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IMG_0901I try so hard to be a chic and sophisticated New York lady, but more often than not I wind up with stains on my wrinkled shirt and food in my hair. It’s just how it goes. I’ve accepted it and so should you.

Last night was the perfect embodiment of just that. I was on “the list” to attend the first anniversary party of STK Midtown. (It’s a steakhouse on Sixth Avenue and W 43rd Street that oozes sex appeal. Its tagline is “Not your daddy’s steakhouse,” in case you were wondering.) I walked in to neon blue and purple lights, white fixtures and waitresses all in little black dresses holding electric colored cocktails. (The party was 80s themed…I still don’t know why.)

It wasn’t exactly New York’s glitterati (Kris Humphries was scheduled to appear…), but the blazer I was wearing cost $30, so the crowd felt infinitely more sophisticated and sexy than I did. After a glass of white wine and a drink called The Fraggle Rock (Bulleit bourbon, root beer ice cube and bitters), I slipped out the door past a snaking line of stiletto-heeled vixens who would have leapt at my spot at the bar licking their chops, completely ridding themselves of proper party decorum.

Free of a crowd that was sending my neuroses spinning, I trekked the 15 blocks north to Le Parker Meridien to what I consider to be an equally luxurious, religious and comfortable experience: burgers and beer.

IMG_0904For those who don’t know, Le Parker Meridien is a luxury midtown hotel with a secret. In the lobby behind an expansive mauve curtain is a dingy burger hole aptly named The Burger Joint. It’s been around for quite some time, so I’m hardly the first to discover it, but if you have yet to go I seriously suggest you do. Now.

It’s cash only and you better know exactly what you want before you get to the front of the line. Cheeseburger, medium, the works. (The works equals pickles, onions, lettuce, tomato, ketchup, mayo and mustard.) Fries also seriously help this equation, and you wash it all down with a frosty Sam Adams out of a plastic cup. It’s a burger joint inside a luxury hotel. Oh the irony! If that’s not New York trendy, then I don’t know what is.

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This could be you! Okay, probably not. But dream big.

This could be you! Okay, probably not. But dream big.

All-inclusive resorts are both a blessing and curse, especially for someone like me who is equally obsessed with eating and staying in shape. It’s easy to let yourself lose control when anything you could possibly want to consume is laid out before you at absolutely no additional cost. Why, yes, I will have another hamburger. Ohhh sure, throw in another Daiquiri. I’m on vacation!

Suddenly you have returned home 10 pounds heavier and you figure it’s winter, so what does it really matter? And then another five pounds creep on and you’re bummed out. Sound familiar? Don’t lie.

This weekend I’m checking out the newly rebranded Paradisus Cancun, a luxury all-inclusive resort in Mexico. My willpower is being challenged, what with eight delicious restaurants, a complimentary fully stocked mini bar and a butler on hand to bring me drinks whenever I please. If you are headed to an all-inclusive resort at some point this winter, here are five helpful tips to keep in mind in order to maintain your bikini bod.

1. (Just One) Cheeseburger in Paradise
Just because you CAN eat everything doesn’t mean you have to. While it’s tempting to go back for plate after plate to try the salad and the sushi and the carving station and dessert, try to keep it to one plate. Also, eat fresh vegetables before you hit the hot stations. You’d be surprised how much veggies fill you up.

2. Don’t Be Cruel to a Heart That’s True
In the age of calorie counting and the Heart Association, most hotels are now putting healthy options on their menus. These are indicated with little symbols like Hearts or Leaves or whatever the hotel feels best represents good health. You’d be surprised at how tasty fresh sea bass with a side of asparagus can be.

3. Pour Some Sugar on Me (or don’t, actually)
Okay. Here is a big one. You are on vacation…at a resort where alcohol is served in unlimited quantities. You are going to want to drink, and you should. But do so with caution. Sugar is one of the major components in weight gain, so that margarita or pina colada is going to kill your diet – and also give you a wicked hangover. Stick to light beers or mixed drinks like vodka sodas, which have very few calories. Of course, it’s okay now and then to treat yourself to a yummy fruity drink with an umbrella in it. Everything in moderation.

4. Don’t Drink the Water (but actually drink all the water)
Drink as much water as you possibly can. This is true even when you are at home. Water keeps nutrients moving throughout the body, flushes out toxins and even keeps you full and prevents excess snacking. Besides, if you’re drinking alcohol in copious amounts you are going to want to stay hydrated.

5. Let’s Get Physical
Most all-inclusve resorts have physical activities built right into their inclusive program. Paradisus Cancun has a complimentary personal trainer, yoga classes, Pilates and more. Other resorts include water sports and other fitness classes. And, of course, it’s always free to use the gym. I’m not talking going crazy here. Just try and get your heart rate up about 20 minutes a day. You’ll be surprised at how much better you feel.

wesandersonbingoAstoria vs. Williamsburg. It’s a friendly rivalry between my group of friends, and I can say with certainty that we are not the only ones that debate on which neighborhood is better for the thriving, young, New York professional. Do you want more space for less money in quiet Queens, or stimulation and action at every turn in bohemian Brooklyn? It can get ugly. As most of you know, I am partial to Astoria’s charms, but as long as Williamsburg keeps hosting Wes Anderson Bingo Night at local bar Videology, I will continue to try and broker piece between the two worlds.

Last night my pal Jenna was somehow able to drag me out of my apartment on what was the coldest night of winter to date. She lured me with Videology, a video store-turned-bar that hosts nightly screenings and fun games to match. Last night was Wes Anderson Bingo. It’s free. Awesome.

The corner bar is candlelit and has a spacious back room set up like a screening area, with walls lined with DVDs and a giant projector screen. Bingo starts at 8:30, but I recommend getting there about 45 minutes early to get a good seat, because it fills up fast.

Each player is doled out a bingo card and chips. Cozy up with a drink and let the viewing begin. (Might I also suggest ordering bowls of creative popcorn like parmesan and three pepper, or chili, lime and tequila.)

The spaces on the bingo cards have generic Wes Anderson style choices (knit cap, vintage eyewear, plunky harpsichord music). Whenever any of these appear in the movie, you place a chip down on your card. Last night’s viewing was Moonrise Kingdom.

Prizes range anywhere from pre-stamped envelopes (it is Williamsburg, after all) to free drinks and movie soundtracks. It’s just good fun. To be fair, this is a relatively new endeavor and Videology is still working out the kinks, but the atmosphere is laid back, fun and everyone seems to have a great time. And even if you aren’t into bingo, there are worse ways to spend a Tuesday night than sitting back in a dim bar with a beer watching a Wes Anderson flick.

Photo courtesy of Yelp

Photo courtesy of Yelp

We’ve all heard the rumors about Chinese massage parlors. I’m sure you, yourself, have even contributed to the stereotypes. I’m not above the occasional (and obvious) “happy ending” joke. But after last night I may have to place a moratorium on all off-color massage parlor jokes. Why? Keisy.

Okay. Why Keisy? Keisy Oriental Nature Center sits on E 9th Street between Second and Third avenues, on that little strip that is dotted with shabu-shabu and sushi restaurants. A fluorescent sign with red lettering and a sandwich board out front advertising $45 for a one-hour massage is all the pomp that this place affords itself.

Let me get this out of the way: this is not a spa. The massage parlor is up a flight of stairs in a sparsely decorated space that looks more like a row of office cubicles than a place for deep relaxation. But do not be fooled. What you are about to experience is transcendental.

One of the masseurs takes you to a room and leaves to you strip down to your skivvies and lie face down on the massage table under a (very clean) sheet. Then, without ceremony, a stereotypical soothing voice or a hint of aromatherapy, he or she essentially goes to town on your muscles. I had muscles worked that I didn’t even know I had.

I’m not going to lie to you. Parts of this experience were some of the most excruciating pain I have ever felt (you should also know that I have the back of a 90-year-old cripple), but afterward I felt like an overly tenderized piece of meat…but in a good way! These people know what they are doing and they leave no stone unturned. Forehead, ears, shoulders, back, legs, arms, feet, hands and even your nose. It’s all rubbed, massaged, unclenched and stretched out.

You will leave Keisy in a dopey state of bliss, and for just $45 your wallet won’t feel any lighter. It’s a win-win.

Want to make it a win-win-win and keep the health flowing? Head just across the street to Hasaki for a light sushi dinner. The quality is unbelievably fresh and with the green tea flowing, this is just the meal to keep your organs and muscles smiling all night long.

desertLongest, widest, biggest, best. No – this isn’t an ad for RedTube (don’t even pretend you don’t know what that is). This is Dubai in a nutshell – an ever-changing city smack dab in the middle of the desert that loves its oil almost as much as it loves its superlatives.

There is a lot you can say about Dubai. I stayed at the JW Marriott Marquis, the tallest hotel in the world. I went to the top of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, which is adjacent to the biggest mall in the world, The Dubai Mall. There is also something like the world’s biggest aquarium, the world’s widest structure, the world’s longest unmanned metro line…The list of Dubai’s superlatives is a superlative in itself.

For me, however, the best thing you can do in Dubai is to take a break from the frenzy and the glitz and get outside of the city for something truly unique.

“Dune bashing” is a great way to see a side of the world that you truly cannot get anywhere else, and I am told it is a way that the local youth like to spend their time. Several companies offer dune bashing tours, where you are taken out in jeeps with professionals who literally cruise the sand dunes. The topsy-turvy feeling gets old kind of quickly (at least, it did for me what with motion sickness and the fact that I’m not really one for thrills and spills), but the moments when you get out of the jeep for a photo op will leave you with that, “oh my god I’m in Dubai” feeling. Rolling tan dunes span as far as the eye can see, until you happen upon local bedouin communities. It’s quiet. It’s empty. It’s that little thrill we all need when trying something new.

Check out Desert Safari Dubai, which offers late afternoon dune bashing tours, followed by a bedouin-style dinner out in the middle of the desert. The dinners include entertainment, barbecued meats, salads, shisha smoking and yes, there is a cash bar.

Hello from Dubai! After a 12-hour flight (and one of the best airplane experiences I’ve ever had), I am finally in the United Arab Emirates. Instead of regaling you with tales of the journey, which would undoubtedly be told with a haughty tone, I’ll just let my pictures speak for themselves.

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The journey began at John F. Kennedy International Airport in the Emirates Lounge with a breakfast of Greek yogurt, an egg white omelet and a “detox juice” made of carrot, apple and ginger.

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Settled into Business Class aboard the Emirates’ A380 plane. A380 planes are double deckers, with Business and First Class on the top level and Economy on the bottom.

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Before takeoff, Business and First Class passengers are given a welcome drink and a Bvlgari amenity kit. Champagne! Bvlgari! It’s the life.

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Emirates caters to my shameless Friends obsession. After takeoff, scroll through the expansive media library. There are enough hours of entertainment to take you around the world…twice.

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After your main meal (and a good nap) head to the back of the plane where the Business Class bar serves up a selection of canapes…

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…and drinks!

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Twelve hours later arrive in Dubai refreshed and ready to take on this futuristic, Jetson-esque hub of the world! Dubai, here I come!

Photo courtesy of Briar Vintage

Photo courtesy of Briar Vintage

A row of bright cardigans hangs underneath a shelf lined with bowler hats and fedoras, while bowties sit neatly on a table next to shiny black Oxfords. No, it’s not Holden Caulfield’s boarding school dorm room, but you aren’t far off. This is Briar Vintage, a fashion shop selling “menswear, collectibles and oddities” that range from the 1800s through the 1960s.

On a recent trip to Philadelphia, I was taking a stroll through the Old City neighborhood. I hadn’t been to Philly in a long time and I wanted some sort of traditional experience without having to touch the Liberty Bell or suck down a cheesesteak. (Even summaries on Philly’s cliches have become cliche.) Briar Vintage was just the ticket.

Entering the store is like stumbling into Doc Brown’s wet dream (flux capacitor not included). Briar deems itself an expert collector of pieces ranging from an 1880 morning jacket and a frock coat from 1903 to a baseball jersey from 1947 and a 1953 wool letterman sweater. There are also Native American blankets from the 1930s and World War II battleship stationary.

But perhaps the most curious (and interesting) piece in the store is the manager himself, David. David is an enigma. Full body tats peeked out from under his mint condition 1930s gray suit, and I swear his round, frameless lenses got misty as he went off on a diatribe about the anachronisms in the Mad Men wardrobe. The man is a walking encyclopedia on everything from cufflinks and natty neckties to war boots and suit cases. If you have a minute (or 10) to spare, it’s worth engaging him in a fashion history lesson.

If you’re a sucker for vintage fashions, or just like taking a peek into the past, Briar Vintage should be a stop on your Philadelphia itinerary. It’s even possible to book personal shopping experiences to help you find exactly what you are looking for.

Briar Vintage is at 62 North 3rd Street.

I’m trying really hard to ‘wow’ you with a first post of 2013, but I’ve heard if you try to write well, you usually don’t. So in lieu of a creative lead and a really solid first paragraph, I’ll just tell you what I did on New Year’s Eve and hopefully it will inspire you to check out a truly untapped neck of the woods in New York City.

The area off the East Broadway stop in Manhattan is still a mystery to me. It’s part Chinatown, part Lower East Side, and both parts spooky. I think that’s why I like it so much. To close out 2012 I visited this part of town and have returned with three establishments that should be on your list for a a complete night out.

barThe Leadbelly: On Orchard Street just above Canal, you won’t find much. It’s a dark part of Chinatown where overstuffed black bags of garbage outnumber people and Chinese symbols rule the roost. The only (and I mean ONLY) storefront you could notice has a frosted window out front with The Leadbelly: Oysters and Liquor carved in cursive. If that’s not enough of a hook then you should probably stop reading right now. Inside you will find white washed wooden beams, exposed brick, a wall of vintage suitcases and records and a menu of fresh oysters, small bites and creative cocktails. Oldies music plays softly from the speakers while bartenders swirl whiskeys, vodkas and gins in silver shakers. If you visit during happy hour, which is until 8 p.m., select oysters are $1.

scotcheggThe Fat Radish: Directly across the street, at 17 Orchard Street, is sister restaurant The Fat Radish. This farm-to-table-style restaurant has a similar effect as The Leadbelly, in that diners enter and completely forget that the street outside looks like a set from Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. The menu runs the gamut from oysters and snacks to experimental vegetable dishes and free-range proteins. I highly recommend tucking into the scotch egg, which is a six-minute egg cooked in a sausage cradle and plated with cornichons and grain mustard. You should also check out the whole roasted local cauliflower and the Montauk Diver Scallops. Be sure to order a side of the sauteed Tuscan Kale with chili.

169 Bar: Before you hop back on the F train at East Broadway and head back uptown to the real world, make a pit stop at 169 Bar. Literally steps from the subway entrance, you can’t miss this bar that has potted palm trees out front. Inside the bar is glossed with a red and blue glow. Mismatched furniture, hanging lights, a pool table and a cage for gogo dancers are just a few of the quirky decorative touches. Try the Oyster Shooters – a shot glass with your choice of a tequila or vodka bloody mary and a fresh oyster at the bottom.