The Marlton Hotel Bar, New York, NY

I was first hauled to this spot by a crazy older man that went by the handle James-Jim-Jimmy.  But that’s a story for another time.  The bar off to the left of the entrance is a great little escape from the cold.  With a huge fireplace and welcoming sofas and chairs, you really can’t beat it on a cold New York winter night.  The bar itself, just a few steps beyond the fireplace, attracts an interesting crowd to its stools and booths.  We’ve meet some characters in just a few visits – enough to keep us coming back for more.  The barkeeps are affable and professional and we had a good time chatting with them on at least one occasion.  If you should find yourself hanging around Washington Square Park, in need of a warm up and possibly a new friend, drop into the Marlton for more than a slim chance at success.

The Marlton Hotel, 5 West 8th St., New York, NY  10011    

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New York City Ballet’s The Nutcracker 2016

I’m gonna swoon here.  First, allow me to establish that I’m no ballet expert.  Though I’ve been to more than a few, and generally make a point to take in a performance or two each year, I could scarcely tell you what plie means.  But greatness is something I pride myself on recognizing on sight.  And this production is simply stunning!

The very idea that there were empty seats at the Tuesday night performance is a travesty.  My companion and I spent most of the time wowing, slapping each other’s legs in excitement, and generally (at least in my case) being transported back to those giddy days of Christmas past when my chest could scarcely keep my bursting heart caged.  No, really.  The stunning pageantry of the sets and costumes themselves are a sight to behold.  With gasps, of course.  The dancers’ execution is impeccable, right down to the children executing silent, elegantly playful moves perfectly in character.

A few words on the individual dancers from a neophyte.  The character Coffee that night was simply ravishing (either Megan LeCrone or Claire Kretzschmar, says the playbill).  Her every move an exquisitely sensual expression.  Lithe.  Indelible.  The power and grace of the Sugar Plum Fairy (Sterling Hyltin) and her Prince (Andrew Veyette) made of itself a whole other character – a ballet within a ballet.  Each time Veyette landed a jump, or Hyltin, one got the impression that he possesses the power to negate gravity:  not even the hint of a thump, landing like a feather each time.  In fact, I caught myself leaning forward as if in anticipation of a critical play in a sporting event – straining the ears and eyes in disbelief at the gentleness of each landing.  I could go on, at least if I knew what all the characters and movements were named.  Suffice to say that soon after the curtain rose an elegant older woman slipped into the seats to my right and spent the night whispering comments to herself with each difficult move, punctuated with physical spasms of delight.  I watched for her outbursts out of the corner of my eye and am quite convinced that she knew the dances, dancers, and ballet personally and expertly.  Suffice to say she exploded in emotion at the end.  So, you need not rely only simply on my thumbs up.

koch-theaterA couple of hacks.  The ground floor bars will always have a line.  Go up one flight of stairs where there are many more bars, much more space, and more than a few displays of costumes from performances past worth perusing.  You can ask for an intermission pre-order form at any of the bars and have your champagne and cookies waiting for you.  Sip your champagne, toss your head back in a haughty laugh, and wink at all the poor saps wasting their intermission waiting in line.  If, like they were for us, neither the weather nor clock are cooperating, hop across Columbia and pay Patrick a visit at PJ Clarke’s for a quick, but lovely, serving of prosecco and oysters and to swoon and chatter over the magnificent spectacle you were so lucky to have just attended.  You are welcome.

A small part of me was bummed that no photography of any type is allowed during the performance.  At least until I realized I could rely on the pre-installed recording equipment in the brain.  In our rush to constantly document everything, it was nice to recall that the explosive images the dancers and musicians created; the sense of excitement that made the air nearly vibrate; the lighting and stage-craft (Ronald Bates, Mark Stanley); and, of course, dashing brilliance of the conductor (Andrews Sill) and choreographer (George Balanchine) all married together in a perfect cocktail of memories that only my companion and I have the privilege of ever enjoying.  But you, dear reader, can take this much away:  if it’s remotely of interest, go.  Go and enjoy one of the most gorgeous of holiday celebration activities that money can buy in the finest place on earth to do so . . . New York City Ballet will never fail you.

The Nutcracker, New York City Ballet, David H. Koch Theater, Lincoln Center Plaza, New York City

Un Je Ne Sais Quoi, Washington, DC

I generally avoid reviewing places in cities that I live in.  There are a few reasons.  First, I’m a jerk and don’t want my favorite spots to get so overwhelmingly popular that I can no longer get a seat.  Second, honestly, I still consider the mean quality level of offerings in DC to be so far behind other cities that there’s just no point.  There are exceptions, and consider this the first instalment of my reformation.

This is my new jam.  The owners Aude and François-Yann Buisine hail from northern France.  At this point, I have never seen anyone working the counter but the two of them.  Aude always greets me with a warm, smiley “bonjour” and does not reserve the warmth only for me.  The space lends itself well to the reading of books and the writing of things that do not require internet connectivity.  That translates to a blessed lack of laptop-clogged tables with clickety-clacking self-important millennial types doing their startup gigs.  Instead, you hear conversations, enjoy soft, elegant seating, and Illy brand espresso drinks made with care and a glaring lack of hollered, mispronounced names.

Jailed Croissants.JPG
Croissants so good they have to put them in jail

But what of the baked goods?  They make a range of exquisite-looking pasties and deserts, but I can only vouch for the non-sweets.  Listen:  the plain butter croissants are the best I have had since the DuPont Circle Farmer’s Market made the monumentally stupid decision to chase Baltimore’s Bonaparte bakery out of their market (I have never gone back since this move – anything else I ever bought there was simply by virtue of its proximity to Bonaparte’s luscious wares).  These croissants compare favorably to anything you will find in Paris, Lyon, Nice, or beyond.  The brioche has the dense but airy consistency that I want from a brioche.  In a word, both the croissants and the brioche are a perfect “A” note.

Epilogue:  after my summer away, there now is more counter help, WiFi, and a bustling trade.  At least I know they won’t be closing soon.  Thus far, the quality has not dropped off one bit!

Un Je Ne Sais Quoi, 1361 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC  20036