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Photo courtesy of Orient Express

Photo courtesy of Orient Express

Here’s one for all you love birds out there. If you are looking for an intimate cocktail bar that will impress your date from “out of town,” (or at least confirm for him or her that you are in fact a total hipster), you should hit up Orient Express in New York’s West Village.

Named after the passenger train, the Orient Express is detailed as such, with curved ceilings, dim lighting and cocktails themed after old rail services. I went for the Mata Hari: Bulleit bourbon, Pierde Almas Abadaan mescal, lemon juice, agave, ginger and aloe. It was tangy, it was citrusy, it was whiskey-y. Not too shabby. Ok I’ll stop.

I hear they also serve food at this place, but I was really just there for the drinks. The bartenders wear button downs and old-timey vests that liken them to old railroad employees (how appropriate), and couples canoodle in dark corners pretending to be anywhere but here.

Be prepared to spend upwards of $11 on cocktails, which seems to be a trend when bars are billing themselves as the “best” in the city. I can’t say for sure whether or not this bar is actually numero uno, but the drinks were pretty damn good.

Orient Express is on W 11th between Greenwich and Washington.

I read an article the other day that says if you slap the word ‘Brooklyn‘ on anything these days, people will buy it. Brooklyn, like it or not, is the new “it.” It was “it” for a while, actually, but now it is so “it” that the people who made it that way are probably hating it already – yeah, that’s you, hipsters. On a recent journey, I found myself in this trendy borough, specifically Boerum Hill. This is a neighborhood of Brooklyn that mixes one part hipster with one part family and results in cute boutiques, restaurants and bars tucked among ritzy brownstones. (Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens are three neighborhoods that are kind of twined together and sometimes are known as BoCoCa, but that’s a really stupid name, in my opinion.) To get here take the F or G train to Bergen Street or Carroll Street.

Smith Street, the main drag, is the perfect embodiment of everything Brooklyn has become today: hipsters, artisanal food and local wares. If you’re looking to become “Brooklyn,” (although, is that really something you want?) here are a few places to start.

IMG_0915Snack: Stinky Bklyn
Cheeseheads and beer guzzlers alike will love this shop. What’s not to like about artisanal cheeses, cured meats and obscure brews? The shop also sells those artsy pickles, breads and about a million other things that would look good on a vintage farm table. (That’s Brooklyn these days, folks.) Tip: Have the cheesemongers behind the counter slice off some of their favorites for you. Order a #1 (prosciutto, mozzarella and arugula with pesto sandwich) and sit at the table in the window.

Dine: Cafe Luluc
Although not the first choice for dinner, Cafe Luluc was a real gem to stumble upon. The plan was to eat at Battersby, a tiny, farm-to-table restaurant that doesn’t accept reservations (how Brooklyn). Unfortunately, this can result in a very long wait. A rumbling tummy means a cranky Meagan so Battersby will have to wait for another time. Cafe Luluc is a great alternative, though. It’s a tiny French bistro that looks like it was pulled straight out of the Marais. Dim lighting, red booths and a wall of French liquors. Tres French. Be sure to order the escargot and the Mussels Luluc. The hangar steak and pork chop make excellent entrees, as well. If you’re there on a Thursday, all bottles and glasses of wine are half price. The cafe is also cash only.

IMG_2147Drink: Char No 4
While the food at this restaurant smells and looks other worldly (in a good way) this is a fine place to sit at the bar and marvel at the entire wall of whiskeys (over 150, to be exact). Chat with bartender Kirsten about what pleases your palate and she’ll whip up a tasty cocktail. I had a New York Sour (bourbon and red wine). Okay, I had three. They were that good.

Shop: Smith + Butler; By Brooklyn
If you enjoy how the cast of Girls dresses then you will love Smith + Butler. It’s everything the Brooklyn youth are wearing. Save Khaki, Zoe Karssen, Winter Session. They’re all there, resting on wooden benches or in vintage milk crates. You can literally feel yourself growing an ironic mustache as you enter the shop.

By Brooklyn sells apartment wares, accessories and gifts all made by local artisans. It’s easy to get lost looking at the candles, dishes, flavored popcorns and more. Yours truly happened to pick up some slate coasters and a slate cutting board.

Gawd, Brooklyn. So dumb, right?…

…Okay, it’s true!! I’ve caught the Brooklyn bug. I just want to sit in my own vintage barn with a record player, sipping bourbon out of a mason jar! I just really want to be cool…

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.

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.

543799_10101551325058949_1576961056_nIs anyone else having rooftop withdrawal? Just a quick post today for all you rooftop junkies in need of a quick (enclosed) rooftop fix to get you through this cold, rainy season.

Last night I hit up Jimmy, the rooftop bar at The James New York down on Thompson and Grand streets. I had never been to The James before, but I had heard rumors of its panorama prowess.

If you are looking for a fancy cocktail and a sparkling view of downtown NYC (and yes, a bit of Jersey…but I’ve always been a believer that alcohol and the night help to overlook flaws), take the trip downtown and visit The James.

View of Manhattan’s Upper East Side from Roosevelt Island

There is nothing wrong with seeing your own city through the eyes of a tourist. Most local New Yorkers are so obsessed with seeking out the “underground” and the “obscure,” that they miss some of the amazing parts of the city that have been deemed a little too “obvious.”

I can give you a long list of locals who have never been to the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building, because they figured that these structures have always been here so they’ll hit them eventually. Not to be morbid, but I know many people that never visited the World Trade Center, owing that to the same mentality. The point is, you can’t predict the future so you might as well soak up every little ounce of your own city. You never know what hidden gems you will find. Carpe diem and all that sh*t.

Taking my own advice, yesterday I decided to explore Roosevelt Island. From 1921 until 1973, Roosevelt Island was known as Welfare Island, and before that Blackwell’s Island. In the 19th century it was home to the New York City Lunatic Asylum, as well. It runs for approximately 40 blocks in the East River.  Truth be told, there still isn’t much on the island today – unless you are into exploring hospitals and apartment buildings. But if you are looking for a bite to eat, a frosty beverage and a killer view, keep reading.

Along the west side of the island, just steps from the F train, is Pier NYC, a small wharf with a wet bar and both a raw bar and BBQ stall. Good to know: The seafood stall, Santos seafood shack, is the brainchild of former Per Se man David Santos. The BBQ joint, John Brown’s Smokehouse, is helmed by Josh Bowen of Long Island City BBQ fame. We sat sipping ice cold beers and indulging in shrimp cocktail while watching the yachts and sailboats cruise against the Manhattan skyline. Not bad for a 90-degree Sunday. Beers are a little pricey ($8), but you are doing something touristy so it’s to be expected. Note: The raw bar accepts credit card but the BBQ joint is cash only.

Roosevelt Island can be accessed from Queens via a bridge at Vernon Boulevard and 36th Avenue. The F train also stops on the island, or you could take the sky tram from Manhattan.

With Memorial Day Weekend fast-approaching, it is time to formally introduce the Summer of Fun 2012 list. For those of you unfamiliar with Summer of Fun, it is that time in New York when we go out and explore just why this is arguably the best city in the world (and we also go out in search of justification for the ridiculous rent prices we all pay to be here).

Summer of Fun officially kicks off Wednesday, May 30, with Manhattanhenge and will run through Labor Day.

So for those of you looking for things to do in NYC this summer, here is what I will (be attempting to) do and report back on. Feel free to join in on the journey.

Ahh Murray Hill. You tricky little sonofab*tch. We all work near you, but you are the most obnoxious neighborhood in New York City in which to grab an after-work beverage.

Murray Hill exists roughly between E 34 and 42 streets between Fifth and First avenues. I’ve said this before, but it draws a douchier type of person. That being said, I know of a little spot to where you can go for a quick drink after work on a weeknight and not be bombarded (for the most part) by hordes of guys and gals who haven’t realized that college is over. This bar isn’t new and it isn’t particularly gimmicky. It’s just a good bar. Allow me to introduce The Ginger Man.

With 70 beers on tap and another 160 by the bottle, this is a brewer’s heaven. Add to that dark corners, a back living room and a creative twist on bar food, and this is a great spot to drop by with friends, or even alone with a book (as yours truly has been known to do).

The menu changes seasonally, as does the beer, AND you can get beer to go.

Note: The Ginger Man isn’t immune to douchebaggery. Don’t expect to go there at 6 p.m. on a Friday night and have a mellow time, but early on weeknights or on a Saturday afternoon you’ll be swimming in space and suds.

The Ginger Man is on E 36 Street between Fifth and Madison avenues.

I’m not a big fan of “cocktail culture.” I don’t need a fluorescent liquid in a martini glass with some sort of Japanese flower arrangement for garnish. Give me a cold beer, give me a glass of wine, give me a classic Dirty Martini, and I’m a happy girl.

But every once in a while I like to branch out and see what New York’s elite is drinking. Again, I do this for you.

Last night, après-shopping in SoHo, I decided to investigate The Daily, a new “must try” cocktail bar (so says New York Magazine), attached to Public Restaurant on Elizabeth Street.

The lure: A rotating daily menu of small plates and fancy elixirs. Sounded cool enough.

I’ll admit that while the decor was alluring (votives, vintage mirrors and mason jars), the portion size-to-price ratio was less than impressive. If you’re charging over $15 for a martini, it better be one to knock me on my ass. Instead, what I was served was a thimble-sized sip, which left me more thirsty than it did buzzed.

The fried oysters (of which there were supposed to be six), was more of a mess of tempura heaped on the plate: Fried oysters mingled among fried basil leaves and to be quite honest, I had no idea which was which. It was more batter than anything else.

I will be fair, however, and admit that the lamb burger was exceptional. (Be forewarned: It’s $13 and the size of a slider.)

So let’s cut to the chase, shall we? It’s no secret that I can delight in a pricey dinner. It doesn’t have to all be $3 tacos. I don’t minding spending $80 on a small meal, but it should at least live up to the hype. Be a fiesta in my mouth; an orgy for the senses, if you will. Tiny plates of pretentiousness need not inquire.