Food For Thought

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I didn’t know Tony Bourdain personally, but since 2013, I spent a good deal of time talking about him, as he was the Patron Saint of Bronx Academy of Letters a small school in the Bronx where I’ve spent the past five years volunteering on their Advisory Board. Tony, as everyone called him at BAL, was the source of our fundraising. Each year, he’d gather the best chefs in NYC to come and cook for the lucky attendees of our “Food for Thought” Chef Tasting. Our school was even featured in one of his No Reservations episodes about the Bronx, which Vulture named as one of his 15 best shows.

Tony was a big fan of BAL, and each year as he spoke at our benefit, he would credit his teachers for his love of reading and writing. He knew how important a good education was for future success. Yesterday, there was mention of Tony’s love and support for our school on social media and sites like cnn.com. Yesterday, online donations to our school came in all day in Tony’s name. It is a real tribute to how much people loved him.

This week, with everything that happened, I found myself drinking and eating more than I usually would. I have a feeling I wasn’t alone. Here are some highlights:

Rooftop cocktails at Broken Shaker and almost everything on the menu at Simon and the Whale in Gramercy.

Pizza from a Roberta’s alum, Negroni slushies, and bocce at Bocce inside Union Square Park!

A spicy Merguez sausage sandwich stuffed pita at Cafe Mogador on Saint Mark’s.

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Brunch at Pilot in Brooklyn on Pier 6 with lobster rolls, home fries with caviar and lots of rose – thanks Jacqueline and Dan for the rec.

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And then linner which included hot dogs, fries and more rose at Island Oyster due to a happy ferry mishap (mishaps when you are an empty nester turn into spontaneous fun!)

Getting into the white jeans tomorrow might be a problem.

Have fun. Be bold.

 

A Perfectly Imperfect Marriage

I recently read somewhere that if we only fell in love with people who were perfect for us, then there wouldn’t be so much fuss about love in the first place. That easily could have been written about my marriage to Tom. When we met, we had almost nothing in common.  I was a born and bred Jewish New Yorker from a divorced, and remarried family with several half-siblings, who attended college in NYC and only dated guys with accents. I wasn’t athletic in the least, and I’d never had a beer in my life; I preferred Kir Royales sipped slowly in dark wine bars in Soho. My hobbies included reading, dancing, and shopping in flea markets and second-hand stores. Tom grew up in a Catholic family in Rhode Island, with a football captain father, and a homecoming queen mother. His entire life centered around sports, all sorts. When the family would come to the beach house for weekends, they would get a keg (just for the family).

But from almost the first moment we met, in a training program at Merrill Lynch, we were melded to one another. It was a match that many couldn’t quite understand. This weekend, we celebrated our 28th wedding anniversary, and although it wasn’t a “big” number, each anniversary we celebrate is the most important day of the year. In my high school yearbook, when asked to list my life goals, it says, “To be the President of something, and to be married successfully.” I was 17 when I wrote that, and although I have given up on the first part, I couldn’t be happier that I have managed to attain the last.

Each year we make sure to make a big deal out of our anniversary, and this year was no different. We shared one of the best meals I’ve had in a long time with old Tokyo friends who now live in Napa. On a side note, if you want the inside scoop on all things Napa, follow Hilary’s blog at Napanista. I had somehow scored a reservation at Legacy Records, and it was the perfect place to celebrate our anniversary. From the gulp-able cocktails to the unbelievably delicious food, to the decor, and overall buzz in the room (not to mention sitting next to Sting), made it a great start to an exceptional evening.

From there, I reserved a table at our favorite champagne bar Air’s Champagne Parlor. Amanda saved us a fabulous corner table where we ordered a bottle of Louis Roederer vintage champagne and continued our celebration. Tom and Chris had fun with their Chambongs.

We ended the night at the bar at Gramercy Tavern with one last drink and a shared hamburger and homemade chips.

Saturday morning, Tom and I made our way to Raoul’s for an anniversary brunch. We had many dates at Raoul’s back in the late 80’s, and it continues to hold a special place in our lives. Not to mention, it has somehow managed to stay relevant 30 years later. The drag queens are gone, but you can still have your tarot cards read while you wait for the bathroom. They make an incredible hamburger au poivre that you can only enjoy at brunch or the bar. Somehow the soundtrack yesterday was from the 80’s and we ate our way out of our hangovers listening to the Pet Shop Boys, Soft Cell, and Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark.

The last of the planned weekend anniversary festivities was a real treat. We returned to Westchester for a small and very delicious dinner party with the two couples who were there when it all began. Some “never before told” stories were revealed over a perfectly cooked meal, accompanied by very old Moet. The perfect end to a magical weekend.

There is no such thing as a perfect marriage, but if you’re lucky, you’ll find yourself in a perfectly imperfect one.

Have fun. Be bold.

 

 

 

 

Old School

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Thomas Wolfe said, “You can’t go home again,” but that doesn’t apply to people from Rhode Island. Tom and I went back to Providence this weekend for his 30th reunion from Brown. Tom was not only a student at Brown, but he was a townie too, having grown up in Providence, which added another dimension to our walk down memory lane. What was so striking, was how much has remained the same in the capital of the smallest state in the union. From Antonelli’s poultry shop where Tom plucked feathers from chickens as a part-time job – at the age of 10, to the thick crust Caserta pizza, and the thin crust Al Forno’s, to the incredible Italian specialities on Federal Hill, and Andreas’ Greek restaurant on Thayer Street, nothing had changed.

Brown reunions are celebrated along with graduation, turning the entire city of Providence (which isn’t that large to begin with) Brown. They throw an incredible party, called Campus Dance, turning the green into a ballroom, a tradition started in the 1860’s! The event draws crowds up to 15,000 with attire ranging from shorts and t-shirts to tuxedos and top hats. They always have a big jazz band, and the entire green is lit with hundreds of paper lanterns. The last one I attended was in 1993 and one of the highlights was seeing JFK, Jr. and his date, Daryl Hannah.

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Instead of getting a hotel room 30 minutes outside of Providence (every room in town was booked), we decided to opt for an Airbnboat. When I reserved it way back in September, I thought how fun it might be, but when the time came to wheel my suitcase down the dock ramp, I started to question my decision. Tom, of course, was thrilled. I immediately popped three Bonine.

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Turns out, sleeping on a houseboat is fantastic. I haven’t slept better in years. This was my view brushing my teeth. Not a bad way to wake up.

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We even entertained a few old friends for sips and snacks.

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The weather changed from a blazing 90 degrees to 55 and pouring. We thought about leaving early and heading home, but we sort of got attached to the little houseboat. It was pretty cozy bundled up under the covers watching Lost in Space while the boat gently rocked, and the rain pelted the windows. I was actually a little sad to leave Monday morning.

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Our waiter at brunch said, “Providence is just like Boston, just friendlier and less expensive.” I’m not from Boston, so I can’t compare. But I think Providence is actually like nowhere else. I’m glad I get to call it my home-by-marriage. It’s a pretty special place, and they make some pretty awesome people.

Here’s a link to the houseboat.

Some not to miss spots while in Providence:

Al Forno

Milk Money

RISD Art Museum

For old school pizza that hasn’t changed since 1953 Caserta Pizza

Italian specialty shop like no other (sit and have a coffee with the locals while your sandwich is made): Venda Ravioli

Breakfast at Brickway on Wickenden (we went twice).

Have fun. Be bold.

 

 

 

Just When You’re Comfortable In Your Own Skin, It Starts to Sag

 

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Great title, right? I agree, but it’s not mine. It’s the title of a new book, just out from the dynamic duo Amy Nobile and Trisha Ashworth. If you haven’t read one of their previous books (also with amazing titles) I Was A Really Great Mom Until I Had Kids, and I’d Trade My Husband For A Housekeeper…among others, you need to get this one. (Full disclosure, I’m quoted twice in the book – try to figure out which ones…)

I virtually sat down with Amy and Trisha to talk about their book and the concept of perennials – the rebranding of Middle Age.

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Me: Hi Ladies! First of all, I want to say thank you for writing this book. It’s long overdue and after reading it, I can say that the wisdom within these pages completely spoke to me. I’m on a mission to make 50-something relevant, and sometimes I feel like the world is standing in my way. It’s a daily fight against age and gender bias.

Them: YES – we even fought age bias in pitching this book to the media!  Women’s magazines and some of the big national tv shows are shying away from the ‘midlife’ topic, as it’s just not ‘sexy.’  Yet women are buying the book like crazy for themselves and their friends!

Me: I love your goal of rebranding middle age, of rewriting the rules of midlife. And I appreciate your usage of the new term “perennial.” It’s so refreshing to hear something other than millennial. Explain that.

Them: Every time we interviewed a woman and used the word ‘’midlife,’ we could feel her cringe over the phone.  So we finally just put it in the spotlight and asked women what word they’d rather use, and there’s a page in the book that reflects these ideas (“kindergarten 2.0,” “Becoming”).  The word that seemed to light up each woman was “Perennial.”  They all seemed to love the symbolism – everlasting, ever blooming, more vibrant year after year.

Me: The book starts off with a question: “Is this it?” It’s something I ask myself on a daily basis. I guess I’m not alone?

Them: No you are most certainly NOT alone!  It’s a strange concept to feel like we are a lucky generation, that we have choices that are so much more bountiful than our moms, yet feel unfulfilled on some level.  We heard it over and over again – women whispering into the phone that they feel guilty/bad about feeling that they’re somehow lacking, or stuck.  And not sure of how to get themselves ‘unstuck.’

Me: Many of my friends are dealing with the family sandwich: parenting their newly minted young adult children and their elderly parents. It can be overwhelming. Any advice?

Them: This is a perfect storm situation.  It’s happening everywhere, yet we’re still shell-shocked when it affects us.  We’re having kids later, and suddenly we’re hormonal, they’re hormonal, and our parents need us as caregivers.  It’s incredibly overwhelming and once again, we put ourselves at the very bottom of the priority list.  The first step is to put ourselves not only back on that list, but near the top.  What are your weekly/monthly non-negotiables?  It could be something as small as a 20-minute walk or meditation each day.  But it’s vital to put that on the family calendar, let everyone know it’s happening and don’t overlook it.  We have to stay strong and start saying ‘no’ to some things in our lives to make room for these situations.

Me: My kids will roll their eyes at this, but my husband and I are extremely excited about being empty-nesters and have a new lease on life. That being said, it can be a huge transition from a busy, child-filled home, to it just being the two of you.  You sort of have to figure it all out again. What have some of your responders said about this transition?

Them: It’s a time laced with so many different emotions all at once – pride, excitement, fear, loss, sadness.  A lot of women told us that sending their kids to college was a sock in the stomach, and completely took an unexpected emotional toll on them.  Other women talked more about the transition in terms of how it shaped or shifted their marriages – you’re really forced to look at each other again, and some marriages don’t survive it.  In fact, after age 50, 3 out of 5 divorces are initiated by women, and the numbers are rising.  A smaller number of women said they were overjoyed to have their lives back in a sense, and described being empty nesters as like being in Kindergarten all over again.

Me: And how about girlfriends? Things change in that regard as well. The reason we became friends in the first place (kids, kids, kids) have gone to college. We have less to talk about, and sometimes it can be harder to connect in a meaningful way. Any suggestions?

Them: A lot of women talked about feeling very alone during this phase – and yes, it’s true that those friends we made because our kids were BFF’s aren’t usually the best fits as we progress, and the kids aren’t the common thread anymore.  We need to reassess who is in our lives now, who is serving us, who is not (we call this ‘pruning’), and make some decisions about what we really want in terms of friendships.  Even one solid meaningful girlfriend who truly gets you and is there for you in a positive way is worth more than 5 friends who are more superficial.  One way to meet new friends is to enroll in a class or club to do something you love – gardening, writing, running.

Me: After decades of others being the priority in our lives how do we put ourselves front and center?

Them: It takes a true effort to decide to focus on ourselves.  It’s a choice, every single day. It’s a conscious choice to be happy, to choose ourselves as someone we love.  Once we begin seeing each new day in that light, things will start to shift.

Me: And then, there’s the big M. Can we blame everything on menopause? What can we learn from those on the other side of the transition? In other words, am I ever going to get a good night sleep again?

Them: There is sooo much misinformation out there!  Even the doctors we interviewed had so much conflicting advice; it makes our heads hurt.  And menopause is so steeped in taboo that women are hesitant to talk with each other about it!  What surprised us most is the long laundry list of odd symptoms — like hearing sensitivity, anxiety (sometimes crushing) and changes in eyesight.  But once women got through it, and were on the other side, many of them said their sex drives were better than ever, they could lose weight again, and they were happier.

Me: There’s hope!!! Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions today. I know you are going to be very busy with the book tour. Looking forward to seeing you next Wednesday at the 92nd Street Y

I can’t think of a better book club book for women our age to talk about!  You can order one here.

Have fun. Be bold.

 

 

Mother Emeritus

 

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Being an empty nester brings both endings and beginnings, and for me, this was especially true yesterday. I remember many past Mother’s Days spent at Yankee Stadium, Playland Amusement Park, and other assorted kid-friendly locales, where I would spend most of the day chasing, wiping, feeding, blowing noses and often yelling. The peace only came when all were fed, watered, and put to bed.

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Later on, as I became a more seasoned mother, I remember cherished Mother’s Days spent alone, in my home, at my request, while my husband entertained the four children and I was able to do whatever I wanted. Usually, it included the pure joy of walking from room to room in my house, and finding them empty. I could polish off an entire novel in one sitting.

But now, at 52, with my oldest child 26 and my youngest 19, those labor-intensive and sometimes solitary Mother’s Days are long behind me, an ending that in retrospect I’m both melancholy and elated to see go. Because now, Mother’s Day is all about me, and I get to spend it surrounded by my grown children.

My kids understand two things that are sacrosanct to me when it comes to Mother’s Day; it’s the thought that counts, and it’s an insult, eye roll free day. The word of the day is KIND, and I usually bound out of bed ready for the loving, warm, selfless, considerate, big-hearted moments to unfurl. And to their credit, they do. My smile is especially wide on this day.

Sometimes, the stars align, and I get to share it with my mom, and that is what happened this weekend. A mother’s day gift in and of itself, and as a bonus, I spent a good majority of my weekend holding my new niece, Jules. Nine weeks old and life affirming. There is nothing better for the soul then holding a sweet smelling newborn.

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Last week I went to the Tefaf Art Fair at the Park Avenue Armory. It graces NYC twice a year in spring and fall. I highly suggest you put it on your fall to do list. As my artist daughter, Sophie said, “This art show is extra.” Maybe it was the strolling cart of Ruinart Champagne, or the oyster bar, or the hundreds of real flowers hanging from the ceiling, or the priceless works of art for sale that had prices like $3.5 mm. Or maybe it was the clientele and their ensemble and exotic accents. Or perhaps it was the very Old New York setting of the Park Avenue Armory. Regardless, it’s a must go.

 

Meeting up for lunch on the upper east side, I usually gravitate towards  Fred’s, Grazie or BG in Bergdorf’s – all of which I love, but I had a friend in from LA, and I wanted to try something new. I chose Amali, and we had a lovely lunch in their back room that feels like a garden, but is actually inside.

Job Hunt Update: I have a follow-up interview this week at a firm that I’m very interested in, and think could be a great fit; more on that next week.

Things I’m looking forward to this spring:

The opening of Broken Shaker the rooftop spot on the top of the Freehand Hotel that’s in my neighborhood. I’m intrigued by the brunch option.

Pisellino the new joint venture between the chefs from Buvette and Via Carota two of my all-time favorite West Village spots.

Oh, and eating oysters and drinking rose at Grand Banks.

See you next week when I post my interview with my favorite perennials Amy Nobile and Trisha Ashworth, co-authors of Just When You’re Comfortable in Your Own Skin, It Starts to Sag who will be speaking at the 92nd Street Y on May 23rd.

 

Have fun. Be bold.

 

 

I’m Not Feeling It

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I’ve been looking for my next big thing since January, and it’s been quite the learning experience. First was the resume creation, which in and of itself was humbling; you have to come face to face with what you’ve actually been doing (and sometimes not doing) over the course of your so-called life. Next up was asking the actual question – What is it you really want to do? That question stopped me where I stood, and to this day it’s an evolving answer. And then there was the dreaded headshot for the Linkedin profile. The woman who worked on my resume recommended I upload a few photos to the crowdsourcing website Photofeeler  The big idea behind the site is that you upload a picture (you specify whether it will be used for social purposes (dating) or professional (getting a job)). Then, other users give their honest opinions of your picture. The first photo I uploaded was me smiling right at the camera.

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This picture yielded comments like “Would prefer if they were smiling a bit less,” and “I think it would be better as a social picture.” My likable score was 82%! But my influential score was 25%. Not great for getting a job. I uploaded a new pic.

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“They seem a little arrogant.” My likable score dropped to 51%! My influential score was now a whopping 45%. I didn’t use either and opted to upload a professional photo I used for a weekly column I wrote several years ago. The problem was, it wasn’t representative of how I felt about myself today. So, when the opportunity for free headshots presented itself, I jumped! The photographer would take headshots for free in return for helping out with the promotion of a new book (more on that in another blog entry). The picture was taken in a Soho coffee shop during the weekday morning buzz and chatter. I was completely mortified, and as a result, the muscles in my face decided to play games. It was an embarrassing 15 minutes, but I’m happy with the results. This looks and feels more like me today.

Ok, enough. Let’s talk food and fun. This week I struck gold while walking in the West Village. Tom and I passed by a cute little Thai spot with a sign out front that said Garden Open. The food was so authentic at Pinto Garden, and the garden was lovely, I made reservations for dinner in a few weeks. And if you are a banana pudding fan, all I can say is that it’s the best one I’ve ever eaten. And it comes in a Chinese takeout container. The picture doesn’t do it justice. Just go.

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I ate ramen twice this week. Once at Ivan Ramen. I met Ivan Orkin in Tokyo and first ate his unique style of ramen in Japan. I enjoyed his spicy bowl of noodles on the LES and will return to try more of the menu. I find it very funny that you can make a reservation at a ramen shop. I’m sure anyone from Japan would agree.

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The second bowl I ate was the Tan Tan Men at Naruto Ramen. Tan tan is my favorite type of ramen, and yet it’s not often found at NYC ramen shops. If you haven’t tried it, you need to.

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I enjoy spending time with people decades older than me because they are wise and have no filter – which makes the conversation both enlightening and entertaining. That is exactly the way I felt sitting in the 92nd Street Y audience listening to Iris Apfel talk about her new book. She’s 96 and smart as a whip. Her memory is sharper than mine, and her life, especially the last fifteen years, is inspirational. I left the theater with renewed energy and a few added items on my personal to-do list. One of her quips I just love, “If you’re not interested, you’re not interesting.”

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Extra things I did this week: Saw Saint Joan on Broadway (I would PASS). Finally saw Come From Away (Amazing. I want to go again). Emptied my closets and stored eight large cartons of my kid’s memorabilia at Manhattan Mini Storage which felt great. The clerk asked if I had insurance for my possessions. I told her they were both worthless and priceless and completely uninsurable. I also don’t plan to see them again. I put the names of my two oldest children down on the list of people who can access my storage locker. I’ll make sure to put the keys and the address in my will. It feels good to purge.

This is me up on the ladder very early Saturday morning trying to figure out the lock.

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My empty nest is about to get a hell of a lot less empty with the return of my two college kids this week. I’m going to stock up at Morton and Williams Liquor.

Have fun. Be bold.

 

 

 

 

Expat Eyes

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When you live in a foreign country, you see it through expat eyes. It’s a special lens which allows you to see things that natives don’t see. When I lived in Tokyo, I was fascinated with all sorts of things that the Japanese people took for granted, and didn’t find particularly interesting, like vending machines, bathroom slippers, automatic doors, the lack of garbage cans on streets, the wrapping of packages ( I could go on and on…). When I returned to my native land of NYC, I was determined to bring my expat eyes with me, but what I’ve realized recently is that although I have a carpe diem attitude, it isn’t the same thing. This realization came on Wednesday when I had plans with my Australian friend who is an expat in New York. It was a rainy day, and she had a few suggestions of how we should spend it. The first was to get something to eat in Grand Central in the Noma foodcourt. I had no clue what she was talking about until we arrived. I had dashed by it many times, rushing to get through Grand Central and had no idea that it was a Claus Meyer venture, a co-founder of Noma, a ground-breaking restaurant in Copenhagen. I love sitting and talking to Wendy because she always has good ideas and interesting observations about life in NYC.

After lunch, we went to the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) to watch a free film, which Wendy had signed up for online. I had no idea you could see movies at the MOMA. We watched Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House in a packed luxurious theater. It was a fun look at New York City in the 40’s.

 

On Thursday, an absolutely beautiful day, a friend and I walked downtown in search of a place to eat outside. We found ourselves at The Wren on the Bowery. I’ve been to the Wren before for lunch and brunch, and I highly recommend it. However, I wouldn’t recommend going for drinks. Cocktail hour it’s packed with kids that were born in the mid-90’s. From there we walked down the Bowery to Prince Street and walked through Soho stopping at a new store I’m totally obsessed with, The Eight Senses.  Around the corner, we met up with Toni, the owner of Olives, and a good friend of my friend Lisa. She brought out her two beautiful dogs and we hung out on the sidewalk in the sun talking and catching up, constantly being stopped by people who wanted to pet her adorable baby pug, Dumbledore.

Friday night we had dinner with friends at Salinas a warm and cozy tapas restaurant on 9th Avenue in Chelsea. The space has several small dining rooms, an inviting bar and delicious food. The weather had turned colder that night and luckily our dining room had a nice fireplace. After dinner, we walked over to Milk Bar to get a baby birthday cake shake.

Saturday we had tickets to the Cherry Blossom Festival at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. Thankfully, the weather was gorgeous and it was a great day to walk the garden grounds. Admitedly, we are a bit spoiled as we lived in Japan for six years and have been to real deal Hanami parties, but it was still fun to take pictures under the pedals, and watch the festival goers let their freak flags fly. Japanese festivals seem to be an invitation to let loose and dress up, which I love.

Coffee Shop has been around forever (the owner is a former model and married to music producer Jellybean Benitez – Madonna’s old boyfriend) and is a great backup spot if you are in Union Square and you want to eat outside. The food is decent and the people watching is ideal. It’s known for it’s beautiful staff, which makes waiting for a table more enjoyable. Tom and I had a late lunch and felt so happy to be eating outside in the neighborhood.

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Saturday night it was time to put on our dancing shoes, or in my case, my van high tops. Dinner was at Barbounia a fun place to go with a group in Gramercy. Their flatbreads are HUGE.IMG_9319

We had an after-dinner drink at my favorite place to people watch Mari Vanna and then it was off to Retro Club NYC where I’d reserved a table and invited a group of disco-loving friends. We danced and sang and jumped up and down until the wee hours. It’s amazing how the words to songs like It’s Raining Men, The Dancing Queen, and Disco Inferno come right back.

Have fun. Be bold.