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Tex and the City: East Side Girls

Today on Alphabet City: Thanks to Frida, Jon Paul celebrates Chef’s 40th Birthday on the Upper East Side.

Schlepping to the East Side

New York City may be the crossroads of the world—practically every ethnicity is represented in the metropolis—but many of Gotham’s residents never venture outside their comfort zone.  For the most part, my days are spent navigating the sidewalks between where I live—the spicy rhythms of Washington Heights—and where I work—the sexy pecs of Chelsea.  But Chef enjoys breaking out of that bubble, especially when food is involved.  He complains I don’t take him to Astoria enough for Greek delicacies, or any number of stops in Jackson Heights.

With Chef’s 40th birthday barreling down the tracks, I figured it was time to break out of our routine, and see what it was like in one of New York’s most storied neighborhoods—the Upper East Side.   Granted, Chef has a glimpse inside this world thanks to his work in the kitchens of some well-to-do-families in this tony ‘hood.  But I thought I’d treat him to something that didn’t require him to walk through a door marked “Service Entrance.”

A few weeks ago, the lovely folks at Loews Hotels reached out to me—well, to Frida, let’s be honest—with an offer to escape the heat of the city by enjoying a “Dog Days of Summer Package” at the Loews Regency Hotel.  From my first days in the Big Apple, I have enjoyed special moments at that property—Angela and I dined often with an important client at the hotel’s famous Power Breakfasts where I was introduced to some of New York’s important players.  Later, they opened an intimate cabaret Feinstein’s at the Regency, and I was lucky enough to interview/drool over its namesake Michael Feinstein.

Looking a little "ruff" at check-in

With the temperature nearing 100 degrees and our poor A/C working overtime, the hotel didn’t have to offer twice.  And despite Chef’s insistence that we do nothing big for his birthday after a fiesta in Mexico, a plan took shape for a mini-break.

When you’re on a budget, it’s not easy to get to the lower Upper East Side from the upper, upper West Side of Manhattan.  So we must have looked like quite a site stepping into the Loews Regency on Sunday, sticky and wet from a late afternoon thunderstorm that soaked us as we dragged our bags and dog across Central Park from the 59th Street subway stop.  But like a caring Aunt welcoming us to her grand apartment, the staff at the Regency didn’t bat an eye, and instead rolled out the red carpet for Frida, including a special gift bag from the cast of Cats and Dogs staying in the hotel.  Frida wagged her tail and added an extra kick in her step as she ran down the hallway to our room.  We’ve raised a spoiled little girl who loves a hotel—much like her Papa.  Once inside, she surveyed the other doggie goodies—special bowls, charms for her collar—demanded one of the Loews supplied treats, then jumped into bed for a well-deserved nap.  Meanwhile, Chef popped open the champagne and started in on the chocolate covered strawberries—this was life on the Upper East, indeed.

For dinner, I chose The Mark Restaurant by Jean Georges, mostly because Sam Sifton’s New York Times review suggested it was a great neighborhood addition, so I thought we’d see the natives in action.  As we walked up Madison Ave towards the hotel, we marveled at how empty the streets were—not a soul in sight.  I wasn’t sure what to make of the crowd at The Mark as we sipped a cocktail before dinner.  Every woman seemed to either be in a black cocktail dress or a dangerously short swimsuit cover-up, and every one was texting and shouting at each other simultaneously.  The conversation at the table next to us:

“Jessica, you look terrific.”

“Right?  Look at my back.  You can see my spine.  Mother thinks I should go to an eating disorder clinic.”

“You should.  I hear they’re a great getaway.”

I’m just going to leave it at that, no comment needed, right?

Through a sleek wine tunnel, the dining room is a world away from the crassness of the bar.  Bathed in shades of red and beige with beautiful lighting, everything looks so elegant and comfortable.  We had read up on the menu before our arrival, and weren’t disappointed by our choices of a Warm Shrimp and Avocado Salad in Champagne Dressing, Black Truffle Pizza, Linguini and Clams.  The “simply” prepared Veal Chop was nicely done but served with a foamy sauce with a fiery kick  that the waiter couldn’t explain.  And therein was the problem.  Although the food was just about up to Jean Georges expectations, the service was not.  An amuse bouche was placed in front of us that no one explained—a particular annoyance to me.  What if I’m allergic to what’s in it?  After flagging down the waiter, he called it a “Lime Gazpacho,” with no explanation.  After we tasted it, he came back to tell us it was a “Honeydew Gazpacho,” which made more sense.  But really?  The sommelier pointed to the most expensive selection on the half-bottle list not offering any alternatives until Chef suggested we needed a few more reasonable choices.  The waiter stumbled through the dessert tray needing a reminder for the word for “kiwi.”  And although they were told of Chef’s birthday, there was no special item or thank-you or best wishes.  All in all, the food scored highly, but unless I’m in the neighborhood, I’m not rushing back.

The next morning, we took advantage of our Upper East Side adopted address for a morning trip to the Guggenheim for Haunted—an exploration of artists have explored memory and thoughts through the use of photography and performance art.  It was an intriguing and thoughtful, if not exactly uplifting, beginning to celebrating Chef’s actual birthday.  Afterwards, we managed to rouse Frida from her lazy slumber in the Loews Regency and convince her our time on the East Side was drawing to an end.  She pranced her way back through the lobby and into Central Park where we paused for a special picnic.

One of Chef’s favorite pastimes is experiencing Central Park and he keeps count every year of how many times I take him there.  Once again, we must have looked like silly tourists as we dragged a rolling bag through gravel and shouted at Frida to keep up.  Once we took up a spot in the Great Lawn, we all relaxed.  And like a teenager who has spent too much time with her parents, Frida laid down as far away from her Papas as she could.  With the skyline of New York as a backdrop, we talked about dreams and goals and what more we wanted to accomplish.  We marveled that 10 years ago, Chef was despondent at turning 30, never believing he’d find true love.  And that less than a month later, an Internet chat changed all that.

Over the years together, life has taken twists and turns, been up and down, and we’ve celebrated Chef’s birthday in fancy restaurants like Alain Ducasse, at concerts by Madonna, in exotic locales like the hills of Portugal, and closer gay getaways like Provincetown and Fire Island.  But at the end of the day, what really matters, is not that we’re traveling the world or staying close to home, but that we’re together.

Happy birthday, Chef.  You’re truly my passport to love.

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Dog Daze

Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul finds something missing on his return from Mexico—Frida!

Escaping the heat, Frida settles in the library at her Woodstock estate

Ay caramba!  Several things were seriously out of whack last night when Chef and I returned from his 40th birthday celebration in Mexico.  You know something’s wrong when a plane full of South of the Border citizens gasps upon hearing the arrival temperature of 100 degrees.  The ghastly remnants of our garden looked like an early sketch for Tim Burton’s next movie.  Our brownstone’s lights were mysteriously dark courtesy of a blown master fuse.  And to top it all off, there was no pitter-patter of little feet accompanied by a wagging tail and sloppy wet kisses to greet us.  No, Frida had decided to stay at her country estate in Woodstock to beat the dog days of summer.

You’d think being from Texas that I would be accustomed to prolonged periods of heat.  But there, everything is over air-conditioned—the most you’d suffer was the walk to your car from the icy entrails of Dallas’ NorthPark Mall (unless of course you valet parked).  But Big Apple heat is another beast entirely requiring odd clothing combinations like a tank top when leaving the house, paired with a summer sweater for the possibly meat locker cold subway ride, finished with a cotton button down left at the office for any last minute meetings.

Loews' winning dog gets Scooby BBQ Sliders!

This morning I am running around the house getting it ready for Frida’s return.  Susan says she’s like a matron from days gone by returning to her city penthouse from her country manor.  No doubt, that dog has quite the life, enjoying her summer.  In celebration of pampered pooches like Frida, my friends over at Loews Hotels are running a “Dog Days of Summer” photo contest—upload of a photo of your dog enjoying summer and you could win a 3-night package at any Loews Hotel in US and Canada that includes a special room service meal of “Scooby BBQ Sliders.”  Even if you don’t have a photo to enter by July 11, you can vote on your favorites beginning July 12.  The entries are worth a look—if at least to distract you from the heat.

Speaking of distractions, back to work.  Mistress Frida arrives soon and the house is a mess.  Hay dios mio.

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Miami Sex Machine

Today on Alphabet City: JP’s book tour alter ego Gary Tyler Moore becomes a sexy insider in Miami.

View of Miami from room at EPIC Hotel & Residences

“Other than a couple of minor bouts of anorexia in high school and college, I’ve always hovered around 23 pounds above my goal weight,” I write in Alphabet City, explaining some of my body image problems.  I suppose those issues have affected my rather awkward relationship with Miami over the years.  From the first time I visited years ago while working at Condé Nast Traveler, I’ve always felt like I didn’t fit in with the gorgeously toned bodies parading along South Beach.  So it was with a bit of trepidation that I faced the second stop on the book tour wondering just how the citizens of South Florida would greet Gary Tyler Moore.  Everything is a little sexier—and crazier—in Miami, but this time I felt that the Capital of Latin America rolled out the red carpet for me.

Gay action hero in his Chevy Traverse

Miami is one of those cities that loves a good body—both your own and your car’s.  And I got many double takes tooling around in the swanky Chevy Traverse.  With plush leather interior, a Bose stereo and an A/C that works overtime in the sweltering humidity, I often thought I should just do my appearances inside this boyfriend magnet.  My favorite tricked-out accessory was the camera that kicked in when backing up, providing spy like images to the rearview mirror.  I felt like a gay action hero driving up to Kimpton’s high-design EPIC Hotel & Residences in Downtown Miami.

While EPIC’s grand scale may look unlike any other Kimpton Hotel, it has the same warm service I’ve come to expect from the company.  A chalkboard sign outside welcomed my little one Frida—making me curse my decision not to bring her on this leg of the tour.  My corner suite looked like the perfect setting for a J. Lo music video with wrap around views of the Miami port—making me wonder why I didn’t make this hotel the last stop on the tour rather than the second.

The EPIC team pulled out all the stops for my appearances at the hotel’s guest wine hour and later at a 52nd floor penthouse suite at the Residences with food by their delicious Area 31 restaurant.  Both events attracted folks from far and wide—at the wine hour I zeroed in on some visiting Germans (as you know from the book, I’ve always had a thing for the Boys from Berlin), and a sweet couple from Ft. Lauderdale traveled through heavy traffic to support Alphabet City and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

Speaking at wine hour

Supporters from Ft. Lauderdale at EPIC Residences event

Loews Miami Beach Whoopi Pie

If the EPIC is sophisticated chic in Miami, then the Loews is accessible decadence in South Beach.  I was excited to experience the results of a recent $50 million renovation which are spectacular and comfortable—this is the choice on South Beach for those on business or with families that need a hotel combining functionality with design.  The food at Preston’s is also worth a stop for the fish tacos and the make-your-own Whoopi Pie—an Alphabet City-themed dessert that seems to follow me on tour.  My ocean view room featured one of my all time favorite bathrooms that was stylish but just worked—I’m still trying to figure out how I might import it to my home in Washington Heights.  And I can’t forget the location—steps from both the ocean boardwalk and the shops of Lincoln Road with parading beauties of both sexes.

View of South Beach & Loews Miami Beach pool from my room

My #1 S Florida Salesman Ryan

That night, many of those male beauties stopped in for an Alphabet City happy hour party at Bar 721—an event that landed me in my first gay bar magazine called “Mark.”  I was tagged a “must do” and my picture was labeled “Intellectual Surplus”—which I took as a swipe at me wearing glasses and that once again I didn’t fit into the culture of South Florida.  But the boys proved me wrong.  My cute straight friend Ryan, dressed in a tie fresh from his job as a U.S. Attorney, charmed the pants off the patrons—taking me from table to table and convincing folks to take a break from their partying and purchase Alphabet City.  Bless, Ryan.

Alphabet City is old at Book&Books on Lincoln Rd!

The final South Florida tour stop was an Alphabet City Book Party hosted by dear friends Isabel and Adam in Ft. Lauderdale.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned so far on Book Tour, it’s how much I treasure these intimate events—where I get to do some readings from the book and hear people’s reactions.  This party was special because it brought together a cross-section of my audience—gay guys and straight gals.  The boys loved the stories of making a pass at Gloria Estefan’s husband, while the ladies loved the tales of a gay Mary Tyler Moore trying to make it in the world.  I’ve taken to calling it a little bit Sex and the City and a whole lot of Will & Grace.

Just before the Ft. Lauderdale party, I went jogging on the path through South Beach for the first time in my life.  As I got to the newish South Pointe Park and stopped to take some pictures, a really cute couple approached and commented on my tattoo.  Nelson from Cuba and Eduardo from Peru were surprised I wasn’t from Miami—they told me I looked like a local—and invited me to go dancing with them later.  Somehow I had crossed the divide from nervous outsider to sexy insider.  Maybe it’s because I’m Latin-by-marriage.  Maybe it’s because I’m nearer my goal weight.  Maybe it’s the tattoo.  Whatever the reason, Gary Tyler Moore will be coming back.  Gracias y Adios Miami.

View from South Pointe Park

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