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Photo courtesy of Yelp

The Upper West Side is a very weird part of New York. It’s the bastard child, if you will, unlike the perfect (uptight) legitimate child that is the Upper East Side. The Upper West Side is dirtier, appears older and doesn’t really have a targeted demographic; Riverside mansions have hobos peeing on their stoops. “Heaven’s no!,” the Upper East Side would say.

But like all things dirty and wrong, the Upper West Side is just way more fun, which is why I’d like to call your attention to Jacob’s Pickles. At 509 Amsterdam Avenue (between 84th and 85th streets), sits this casual “down home” eatery with a trendy flare. (Think leather banquettes and candles meets hot sauce and whiskey bottles. How very Upper West.)

The restaurant is all about pickled vegetables, southern cooking and beer – and you know that I am on board with all of these things. Be sure to start with an appetizer of mixed pickled vegetables. I would then suggest moving on to the Honey Chicken & Pickles sandwich (fried chicken, pickles and honey on a biscuit) and a side of mac and cheese. Wash all this down with one of the many beers on tap, and then pray that the gym will be open in the morning.

Amen to the down and dirty.

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Courtesy of the New York Times

Bear with me for the next five weeks, friends. I’m not on the road again until May 5, so while I continue to feel mopey because I’m back into my old routine (routine…yuck), you get to live off these desperate attempts at travel posts. (It’s hard to write a travel blog when you are grounded for weeks at a time.)

When people ask me where I would like to go most in the world, I always say, “Anywhere I have never been.” Can you really call my travel “bucket list” a list, when it encompasses an infinite amount of destinations? I’d like to think so. Anyway, at the top of my bucket list this week is anywhere and everywhere in Southeast Asia. It’s a corner of the world that seems like it would be a punch to the jaw of color, smell, sounds and tastes. What could be better?

Check out the New York Times‘ newest “36 Hours In…” article about Vientiane, Laos. Laos is one of those destinations in Southeast Asia that has managed to fend off the masses, unlike Thailand and Vietnam. It’s only a matter of time, though. So get there while you still can!

http://travel.nytimes.com/2012/03/25/travel/36-hours-in-vientiane-laos.html?ref=travel

If you’re anything like me, you’re still weak in the knees after seeing Don Draper last night on AMC’s hit, Mad Men. (Don’t deny it, you know you are.)

If you need a little Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce fix while in NYC, NYCGo (the city’s tourism site) has rounded up a list of sites featured in the hit series. (Thank god! Finally a solution to the over-played Sex & the City tours!)

Before we get into the details, let me just thank my colleague (from my real job), Jena Tesse Fox, who assembled this list at LuxuryTravelAdvisor.com.

The Pierre New York (2 E. 61st St.): The Pierre became a Mad Men backdrop in the season three finale when room 435 became the temporary offices of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.

The Roosevelt Hotel (45 E 45th St.): Sal Romano takes a Belle Jolie rep on a date here. Don is also exiled to the hotel after Betty kicks him out in season two.

Sardi’s (234 w. 44th St.): This iconic restaurant in the theater district is where Done and Bobbie Barrett celebrated the sale of TV pilot Grin and Barrett.

The Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant (89 E. 42nd St., Lower Concourse): Roger and Don get sloshed here during lunchtime in season one, which was the precursor to a memorable reaction in front of Richard Nixon’s campaign staffers back at the office.

P.J. Clarke’s (915 Third Ave.): The gang ties one on at this NYC establishment, celebrating Peggy’s copy for the Belle Jolie ad campaign.

Bloomingdale’s (1000 Third Ave.): Pete Campbell returns his duplicate “Chip ‘n’Dip” during his lunch break.

The Waldorf=Astoria (301 Park Ave.): Hotel magnet Conrad Hilton meets with Don in his suite and praises the food (“best kitchen in the world – got a salad named after it!”) Be sure to check out the signature Waldorf salad yourself at the Bull and BEar Steakhouse.

I am going to upset a lot of people right now. Whether you are a local or a tourist, there are just some restaurants in New York that you do not question. Unfortunately, the time has come to start being inquisitive. Let me preface this by saying that I have absolutely no culinary training. I don’t know a bechamel from a bearnaise and if you can make either one you’re definitely more skilled in the kitchen than I am. And all of these restaurants are delicious, but I feel that their reputations far surpass their actual products. So feel free to disagree with my humble 24-year-old self, but I do know what tastes good and if you are craving these high-end New York delicacies allow me to throw my two cents in. Here are my five most overrated restaurants in New York.

1. Del Posto, West 16th Street and 10th Avenue
I know. I’m coming out swinging. This Italian establishment…wait, Italian LEGEND…is frankly just too over-the-top. If you like your Italian food served by a waiter in white gloves while you try to squeeze rolls of your stomach into your suit jacket then sure, go ahead. Del Posto yourself. But the prices are outrageous and I have found that for fewer dollars and a whole lot more ambiance you can find a better Italian meal in New York.
Alternative: Il Bagatto, East 2nd Street between Avenue A and Avenue B

2. Nobu, Hudson and Franklin streets
Tiny portions are offset by exorbitant prices and some sort of Euro trash techno music thumping in the background. If you order a martini, what you actually get is a sugary concoction that would be best enjoyed by Sarah Jessica Parker. Oh, and it takes a month to get a reservation.
Alternative: Blue Ribbon Sushi, Sullivan and Prince streets

3. Peter Luger, Broadway and Driggs Avenue, Brooklyn
New York is home to some phenomenal steakhouses, and for some reason the public still insists on Peter Luger. Yes, the food tastes good. It is steak after all, but I’m just not sold on the presentation: Fatty slices doused in oil with a side of runny spinach and some plastic cow sticking out of the top of my steak. There are other reasons to go to Brooklyn.
Alternative: Lucas, 32nd Street and 35th Avenue, Queens

4. Lombardi’s, Spring and Mott streets
Pizza is what New York myths are made out of. It’s the foundation of our existence, or something like that. Whatever. In all seriousness, Lombardi’s may be the “oldest” slice of pizza in New York, but it’s hard to enjoy your pizza when the fanny-packed tourists are photographing every single bite.
Alternative: Fornino, North 7th Street and Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn

5. Shake Shack, Madison Square Park
Uh oh…I think I just signed my death certificate. Don’t get me wrong. Shake Shack is GOOD! (All of these restaurants are good, they wouldn’t have the reputations they have if they weren’t.) But is it the best burger in New York? I love a greasy stall burger that I need to wait over an hour for as much as the next gal, with that special sauce and obligatory lettuce and tomato. But when I really want to get down and dirty with a burger I need something with a little more meat (pun intended).
Alternative: Diner, Berry Street and Broadway, Brooklyn

I feel like I let you all down last week with my lack of St. Patrick’s Day-themed posts. If you feel hurt, I truly apologize. So in hopes of making it up to you, here’s yet another Irish-style blog to get us back on track.

If you’ve never heard traditional Irish music before, I would say there is a piece of your soul missing. It’s haunting and beautiful and is such a rich part of Irish history. (I’ll save you the lesson, but music has been a predominant part of Irish storytelling for centuries.)

New York City is one of the largest enclaves of Irish emigrants in the world, so you would expect nothing short of fantastic Irish music. Here are my top picks for the best venues that host weekly Irish music “sessions,” as they are called.

1. Mona’s
E 14th Street and Avenue B
With limited signage out front, this dingy little dive bar is sometimes hard to spot. Those in the know, however, flock there on Monday nights for its modest, but no less authentic, session of music.

2. Swift Hibernian Lounge
East 4th Street between Lexington and Bowery
Since this pub is relatively close to NYU’s campus, it can get a somewhat young, loud crowd. But Tuesday nights around 9 p.m. things get a little bit quieter and a little more Irish in the bar’s back corner. (This is one of my favorite, favorite spots.)

3. 11th Street Bar
East 11th Street between Avenue A and Avenue B
Sunday nights are a little less depressing with this bar in town. In the front room a group of incredibly talented musicians congregate and get the audience to liven up before beginning the work week the next day.

4. Paddy Reilly’s
East 29th Street and Second Avenue
Probably the most well-known bar in NYC for Irish music, Paddy Reilly’s is a good, albeit touristy, option. The bar sits in Murray Hill, a somewhat douchey neighborhood, so you can guess what kind of crowd it attracts. Still, the music is top notch.

5. O’Neill’s Irish Bar
East 46th Street and Third Avenue
I’m going to be honest. I’ve never actually been to a session here, but this pub is right next to my office and they do a mean Irish menu at lunch. The owners are Irish, the bartenders are Irish and 75 percent of the customers are Irish, so I can only assume that the music would be equally authentic. Stop by here for the music on Saturdays and Sundays.

Whenever someone mentions “Dublin,” I get that feeling like they are talking about an old boyfriend of mine. I get quiet, try to pick up on what they are saying, maybe get a little gossip, all the while lustily dreaming about this perfect time in the past…

Too much? I like Dublin. What can I say? I like it so much I have a f***ing Master’s Degree in Irish Studies. (Yeah, I still have no idea what I’m going to do with that.)

For those of you unfamiliar with this jewel on the River Liffey, let me take this opportunity to tell you all you need to know about having an epic experience in Dublin’s Fair City.

If you’re staying in town and have a little cash to burn I say you can’t go wrong with The Westin, which is pretty much smack dab in the city center close to Grafton Street‘s shopping, Trinity College‘s history and a good selection of night life. If you are opting for the budget angle, I personally enjoy booking a stay on the grounds of Trinity College. (Note: This option is only available when school is out of session).

Trinity’s campus is open to the public daily until midnight, but those staying on the grounds have only to show their keys to security if they are looking to party until the wee hours. You may know that Trinity College’s Long Room is home to the Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript dating to around 800 A.D. If you have the time you can wait on the ridiculously long line to see it, because it is pretty cool. But if you are in Dublin for just a short while, I really think this is an opportunity that you can let slide by…but you didn’t hear that from me.

The lunch hour is a busy one in Dublin, as locals, tourists and business people flood the pubs for a pint. I highly recommend Porterhouse Central on Nassau Street, a microbrewery serving a fun twist on classic pub fare with dozens of beers on tap. The party heats up here on weekend nights and erupts into a dance party.

Take a little reprieve after lunch and do some shopping up Grafton Street or head over to St. Stephen’s Green before heading out to explore Dublin’s nightlife.

For dinner be bold and cross the River Liffey to its northern bank to visit The Church, a church-turned-restaurant, bar and club. Note: Arthur Guinness (yes, that Guinness) was married on the premises in 1751, when it was known as St. Mary’s Church of Ireland.

Satiated, head back to the south side and over to Dame Lane, a small street tucked up behind the bustling Dame Street. Here hides the city’s beloved The Stag’s Head, a landmark Victorian pub with plump Chesterfield sofas and dimly lit rooms. Things get a bit more rowdy (and fuzzy…thank you, Guinness) on the weekends in the downstairs bar, with live traditional Irish music.

For all of you night owls, it’s important to note that Dublin’s pubs have their last call at midnight, but there are a handful of late-night bars in the area. After the Stag’s Head, make your way up the street to The Globe. Open until 2:30 a.m. Monday-Saturday (and 1 a.m. on Sundays), this bar hosts a series of eclectic events on different nights of the week. Yours truly has danced there on several occasions to a live DJ who spins alternative tunes while old Betty Boop cartoons flash against the back wall. I also happened to meet Glen Hansard there, of Once and The Frames fame…but he wouldn’t leave Marketa Irglova for me.

Finally, if you are still feeling energized from the frenetic night scene (and you should be), visit Iskander’s Kebab House at 30 Dame Street. Throughout the night (and into the early morning) locals line up for fresh and delicious kebabs, wrapped in doughy bread and topped with hot chili and garlic sauce. You probably won’t be doing any making out after that snack, but I don’t really think you will care.

That’s it, kids. Slainte!

P.S. There are obviously a dozen other recommendations I have on Dublin, but no one likes to read a blog post the length of Nicholas Nickleby, so if you want any other tips e-mail me at mdrillinger@gmail.com.

Okay, have we had enough of my existential crises? I thought so. Forgive me for my deep thoughts – just missing my adventures and my new Brazilian friends. In any event, let’s bring the party back up to speed with something a little lighter.

Francophiles and sweet-tooth connoisseurs alike know and love the macaron (no, not macaroons, all you Jews out there. Macaron.). A macaron is a delightful little French meringue-based cookie that comes in a variety of pastel colors. It was brought to fame by none other than the French manufacturer of sweets, Ladurée.

Well, friends, today is Macaron Day (Jour du Macaron). So whether you are an aficionado or a macaron virgin, today is the day for you. There are 12 participating merchants in NYC that will hand over a free macaron to those who utter the phrase, “I am here for Macaron Day NYC.”

Be sure to check out Bouchon Bakery, Canelle Patisserie, Epicerie Boulud, Dominique Ansel Bakery and more. Check it out here and bon appetit!

ImageFor a travel writer, I think I’m a little off the mark. On the surface it looks like what I do is epic and core-shaking, but truthfully I just go where I’m told, do my thing and come home. No tales of hookers, drugs or illicit affairs in this girl’s history. Core remains perfectly in tact. But once in a while I come across a destination that has the ability to push me outside of my comfort zone and leaves me inexplicably altered – even if just for a little while. Accessing what is foreign is the crux of what travel is about. For me, that destination is Berlin.

The thing I love most about Berlin is that it is a city in which anything can happen, which seems fitting. For so long Germany was divided and its people oppressed and has only come into its own in the last 20 years. It makes sense that every night in Berlin is an adventure, because it is a city that has been simmering with anticipation of a new dawn. Four years ago I found myself dancing with Brits in a bombed-out building that had been converted into graffiti and gallery space as well as a club. The night took a turn toward a street cart serving currywurst (a typical Berlin snack of some kind of sausage with ketchup and curry powder) while I debated European politics with some locals as the sun came up. Nothing is typically ever as good as the original, but my second trip to Berlin didn’t fail to please.

With just one night to go, the group of Brazilians and myself seemed to grasp the finality of the situation. For me, anyway, I would probably never see these people ever again and though we all had limited interactions because of the language barrier, something about this experience forced me to live out a different side of myself,  and I was sad to let that go.

The fine people at Visit Berlin (the city’s tourism board) had put together a program of restaurant-hopping and bar scouting. It’s not really the same when you show up at chic European hotspots in a minivan, but whatever. You do what you have to do. From the brasserie at the Ritz-Carlton, Berlin to the tricked-out vegetarian Cookies and Cream to Uma, a posh lounge where pink champagne flows freely, I was able to see the city with sophisticated flare, unlike my first visit which put me at a hostel in bunk beds while the guy next to me, clearly hopped up on cocaine, babbled on and on about Bratislava while only wearing underwear. But I digress…

The night ended at Felix – one of those “Euro” clubs that blast American music and douse the crowd in foam and flames. I love a good scene of club-rats behind their velvet ropes guzzling vodka tonics and wearing sunglasses inside. Some things translate across all cultures. I busted out my limited “white girl” moves, dressed like a soccer mom compared to the borderline naked Euro glam look that the locals sport, and by 2 a.m. I called it quits, grabbed my writer friend, and headed back to the hotel.

Half drunk, half exhausted, we stumbled past the Holocaust Memorial in silence. As we wished each other to have nice lives I realized that it has never bummed me out this hard to be saying good bye. And the odd thing is I barely even spoke to these people but I didn’t want it to end. They were wonderful. Despite language barriers and cultural differences, all you really need is the right energy, the right city and an order of randomness to bring people together. That, my friends, is Berlin.

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Please note the awkward American all the way at the left. Oh no, Missy, you do not fit in.

Okay, so I may be over the whole embracing of my Brazilian immersion. After a while there’s only so much Portuguese one can take. I feel, proverbially, like I’m trying to get in with the cool kids but they keep mumbling “Loser says what?” and then I say “what” and then they all laugh. And when I’m nervous or uncomfortable I make jokes no one gets, so hey Robert E. Bell Middle School, looks like I’m reliving your horrors all over again.

On the bright side, it’s Alps-central, baby! And that I am loving.

When guests stay at the Hotel Guarda Golf in Crans-Montana, they open themselves up to a wealth of luxurious opportunities. I’m talking hot air ballooning, snowshoeing, skiing, traditional Swiss lunches of raclette and local wines, spa indulgences and more – all of which I got to experience yesterday (minus the skiing, because no one wants to see that.)

This is a country of outdoor pleasures. You won’t find your club hoppers or barflies skulking around Crans-Montana looking for a good time, but it really is all about experiencing the natural environment and, at this hotel, doing so in style.

I will be sad to go, but now I am off to Berlin – a city that was made for unusual encounters at obscure bars and 5 a.m. currywurst snacks. But more on that later…

ImageWhat do you suppose the Universe is trying to tell you when they stick you at the top of the world with a group of Brazilians? “Meagan, you need to live outside your element.” or “Meagan, you are too sheltered.” or “Meagan, it’s time to make you feel awkward with your Italian-Jew nose and flat ass, so here are some bronzed Brazilians for you to hang out with for the next four days.” Whatever message the Universe is sending I’m sure is for me to determine, but regardless, here I am in Crans-Montana, Switzerland with an all-Brazilian group of journalists, staring at postcard-like Alps out my window. You win, Universe. You win.

Last night I met my press group and we were taken about two hours outside Geneva to the famous Valais region in Switzerland, home to world-class skiing and equally impressive hotels. I’m staying at the Hotel Guarda Golf, a ski-, golf-, and spa-resort with Alpine vistas and other horrible things that I’ll just have to get used to. It’s an intimate hotel with just 25 rooms and another 25 residences. The property is pure luxury, from what I can tell, judging from the Bvlgari bath products, the high-tech touches and the amazing five-course meal with wine pairings we enjoyed last night.

Switzerland isn’t exactly known for its nightlife. There’s a casino in town but we learned that it’s more of a spot for the elderly to sit and spin away at the slots, rather than a place to rub elbows with high society like at the glamorous casinos of Monaco. I heard rumblings that a brothel is somewhere in the back streets, but I don’t know…I’m not really in the mood for hookers this trip. Perhaps later this week when I’m in Berlin. Other than that Crans-Montana is a quaint little ski town similar to Park City or Vail.

As for the company I am keeping, I think this will be good for me. Yes, Brazilians really are as beautiful as the myths say (great…), but I am thoroughly enjoying discovering the cultural nuances (and hopefully getting a little more bronzed and bubble-butted by association).