T+L Reports: The Catskills, Maine, London Cabs
A FRESH FACE FOR THE CATSKILLS
To many, the Catskills still conjure up images of the borscht belt and its summer resorts, popular with families through the 1960's. The recently opened Emerson Inn & Spa is laying stereotypes to rest—no all-you-can-eat buffets, stand-up comics, or dirty dancing—and signaling the emergence of a newly fashionable profile for this region, where Uma Thurman, Kirsty Hume, and Brad Pitt own houses. In the millennial version of a New York State retreat, afternoon high tea, a veritable European Union of a staff, and a smidgen of old-world charm have brought luxury to a rural spot. The rambling hallways of this Victorian, built as an inn in 1874, are lined with bookshelves, and the 24 rooms are decorated in five different themes, including Victorian and African. In the restaurant, Alsatian chef Gilbert Steiner, previously at La Tour d'Argent in Paris, serves local Hudson Valley delicacies such as foie gras and goat cheese. But it is the Eastern-themed spa, in a new building laid out by a feng shui master, that makes the Emerson a real draw: guests can indulge in reiki and Indian head massages. Welcome to the new Catskills. Emerson Inn & Spa, 146 Mount Pleasant Rd., Mount Tremper, N.Y.; 845/688-7900, fax 845/688-2789; doubles from $380.
Restaurateur Matthew Kenney made his name in Manhattan with hypermodern spots like Commune and the Mark Newson—designed Canteen. For his newest projects he headed to Maine, the land of boiled lobster dinners (and his home state). The spare Commissary (Portland Public Market; 207/228-2057; dinner for two $120) brought a dash of Kenney's cosmopolitan flair to Portland when it opened in November. The Nickerson Tavern in Searsport will debut this summer in a rustic 150-year-old colonial with its own one-acre herb garden. Though divergent in theme, what they will share is a focus on local food, be it fiddleheads in the spring or Damariscotta oysters in summer.
Last year, London's classic black cabs got some fashionable competition from Karma Kabs, kitschy Indian-style taxis. Now another Asian mode of transport, the rickshaw, has become the grooviest—and easiest—way to navigate the crowded streets of Soho and the West End. Called Bugbugs, the 23 high-tech three-passenger pedicabs are pulled by brave souls willing to dash in and out of traffic. Hail one (or reserve in advance), jump in the covered carriage, and you're home, Jeeves. 44-207/620-0500; from $7.25 a mile per person.
Tired of those surprise vacation snaps—you know, the ones where the Eiffel Tower appears to be sprouting out of your head?Kodak's new Advantix Preview gives you a chance to check your photography skills in advance. The lightweight point-and-shoot camera combines an LCD screen with standard APS film; you can instantly view the picture you've snapped. Don't like what you see?Press a button and the image won't be printed. Think it's fabulous?Another click, and you can order up to nine extra prints (the request is electronically embedded on the film and processed when you turn in your roll). From $299; www.kodak.com.
Staying in Venice usually means choosing between an old-world pensione and stupendous grandeur. Now the Italian Deco—style Ca' Pisani, the first boutique hotel in the refined Dorsoduro sector, combines the two. The wine bar has a Futurist motif; the 29 rooms have contemporary silver-leafed cabinetry and Bang & Olufsen phones. But you'll never forget you're in Venice, especially with those views of Santa Maria della Salute. Ca' Pisani Hotel, 979/a Dorsoduro; 800/337-4685 or 39-041/277-1478; doubles from $210.
Hearing the pleas of clients in search of the perfect all-purpose tote, New York—based interior designer Greg Jordan took action. With his signature blend of rich colors and avant-garde fabrics, Jordan's polished vinyl and PVC bag makes the ideal carry-on, roomy enough for a stack of magazines and a laptop. If you like his first go at the accessories market, just wait till he releases his luggage line this fall. 866/570-4470; $65.
HOME CHIC BAHAMAS
The Landing has long been Harbour Island's most popular restaurant for vacationing moguls and models (Elle Macpherson has a house close by). Now the owners, former Miss Bahamas Brenda Barry and her children, have enlisted the help of British model-turned—interior designer India Hicks to transform the two colonial buildings next door into a seven-bedroom inn. Hicks's taste is homey, and she has mixed Brenda's vast collection of personal photos with overstuffed sofas, four-poster beds, and mint-green Adirondack chairs on the wraparound veranda. The laid-back luxury (coupled with the restaurant's powerful caipirinhas) just might give the island's esteemed Pink Sands a run for its money. The Landing, Harbour Island, Bahamas; 242/333-2740; $205.
Drag queens, prom queens, and Main Line socialites are all rubbing elbows—and trading tweezing tips—at Scarlett, flamboyant makeup maven Scarlett Messina's new Philadelphia shop. Messina is famous for her over-the-top catalogue, Hollywood clientele, and New Hope, Pennsylvania, store (zebra-skin rugs, hot pink walls, nonstop Blondie). She has stocked the new Rittenhouse Square location with her outrageous new makeup line, Centerfold, and clothes from Anna Sui and Betsey Johnson. Total glam-o-rama. Scarlett, 104 S. 13th St.; 215/875-9408. —L.D.P.
BOCA'S HOT TABLE
Lucca, Drew Nieporent's latest venture, makes the tough-to-come-by reservations at his exclusive New York sushi joint, Nobu, look democratic. On the grounds of Florida's Boca Raton Resort & Club, Lucca has a David Rockwell—designed interior and Tuscan fare overseen by Campagna alum Kevin Garcia. But no ifs, ands, or "I know De Niro"s: you'll have to reserve a room or be a club member if you want to try Lucca's to-die-for ravioli with oxtail ragù or Fiorentina rib eye. Lucca, 501 Camino Real; 561/447-3000; dinner for two $100.
BOSTON SLUMBER PARTY
Like their last venture, La Brasserie de l'Entrecôte in Lisbon, Cecilia and Peter Rait's Beacon Hill Hotel & Bistro in Boston is sure to be the toast of the town. On historic Charles Street, Cecilia and Peter have converted two connecting 1830 and 1850 town houses into a 13-room inn with flat-screen TV's, mahogany fireplaces, and cool color schemes (gray, cream, and the occasional splash of Matisse red). Open the plantation shutters for views of Beacon Hill's cobblestones, gas lanterns, and 200-year-old brownstones. Downstairs, chef Al Soto, formerly of La Grenouille in New York, serves classic French bistro food like cotriade, a Breton fish soup, and steak frites. Beacon Hill Hotel & Bistro, 25 Charles St.; 617/723-7575; doubles from $225.
In the Hindu religion, amrita is an elixir that promises eternal youth. It's also one of the largest spas in Asia. On three levels at the Raffles City complex in Singapore, the new 50,000-square-foot spa lives up to its name with a global treatment menu, meditation rooms, a yoga studio, and a cardio-fitness entertainment theater (think Sweatin' to the Movies). Try the Chinese reflexology treatment in a soothing water garden, a Vichy steam shower, or a bath in a space-age whirlpool adjusted by remote control. End with a smoothie from the Alligator Pear Restaurant. What's Hindi for "bottoms up"?Amrita, 2 Stanford Rd.; 65/336-4477.
Razor scooters are over. Trend-conscious Japanese urbanites have been scooting around Tokyo on power-assisted bikes (a tiny motor helps push the pedals along, so you barely break a sweat). Now the idea crosses the Pacific with the introduction of Ford's Th!nk Bike, available in a retro-yet-sturdy city-spinner (a Schwinn for the Jetsons) and a compact foldable model (shown here). An indicator keeps track of power usage, so your rechargeable battery won't run out of juice when you run out of steam. Th!nk Bike, 800/252-4221; from $995.
SPICE IT UP
Chefs Susan Spicer and Donald Link borrowed the name and flavor of Herbsaint, the local anise-based aperitif once made with absinthe, for their just-opened New Orleans bistro. The minimalist décor, bright lighting, and slow-as-Paris service conspire to make you forget everything but the food. The menu is a mix of Southern ingredients, French cuisine—hints of Spicer's Bayona—and a dash of Link's years in California. The most popular dish: devilish chocolate beignets. Herbsaint, 701 St. Charles Ave.; 504/524-4114; dinner for two $70.