Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Haddonfield Reveals an Artist in Bloom

If you love art and you delight in making new discoveries, New Jersey’s Markeim Arts Center is where you will want to be on the evening of April 16th. Art lovers from across the region will gather in historic Haddonfield that eve to see the work of an artist revealed for the first time. 

During a catered cocktail reception that will serve as a fundraiser for both the Markeim and the Rotary Club of Haddonfield, guests will have the opportunity to meet artist Mike Bloom and see first-hand how retirement from a successful career in architecture has translated for him into a creative storm of dynamic design in wood, stone, metal and on canvas.

From Retirement to Renewal

Mike Bloom creates daily with the same passion he brought to designing large-scale buildings during his 40 years as an architect. Off a quiet street near Haddonfield, only moments away from traffic lights and parking lots, he works in a sanctuary of art, color and light where sun streams in from every window and jazz fills the air.

“I’m retired - that means instead of working 15 hours a day I now work 10 hours a day. Well, lately more like eight,” Mike says with a smile and a shrug.

Evidence of his dedicated approach to creating is everywhere in his bright studio. Paintings line the walls and floor. Jewelry in the making rests on a table. Sculptures stand throughout the space. Asked how many creations he has made over the past five years he says, “If you count, you lose. I rather not know.” 

A visitor in his studio reaches for a miniature sculpture he has just crafted out of stone. “Aha, if you reach for it, I’ve won! It’s tactile!” It turns out the piece is an abstract representation of birds made to be experienced by anyone blind or vision impaired.  

His architectural skills allowed him to reconfigure an entire house to suit his needs for a large work space. 

He opened up walls, slanted ceilings and added skylights of his own invention: his “Sun Tubes” magnify daylight and work in conjunction with a circle of LED lights that power up when natural light is weak. The fact that these tubes now also illuminate schools in blighted areas in New Jersey is a source of great satisfaction for him. 

Architect to Artist 

When he first began painting only five years ago he says, “I didn’t know anything.” Reading, observation and repetition brought him to the point where he is now - receiving accolades and being asked to show his work.

“Landscapes are literature - they tell you all you need to know,” he says, explaining why he prefers abstraction to something more straightforward in his work. “Abstracts give you questions and reach inside your mind.”

His art reflects a layered sensibility. Walk the exhibit at the Markeim (on now through April 30th) and what you will discover are bold landscapes depicted in vibrant colors contrasting with canvases covered with shadowy figures expressed in subtle hues. You will find joyful, swirling creations in wood alternating with jagged works in stone and metal that seem to communicate loss. 

“This whole thing is an out-of-body experience for me - the upcoming exhibit, realizing how many pieces I’ve made over the past few years, being interviewed…all of it.”

Art for Peace 

Before he ever thought about dedicating serious time to art, Mike created his first public work - a powerful anti-Iraq War display in front of his Haddonfield office: he added one American Flag to a display for every soldier killed in battle overseas. The number of dead, he says, were not being accurately reported. He was so committed to the project that he called Dover Military Base every week to get a count of the caskets that arrived. He had military support for his project but not necessarily local support - his display was torn down. A general from Fort Dix flew to Haddonfield to help restore it. 

Considering how self-deprecating Mike is, it’s no surprise that the item he treasures most in his studio was made by someone other than him. It’s a collage of his anti-Iraq War project that a supporter created then dropped off anonymously at his office one day while he was out.

Life as Art

“Are we just mean?” he wonders about humans in general as he points out “The Homecoming” - a sculpture he created with no arms, no legs and “totally maimed, like our soldiers.” 

Mike’s focus on suffering coexists with a lively sense of humor and an interest in ideas that range from philosophy and physiology to quantum physics - topics he discusses among friends during the salon he has been holding weekly at his studio for seven years. 

Always thinking, contributing, creating - that is how Mike Bloom has chosen to move through life. That approach is now the signature of his retirement. After decades woking in “an art form of constraints,” as he describes architecture, this 52-years-married, 40-year active member of the Rotary Club of Haddonfield is designing freely - crafting a new life for himself as a talented, prolific artist and creating new experiences for those few people who have already encountered his work.

Be among the first to discover the Art of Mike Bloom. Visit the Markeim Arts Center on April 16th, 7-10 PM, when his creations will be officially presented to the public for the first time. The catered cocktail reception will feature open bar. All proceeds from the event will benefit the Rotary Club of Haddonfield and the Markeim Arts Center. 

Purchase tickets online at markeimartscenter.org, by calling 856-429-8585 or by contacting Gerry Nanos of the Rotary Club of Haddonfield at hgnanos@gmail.com. Price: $30 each or $50 per pair.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Rugged, Restful, Golden

The next time you plan a trip to Colorado, be sure to put the city of Golden at the top of your travel itinerary. Golden surrounds you with rugged beauty and Western hospitality only 30 minutes from Denver International Airport.

It’s where you will find the best of Old West culture and outdoor adventuring in a low-key, authentic setting.

There's a reason why so many people from Denver pour into this town the moment great weather rolls in. It’s a historic destination (founded during the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush) that rewards its visitors with relaxation - if that’s what they need -  or adventure - if that’s what they crave. 

Look all around you in Golden and what you discover is a place that honors it’s history, celebrates its artists and preserves its architecture. It is a pleasure to explore with unique, locally-owned businesses, small museums and bronze sculptures throughout the town. The streets are impeccably clean. The overall feeling is one of calm and well being. 

Maybe it’s the wide open skies above this low-profile town (most  buildings are four stories and under) but sound seems muted here. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself speaking in a softer voice during your stay to protect the rare quiet you will find in this town.

What do you hear most in Golden? On a walk recently it was the breeze, lots of wind chimes and the sound of geese calling to each other. The air hinted that it had just been to the mountains. 

Keep your eyes up while you're here - the panorama changes continuously with the colors and shadows cast by the sun.

Clear Creek, at the center of town, offers an inviting place to get acclimated to the area. Along its paved path is where you will find people exercising, walking their dogs, fishing and just generally engaging with the beautiful surroundings.

Walk in one direction and you will be headed toward hiking trails that lead up to Lookout Mountain. At the very top is The Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave and Lookout Mountain Nature Center and Preserve.

If you rather not hike to enjoy Lookout Mountain's scenery you can drive up to some of its best overlook spots or you can do like the fittest do - bike the 7%-grade, 4 1/2-mile winding road, hairpins and all, to the top.

After taking in what you came for - the big sky views, sunset, moon rise, stars or twinkling lights of Denver in the distance - you may want to add a thrill to the ride back towards town. Not satisfied with the pull of gravity, many bikers choose to pedal all the way to Golden, eager for greater speed. (Some adrenaline junkies prefer to make the return trip even more daring - they cruise it on longboards.) 

Walk along Clear Creek in the opposite direction and you will find yourself meandering toward the Coors distillery where tours and tastings take place daily. 

If real adventure is what you're after, there's plenty of opportunity for that in Golden. The landscape that surrounds Golden draws avid kayakers, hang gliders, hikers and mountain bikers to the area. Rock climbers who are serious about their pursuit also make their way into town - it's home to the American Mountaineering Center. Go for a hike at sunset and you are likely to spot groups of them coming off the trails - muddied, tired and grinning - to tailgate with a cold, local brew.  

One of the most pleasurable yet easygoing ways to enjoy Golden is to just walk the town. There is so much variety and whimsy to the shops and architecture that you can expect a surprise around every corner. At the top of a hill there is a colorful structure - a replica of a Nepalese Sherpa house - that serves as both a restaurant and cultural center.

On a side street there is a large building made entirely of river rock. Expect to see vibrant murals along building exteriors - each one is the handiwork of artist, Jesse Crock.

There are two practical reasons to add Golden to your Colorado travel plans - the town’s central location puts you within easy driving distance to Denver, Boulder, Colorado Springs and multiple ski areas. Also, at 5,675 feet above sea level, the town provides your body with a relatively gentle adjustment to the reduced air pressure and lower oxygen found at greater elevations. That’s right - the next time you travel to Colorado you can kick off your vacation with little to no altitude sickness.

When plans bring you to the Denver area, remember Golden - a town that glows with the spirit of the Old West.

All photos - © 2016 Maria Gorshin


* Consider making your reservations at The Golden Hotel - a warm, welcoming place to stay. The look is Western Contemporary, the location is ideal (along Clear Creek and steps to all of the town's attractions), and the restaurant serves up excellent dishes breakfast through dinner. (Wild game meatloaf and hearty soups are among guest favorites.) The atmosphere throughout is one of genuine comfort. 

* Pack layers to take you through chilly mornings, warm afternoons and cold nights. Remember to bring all of your outdoor gear plus hiking boots and sturdy walking shoes - pack for adventure.

* Try not to miss a single sunrise or sunset. 

* Visit the Colorado School of Mines Geology Museum and take the Coors distillery tour. (The shorter version is shortcut to beer and small-batch craft brews that are available only in Golden.) 

* Grab snacks, breakfast burritos and baked goods at The Windy Saddle and coffee at Pangea. Order spicy, steaming soups at Sherpa House and enjoy the unique interior of the space. If you have special dietary requirements, you can pick up everything you need at Golden's Safeway or at the Whole Foods minutes from town.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Travel, Shopping and The Joy of Local

This is a post about travel. This is a post about shopping local. And this is all about how shopping local can be a trip. Confused? Come along with me.

We're all familiar with the many reasons there are to support local business. If you haven't been reminded lately, here are 10 great ones.

But there's another reason to shop local - it's the most satisfying, engaging way to make a purchase. No monotone welcomes or scripted endings ("Did you find everything you were looking for?") In local businesses you connect authentically with members of your own community while purchasing quality in a way that cycles money right back into the micro-economy that is your hometown. Win, win, win!

It's also just plain fun - especially if you turn shopping local into a form of local travel.

Travel is a state of mind you carry with you wherever you go. If you leave home open and curious and return with new ideas you transform your going into travel even if all you do is cover a few blocks...or drop into a few stores you've never visited before.

I traveled all over the world for many years as a writer for the hotel and tourism industry. I loved being on the move and fell in love with exploring new places. Then my family and I moved from Orlando to South Jersey to help develop the Revel Resort project in Atlantic City.

Do you know what happens when the project you relocated to help launch ends abruptly? Many un-fun things. One of those things for us was no more frequent travel. Actually, it was no more travel at all. Wings clipped. All plans grounded.

But good came out of that experience too. We started a family business and I fell in love with a different sort of travel - the hyper-local kind. Exploring hyper-locally only required a little bit of time each day (or week) and a lot of curiosity about the people and places nearby. That I could do!

Once I started I found out just how fun it was to "get lost on purpose."

I found beautiful landscapes, charming towns, historic sites, astonishing weirdness, awful ruins, incredible architecture and fascinating people all within miles of our home and business.

I'd come back to the day-to-day after each mini adventure with that feeling of invigoration travelers know so well.

Are you feeling wanderlust but are just too busy or broke to break out your passport for a long journey? There is a simple way to experience the kind of wonder you feel on trips even when you are close to home.

Believe it or not it's this: walk into stores owned by the people in your community.

Every individually-owned shop is a world and culture unto itself.

A great place to put this idea to the test is just 15-minutes outside of Philadelphia across the Benjamin Franklin Bridge in Collingswood, New Jersey. The Patco suburban line gets you there fast for under $5 roundtrip if you're traveling from Center City.

Collingswood is a colorful town where one-off businesses, restaurants and galleries line sidewalks. Once home to the Lenni-Lenape Indians and then to pioneers who arrived from Scotland, Ireland, England and Wales in the mid 1600's, Collingswood is now home to an eclectic blend of residents who give the town a unique energy and progressive vibe.

You won't find too many "chains" there. What you will find are businesses with well...let's call them "wings": family-run BYOBs, bakeries, music schools, yoga studios and all sorts of shops that fly high powered by the vision and individuality of each owner.


In the center of town, there's Frugal, a donation-based thrift store where you can find vintage and modern clothes for men, women and children "at broken-in prices." It's cheerful, lively and full of great finds. I bought two summer tops - only $5.99 each - while Toots and The Mayals played in the background. (When was the last time you shopped for clothes listening to great reggae? Usually to find a great bargain you have to shop in stores where radio stations are set between Pop and static.)

At Frugal, even some of the hangers are unique - this one offered a peek into the past when New Jersey's phone numbers were only five digits long.

The Robinson family, owners of the boutique, support local charities monthly, donating a portion of their profits to each community-based organization.

Right next door there's Collingswood's happy place, The Candy Jar, a shop where you always get more than you give. Walk in even with zero dollars and you will still leave with samples, smiles and full of good conversation and stories thanks to Laurie Cohen and her team of ladies. From the moment you step inside the retro visuals, the kind welcome, the aromas of house-made chocolates all work together to return you to the best days of childhood. It's a warmth you won't find in the candy aisle of your nearest fluorescent-glare convenience store.

A few blocks away you will notice the ornate façade of a 1920s movie theater. It may look closed from your perspective along Collingswood's Haddon Avenue but walk to the corner of Fern Avenue where a small sign points you mid-block toward a non-descript yellow brick building. There you will find a way into the landmark.

You might hesitate when you face the metal logo on the door, "The Factory Workers? Is this a union hall? Is this an actual factory? Am I allowed in here?" Push open the heavy door and what you will find is an unexpected scene, one defined by deeds, dreams and deliciousness all made by skilled hands.

It takes about a second to realize you've discovered the heart of Collingswood.

Inside is a lively café that serves eight incredible coffees roasted with care on site. Revolution Roasters is a labor of love created by Justin, Steve and Joe, a trio dedicated to the art of the perfect cup of Fair Trade, sustainably grown coffee.

The food they serve along with their aromatic brews is good for the soul - hearty, fresh fare crafted in the Constellation Collective Kitchen at The Factory by Valentina Fortuna, Lindsey Ferguson and Maura Rosado, three food artisans who prepare everything - from quiches, po' boys, salads, breads and decadent breakfast sandwiches to sweets baked from scratch - from locally-sourced ingredients.

Around a bend past the café is where you find the actual floor of The Factory, a 16,000-square-foot community makerspace on a mission to help bring back the trades to the United States. The membership workshop created by owner, Tom Marchetty, makes $200,000 worth of wood- and metal-working equipment (and classes in their use) available to anyone over the age of 18 for a small fee.

The historic, mural-lined space is now home to builders, designers, a video production team, a busy recording studio and a full line-up of monthly community events that feature live music, including The Factory's Second Saturdays.

After your visit to The Factory, head back toward Haddon Avenue inspired to explore further. Look at the panorama that lies ahead of you. Those stores and restaurants you see lining both sides of Haddon are personal stories. Walk into any one of those places, ask a question with genuine interest and watch how quickly you discover the unexpected.


At El Sitio you can sit in the outdoor patio with friends and a bottle of BYOB wine for as long as you like, enjoying good conversation with one of the owners, Cecilia Jaramillo, about Collingswood and the latest dishes she has created. What you soon discover is that she owns a second El Sitio - it's thousands of miles away in Ecuador.

Stop into The Tortilla Press for a meal and you'll discover there's more to the award-winning restaurant than great Mexican-inspired food. It's run by a team that is fully-committed to promoting green practices, loves New Jersey wines and has even tried to launch a Restaurant Week for Kids.

Need one more example that might encourage you to go on your own door-to-door exploration of Collingswood? Here's a quirky one:

I almost walked past a physical therapy office on Haddon Avenue one Saturday afternoon when a sidewalk display of paintings in front of it drew my attention. I stopped and moments later I was meeting the artist behind the paintings. Francesco di Santis explained that he was borrowing the space, described how he creates his own oil pastels from elements of nature using techniques that date back to the Renaissance and shared the stories behind some of his beautiful landscapes and haunting portraits. I didn't expect to discover so much in that sunny space where neck braces and wheelchairs had been moved aside to make room for art. It was another Collingswood surprise!

I've valued small businesses ever since they started disappearing from the neighborhood where I grew up in New York. I saw one after another pushed out by national chains. Places that had existed for decades were replaced by stores that opened and closed every six months. That cycle of closings served to raise commercial rents continuously. The result? The New York I grew up in no longer exists. It went from being a place where every corner had a little neighborhood deli or old time place where neighbors could touch base and get news from each other, like my childhood favorite, Joe's candy store to being a place where recently one Design Within Reach and one Starbucks, yes Starbucks, announced they were closing due to outrageous rent hikes. (Starbucks at the corner of West 67th Street and Columbus Avenue in Manhattan saw it's rent rise to $300,000 a month this year.) In that environment everyone loses.

The big American hope that's left? Local businesses in small towns. The fight has been lost in big cities - there is no way to keep a small family place going there any more. But in small towns, people still have a chance to help each other, their local economy and themselves by supporting each others' businesses.

What will it take to inspire you to shop locally? Will it be the ethics? Will it be the fun? Whatever it might be, know that your choices - where you shop, how much you spend - matter and tend to boomerang back into the very communities we call home. Oh no...my post about travel/shopping has turned preachy! I'll end this post with more fun - a listing of fantastic upcoming events to enjoy soon on your travel adventure to Collingswood. Enjoy!

Visit these South Jersey towns to explore more and support local businesses:

Camden, Downtown Business District
Downtown Haddonfield - Full disclosure: my family owns a business in this town. (I'll be writing about Haddonfield next.)
Historic Haddon Heights
Westmont's Dining District


Philadelphia's Fabric Workshop and Museum sells all locally-crafted goods.

Revel Resort in all it's former, promising glory.

A beautiful mural - part of Philadelphia's Mural Arts program.

A landscape that left me in awe in Amish Country.

A funny moment I captured on a sidestreet during a 15-minute mini adventure walk in Philadelphia.

A little frame shop with a big personality and long history - 75-year-old Caves in Audabon, NJ

Series of five photos show Collingswood locations featured in the post.

Joe, one of the owners of Revolution Roasters and Tom, owner of The Factory Workers.

Additional images of bright and colorful Collingswood, New Jersey

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Discovering Baltimore's Fells Point

A trip requires careful planning...or does it? Too much preparation leaves little room for surprise. The next time you venture into new territory skip some of the details. Magic always appears in those open spaces you leave in your itinerary.

During a weekend getaway to Baltimore I re-discovered just how energizing it feels to arrive in a destination without any expectations. I knew the basics: Inner Harbor, crab legs, Little Italy, water taxi. I let Baltimore fill in the rest of the details, one long walk and wander at a time. 

Baltimore turned out to be a generous host and clever guide.

At every turn, it was a new discovery. I found broad strokes of New York and London, hints of Paris and Philadelphia (but with hills!), and left in love with a new city. But my favorite discovery? A thriving storybook village along Charm City's waterfront - Fell's Point.

Small-scale life and walkable history stood quietly, invitingly only a few blocks away from the bustle of Inner Harbor's biggest attractions. We were searching for our hotel, The Admiral Fell Inn. We turned a corner to find that "off-the-beaten-path" led us right into a cobblestone market square alive with music and artisans in an area defined by shops, bistros, cafes, boutiques, and graceful architecture dating back to the 1800s. No chain stores. No chain restaurants. Each small business added its own flavor to the vibrant scene.

We were met by another surprise at the hotel - an elegant, historic hotel that was even more lovely than we had expected. After a warm welcome in the Lobby we arrived in our room to discover it was not only beautiful and pristine but faced one of the prettiest streets in Fell's Point.

We explored Baltimore widely but ending back at Fell's Point each night became the highlight of our visit to the city. A cozy, Bohemian spot for tapas and wine, Adela's, connected right to our hotel. It was a great place to visit each night before easing into sleep.

Mornings were always misty while we were there - just right for quiet strolls down to a quirky cafe, The Daily Grind, and a walk back to the hotel alongside history.

If you're headed to Baltimore, consider making Fell's Point your home base and The Admiral Fell Inn your home-away-from-home while you are there. These spots are a picturesque retreat from the familiar brand name stores and  restaurants that line much of the Inner Harbor. You'll enjoy just as much liveliness and activity on the Fell's Point stretch of the Inner Harbor but with more charm, magic and sense of discovery. Behind every jingling, creaking door you'll find a warm, welcoming pub, treasure-filled little shop and the kind of nuance-laced atmosphere that makes a place unforgettable. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Leopard at des Artistes: A New York Classic on the Upper West Side

Deciding where to dine in Manhattan isn’t easy – the island has over 3,500 restaurants for you to choose from - but finding the quintessential New York dining experience, the kind you catch a glimpse of in a movie and suddenly you’re in love with New York all over again? 

That’s simple.
You’ll find it around the corner from Central Park on West 67th Street at The Leopard at des Artistes.

A whispered welcome along an Upper West Side street. 
The Upper West Side restaurant is a neighborhood treasure that serves Southern Italian cuisine in a soothing, soft-lit ambiance. You leave hectic behind when you enter The Leopard at des Artistes, a landmarked space that has welcomed guests for nearly a century. Moments after you arrive you are as delighted as the dancing naked nymphs that surround you in the glowing murals that line the dining room. The murals were painted in 1937 by Howard Chandler Christy, a dashing figure in a black and white photo framed alongside one of his creations.
But there is more to The Leopard at des Artistes than food and ambiance.

The restaurant is a genuine New York classic in part because it is steeped in Upper West Side history.

A Colorful Past

Before Gianfranco and Paula Bolla-Sorrentino opened The Leopard at des Artistes in 2011 and Chef Vito Gnazzo brought his expertise to both its menu and kitchen, West 67th Street was home to a remarkable Upper West Sider’s legendary restaurant – for almost 35 years it was George Lang’s Café des Artistes.

Bill Clinton once said, “Although in New York, the only thing permanent is change, the people who keep saying that have never been to Café Des Artistes.” The look and feel of the restaurant, one that you can enjoy to this day in a more contemporary form, seems to have cast its spell over the former president. The space inhabited by Café de Artistes and now The Leopard at des Artistes has always had that kind of timeless quality about it. It seems as if it captured the essence of New York 100 years ago and never lost it.

In fact, the space where The Leopard at des Artistes stands has changed often.

“Every decade, it filled a different need for different people,” restaurateur George Lang’s wife, Jennifer Lang, was once quoted as saying. In the 1970s, “it was filled with people from Lincoln Center, which was then only ten years old. In the ‘80s, it gave people this café kind of experience, and it was one of the few places on the Upper West Side where you could have a really nice meal. In the ‘90s, we were discovered by Hollywood and the young, although it’s always had a lot of celebrities in it.”

From the beginning, it was destined to attract the Who’s Who of the creative world.

Art Meets Architecture

In 1917, when Café des Artistes first opened, it served artists, dancers, musicians and writers, all of whom lived in kitchen-less apartments above the restaurant in the Upper West Side’s famed landmark, Hotel des Artistes, and along West 67th Street, an area listed in the National Register of Historic Places as the “West 67th Street Artists’ Colony District.”
But the artists who lived and dined on West 67th Street were unlike the struggling avant-garde figures who transformed Greenwich Village into a bohemian district. They were renowned sculptors, illustrators, portrait painters and writers who were patronized by the wealthiest members of New York society. Café des Artistes’ regulars throughout the years always included bold-print names, among them Norman Rockwell, Rudolf Valentino, Isadora Ducan, Noel Coward, Marcel Duchamp and George Balanchine.

The building above Café des Artistes was designed by George Mort, in all its Neo-Gothic glory and medieval ornamentation, specifically to attract artists. For decades they arrived, turning that stretch of West 67th Street between Columbus Avenue and Central Park West into a particularly vibrant hub of creativity on the Upper West Side.

When they were hungry they dined at Café des Artistes.

A glowing mural in the soft-lit ambiance of The Leopard at des Artistes.

The uninterrupted presence of the brilliant, famous and even notorious turned the place into one of the most fascinating restaurants in New York. Its often lackluster food (in the later years) rarely discouraged the landmark’s loyal and upscale clientele from dropping in.

Then the seemingly impossible happened. Café des Artistes suddenly closed. The news was crushing to many New Yorkers who had loved George Lang and his restaurant – it was a fixture, the steady, elegant face of a friend in a constantly changing city crowded with strangers. How could a place that had been around since 1917 simply close without warning? How could a restaurant’s story, woven into the fabric of a New York neighborhood just end?

A New Chapter in an Upper West Side Story

It was Gianfranco and Paula Bolla-Sorrentino who came to the restaurant’s rescue after union pressures and slowing business took their toll. With full appreciation for the significance of the space they were entering, they carefully restored it, bringing a more contemporary air to its dining room and bar while maintaining the integrity and “aristocratic bone structure” of the beloved institution.

Upper West Siders who had mourned the loss of Café des Artistes when it closed found a newer, fresher version of it when The Leopard at des Artistes opened in its place. They also found one significant but welcome change – in place of just above-average French cuisine there was now an exciting menu of Southern Italian dishes to explore – one rooted in the culinary traditions of an area once known as The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and those of Campania, Basilicata, Calabria, Apulia and Sardinia.

Since opening in 2011, the restaurant has established itself as more than a successful dining establishment – quite a feat in a city where, by one estimation, 1,000 restaurants open and 800 of those same restaurants go out of business within five years. The Leopard at des Artistes has already become a New York classic. It’s a young Upper West Side restaurant but it has an old, welcoming spirit. As one longtime Café des Artistes patron said after The Leopard opened, it’s like “the offspring of an old friend, familiar but better in so many ways.” 

With so much history behind it and so much going for it at this moment, it may prove to be one of the most interesting chapters in the West 67th Street story.  

Review: Dining at The Leopard at des Artistes

I visited The Leopard at des Artistes on a Sunday eve recently, a night when the restaurant adopts a BYOB approach. I was treated to six courses of exquisite Southern Italian food prepared and served with what I can only describe as joy and genius. 

It was the kind of taste experience that can bring tears to the eyes if you are moved by beautiful, delicious food.

At first the dishes were delicate and light, matched with crisp white Italian wines. Then the flavors grew bolder. Grilled octopus with lemon dressing and green olives transitioned gently up the flavor spectrum to an amazing halibut in salsa verde with clams, cherry tomatoes and salmoriglio paired with Grecco di Tufo from Campania, onto a splendid veal dish followed by slow-braised Colorado lamb ossobuco served with sautéed spinach and celery root puree.

Each morsel gave reason to swoon.

In between glorious dishes I had moments to gaze and listen. The music throughout the restaurant set the tone – jazz, classical guitar, bossa nova. When Nicola Conte’s “Bossa Per Due” started playing it matched the mood of the restaurant perfectly – sophisticated but with a sense of relaxed celebration. One diner seemed as swept away by the mood of The Leopard at des Artistes as I felt: he was a man in a top-knot, long beard, paint-splattered safari-like clothes and an ascot. He moved about the dining room staring at each of The Leopard's revered murals with a dreamy-eyed smile.

The night I was there the service was excellent. The dining room staff was comprised of a graceful, intuitive team. Each member played a part in transforming a beautiful dinner for one into an event for all of the senses. The wines were perfectly paired with each dish; kind, elegant gestures were extended to every guest; the music, lighting, setting were all ideal for that evening - there was thoughtfulness and expertise behind each moment. 

When you dine at The Leopard, I suggest you set distractions, concerns and mobile devices aside - you won't want to miss a single detail. Let yourself get carried away by the entire experience knowing you will be in the expert hands of artists.

The Leopard at des Artistes - 1 West 67th Street, New York, NY  10023, Tel: 212.787.9767

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Celebrities and Sightseeing: A Two-Hour Adventure in NYC

We stepped out of a car in front of The Jane Hotel and directly into the path of a television personality.

Bumping headlong into America's Next Top Model's Nigel Barker wasn't a bad way to begin a mini-tour of New York City in the middle of a rain storm. The family that had invited me to guide them on a Manhattan walk that morning smiled through layers of much-needed rain gear - despite the weather we were off to a great start!

In a short time we covered plenty of territory - we toured The Jane's landmark interiors, walked the High Line where we paused to watch a class led by The Taoist Tai Chi Society, snacked our way through Chelsea Market and walked west toward Madison Square Garden to catch the IRT Uptown Local.

Once uptown we gazed out at a misty Columbus Circle view from The Time Warner Center's balcony - a panorama familiar to Anderson Cooper 360 fans.

We browsed The Museum of Arts and Design's treasure-filled gift shop.

We rode the museum's elevator - catching glimpses of exhibits on each floor - to Robert, the restaurant with penthouse-level views of the Upper West Side. There we caught sight of yellow taxis and red brake lights streaming north along a stretch of Broadway. Gray skies made Central Park's tree canopy appear to glow neon to the east.

Next we walked Central Park South, passing the U.N. dignitaries, secret service agents and black SUVs with diplomatic plates that paused in front of each hotel . A man in foreign military garb adorned with medals, stripes and gold braid stood momentarily carefree in the light rain. He rested his open umbrella on one sturdy shoulder, twirling it. Another man hurried across our path under a transparent 1970s-style bubble umbrella. His two French Bull Dogs lead the way. Each pet wore a polka-dot raincoat.

It was a typical midweek Manhattan morning - eye candy in every color and flavor everywhere you looked. My friends have spent many days in New York. I've spent many years. It didn't matter - we were both loving the flow and buzz of the city in the same way. The thrill of New York never fades.

By the time we'd reached our destination - a relative's beautiful office at the General Motors building - we'd enjoyed two hours of non-stop activity and were ready to rest and enjoy a good visit. What we found was yet another thrilling moment. There's nothing better than a New York-style surprise!

It was this - a birds-eye view of some of the most iconic hotels in Manhattan - The PlazaThe Pierre and The Sherry Netherland.

I'd always imagined that the top floor of the Sherry Netherland housed a grand apartment, maybe one with a ballroom and an enormous fireplace. Instead I discovered that below the building's looming spire stands a more humble New York classic - a wooden water tower.

Only a few stories below the Sherry Netherland's water tower and line of gargoyles we noticed a wrap-around balcony. It surrounds a seven-bedroom apartment that can be yours for $95 million! You can browse all of the apartments that are currently available for sale in the building here.

We started the day with a surprise - a television star - and a stop inside a beautiful boutique hotel. We ended the day surrounded by architectural celebrities - gorgeous hunks of New York masonry - and an epic view of the city's hotel super stars. It was the highlight of the day - one we'll never forget.

For more NYC posts and images plus links to some of the brightest travel spots around the world, follow me on Twitter and Instagram @citygirlwrites. Looking for a guide who can help you explore NYC and Philadelphia? Reach out to me at maria@citygirlwrites.com.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

A Manhattan Walk in Mist and Rain

I love ugly days in New York. Cold, sleet, rain, anything that clears sidewalks of crowds for just a little while and lets the city breathe.

When fog appeared this week, Manhattan looked like it was exhaling, tired after an exhausting shift. Dressed in gray it was beautiful, less spectacle, more majesty.  It eased back to being itself.

It’s when weather turns and most run for cover that New York rests. It invites you to stay awhile.

You walk together. Everything is mist and quiet. It’s just you and the city you love.

Break lights and neon shimmer on the street.  Rain swims in potholes. Cobblestones seem to push aside asphalt as if the old city is trying to break free.

Around each corner, hints of the New York you thought was lost suddenly stand out. Gloom throws gentle light on their details.

Under disguise as a “bad day to be outside” New York drops its mask to reveal it hasn’t changed so much afterall – its classic lines remain. You find the city you miss.

As the rain continues, the city whispers. Couples lean into each other under umbrellas, taking in the rich silence. The novelty of finding New York so empty and quiet makes even strangers smile at each other in passing, knowing just how rare this is.

You realize that an ugly day in New York is a gift for the taking for anyone who longs for the way things used to be in this city.
You recognize now that it’s an open invitation to meet again with a New York you thought was gone, weather permitting.