Sunday, July 8, 2012

Birthday Girl!

Valerie's take on it:

Well, it happened again. Just like clockwork, and more reliably than an annual mammogram. I had another birthday. Big birthdays require big celebrations (which mean cleaning up the house and inviting friends over), but this fortunately was another one of those small birthdays - not numerically interesting, and not significant to the government (like 65, for example). I've always embraced my birthday - it's never been an angst-ridden event - so we decided the way to do it up right was to ferret out some new places to have fabulous cocktails. What better way to celebrate your birthday than with your BFF? During the day, on the theory that my birthday is the only day that belongs to me, I took the day off work. I considered, but nixed, going to a museum. I'd already "bought" my birthday present (the quotation marks indicate I haven't finished paying for it yet, so I haven't brought it home and I can't show it to you), and the weather reminded me of an old Twilight Zone in which the earth is slowly falling into the sun. So I stayed inside and cleaned up my apartment! This actually is a gift, I reasoned. I want the house to be pleasant to me, and when I clean it, it IS pleasant. So I cleaned, and kept myself happy that way till cocktail hour. (Yes, really!)

Jean's take on it:

I took the red-eye from Vegas to be back in town for that #1 IF summer extravaganza: Valerie's Birthday! Although we've postponed a day-trip out of the city until after the record-breaking heat wave dissipates, we wanted to celebrate the occasion with a "wee drinkie".  I had researched potential new spots in Time Out New York's Summer Drinking Issue and identified two Upper East Side establishments that featured interesting cocktails that sounded intriguing. We decided on JBird on East 75th Street.

Da Gift:

Jean's take on it:

When I was in Montreal in June, I purchased a little something for Valerie in the gift shop at the Musee des Beaux Arts. I took it as a good omen when Valerie showed up wearing a tank top fashioned from a Warhol Campbell's Soup nylon tote bag from the Brooklyn Museum's gift shop. Needless to say, it is extremely challenging to try to buy anything for Valerie, especially a birthday present. What I finally came up with was the necklace below, with colorfully graphic hand-painted beads with lots of red and yellow sections with black and white stripes, checks and polka dots, interspersed with 3 black flower silhouettes.

Valerie's take on it:

Jean is right - I AM hard to buy for. I'm the first to admit it, and many people would happily be the second and third and fourth to admit it for me if given the opportunity. Having said that, Jean is not so easy to buy for, either. But there's definitely some fun in rising to the challenge. By the way, Jean has neglected to mention that it was she who bought me the Andy Warhol nylon tote bag last year as a birthday present when I admired it. There's a picture of me (isn't there?) in the blog holding the bag against me as if it were a shirt. It took me forEVER to unpick the bottom by hand, and when I did finish, it turned out it was much too big on me, so I took it to a tailor. Jean has me figured out to a large extent. These are definitely my colors (red, yellow, black, white), and I gravitate automatically toward geometrics, and strong lines and shapes. This necklace looks part Ndebele, part Mondrian and part YSL. I LOVE it, and it will set off a lot of my wardrobe!

JBird: Time Out says: "Cocktail consultants Jason Littrell (Death & Company) and Marshall Altier (1534) bring hand-cut ice and artisanal bitters to the Upper East Side with this craft cocktail bar, a spin-off of the shuttered midtown location. Take a seat at the Carrera marble bar or black leather banquettes and sip the pair's creations, including the Brush of the Bush (añejo tequila, mescal, sage-infused agave, cherry bark and vanilla bitters) or Camomila (rye whiskey, chamomile grappa, bianca vermouth, elderflower and orange bitters). To eat, find refined bar snacks, like roasted bone marrow with caramelized cipollini onions and sautéed mushrooms, cider-braised pork shoulder sliders and burger topped with thick-cut bacon cured in-house."

Who would say no to that? Although we skipped the roasted bone marrow, we did order the savory popcorn drizzled with avocado, cholula, lime and cilantro (we asked them to hold the garlic). Valerie ordered the Lavender Lining, sprinkled with little bits of lavender across a foamy top. Interesting flavor!

Jean is sporting a little tan from a brief stint poolside at The Paris Hotel on The Strip in Las Vegas. Staying in theme, she's paired her lucite dice earrings with her lucky white dice and lucite necklace! (Hey, even if I can't gamble worth a hoot, it can't hurt to look like a high roller!)

Jean's drink is a version of Brush of the Bush described above, except that she was able to cajole the mixologist to substitutes pomegranate syrup for the vanilla bitters. It came with a sage leaf atop the largest ice cube we've ever seen.

The giant ice cube was just that - huge, with perfectly squared edges, just barely fitting into the cocktail glass. As students of cocktail engineering, we have discovered that we both dislike ice in our cocktails.  We don't need them chilled (room temperature brings out the flavor), and slowly but surely ice dilutes the flavor. When we remember (a feat in itself!), we order our cocktails without ice, and we have been known to refuse drinks that don't meet that specification. When we don't remember (after, of course, making that internationally understood gesture where you hit yourself on the side of the head and roll your eyes to acknowledge your mistake), we fish the offending ice out before it can ruin the experience and find a place for it - usually our water glass.

As you can see, this cube did not fit in a water glass, but appeared to make a great addition to Jean's necklace. We learned later that the idea behind economy size cubes is that the greater the surface area, the slower it is to melt, so as not to water down the drink. As you can see, we took no chances. We didn't have to send this one back because the cube was so big it didn't have time to make an impact.

Although we had no problem snagging a roomy booth when we first arrived, by the time we left, JBird had filled up completely, with a young, hip crowd, and with an appropriate rise in decibel levels.  Kudos to the hostess for not rushing us, and we were very surprised to see a line at the bar waiting for tables.  Once out on the street, we decided to walk around Yorkville and the Upper East Side.

After we had a long, leisurely stroll, while discussing and solving the problems of the world, we arrived at our next destination, Bar Pleiades in The Surrey Hotel on 76th Street and Madison Avenue.

Time Out says: "The luxe setting and monied crowd at Daniel Boulud’s Deco beauty might seem a little stiff—but barkeep Cameron Bogue’s drinks are so delicious and exquisitely executed, you won’t mind sharing your banquette with a suit. A sloe gin fizz was a stunner, combining sloe gin with lemon juice and homemade rhubarb bitters, crowned with a silky egg-white head. The La Terre was an earthy, complex blend of red vermouth, Aperol, grapefruit juice and house-infused beet gin. All of this refinement will cost you: Canapés (snacks are made at Café Boulud next door) are $28 for four people, and cocktails top out at $19."

Upon our arrival, when we were asked where we would like to sit, Jean cannily mentioned that it was Valerie's birthday, hinting (only hinting, mind you) that we should be allowed to have whatever we asked for. We were shown several possible places to sit, and Valerie chose one of those private little nooks that some restaurants and bars have, where you can sit like a pasha behind curtains and entertain, or be entertained, with three or four other guests, in semi-privacy. It had a little air of mystery - the kind of place where two spies meet to hand over the manila envelope with the microfiche in it. We wondered, having come from a place with loud music, whether this plushly padded place would be just the opposite, and it was! There is much to be said (in hushed tones) about the joys of not shouting.

In honor of Valerie's birthday, our comely waitress brought us a little napkin basket of warm, freshly made madeleines. Here's the Birthday Girl engaging in a little Proustian revelry. (Marcel Proust in his The Remembrance of Things Past, was the first person to coin the phrase "involuntary memory" to describe the flood of memories produced by a scent from the distant past.) It must be said that there is some flaw in the theory, though. Neither of us, on eating the fabulous madeleines, remembered Proust's mother, despite our best efforts. That said, however, the little origami basket was a marvel to behold - we could not possibly have refolded the napkin had we unfolded it - and the madeleines looked like charming little eggs in a basket.  Complimentary bar snacks of homemade potato chips, olives and some other goodie we've (sadly) forgotten were also delicious.

Across the way from us, we saw these graphic seat backs. Valerie, thinking they were removable paper antimacassars, went over to inspect them in hopes of snagging one - or two - for a matching pair. But it turned out they were part of the upholstery. Jasper Johns did a painting with a series of bullseyes on it, so there is a bit of humor in this choice of upholstery. (Well, there's a bit of humor in it for some folks, anyway.)

As she posed with both of our cocktails in front of her, Jean confessed that she did not want to leave this Art Deco hideaway, with its black and white enamel and white leather banquettes. We had our own private table, surrounded on three sides - and above - by quilted, upholstered walls which absorbed sound. It was a wonderfully quiet oasis in which we could actually hear ourselves think. (Scary thought!)

How to end the evening? We have found in the past that Madison Avenue provides a marvelous venue for a walk. It's a quiet street at night, the sidewalks are wide, the window displays are great, and the people-sized architecture - some of which is the kind in which Edith Wharton's friends would have lived - is delightful. (No ugly glass box forty-story buildings on that stretch of Madison Avenue. Yet.)

We had to photograph this great view of the Whitney Museum in darkness. At first we thought we got lucky, but on second thought, the folks at the Whitney (or their freelance lighting designer) must have made this happen, specifically to catch the eyes of passersby.

When we crossed Madison to take a look, what should we see when we got close enough but this?

It turns out Yayoi Kusama is coming to town. That is, to the Whitney. What a fabulous way to announce her impending arrival.

Paper Magazine (you will recall from our previous posting) featured a matching red handbag and hinged collar with Yayoi's signature polka dots she designed in collaboration with Mark Jacobs for Louis Vuitton.

As we moved south, we saw this very graphic back-lit fixture at Aaron Basha.

An equestrian figure stands guard atop the Hermes building, where we found wonderfully interesting window displays.

Each of the windows at Hermes features a Manuel Merida Circle in a different primary or secondary color. Each disc is filled with fine, pigment-saturated sand-like granules which, as the disc slowly rotates clockwise, constantly shift and fall. It is a marvelous slow-motion show. The Yellow Circle provides backdrop to the immediately recognizable saddle, helmet and riding boots that one associates with Hermes.

In our own Little Old Lady way, we made a very brief video of it, so you can see it for yourselves. It's full of ambient noise because we don't know how to edit for sound, so we recommend that you turn the sound off. It's under a minute.

The Green Circle presides over a display of black and white ceramics and glassware.

The Blue Circle, in Yves Klein blue, reflects the bright lights of the hanging chandelier, with the Orange Circle and its vignette in the background.

And here's a little video of that, too. Also just under a minute.

At Giorgio Armani's, we both admired this a-place-for-every-curve-and-every-curve-in-the-right-place dress, and noted that many years ago we would each have looked great in it.

Valerie loved the collar on this dress at Searle. It wasn't till much later that she had another of those smack-yourself-in-the-head moments when she realized the mannequin was perfectly dressed for the upcoming Yayoi Kusama show at the Whitney. This dummy's no dummy. (Which is why we call her a mannequin. Ohhhhhh. Bad, bad joke. Sorry. Sometimes you just can't resist.) And so off into the night, having marked the passage of 366 interesting days, and the beginning of another set of 365.

What we're wearing: 

 Jean is wearing an Amy Downs turban, UniQlo stripped tee-shirt, Lilith jumpsuit, Underground creepers, vintage lucite dice earrings, white dice and lucite necklace by designer Kirsten Hawthorne, vintage bakelite and lucite rings, and Armani A/X black resin bangle (courtesy of Teresa, one of my Vegas peeps).

Valerie is wearing a hat from Uffner Vintage, necklace from Jean (via the Musee des Beaux Arts in Montreal), unlabeled bolero (thrift shop), an Andy Warhol tote bag (Brooklyn Museum), metal cuff (flea market), Talbot's ankle length linen skirt (thrift shop), Nicole shoes.


  1. Happy Birthday Valerie,
    I'm glad you had a great evening out. And don't you feel virtuous about the clean house? I sure would.

    Loved the idea of deconstructing a tote bag. I'll keep my eyes open even wider that I usually do when I'm thrifting.

  2. Happy Birthday Valerie. What a wonderful way to spend this special day - thanks for including us in on the fun!

  3. Happy birthday from France from an " old" fan who wanted so much to meet you in January and missed it. Just hope we'll have a little girly party one day and talk until extinction about.let's say for

  4. Happy Birthday to you Valerie; wishing you a year of truly wonderful adventures. The cocktails look delicious, as do the two of you. I enjoyed sharing the evening through your photos and descriptions and great gift Jean. Couldn't be more perfect with Valerie's birthday ensemble!