bar). Great cocktails included a Jack Rose, and over sweet Old Fashioned, and a Corpse Reviver #2 or two. (Special thanks to Jacques Bezuidenhout for excellent cocktail and food data.)

Le Parrain cocktail round

Day two in Tokyo also got off to a late start, this time because two of three of us on this trip work working (hint: not NPS who is “retired“). The day was devised with some help from Patrick who has lived in Tokyo for 10 years or so. The trip began at Hinade pier where we caught a city ferry up to Asakusa pier. The trip was about 40 minutes and a fun way to get around Tokyo.

Fuji Ramen (Tokyo)

Fuji Ramen shop

Our first stop of the day was at Fuji Ramen near Senso-ji temple. Absolutely delicious ramen!

The weather was drizzly at Senso-ji, which somehow seems to fit the mood of the temple. (See more about this visit on apothecaryshed.)

Walking Tokyo

From there, we walked to Kappabashi street to see the kitchenware and plastic food.

Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum

A taxi delivered us to the Ueno park area where we spent an hour looking at impressionist paintings from France (because what else are you supposed to look at while in Japan?) at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. The people at the art museum, though teeming, were absolutely silent as they looked at the famous paintings. (See up and down art on apothecaryshed.)

Vending

A short walk through the park and a quick cab ride deposited us at our last stop, Akihabara. The progeny was familiar with all of the Anime stuff. NPS simply watched in awe of the breadth of Anime culture.

We cabbed back to the hotel for a brief pit stop before an incredibly great dibber at PST Pizza Studio Tamaka (in Roppongi close to the hotel). Recommended by friends of Jacques, the pizza at PST is Italian style and absolutely delicious. Highly recommended.

Our final stop before crashing and burning in the jetlag haze of day two was the Mori tower. The view of Tokyo and surrounds from 50 floors is not to be missed.

Day three started way early for a trip on the Shinkansen to Kyoto, about which see this NPS blog entry.

Five showerheads for the Grand Hyatt Tokyo. Great to be back. This place is an NPS recommended home base in Tokyo.

Plaza La Reina, Los Angeles

October 12, 2019

Plaza La Reina remains an outstanding property. NPS recommended. On our second stay we met one of the owners (Philippe) who of course is friends with a mutual friend. The world is small.

The courtyard (which has net coverage)

Room 202 is a junior suite and is a very nice room. Though its large windows overlook the street, it is quiet.

Bed nook room 202

Not plastic

The site of R2

NPS is in town for R2, about which this posting.

Badmaash serves excellent Indian food in a Bollywood style. Cora’s in Santa Monica is a great place for breakfast.

Greenpoint

The Edison is a very big but very good bar. Pretty empty early on a Friday.

LACMA lamps

A visit to the LACMA is always a good idea.

A rare but consistent five showerheads for Plaza La Reina.

Business. What you gonna do. The Pullman is not the kind of hotel we would normally choose, but that’s where they stuck us. After a 15 hour flight, an early arrival is somewhat non-trivial in Sydney. No arrivals lounges at the airport, and no early checkin at this business class hotel. So where do you shower off the metal tube?

The hotel staff did offer up the (not really that private) shower on 23 where the pool and weight room are situated. So yes, we did it. Nothing like shaving in public by the pool! LOL.

The shower on 23 was not plastic at least

Fancy a shave?

At checkin, I asked how many room categories there were and figured out the (small) price difference between our assigned category (two) and category six. Switching to a suite was a no brainer. The suites at the Pullman are all numbered “15,” FWIW.

There was a delay checking in each time of about 20 minutes. The exec lounge on 21 has decent net and some snacks, though once again the furniture needs to be replaced.

Working in the lounge with espresso

Here is an amalgamation of 1215 and 1615, our first night suite and the one we had for the rest of our Pullman time. They were pretty much the same with dated (and very dirty) furnishings that need to be replaced.

Entrance way

Hyde park balcony

Those colors

Same view, different floor

The sitting room (1215)

The shower situation in the Pullman suites is complicated. The showers are all placed in a ’70s era hot tub replete with entry steps. At least the water pressure is good.

The extensive bathroom hot tub shower thing

Hmm

There was plenty of time for exercise due to time zone differential on this trip. Up at 4am? Yeah. I was surprised by the number of people who used the gym.

The weight room on 23

View from the exercise room

A day trip to the Blue Mountains with Brian included two hikes and an overnight stay at the Lilianfels. The hikes:

Hiking wentworth falls

Just around the corner from the Pullman is the Philosophy Cafe where not only do they have an excellent breakfast, they also have remarkably good coffee. For Sydney, that’s a thing. Sydney has great coffee all over. Make sure to take the time to find the best!

Sydney espreso

Philosophy Cafe breakfast

Also just around the corner is a great Italian restaurant called Beppi’s. Old school but very good food.

Vino Italiano at Beppi’s

Sydney is a great place to eat out. This trip included a visit to both Bistecca and Freds. Both were remarkably good. The bar at Fred’s (Charlie Parker’s) is also highly recommended.

Amer Picon at Charlie Parker’s (means a liberal)

Charlie Parker’s bar

Cocoa Banana

The Cocoa Banana from Charlie Parker’s (by Giacomo Franceschi)
house fermented banana wine (local yeast from the air)
bourbon (maker’s mark)
dark rum (havana 7)
montenegro amaro
cocoa butter

Fred’s open kitchen. Absolutely delicious food.

These fish. Just wow.

Recommended by Aaron Bedra

Bistecca grill (where the steaks are hand cut)

Speaking of bars. Make sure to include some time for: Lobo Plantation, a quick visit to the Marble bar (once anyway), the Baxter Inn, and Door Knock.

Zombie lighting at Lobo Plantation

Lobo Plantation tiki bar

The thing about the Marble bar is that it is trapped in a Hilton. The old stuff is beautiful, but whoever decided that plastic cups and formica tables were the way to go needs to be fired. Then again, the clientele was mostly tourists in tee shirts. Ordering fries seemed like the thing to do.

Marble bar

Your fries are ready

Baxter Inn is set up for whiskey drinkers, but the clientele?? Not so much. Go on an off day.

Baxter Inn Willet

The (locked) back room

Door Knock was a blast. Fun bartenders and very good drinks.

Mescal for a Paloma

Sawing the ice at Door Knock

Last Word at Door Knock

Dinner at Spice Temple was very good, though the atmosphere is a bit down market. Go for the food, not the ambiance.

Spice temple western style dumplings

We did some sailing in Sydney harbor.

Sydney transport of the fancy variety

An afternoon visit to the Sydney Museum of Contemporary Art is recommended.

All told, a low three showerheads for the Pullman. Great staff, but a property that really needs some investment to stay relevant. No more furniture from the ’70s!

Katoomba is a great place to visit if you are into hiking, spectacular views, and nature. On a previous day trip, we didn’t spend the night (coming in and out by train from Sydney is almost fast enough to make that work). This time, we opted to stay at Lilianfels which is an old school resort right near the three sisters.

Lilianfels resort has many buildings

Lilianfels was likely built back when royalty seemed to matter. NPS calls this kind of place an “old lady hotel.” Lets just say Lilianfels is most famous for its high tea in the afternoon. We missed that in favor of hiking.

See more about the Three Sisters hike and the Grand Stairway here.

When we arrived just after an early lunch at 8things (recommended), only one of the rooms was ready, so we ditched our stuff and headed off on the trail. Three hours and 6.3 miles later, we enjoyed a Negroni by the pool.

Lunch at 8things

Post hike Negroni

I was assigned room 223.

Lilianfels bedroom

No real view from 223

The bathroom was spacious and the shower was not plastic at all. Very solid.

A visit to the spa got us access to the hot tub, which after going up over 900 steps felt pretty great.

Lilianfels spa

Dinner at Miss Lilian teahouse was bad. Do not eat there.

Drinks at the bar downstairs in the main house were much needed.

On the way out of town, we stopped into Wentworth Falls for a hike there too. Absolutely worth it.

Hiking wentworth falls

All told, Katoomba overnight may be a bit of overkill. Lilianfels is a four showerhead kind of place. A bit too old school, and who lets such a bad restaurant persist?