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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…

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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.

This post is a little dated, but while I hunt for new material, you may enjoy this blast from the past. Last February I took my first trip to Asia when I visited the newly renovated Fairmont Peace Hotel in Shanghai. Enjoy!

I never drink liquor. But when you walk into the Presidential Suite of the Fairmont Peace Hotel, the Sassoon Suite, which overlooks the Bund, and the general manager hands you a Dirty Martini, the least you can do is drink happily.

The Sassoon Suite is located on the 10th floor of the 11-story hotel. It was originally the private apartment of Victor Sassoon, the first owner of the Peace Hotel. It has a sizable living and dining area, two bathrooms, master bedroom and master bathroom with one of the largest marble tubs I have ever seen.

After sipping our swank cocktails, the GM, Kamal Naamani  escorted our group to the Shanghai Room for a private dinner reception – a blend of east meets west. We dined on traditional drunken chicken (chicken soaked in rice wine), steamed dumplings, marinated vegetables and a deliciously unctuous fois gras.

As if we weren’t treated enough like 1920s high society, dinner was followed by a trip to the world famous Jazz Bar, where we swilled chilled Manhattans and listened to the plunk of the bass and the snap of the snare. I felt like I should have been sporting a bob haircut and sipping gin from a flask hitched under my skirt: from zero to high society boozehound in just one night.

The evening was enough to put my weary, jet lagged bones straight to sleep in my giant king sized bed. I had to be well-rested for my grueling day of spa treatments….I know, you hate me.

After waking up with a bowl of hot won ton soup (not as good for a hangover as you may think) I was ready to lay back down on the spa table and allow the therapist to do whatever she wanted to do with my lush of a self.

I made my way to the brand-spanking-new Willow Stream Spa, which was added to the Peace Hotel as part of Fairmont’s $64 million restoration. The spa has nine treatment rooms, two couples rooms, a fitness center, pool, sauna and steam room.

I was greeted by Spa Director Lyndell Nelis who guided me to the resting area and handed me a cup of hot ginger tea. Linda, my therapist, came to fetch me and brought me into one of the treatment rooms for a 90-minute Mystic Peace treatment. Dear lord. All I could think during the 90 minutes (or at least for the portion during which I was awake) was ‘how much does this cost, because I’m scheduling another one for tomorrow.”

The treatment involves a massage that traces a continues knot on the body. Linda worked her way up and down my spine located exactly where my problem areas were and then proceeded to loosen up tension with a blend of essential oils and firm pressure. She had to pry me up from the table after the 90 minutes were up.

Little did I know that this hour and a half of bliss was absolutely imperative to keeping my sanity when I ventured out into the Shanghai night to tackle Yuyuan Garden, one of the largest gardens in Shanghai. It was built in 1559 as a private garden during the Ming Dynasty. Today it serves as a shopper’s paradise, built within the Imperial buildings and alleyways. Looking for your Louis Vuitton knockoff? It’s there. Jade bracelets? Silk prints? Wood carvings? Check, check and check. Get ready to dust off your haggling skills. It’s easy to talk vendors down at least 40 percent. And in some cases, say for instance, when you are taken to the back room on the top floor of a dirty department store and shown the back closet which is lined with designer bags, you are cornered while the vendors shout lower and lower prices at you until you finally agree to buy…but I’m speaking only hypothetically here…anyway….

Did I mention one of the most famous dumpling houses, Nanxing Dumplings, is also located in Yuyuan Gardens? Anthony Bourdain made a stop here in his Shanghai episode of No Reservations. That’s enough for me. Twelve yuan (about $2) gets you 12 little soup dumplings.

Three days in China is not much at all, but it definitely gave me enough of a taste that I know I need to get back as soon as possible.