Home

Our first foray into the city was not that long ago, but was directly impacted by COVID when both stars of Plaza Suite were infected.  We went to see Hangman instead, an OK play, but not really all that.  And then it was back in Virginia for the advent of the Spring green.  Were some of us disappointed?  Why yes we were.

So, soon enough we were back in the city to take another crack at Plaza Suite do some business on the side.  The original plan was to fly in Saturday evening, so we booked a room at the Muse, one of the Kimptons of yore.  Bottom line: the IHG takeover of Kimpton is complete.  These days, the lobby of the Muse seems to be filled with aging midwesterners who have accumulated enough IHG points by staying at many Holiday Inns that they are splurging on a trip to Broadway and the big city.  Kimpton is hip no more.

Times Square remains a Disneyfied tourist attraction and a traffic snarl.  That’s nothing new.

The Muse does retain much of its old staff, and that is nice.  But its computers are corporate and the wiggle room is gone.  So our request of room 1703 was ignominiously ignored due to the fact that we expanded our stay to two nights instead of one (really with plenty of time for the hotel to adjust) and didn’t feel up to switching rooms halfway through our stay.  That leaves us surly and disappointed.

Somehow I think we ended up accumulating lots of IHG points due to all of this.  But guess what?  NPS does not give one shit about IHG points.  None.  We just want really great rooms for our cash money.

Plus it rained the whole time, so 1506 was not all that it’s cracked up to be what with a soggy balcony.

It was great to see Madou.

The rain made business in Brooklyn interesting too.  Traffic was a thing.  Our visit to One World Observatory for dinner was hilarious with zero visibility.  LOL.

Finally we ditched the tail and ended up at Katana Kitten for some real fun (thanks to Jacques for the pointer).  I mean, check out this before and after!

Before Katana Kitten

 

After Katana Kitten

Things were blurry.

Thankfully the canary extracted us before the blurry things got much farther out of hand.  They did get far enough though, and Saturday morning was hard.

Returning to 1506 after a night on the town?  Nah.  The Muse days are over.

At least the shower is NPS approved.  A very nice one.

After recovery, we visited the Guggenheim for a Kandinsky fix.  Ahhh.  That and ramen will do it every time.  It was a glorious afternoon.

There are times when ramen can save your life

After a nap that stretched on just a little too long, it was dinner at Junoon.  Highly recommended.

Breakfast at Banter (the original one south of Washington Square) is fantastic.  The mushrooms are worth talking about.

All dressed up and ready for Plaza Suite

Now it’s time to see the play and then scoot to EWR for a quick hop home.

Four showerheads and a demotion for the Muse.  We miss our Kimpton.

 

 

 

We arrived in NY after a long tarmac delay caused by high winds at Newark.  Newark was, because of the stoppage, packed to the gills with people, and the wait times for the (awful) restaurants in Terminal C were over an hour.  So we did what any sensible traveller would do and took a seriously skanky NJ cab into town for Tapas at Mompou.  The tapas was great, and the vibe was pure NJ.

A quick Uber into the city landed us at our home for a week, Bill and Lisa’s apartment situated on 20th Street between 7th and 8th.  You gotta love friends who invite you up when they score a place for a month in the city!  Lucky dogs all around.

The city at night is a welcome view.  This is the first NPS visit in too many years.

Our first jaunt led us down the High Line to the Whitney.

Checking out the Whitney

See All’s Well at the Whitney Biennial for more.

The Little Island has been added to Manhattan as of late.  It’s a quirky little part worth a quick visit.  More about our quick visit here.

The Little Island as seen from the Whitney

Spring was everywhere on a blustery gray day.

Wait for it!

The High Line has been completed through Hudson Yards these days.  This bridge over 12th (?) avenue yields an interesting and somewhat cinematic view.

Our plan was to check out the Japanese Food Festival situation on closed off 6th avenue, but the hoards of people…and we mean hoards…obviated our plan.  So we stopped for ramen and sake in collectible glasses at Oramen Chelsea.

Later we took the subway down for a visit to PDT.  On the way we stopped in for a fried ice cream and a cocktail.  It’s not clear whether we were lured in to Little Rebel by the fried ice cream or the Bowie mug shot.

CR#2 to start the evening

What is a CR#2?  Glad you asked.  Click here.

Said fried ice cream

 

Said Bowie mug shot

Yes, Bowie was arrested in Rochester in 1976.

It rained.

Our intrepid hosts

Next up, a slice at East Village Pizza.

And then some “hot dogs” at Crif.

PDT is still rocking it.  We had some special fun with the paper plane.

Naked Paper Plane

 

Problem corrected by the astute waiter

Finally, a late night visit to the very local Twist was in order.  Fernet time!

So that was a day!

Our next adventure started at the MoMA, where in addition to lots of famous art to be shared simultaneously with hundreds of others, lunch was really good.

See more MoMA Where Did All These People Come From?

Some of us had waffles on the street.

 

 

The Macy’s Spring flower show

I suppose we are obligated to talk about the showers in the apartment since this is NPS.  The shower was very nice indeed.  Plenty of hot water and lots of shower nozzles, many way high up there in the stratosphere.

Sunday evening we went to see Sleep No More, which was quirky, fun, and well worth doing.  NPS missed the provocative parts.  Alas.  Experiencing theater by being IN the set is a thing.

Then it was Monday.  Breakfast at Banter south of Washington Square was great — best in the city.  Then it was time to do a little shopping.  Did you know that the Varvatos outlet in NY occupies the old CBGB space?  Wild.

There was pastry to be had at Patisserie Claude on the way to the special Chelsea apartment.

Romey visits the shrine

An ill fated “cash only” taxi ride deposited us into midtown to buy some boots and be accosted by a crazy lady.  Our walk home happened under a taxi blackout zone.

And then it was off to Chama Mama with Chalmers in tow.  Turns out that Georgian food is quite delightful.

Wine from Georgia. No not that one. Yeah that one.

The last day in the city was beautiful and sunny.  A perfect day to be sedate and walk the High Line again.

The walk was gorgeous.

So was the lounging.

There was patio time in the sun.

Our intended entertainment target of choice (and the planned high point of the NY run) was to see SJP and Matthew Broderick (I mean Farris Bueller) in Plaza Suite.  Covid prevented that from happening when both stars were infected.  We’re still planning a reprise.  In the meantime we went to see The Hangman while it was still in previews.  Though the acting was a bit uneven, the play was good with only a few kinks to work out.  As always, Broadway staging is the bomb.

Before the show we stopped in for a cocktail and some caviar at Bar Centrale.  Old school, sophisticated and a great place to unwind before a show.  Or is that wind up?  Martinis and negronis pair well with caviar.

The lights on Broadway were doing their thing.

All dressed up in the big city

And thus the first visit to NY in three years ended.  A whirlwind and a delight.  Hopefully travel has returned for good.

 

Ah Kimpton, you’ve become so corporate.  Such a great hotel chain ground down by middle management cost cutting and the boredom of crank turning.  Dang.  We remember the old days, yes we do.  They are never coming back.

Anyway, getting to Texas on United was not so bad even in double masks.  The flight was very sparsely populated, though it is a longish one.  Austin is a great city to visit.  Or is it a town?  Kind of hard to tell.  Here’s the story of our brief stay at Hotel Van Zandt.

The only pair of actual cowboy boots at the hotel when we were there happened to be ours.

First of all, IHG has forgotten everything about what NPS likes.  Just for the record, we like high floors, certain kinds of pillows, and rooms with no plastic showers.  We have also become accustomed to welcome notes from the GM, delicious amenities, sparkling water, and sometimes even a craft cocktail greeting us in the room from a barkeep hired by Jacques.  Not this time.  Even though the Kimpton twitter dwarf (they used to be fairies, but corporations) was given the heads up, not one bit of prep was done.  Kind of astonishing, really.

So NPS paid a pretty penny for an excellent king spa room with a view, and was given a plastic bottle of water at checkin by the Assistant Manager who had obviously not read our secret file in preparation for our arrival.  Hell, there probably isn’t a secret file anymore.

Room 701 is a great room style category.  But the floor?  Not a high one.  The amenities and water?  Nope. And the “lake view” is mostly a dusty construction site surrounded by homeless encampments.  Seriously.  Every city we’ve visited lately has a massive housing problem.  What is wrong with this country?

The bathroom was awesome.  Great tub (which we used a bunch) and a nice glass shower.

Not plastic

 

Tub with a view (that cuts both ways)

 

Sink area

The king size bed is surrounded by a bank of windows on two sides.  The view will one day be better.

Given our late arrival sometime just after 8pm, we headed for a drink to Geraldine’s on the fourth floor.  It was a Saturday night and the unmasked Texas crowd was dense.  After ordering an outstandingly made Negroni (what ice!  what ingredients!) we opted for dinner.  Dinner was delicious, service was smart and snappy, and all was well with the world.  There was a band.  They were OK.

Negroni featuring Botanist gin and Antica Formula vermouth…a house favorite

 

Behind the glass

Sadly the restaurant was not open for breakfast during our stay.  Instead there is a starbucks knockoff cafe on the ground floor with a microwave.  Not the sign of a great hotel, guys.  Frankly, the place feels more like a Marriott than a Kimpton.  No human touch and no magic.

Sunday was devoted to fun without a plan.  Brunch at Fixe was absolutely stellar.  Great Bloody Mary’s and cinnamon roll biscuits.  Fantastic food and friendly Texas service.  We took our time.

Bloody Mary of the highest caliber at Fixe

 

Hard to describe how delicious this was

 

The famous deviled eggs

 

Shrimp and grits with some garlic kale and a poached egg

In a great mood and in weather befitting Spring (60 degrees), we headed to South Congress for some idle shopping.  Our only real destination was Heritage Boot Company.  Though we got no pictures, we did manage to pick up a knife for my kilt and three pairs of handmade boots.  We even had a margarita of sorts with “Mr. Avocado.”  Great people, great boots, and a down home Texas vibe.  (Thanks Kimber.) NPS hears tell that once you buy one pair you are on a slippery slope to ten.  We shall see.

View down Congress toward the state house

 

Coffee and people watching at Jo’s Cafe

We did manage to singlehandedly support the American economy with our credit cards.  And then it was time for a margarita and some music at Half Step.  The margaritas are on tap.  We were served by Nick Cage himself.

And that band.  Three blind fellows joined by two sighted musicians and a heap of funk.  These were real Austin professionals.

Have a listen for yourself.

 

 

About the time we extracted we were late for our dinner reservation at Canje.  Dinner was excellent.  The jerk chicken was hotter than hell.  The drinks were fun.  The vibe was casual.

Seated at the bar (our choice)

 

An emergency clothespin

 

Jerk chicken that will blow your mouth off

Really it would be hard to ask for a better Sunday in Austin.

Monday was a work day with a working lunch at Qi.  Get the soup dumplings.

Part of the late afternoon meeting happened at the Proper hotel.  This place is interesting but just a little too artificial after an hour in the lobby.  The music loop may kill you if the extruded ice doesn’t.  Dinner was slated for upstairs at la piscina ceviches and fajitas.  Our hosts are enamored with their fajitas.  They were (as Sammy says) pretty not bad.

The highlight of the evening Monday night was a quick stop by the Roosevelt Room.  What a place.  Cavernous and somehow still intimate.  Superb cocktails served with whimsy and great care.  One of the top bars in the world for sure.  NPS had a paper plane (with a paper plane) and a Liberal.  Yup.  Amer Picon in the house.  We seem to have lost our party all night energy during the pandemic, especially after a full day of working in person.  So we’ll have to go back.  Thanks for the hospitality Justin.

The paper plane with a paper plane

 

Yet another emergency clothespin

 

The list is first class

 

A Liberal in Austin

Well, Austin, we will definitely be back.  We’ll probably buy some more Heritage boots.  We’ll definitely have a few more drinks at the Roosevelt Room.  But we’ll stay at the Driskill.  Three showerheads for the Hotel Van Zandt where you get what you pay for (and nothing more).

On only the third airplane ride post Covid vaccination, it was across the country to Portland in two hops.

Queen Tibia presided at home in our absence.

Dulles was mostly empty on a Friday late morning.

The purple chair

An uneventful set of flights (through Denver) was marred only by the masks everyone must wear. We can’t wait for a vaccine mandate for air travel. It’s coming! HUGE KUDOS to united airlines for requiring all of their employees to be vaccinated. Smart.

In fact, Portland is a bit of a study in what is to come in the rest of the country. Vaccination proof is required in bars and restaurants. Even seedy little dive bars like the Jack London Review where we had an excellent time seeing mononeon. But I am getting ahead of myself.

First it was a quick run by Hertz to pick up a crappy rental car and head to the Kimpton Riverside. Well, it used to be a Kimpton. Now it is an IHG thing. We knew from last time to book room 325.

325 at the Riverside Portland has a fireplace

 

The living room

 

The bedroom with a view of the river and the park

The riverside has only two rooms with glass showers. We did not secure either. So we got this…

Horror of horrors! A shower curtain. We’ll give them a pass since it was fabric and not plastic.

 

Lauren Groff’s excellent new book The Matrix was apparently designed for this table

We had a negroni. We devoured some oysters. We saw old friends and their spunky ultra-intelligent progeny. We ended up at mononeon where we watched a show that seemed like a Prince show from the early ’90s. Less charisma, but just as much crazy energy and a collection of interesting cats including:

  • A black female goddess drummer with the biggest afro ever (she was the real band leader and a great singer)
  • Two white guys who played OK leads while hiding behind a pole
  • A DJ who started things off
  • Two rappers, one of whom was utterly obsessed with getting everyones’ hands in the air
  • A sporadically present trumpet player
  • A 20 year old lanky stripper who was having trouble fending off the lesbians in the front
  • A token white girl who came on late with a guitar she halfheartedly strummed while she sang (her hair was up in that Prince entourage kind of way and she must have been wearing lingerie)
  • Oh yeah, and mononeon himself who apparently convened this group and then got so high he forgot it was his show

Mononeon in his chair

The music was great, the dancing was contagious, and the most fun thing was watching the young one dance uninhibitedly.

 

That lasted until 3am EST which was way past everyone’s bedtime.  Super fun.

Then it was Saturday morning and time for a great breakfast at Cheryl’s.  The beignet alone was worth the wait.  We bought a Patagonia jacket while waiting because we heard that you can’t really leave Portland unless you buy one.

Then the highlight of the trip!  Three hours in Powells.  We bought 30 books, some bags to carry them on the plane in, and a shirt.  World’s best bookstore hands down.  MUST RETURN.

Every time

We love Powell’s so much.  Everyone in all of the other towns is very jealous of your book thing Portland.

24 (of 30) books

After a brief respite on the courtyard terrace, there was time left for the Saturday market (always worth a visit if your tie dye supply is low or you need a crystal).

Contemplating Portland traffic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then it was time for dinner.  We chose Normandie, which was a bit green but good.  Hip and relaxed, this place needs to get its A game on.  Before dinner cocktails at Hey Love were better than dinner.  We both enjoyed a Loprinzi’s Mule:

  • .5 cynar
  • .5 amaro cio ciaro
  • 2 oz don q añejo
  • ginger syrup
  • tarmarivel syrup (tanarind paste, cinnamon, grapefruit rind, sugar)
  • soda in a collins on the rocks

    Loprinzi’s Mule at Hey Love

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All of a sudden it was Sunday.  We started out late with a brunch at Olympia Provisions.  My vegetarian companion was not amused, but I was.  So we headed out to get some juice and ended up buying cabinet pulls for The Stick instead.

Portland has a huge homeless population, and it is evident all over the city.  Beater campers, tents with patches and multiple tarps, lots of garbage.  The United States has fallen short of many of its citizens, and you can see that in Portland first hand.  Late stage capitalism on the streets.

Don’t tell Romey, but these were actually really damn good

Next it was off to the Portland Art Museum, which frankly you can skip. Mediocre at best.  Plan to spend less time than you think.

Some shopping at Wildfang got us moving toward Japanese Gardens which were so crowded we bailed and drove straight to the Kennedy School to check in.  Room 113 is great.

Of course as hip and fun as it is, the Kennedy School still feels like 1997 in the rooms.  Time to update!  Especially please replace the beds.

ALERT: THIS SHOWER IS PLASTIC

We had a drink in the courtyard while working on our dinner plans.  Portland decided that two days without rain was anathema.  The rain came.  And it wasn’t kidding.  But we borrowed some umbrellas and headed back to town.

A visit to the Teardrop Lounge was fabulous as always.  (You don’t need a reservation, but you do need a great attitude.). A Raffles Singapore Sling was in the cards.

Then a fantastic dinner at Takibi.  Delicious, modern, and very Japanese.

Takibi

 

A superb drinks menu

It was still raining on Monday morning when we got up early to prep for a business meeting.  It must be the rain that caused us to eat such a huge breakfast at the Kennedy School.  Surely.

After a rainy morning talking about ML and security, we enjoyed lunch at Southpark Seafood with some new friends who turned us on to Betsy and Iya, a fantastic boutique jeweler and clothier.  Hard not to get some stuff there!

Then the Japanese Garden in the pouring rain.  A magical place and far less crowded once the witches all melted down.

Finally it was back to the Kennedy School to catch Pig in one of the coolest places to see a movie anywhere.  We had burgers and watched the show.

Negroni in the hall

 

Our seats for the show

 

One more gigantic breakfast (yes it was still raining) and it was off to the airport for our quick flight to Dulles.

A fantastic visit to Portland.  Almost like the before times.

Four showerheads is the max for both Riverside Portland and the Kennedy School.  Does Portland even have glass showers anywhere?

How exactly do you get back on the horse after a year of not even being in the barn? Or remembering you’re on a farm? Or much of anything? Well, we’re well on our way to finding out. In all honesty the first post pandemic trip (to Mobile, Alabama) was so shocking that we skipped the blogging aspect entirely. Culture shock, people shock, and total documentation whiff. Great trip…but so rusty.

Here we are in California visiting friends we have not seen in just over two years. Dang. Actual humans not in our pod! We really missed them.

The first order of business was getting on an airplane. And of course, United was the default choice. We took a look at the trips put in deep freeze way back in February 2020, pulled one out of the freezer, and thawed it out. Other than the mask mandate, things are pretty much the same on a cross country B787 flight. The waffle thing was terrible. I mean serve Eggos for goodness sake.

The coolest thing about coming to California from Virginia has always been how much time you get back on the way out. By flying at 7:30am, not only is Dulles completely empty and easy to navigate in the morning, arrival at SFO happens around 9:30am.

It was off in an airport taxi (SF cabs STILL suck) for a tag in at Doug and Laura’s new house in the city near Golden Gate park. What a find! The showers are not plastic, the dogs are friendly (if a bit stinky) and the friends are priceless.

Dog of the slightly less stinky than the other one variety. Louis likes to hop up on the bed.

Lunch at Crepevine was a little too huge. The fries are really good.

Then it was over the bridge to Oakland for some BIML business with Open Philanthropy. This bridge thing was to become a recurring theme on the San Francisco part of the trip. Then of all places Ruby Hill for a friendly business visit with Neil and some delicious sushi.

Neil has a new house. It gives a tour of itself. We opened the very first bottle of wine in the new house…an NPS honor. Sushi was ordered and served.

The neighborhood dive nearest to Doug and Laura’s is called the Fireside. The bartenders are friendly, and the drinks are, well, I had fernet every time, so who knows how the drinks are. If you are lucky, you will be privileged enough to buy a beer for a Nigerian prince. Or maybe just someone from Rhode Island.

Our fearless leader in Sonoma

Tuesday was an all day run up to Sonoma with Jacob. We started with some oysters at Tony’s Seafood. Amazingly, it rained on us. But that was OK, because the big tent kept us dry and boy does California need the rain.

Oysters at Tony’s

After lunch (man was that bread good), it was up to Ridge Winery on mostly side roads. The drive was fast and beautiful. The sky began to dapple blue and soon the blue leaked into the clouds and covered the sky as we worked north.

Ridge is a great place to sit on a beautiful day and sip good wine from old vines. Delightful and recommended.

Ridge set a high bar, and one that Mazzocco could not reach. Great decor there, but nope on all other fronts.

Then it was back to the city for ramen at Iza Ramen. Yes please. Just go there. Wow. Real ramen like the before times.

Iza Ramen, San Francisco

A nightcap at Churchhill, which is a great old school bar. They used to sell the antique collection bourbons for way under retail price…sadly, they have figured out how much to charge now.

The real thing at Churchhill

Churchhill

Finally, a late night with friends at 54 Mint. I really missed the energy of Jacques during the pandemic!

Then somehow it was Wednesday. We started with tacos at Underdog Tres, a romp in the Japanese garden, and a visit to the botanical gardens (the latter two in Golden Gate park).

Underdog Tres

We were joined by Dr.Chess.

Then after a brief respite at home, it was off to ABV for some world class cocktails where we finally met Chris in person.

ABV

We tried to magic our way into State Bird Provision. But no dice. So it was back toward home for some peruvian food at Fresca.

Fresca

Then back to the Fireside. This time there were zero African princes around.

Thursday was reserved for Alameda, the beach, and a sunburn (?!). It was a beautiful day over there once we got over the confounded bridge.

Everyone assembled at Blackbird for pre-dinner drinks at six. Blackbird had just re-opened (like everywhere else), and the permanent staff was as great as always.

Blackbird

A deceivingly pink mescal concoction.

Then, just to put a crown jewel on the day we walked over to Izakaya Rintaro for a world-class dinner that was as good as anything in the before times. Excellent food, fun service and great friends. Yup.

After a last showing at the Fireside bar, the San Francisco visit came to a close.

See you soon!

And it was off to Sonoma bright and early Friday morning.

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