2015 marks Frank Sinatra’s 100th birthday. Over on Alcohol Professor, I’ve chosen to commemorate The Chairman of the Board’s centennial with The Chairman, The Poet, and The Dancer, looking at the history of Jilly’s Saloon, the joint Sinatra used as his home base whenever he was in New York City and owned by Jilly Rizzo, Sinatra’s right hand man. When he retired and sold the restaurant, it passed into the hands of a trio of Russians — including a Nobel Prize winning poet and the most famous ballet dancer in the world — who turned it into a hotspot for Russian ex-pats, intellectuals, and artists. Oh, and Johnny Carson was almost assassinated there by an angry Mob boss. Because of its length, it’s being posted in two parts. Part two is available here.
The first drink James Bond has in Risico, while meeting with his contact Kristatos, is a Negroni. Risico prominently features one more cocktail, if in a somewhat dismissive fashion. Kristatos identifies himself to Bond at the Hotel Excelsior’s bar with a signal: an Alexander, which amuses 007.
“Bond had been told to look for a man with a heavy mustache who would be by himself drinking an Alexandra. Bond had been amused by the secret recognition signal. The creamy, feminine drink was so much cleverer than the folded newspaper, the flower in the buttonhole, the yellow gloves that were the hoary, slipshod call-signs between agents.”
A light dusting of snow danced in swirling eddies across the sidewalk as we waited for the rumbling old elevator to arrive and admit us into its dark, wood-paneled interior. The operator nodded wordlessly to us, slid the door closed, and threw the lever that sent us upward in that creaking, moaning, shaking box. After what seemed an impossibly long and precarious ascent, the lift finally stopped and, just as wordlessly as he’d greeted us, the elevator operator bid us adieu and left us standing in a foyer lit by the yellow glow of incandescent bulbs. A row of wooden telephone booths lined one wall, and the sound of a little big band working their way through a Kay Kyser tune drifted to us on wisps of blue smoke coming from somewhere down a dark hallway.
Although Manhattan’s Chinatown is the best-known of the city’s many Chinese enclaves, other pockets of settlement that draw far fewer tourists and don’t really cater to non-Chinese speakers exist all over the five boroughs. The biggest, most crowded, and most interesting to explore is the Chinese neighborhood in Flushing, Queens. Sitting in the shadow of Citi Field and the remnants of the World’s Fair, Flushing is a massive Chinese neighborhood with a dense concentration of restaurants, shops, and arcades. It sees far fewer tourists than Manhattan’s Chinatown, so navigating it can be a little trickier if you don’t read and speak the language. Many signs have no English translations (some have Spanish translations), and many shop proprietors speak very little, if any, English. But fortune favors the adventurous, and you can generally get along just fine so long as you recognize the fact that, unless you are Chinese, you are the minority here.
Like many of the country’s big city’s New York was once a mecca for mid-century exotica, tiki bars, and places conceived entirely on the impressions of far away lands one could get from the album covers of Martin Denny or Alfred Lyman. Almost all of it is gone, though a few places still pay homage to American fantasies about Polynesia and the mysterious East. Nestled in a nondescript strip mall in Staten Island is New York City’s last remaining vestige of authentic tiki culture. Tiki establishments usually came in one of two flavors: the Trader Vic’s style cocktail lounge or the gussied up Chinese restaurant. Jade Island Restaurant, as you might guess from the name, is among the latter.
In November, I had a chance to visit San Diego for the first time. As befits a man of my tastes, the trip was built entirely around fancy places to eat and drink. San Diego offers a surprising number of options, both in the trendy, touristy downtown “Gaslamp” quarter, as well as in the surrounding suburbs and towns. With only a few days, I was hardly able to map any sort of definitive guide, and there were many stones left unturned. However, your pals at Teleport City — with an assist from accomplice Monster Island Resort — managed to hit enough bars and restaurants to make it worth jotting down on the off chance that you, too, one day find yourself in San Diego and long to follow in our footsteps. I was sans vehicle for most of the time and staying downtown, so most of my choices were driven by proximity as much as they were by recommendation. But either way, it worked out pretty well. As always, Greenie McGee of Greenie Travels fame was our regular partner in crime and is responsible for most of the pictures in this write-up.
I don’t usually go to celebrity restaurants. Unfair though it may be, I associate them with average food, higher prices, and a willingness to coast on the name of a disinterested star who was willing to slap their name onto the outside of the establishment. I’m in New York after all, and why would I sit with the tourists at Mickey Mantle’s or Don Schula’s or Michael Jordan’s when I just go to Keens and get an infinitely better meal for around the same price — and sit next to Teddy Roosevelt’s pipe to boot? However, I’m nothing if not a sucker for something marketed seemingly directly at me, so when legendary Knicks court general Walt “Clyde” Frazier appended his name to a Hell’s Kitchen eatery, my interest was piqued — first because I love Clyde, and second because it wasn’t a steakhouse.