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Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in North America.
Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in North America.
Looking at the trailblazing winery that Alonso Granados runs in Mexico’s Valle de Guadalupe, it’s hard to believe that a decade ago he didn’t even know wine was made from grapes.
The then student lawyer had returned home for a family dinner when a winemaker his father had hired brought out some wine he had produced off the family property. His father had bought the land with the intention of re-selling it, but Alonso soon had other ideas.
“I was in my last year of law school and I came back with a very strange feeling that I wanted to leave my career and start winemaking. I Googled schools to study at. 1 finished my degree and booked my ticket and left for Spain to study winemaking. It was the best thing I ever did.”
In August 2015, Alonso opened Decantos Vinicola, an imposing winery and tasting room that rises out of the parched landscape like a mirage on the horizon. In the Old World, it is often said that the more vines struggle the better the wine, and when you see how vines grow on some of the rocky slopes in Spain, you understand the truth in that.
It also seems to ring true in the dry and barren Valle de Guadalupe region, north of the city of Ensenada in Baja California, the long peninsula extending down from San Diego.
A 90-minute drive from the U.S. border, this is Mexico’s most up and coming wine region, a place where sophistication and innovation sit side by side with rustic authenticity.
Many of the roads are still rutted and unpaved but they lead visitors to impressive cellar doors, elegant and comfortable accommodations, and world-class restaurants and bars. Some have likened it to the Napa Valley of 30 years ago but that would be doing both the Napa Valley and Valle de Guadalupe a disservice.
It has a character and a charm all its own, a low-key feel that is assuredly Mexican but outward-looking enough to take the best winemaking and other traditions from abroad and develop them into its own.
Much of this story is told in the Museo de la Vid y el Vino (Museum of Vines and Wines), a great introduction to the region and worth seeing for its artefacts, artworks and splendid view, although unfortunately little of the signage is in English, so you might need a guide.
Here you’ll learn how wine was introduced by missionaries in the 1700s, how Russian
immigrants planted vines in the early 1900s, and how the last few decades have seen a boom in the development of Valle de Guadalupe as a wine region, credited to three winemakers in particular: Santo Tomas, Cetto and Domecq.
Two decades ago, you could count Baja’s wineries on both hands. Today, the Ruta del Vino (Wine Route) boasts more than 120 wineries, along with restaurants, art galleries, boutique hotels, ranches and resorts. The Mediterranean-like weather, coupled with unforgettable landscapes – especially around the coastline and mountain ranges – add to its appeal.
Game-playing New Yorkers have a field day at Fat Cat, a vast subterranean games room which holds 10 pool tables, 10 ping-pong tables, along with half a dozen foosball and shuffleboard tables, chessboards, and a bar area where people can sit and play Scrabble or backgammon.
The place is dark, crowded, and usually noisy, and adding to the energetic mayhem are jazz, soul, or Gospel bands playing on a small stage tucked to the side. Three groups play each night from 7pm–2am, with an informal jazz jam session taking over until closing at 4.30am. At night the place is generally packed with 20–30-year-olds and the NYU student set looking for an inexpensive and fun alternative to nightclubs and restaurants.
Bowlmor Lanes near Union Square is also a nighttime destination for New Yorkers looking for something different to do. The management at Bowlmor spiffed up a neglected three-floor bowling alley about a decade ago, turning it into a retro-hip spot with glow-in-the-dark bowling, big-screen videos, a huge sound system and a couple of bars. Some complain both the drinks and the bowling are too expensive ($24 for shoes and unlimited bowling from 9pm–1am), but others counter that the place is well managed and conveniently located.
The cafe Doma, meaning ‘home’ in Czech, is certainly home for many freelance scribblers, actors, filmmakers, and other creative types who use this cafe as a more spacious alterative to their tiny apartments nearby. Although often as quiet as a library (albeit a see-and-be-seen library, where eyes swoop to the door when it opens), the cafe has an unspoken rule that sitting at the central table means you’re open to conversation – friendships, romances, and business deals have all sprouted here. Doma (pictured above) also serves light cafe fare (omelets, salads, and gourmet sandwiches), as well as wine and beer in the evenings.
Set in a former garage, Grounded is a more hipster alternative to Doma, priding itself on a post-hippie, lived-in feel with kitschy thrift-shop mugs, politically-correct coffee, and a soundtrack that alternates between ‘70s staples and current indie Brooklyn bands. Like Doma, Grounded has a social common area of wooden benches and a couch grouped around a coffee table, where it’s acceptable to chat with the person next to you.
Joe’s has won best cafe in the New York press because of the quality of the coffee, but the atmosphere isn’t quite as enticing as at Doma or Grounded. It’s smaller here, usually quite crowded, and the tables and chairs are less comfortable. However, getting a spot outside on one of two benches and watching activity on this pretty street is an ideal way to spend an hour or two on a warm day. There’s a second Joe’s by Union Square (9 E. 13th St), where it’s easier to get a table.
A great way to kick off a tour of New York’s neighborhood-of-the-moment is to get a glimpse of fashionable life in the 1800s at Merchant’s House on East Fourth Street. This elegant red-brick row house was home to a prosperous merchant family, and today it’s the only home in New York preserved intact from the mid-19th century, with much of the original furniture, decor, and family belongings still in place.
A block away is the Bowery, a once dodgy thoroughfare now home to some of the city’s hippest new hotels and buzz-worthy restaurants. Have a drink at the sleek cocktail bar at The Marlton Hotel (pictured above) or enjoy the intimacy of the vaulted dining room that’s lined with quaint shuttered windows and trailing plants.
Down the street is The Lobby Bar at the Bowery Hotel, where Ashton threw a birthday party for Demi, and Mark Anthony for J-Lo. Settle into oversized velvet chairs and take in the opulent French château hunting-lodge feel of the place with its marble fireplaces, wall-mounted antlers, and oriental carpets. The hotel’s rustic restaurant Gemma is a good place for a casual meal or coffee.
Big-name chefs are now on the Bowery: Daniel Boulud’s DBGB’s Kitchen and Bar (299 Bowery, tel: 212-933-5300) – named in homage to the Bowery’s defunct rock club CBGB’s – features upscale burgers and sausages, while hit-making restaurateur Keith McNally has opened his latest rustic Italian, Pulino’s Bar and Pizzeria (282 Bowery, tel: 212-226-1966) on this trendy stretch.
Following a $16 million renovation which took over six years to complete, Washington Square Park is a pleasant spot to sit on a bench with a paper and maybe a spot of lunch, listen to music, and enjoy the ebb and flow of Villagers, bohemians, tourists, students and academics from surrounding NYU buildings, workers on breaks, and local residents with their dogs.
If you’re lucky, you’ll be there when the fragrant food cart of Sri Lankan-born Thiru Kumar is parked on the south edge of the park at Sullivan Street (Mon–Fri 11am–4pm, but times can vary depending on the weather). His mild or spicy dosas are praised by foodies across the city.
The park has been a draw for musicians since World War II, when folkies would gather near the fountain on weekend afternoons. Buddy Holly, Woodie Guthrie, and Bob Dylan have all jammed here over the years, and the tradition continues. Classical concerts are held in the northeast corner of the park in July, and Christmas caroling takes place around the arch in December.
In the southeast corner of the park, regular chess players do battle, while ‘chess hustlers’ take on passersby in an attempt to make a few bucks. On Sundays, champions from the National Scrabble Club gather here to compete.
Over the past decade, more than $400 million have been poured into converting industrial land and abandoned piers along the Hudson River into the Hudson River Park (www.hudsonriverpark.org) a 5½-mile stretch of parks, bike and pedestrian paths, tennis and basketball courts, and places to fish or launch a kayak. It’s quickly become a favorite escape for nature-starved, stressed-out New Yorkers and tourists. The paths run from Battery Park up to 59th Street, passing more than half a dozen converted piers with green space, outdoor theaters, and benches. But most New Yorkers agree the best stretch lies below 23rd Street.
Pier 45 is perfect for lying out on the grass and taking in a rare sense of open space. Enjoy the views of the Statue of Liberty and the New Jersey shoreline, a sunset, or watch the river traffic ballet of police and tourist helicopters, tugboats, cruise-ships, and kayaks. The last can be rented for free for 20-minute trips further south at the Downtown Boathouse, Pier 40 (www.downtownboathouse.org, Sat–Sun 9am–6pm, life jackets and brief instruction provided.
For intrepid individuals looking for an upside-down view of the Hudson River, the New York Trapeze School offers 2-hour lessons for about $50–60, also at Pier 40 (tel: 212-242-TSNY; www.newyork.trapezeschool.com).
But one of the best ways to enjoy the new park is on two wheels. Bike rentals are available in Midtown from Pier 84 at 44th Street (www.bikeandroll.com) or at Battery Park.
The city that never sleeps is especially nocturnal in Korea Town, as 32nd Street between Sixth and Fifth avenues is known. On the block-long strip you can dig into Korean barbecue, sing karaoke, or soak in a spa around the clock.
In dozens of restaurants, galbi (thinly sliced beef short ribs), jeyook gui (broiled pork), bugogi (sirloin), saeoo gae (jumbo shrimp), and other specialties are prepared at your table – either grilled over coals or sautéed on a hot griddle. Accompaniments are bibimbop (rice and vegetables) and bi bim naeng myun (noodles topped with kimchi, or pickled vegetables). Among the favorite places on the street to enjoy these delicacies are Shilla (37 W. 32nd St, tel: 212-967-1880), with a three-story tall dining room; Mandoo Bar (2 W 32nd St, tel: 212-279-3075), with its dumplings being made in the front window; and BCD Tofu House (17 W. 32nd St, tel: 212-967-1900), where a hearty tofu stew is the house specialty.
Wherever you dine, and whatever you order, you will probably wash down your meal with soju, a clear, potent liquor that looks and tastes quite a bit like vodka. After a few glasses, you will be well primed to partake of K Town’s other great diversion, karaoke. The neighborhood’s two most popular venues are Chorus Karaoke (25 W. 32nd St, tel: 212-967-2244), and Duet 35 (53 W. 35th St, tel: 646-473-0827).
Should these exertions wear you out, the Juvenix Spa (25 W. 32nd St, fifth floor) is open at all hours to provide a sweat in a sauna made of semiprecious stones and a soak in a tub filled with sake, tea, and algae. If the weather is good, and midnight has not yet struck, you might want to make a stop at La Quinta Inn (17 W. 32nd St). Ascend to the Sun Roof, a pleasant aerie where cocktails are served until midnight – when the night is still young in this 24-hour neighborhood.
Not too much gets a unanimous nod of approval from New Yorkers, but the High Line is one of those rare exceptions. Just about everyone seems to have something good to say about this elevated promenade, a refreshing strip of greenery that cuts an aerial swath through the heart of Chelsea, between Tenth and Eleventh avenues all the way from Gansevoort Street to 34th Street.
The High Line is a disused railway trestle that once handled train traffic up and down the West Side, a supply route for factories and warehouses. Fountains, patches of greenery (some cultivated from the wild plants that took root on the abandoned tracks), and benches line the route, reached by staircases from the streets below.
As you follow the High Line you can peer down into the Meatpacking District and other old industrial neighborhoods below. At 17th Street, the view south extends all the way across New York Harbor to the Statue of Liberty. At 18th Street, the Empire State Building looms into view. Some of New York’s most exciting new architecture has risen around the High Line, including a curvaceous glass creation by Frank Gehry at Eleventh Avenue and 18th Street.
At sunset, an orange glow hangs over the Hudson River, and discreet lighting along the route ensures that the night sky, enlivened here and there with a faint star, provides a romantic canopy above the route. Weekday mornings the walkways are uncrowded, a quiet sanctuary as the workaday city rushes by below.
Decor aficionados salivate at the thought of a shopping spree at ABC Carpet (preferably if someone else is picking up the tab). This boho-luxury furniture and home wares emporium is a New York institution known to induce fevers in those vulnerable to sticker shock, but it is unparalleled in its ability to inspire interior designer wannabes. Walk the creaky floors in this high-ceilinged Beaux-Arts building, and explore six levels of furniture, linen, house wares, and electronics. The furniture is both new and antique, ranging from industrial, Danish modern, 18th-century French, and Asian to modern retailers like Mitchell Gold & Bob Williams or Ralph Lauren. There are real finds here from around the world, such as Venetian chandeliers from Murano glass factories, Indonesian wedding beds, organic towels and linens, and, of course, piles and piles of carpets of all sizes, colors, and origins at the satellite store across the street at 881 Broadway – ABC Carpet is above all, the largest carpet and rug retailer in the world.
When you’ve reached design saturation, head to City Bakery for the best salad bar in the city, or for one of their signature pick-me-ups, such as the pretzel croissant or their rich, thick hot chocolate with a homemade giant marshmallow. The salad bar serves Asian-inspired dishes (Thai saffron rice with Lotus seeds; pesto soba noodle salad; grilled pineapple with ancho chili) or yummy comfort food like mac & cheese, or red bean and tomato stew with chipotle and lime. Take a seat on the main floor, or look down at the bustling crowd from upstairs in this large airy space with an industrial feel.
The floors may be warped in places, many rooms have no views, there are no hairdryers or extra towels, and some complain the place is downright creepy, but no hotel in New York City can claim the bohemian artistic heritage of the Hotel Chelsea. Long-term residents included Leonard Cohen, Janis Joplin, Dylan Thomas, Arthur Miller, and Arthur C. Clarke (who wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey here); the place was a favorite haunt of Patti Smith, Stanley Kubrick, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Jean-Paul Sartre. Andy Warhol shot Chelsea Girls here in 1966, documenting the lives of Factory alumni living here, such as Edie Sedgwick, and the 1986 film Sid and Nancy depicts the murder of Nancy Spungen by Sid Vicious in their room on the ground floor in 1978. The general public isn’t allowed past the lobby, so taking an inexpensive room is the best way to explore the place – the grand staircase stretches up 12 flights, its walls are lined with art by guests and visitors, and the dark corridors with spots of peeling paint feel as though they belong in a state mental institution. Not for everyone, but a treat for the culturally inclined.
Old New York also lives next door to the Hotel Chelsea at the Spanish restaurant El Quijote, serving plates piled high with lobster and seafood paella along with pitchers of first-rate sangria in a traditional decor that feels like Madrid circa 1955. Don’t expect first-rate service here, but instead enjoy a glimpse of old-school New York in one of the few traditional Spanish restaurants left in the city.