All posts by Roger Grody

Real Estate Developers and Philanthropists Host Benefit

At a skyscraper in Times Square recently, real estate developers and philanthropists Douglas and Susanne Durst and The Durst Organization hosted a benefit to support The Everglades Foundation, a nonprofit organization committed to protecting and restoring the Everglades through science, education and advocacy. 

The Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg and the Dursts were joined by renowned nature photographer Mac Stone, author of the award-winning book Everglades: America’s Wetland. Stone provided the event’s 150 guests — celebrities, politicians and business leaders among them — with a visual journey through the storied ecosystem. Guests were also treated to light fare from chef Claus Meyer (co-founder of Copenhagen’s renowned Noma restaurant), whose Michelin-starred cuisine is inspired by nature.

© Patrick McMullan

The images captured by Mac Stone helped encourage attendees to become involved in the protection of the Everglades, the largest subtropical wilderness in North America and home to 78 threatened or endangered species. Diking, damming and development have shrunk the wetlands to nearly a third of its original size and contributed to toxic algae blooms. Stone suggests diverse perspectives — including water policy, wildlife protection and urban planning — animate any conversation on the Everglades.

“The Everglades may not have the dramatic vistas of treasured national parks like Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon, but is equally deserving of our adoration,” insists Stone. “Although the Everglades lives in Florida, it’s a national treasure — one of the most unique, and imperiled, places in the world,” he says, adding, “We all have a mutual stake in these wetlands, which are part of our natural heritage.”

“Florida is being ravaged by a perennial algae crisis that’s destroying our beaches, fisheries, tourism and real estate industries,” says Eikenberg, who explained to the guests in Manhattan that New York State faces similar algae blooms. “Our two states share so many important cultural and economic connections, so it’s only natural that we should come together in the interest of protecting one of the last truly unique wildernesses,” says Eikenberg.


He notes that the Everglades, which is the source of fresh water for more than 8 million Floridians, is critical to the state’s economy and that new legislation for protection and restoration is required. “The Everglades is the only place where crocodiles and alligators coexist,” notes the Foundation CEO, who quips, “Members of Congress could learn from that!”

The Dursts are best known for building skyscrapers — projects like One World Trade Center and One Bryant Park practically define the Manhattan skyline — but they are passionate about preserving Florida’s endangered wilderness. “We have a home in Florida and have experienced first-hand the devastation that toxic algae blooms can have, not only on our environment, but on the local economy of communities connected to the ocean or waterways,” reports Douglas Durst.  

Viewing the Everglades as a canary-in-a-coal mine, Durst states, “They, unfortunately, are previewing what will befall all of our nation’s waterways if we don’t act quickly to combat this problem.” The environmentally conscious Durst adds, “We’re proud to join The Everglades Foundation in raising awareness of this vital issue and helping to tap new streams of support for their work.” Eikenberg responds, “The Durst family and Durst Organization demonstrate that development and environmental preservation are not mutually exclusive, and we were honored to be hosted by them.”

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Equestrian Charity Assists Veterans, Special Needs Children

Therapeutic horseback riding is changing the lives of physically and developmentally disabled children and veterans.

Appreciating the profound relationship between horse and rider, Sissy DeMaria-Koehne founded Give Back for Special Equestrians in 2013 along with Dr. Heather Kuhl and Isabel Ernst. The organization raises money to provide therapeutic horseback riding scholarships for children and veterans suffering from physical or developmental disabilities — whether it be autism, cerebral palsy or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — so they can enjoy the benefits of horsepower that heals.

“I was approaching a milestone birthday, and even though I raised three wonderful daughters, I was thinking about how else I might want to be remembered,” says DeMaria-Koehne, president of Kreps DeMaria Public Relations in New York and Miami. “I’m proud to be a good mother and grateful to have enjoyed success in business, but I believe we’re called upon to do more to pay forward our blessings.” When DeMaria-Koehne, whose love of horses began at an early age, saw how individuals with physical or developmental disabilities responded to therapeutic riding, she knew she wanted to play a role.

DeMaria-Koehne, who reports equestrian therapy dates back to the ancient Greeks, originally named the organization “Give a Buck for Special Equestrians,” because her initial fundraising effort encouraged equestrians to give as little as a dollar every time they paid their boarding fees.

Give Back for Special Equestrians currently provides funding for therapeutic facilities including Good Hope Equestrian Center, Stable Place and Special Equestrians of the Treasure Coast in Florida, and Gallop NYC in Queens. DeMaria-Koehne hopes to eventually expand her organization nationally.

These remarkable facilities offer extraordinary services for special needs equestrians, but often do not have the resources for effective fundraising. DeMaria-Koehne’s organization holds regular galas in the Hamptons, as well as at the Winter Equestrian Festival outside Palm Beach, Florida each year. With influential board members like Georgina Bloomberg (world-class equestrian and daughter of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg), the organization continues to grow and attract high profile sponsors like Rolls-Royce.

Last summer, prominent real estate developer Don Peebles hosted a fundraiser at his Bridgehampton, New York estate that raised $50,000 for Give Back for Special Equestrians. Inspired by his daughter Chloe’s love of horses, Peebles reports, “She helped us learn about the compassion, strength and courage of horses and how horses having these qualities can heal humans and bring joy to their lives.” He adds, “Hosting a fundraiser for an effort with such beneficial outcomes is very rewarding!” According to DeMaria-Koehne, everybody in the organization, from graphic artist to accountant, is a volunteer. “Nobody takes a salary, and, beyond minor operating costs, all funds raised go right back to serve these special needs riders,” she says.

Some riders are children who are totally non-verbal, explains DeMaria-Koehne, but recounts moments shared by Dr. Peggy Bass, executive director at Good Hope Equestrian Training Facility, who has seen the miracles of this therapy at work when young riders, previously non-verbal saying the words “giddy up” to their mounts. She further reports, “After spending their life in a wheelchair, when they get onto a horse they feel like they’re on top of the world. They’re literally walking and standing tall!” Horses selected for special needs riders are quiet, docile and patient, and tend to be older. “People with autism are often non-verbal, but so are animals, who communicate through their energy,” explains DeMaria-Koehne.

“I still get excited about helping our clients succeed,” states DeMaria-Koehne about her highly successful career as a public relations executive, but says of her nonprofit work, “This is different … this speaks to my soul.”

Photos courtesy of Give Back for Special Equestrians. 

This story was previously featured in the Winter 2019 edition of Unique Homes Magazine.

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A Closer Look at Florida’s Luxury Offerings

Propelled by natural beauty, cultural diversity and imagination, Florida has built an entire industry dedicated to luxury living.

The Seagate Hotel & Spa

© Scott Wiseman

Florida is more than a single place or prevailing attitude. While its history is multicultural, this vestige of the Deep South has attracted enough newcomers to swell into the nation’s third-most populous state and an economic powerhouse. Snowbirds from up north arrived, so did Cuban and Haitian refugees looking to rebuild their lives. Ultimately, people from around the world joined native Floridians in contributing a unique energy that makes the Sunshine State a world-class destination.

Checking In

The combination of sunshine and sandy beaches is irresistible to the hospitality industry, so it is hardly surprising that luxury brands like Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons maintain a heavy presence in Florida. “Four Seasons has a history of entering into markets and setting the standard for luxury lifestyle experiences,” says J. Allen Smith, President & CEO of Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts. To date, his company has invested in Miami, Surfside, Orlando, Palm Beach, and Fort Lauderdale, while Ritz-Carlton has more than a dozen properties in the state.

When it opened in 1954 — long before nearby South Beach became trendy — the Fontainebleau was Miami Beach’s premier hotel. Reimagined for a new generation, it now features restaurants from celebrity chefs and a vibe reminiscent of Las Vegas. Equally iconic but more buttoned-down is The Breakers, a stately oceanfront property in Palm Beach where high society has convened for a century.

The Seagate Hotel & Spa presents a stylish package of amenities in Delray Beach, including a contemporary tropical aesthetic that incorporates five eye-popping custom aquariums. “Affluent, in-the-know travelers looking for an intimate, personal setting are increasingly venturing beyond the Greater Miami area,” explains William J. Sander, III, executive vice president, director of operations and general manager of the Seagate.

On the Gulf Coast, an Edition Hotel (a modern luxury brand from Marriott International in collaboration with Ian Schrager) is being integrated into Water Street Tampa, a $3 billion, 50-acre mega-project. On the top 15 floors of the 26-story tower will be 46 Edition-branded residences, among the most luxurious of the 3,500 housing units planned for Water Street.

Orlando has shaken its reputation as a company town, but two of its best hospitality properties are at Walt Disney World. The Victorian-themed Grand Floridian Resort & Spa is luxuriously nostalgic, while the Mediterranean-esque Four Seasons Resort Orlando offers a sense of privacy, championship golf and a chic rooftop steakhouse.

The Seagate Hotel & Spa

© DominicMiguel Photo

Real Estate Snapshot: Tampa Bay Area

Trend: The market is no longer so reserved, but still a bargain by Miami standards.

Clientele: Real estate developers, old money Floridians, newcomers looking for an alternative to South Florida.

Signature Property: Offered at $15.9 million is a historic oceanfront estate in Clearwater, with 23,900 extravagantly appointed square feet.

Settling Down

In addition to luxurious overnight accommodations, Florida leads the nation in branded residences with all the amenities of a five-star hotel. Now that Fort Lauderdale, once the capital of spring break, has grown up, the 22-story Four Seasons Hotel & Private Residences is rising over the oceanfront. More than $100 million in sales have already occurred for residences scheduled for completion in 2020. A four-bedroom, 4,200-square-foot unit is currently priced at $7.7 million.

Fortune International Group, whose development projects include the glitzy Jade Signature in Sunny Isles Beach and Auberge Beach Residences & Spa in Fort Lauderdale, responds to worldwide demand for the South Florida luxury lifestyle. President & CEO Edgardo Defortuna reports, “Developers look to differentiate themselves by bringing in international architects to create unique amenities and products.” He believes the scarcity of sites in Greater Miami and the extension of the Brightline high-speed rail project will encourage investment in other regions of Florida.

Even for a weekend, luxury is taken seriously at Aqualina Resort & Spa in Sunny Isles Beach, but there is also an opportunity to move permanently into the Mansions at Aqualina or forthcoming Estates at Aqualina. Almost ready for occupancy is the Mansions’ $38 million Palazzo del Cielo (“Palace in the Sky”) penthouse that includes complimentary use of a Rolls-Royce or Lamborghini.

Fortune International Group’s Defortuna reports that branding of residential towers, pioneered by hospitality companies, is now attracting other iconic names — Porsche and Aston Martin from the automotive industry, Armani and Fendi from the fashion world — to convey exclusivity.

Real Estate Snapshot: Greater Miami

Signature: Jaw-dropping oceanfront estates; penthouses in towers designed by “starchitects.”

Clientele: Hedge fund managers, pro athletes, international entrepreneurs.

Highest-Priced Property: 14,000 square feet of Neo-Classical opulence on 2.38 lushly landscaped acres in Coral Gables, offered at $55 million.

Jade Signature in Sunny Isles Beach

Photo by DBOX

Retail Therapy

With annual events like Miami Fashion Week and Miami Swim Week, designers and fashionistas are focusing their attention on Florida, where Latin influences are fused with European themes to arrive at cutting-edge fashion design. Local boutiques, from Key West to Pensacola, reflect that creative energy.

Alexis Barbara Isaias, who co-founded the trendy Alexis fashion label with mother Ana Barbara in Miami, reports the city’s fashion cred has evolved. “Miami was stereotyped as a sexy beachwear city, not a place to debut a fall collection,” says Barbara Isaias, but insists the Miami Design District, Art Basel and new fashion education programs are changing perceptions. “There’s a lot to inspire designers” says the young entrepreneur of her hometown, citing the climate, bold colors and vibrant cultures, and believes the industry will eventually spread throughout Florida.

There are luxury shopping destinations scattered throughout Greater Miami, including Aventura Mall and Bal Harbour Shops. Art, fashion and interior design intersect at the Miami Design District, where iconic labels Bulgari, Givenchy and Tom Ford compete for attention with art galleries and high-end home furnishing showrooms.

Worth Avenue in Palm Beach has been called the “Rodeo Drive of the East,” sharing many exclusive designer boutiques with Beverly Hills’ famous shopping street. Escada, Chanel, Jimmy Choo, and Louis Vuitton are just a handful of the rarified fashion labels found on this lovely sun-drenched lane.  

Despite the emergence of smartwatches, demand for ultra-luxury handcrafted timepieces is sizzling. With prices rivaling Italian sports cars, no brand is hotter than celebrity-favored Richard Mille, famous for its avant-garde aesthetics. A Richard Mille boutique is found at Miami’s Brickell City Centre, which also hosts a branch of Westime, a Beverly Hills retailer whose 50-plus brands of Swiss watches include Audemars Piguet, Greubel Forsey and Hublot. Company President Greg Simonian, who clearly appreciates the sophistication of his new clientele, states, “I’m continually reminded of how many clients we already know in South Florida because they travel the world and have shopped at Westime in California.”

A watch is not the only thing you can wear on your wrist that is worth more than a typical Florida condo. Creating extravagant bracelets is Lugano Diamonds, which arrived on Worth Avenue last year, breaking into the Palm Beach market after establishing boutiques in Newport Beach and Aspen. In Naples, Gucci, Louis Vuitton and De Beers occupy storefronts at Waterside Shops.

Tiffany & Co., Burberry and Hugo Boss are among the 200 stores at Tampa’s International Plaza & Bay Street, anchored by Neiman Marcus. And in Orlando, names like Prada, Versace and Ferragamo elevate the suburban shopping experience at The Mall at Millenia.

Miami’s Brickell City Centre

Real Estate Snapshot: Naples

Trend: Increasingly opulent oceanfront homes competing with more prestigious Atlantic Coast markets.

Clientele: Retired entrepreneurs and Fortune 500 execs, Miami expats.

Highest-Priced Property: 16,000 square feet of European-style elegance with beachfront exposure, offered at $49.5 million.

For the Sport of It

Florida is home to numerous major league teams, high-profile PGA events and some of the nation’s top collegiate programs, but spectators are not the only ones having fun. None of Florida’s 21 million residents live more than 90 minutes from the ocean — not to mention the state’s 30,000 lakes and network of waterways — so watersports are a part of everyone’s life.

Sailing in Florida can take many forms, from sport fishing off the coast of Destin or Panama City to boarding opulent yachts whose amenities rival luxury hotels. For those dreaming of jetting across Biscayne Bay like Sonny Crockett, Florida is the best place to acquire a high-performance speedboat.

South Florida is one of the centers of the yachting world, offering a short voyage to hundreds of Caribbean islands ripe for exploration. Brokers are currently experiencing an explosion of demand for larger, faster and more flamboyant vessels with prices equivalent to oceanfront estates. For those interested in a short-term relationship, a glamorous 230-foot Benetti superyacht — complete with eight staterooms, gym, Jacuzzi, and crew of 27 to pamper the guests — can be chartered for about $500,000 per week.

With more courses and more touring PGA professionals residing there than any other state, golf is practically a religion in Florida. “Florida remains a world-class destination for golfers, thanks to the year-round sunshine and mild weather, as well as the variety of golf courses offered throughout the state,” says Jeremy Wiernasz, general manager and director of golf operations at the multi-course PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie.

Offering 160-plus golf courses, Palm Beach County proclaims itself “Florida’s Golf Capital,” undeterred by Naples’ bold assertion that it is the “Golf Capital of the World.” Nobody disputes the game is an economic force statewide, generating about $9 billion annually to Florida’s economy, even more than theme parks. Florida Gulf Coast University Professor of Economics Christopher Westley reports, “The development of a corporate culture — with capital and labor moving here from higher tax and regulation states — has resulted in greater demand for golf.”

Further reflecting the synergy between golf and real estate in Florida, several homes lining the fairways at the Nicklaus-designed Bear’s Club in Jupiter are on the market for nearly $10 million. Identified as among the most exclusive courses in the world by Forbes is Key Largo’s Ocean Reef Club, where members enjoy a private airstrip, 175-slip marina and two impeccably manicured championship-caliber courses. Adjoining homes can command in excess of $15 million.

The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, Naples

Photo courtesy of Ritz Carlton Naples

Frequently ranked by golf journalists as the best course in the state, Juno Beach’s Seminole Golf Club is so elite it reportedly turned down golf legend Jack Nicklaus for membership. Sandwiched between Ocean Drive and the Atlantic surf, the estates surrounding the course are predictably palatial.

For equestrian sports, Florida is unrivaled. There are thoroughbred racing venues in the Tampa Bay Area and Greater Miami (some with casinos). Many of America’s most legendary horses, including Triple Crown winners Affirmed and American Pharoah, have connections to Ocala, a northern Florida city nicknamed “Horse Capital of the World.” Its hunter/jumper events draw competitors from around the globe, and multimillion-dollar ranches reflect the economic clout of the community’s biggest industry.

The Village of Wellington, outside Palm Beach, hosts the Winter Equestrian Festival, where 8,000 horses compete for more than $9 million in prize money. As one of America’s premier equestrian communities, Wellington home prices regularly gallop past $12 million in price while some ranches command $30 million.

The “Sport of Kings” also has a presence in Wellington, where the 250-acre International Polo Club Palm Beach hosts the prestigious U.S. Open Polo Championship. The accompanying social scene involves the consumption of Champagne and caviar at fêtes that sometimes make the matches feel like an afterthought.

Real Estate Snapshot: Palm Beach

Signature: Gated Mediterranean-inspired estates with ocean frontage.  

Clientele: Old money, both native Floridians and New York elites settling in for the winter.

Highest-Priced Property: Over 28,000 square feet of classical elegance on the ocean, priced at a staggering $109.5 million.

Cultivated Communities

Once dismissed as a sleepy state reserved for leisurely rounds of golf or perpetual sunbathing, Florida has assembled a world-class portfolio of cultural institutions. Sarasota is known for sugar-white beaches, but The Ringling, an art museum and Venetian-style palazzo built by one of the founders of Ringling Brothers Circus, puts the city on the arts trail. St. Petersburg, long burdened with the reputation as an overgrown retirement community, has developed a robust cultural scene headlined by the Salvador Dalí Museum.

The largest performing arts venue in Florida is the Straz Center in Tampa, but Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Center hosts the New World Symphony, Florida Grand Opera and touring musicals. In 2002, Swiss-based Art Basel added Miami Beach to its exclusive calendar of events and the trendsetting festival has helped the city burnish its status on the world’s art stage.

Other cultural attractions in the state’s largest city include the Pérez Art Museum Miami and the spectacular Vizcaya Museum & Gardens on Biscayne Bay. Executive Director/CEO Joel Hoffman maintains his institution inspires people to embrace the natural beauty and cultural vitality of its host city. “Today, Miami represents a global perspective with limitless creative and artistic viewpoints and experiences,” he says.

The Miami skyline, with buildings from celebrity architects Norman Foster, Frank Gehry, Herzog & de Meuron, and Zaha Hadid, reflects the city’s dominance in the visual/interactive art of architecture. It is also a testament to a competitive luxury real estate market in which high-rise developers showcase world-class design to sell condos at a premium.

Miami is not the only Florida city where architecture contributes to the local heritage. Sarasota, nationally recognized for its Mid-Century Modern design, is the equivalent of a drive-thru museum, while both the natural environment and ethnic diversity foster a culture of creativity in Jacksonville. St. Augustine, the oldest city in the nation, showcases Spanish, French and English architecture.

Art collectors appreciate the Sunshine State’s generous clusters of galleries, such as Duval Street in Key West, Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale, downtown Jacksonville, and Gallery Row in Naples. Tallahassee’s Railroad Square is home to more than 50 studios and galleries, while resident artists in St. Augustine are inspired by the city’s 450-year history.

For equestrian sports, Florida is unrivaled.

Real Estate Snapshot: St. Augustine

Signature: Traditional villas that complement the city’s unique heritage.

Clientele: Affluent history buffs with little interest in showing off; old-time Augustinians.  

Highest-Priced Property: Offered at $6.5 million is a nearly 8,000-square-foot villa on the Matanzas River.

Flavors of Florida

“Another day, another country,” was how the late Anthony Bourdain described Miami on CNN’s Parts Unknown. “You can eat your way across the Caribbean and through all of Latin America, and then over to Africa if you’d like. It’s all there,” he said. Contemporary Floridian cuisine, in which classic technique is applied to eclectic ingredients, takes full advantage of that diversity while showcasing resources nurtured by the state’s farmers, ranchers and fishermen. And while you can score a satisfying Cuban sandwich for a few bucks, there are some bona fide luxury experiences awaiting diners in the Sunshine State.

At Victoria & Albert’s, the restaurant at Disney World’s Grand Floridian that put the Magic Kingdom on the culinary map, a tasting menu at the exclusive kitchen-adjacent chef’s table begins at $250 per person. Celebrity chef José Andrés brought molecular gastronomy and some wildly creative mashups (e.g. jamón ibérico and caviar “tacos”) to The Bazaar in South Beach, but his latest Miami restaurant, Bazaar Mar, offers a $225 tasting menu called “A Study of the Sea.”

Many award-winning wine lists do not offer a single bottle of revered Château Pétrus, widely considered the best of Bordeaux. But the extraordinary list at Tampa’s Bern’s Steak House — thick as a telephone book and backed-up by a cellar overflowing with a half-million bottles — offers more than a dozen vintages of Pétrus, several exceeding $5,000 per bottle.

The steaks at Bern’s are justifiably renowned, but for beef with a more exotic pedigree consider Prime 112 in Miami Beach, where an eight-ounce Japanese A5 Kobe filet is priced at $280. With just eight seats, Miami’s Naoe presents an exclusive, highly personalized sushi experience, but before even ordering a glass of sake, the meter starts running at $220 per person.

Real Estate Snapshot: Orlando

Signature: Sprawling Mediterranean-style homes, often lakeside, that are long on amenities, short on pretenses.

Clientele: Corporate execs and entrepreneurs, plus some Mouseketeers at heart.

Hot Property: Under construction in Four Seasons Private Residences at Disney World is an 8,500-square-foot Mid-Century Modern-inspired home, priced at $7.945 million.

This story originally appeared in the Winter 2019 edition of Unique Homes Magazine.

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Luxury Behind Glass

Increasingly, custom aquariums are amenities in demand by luxury homeowners, pushing specialists to create spectacular showcases.

Photo © 2016 Nickolas Sargent All Rights Reserved

Observing decorative tropical fish shimmering through an artificial aquatic habitat can be mesmerizing, but new innovations and elaborate designs have made aquarium industry specialists an essential resource for luxury residential design. A new breed of aquarists is using unbridled imagination and advanced technologies to create larger and more audacious tanks for the home.

Reality television series like Tanked on Animal Planet and Fish Tank Kings on Nat Geo Wild introduce viewers to the incredible possibilities of aquarium design, resulting in focal points that can transform a room into a magical space. High-end aquarists can now be found in every major city and ambitious tanks can be engineered for virtually any residential environment.

Photo courtesy of Infinity Aquarium Design

Nic Tiemens, co-founder of Los Angeles-based Infinity Aquarium Design, reports, “The installations we’re doing today in high-end residences are more elaborate, both aesthetically and functionally, than those in most public aquariums.” Tiemens’ first taste of the business, as a young minimum-wage employee in Chicago, was the installation of two massive tanks at NBA superstar Michael Jordan’s house. When he and his business partner founded Infinity in 2004, they viewed L.A. as a natural home base, and the firm was featured on HGTV’s Ultimate Aquariums, one of the public’s earliest glimpses into this intriguing specialty. “We’ve branded ourselves as the firm where creativity meets the science of aquariums,” explains the passionate entrepreneur.

Tiemens suggests that homeowners’ increased reliance on interior designers has boosted the residential aquarium business, as those ambitious professionals are constantly looking to enhance spaces with unique water features. Celebrity-favored L.A. interior designer Adam Hunter, who collaborates with Infinity in his luxury residential practice, reports, “Aquariums offer such dramatic appeal to any interior because they can instantly become a beautiful focal point, art piece or topic of conversation.”

Hunter believes aquariums work equally well in both traditional and modern architectural contexts, and the endless options of aquatic environments and species allow designers and aquarists to accommodate virtually any situation. “When you spend hundreds of hours paying attention to every last detail that makes an interior perfect, having an organic, living backdrop provides the ideal contrast to such a structured and scrutinized design,” he explains.

Double-sided tanks are popular and at a Hawaiian-inspired Malibu retreat, Infinity completed a stunning indoor-outdoor poolside aquarium. “From the basement, you can look through the aquarium into the swimming pool, beyond the bluff and out into the ocean,” Tiemens explains of the $80,000 project.

Although nearly 90 percent of the company’s projects are saltwater tanks, Tiemens has observed a sharp uptick in requests for live plant freshwater aquariums as clients become more conscious of sustainability. The company recently completed the largest freshwater planted aquarium in a private U.S. residence for a homeowner aspiring to recreate the work of renowned Japanese aquarist and photographer Takashi Amano.

Photo © 2016 Nickolas Sargent All Rights Reserved

Reef Aquaria Design (RAD), located in South Florida, also caters to a demanding luxury residential clientele. Operations Manager J.R. Corvison agrees that public aquariums and a heightened environmental consciousness of the oceans have fueled interest, and states some of RAD’s high-end installations cost more than most people pay for a home. “Those with the means have the ability to commission a piece of dynamic living art showcasing the ocean’s splendor right in their own home,” says Corvison.  He reports client enthusiasm for jellyfish aquariums, especially in homes with sleek, modern architecture, as well as burgeoning interest in the aquaculture of fish and live corals.

The stars of Tanked, brothers-in-law Brett Raymer and Wayde King, are the owners of Las Vegas-based Acrylic Tank Manufacturing (ATM). Since their show debuted in 2011, the pair has created over-the-top aquariums for actors Neil Patrick Harris and David Hasselhoff, magicians Penn & Teller, and professional athletes Marshawn Lynch, Dwayne Wade and Shaquille O’Neill.

Photo courtesy of Infinity Aquarium Design.

“The popularity of public aquariums has grown over the years, giving people more opportunities to see exotic species, and everybody’s intrigued by fish,” says Raymer, who suggests the ability to maintain live corals and reefs accounts for the popularity of saltwater tanks. “The tanks are educational, soothing and relaxing to look at,” says the enthusiastic King of the hobby’s universal allure, adding, “The colors of fish are incredibly appealing and they all have their own personalities.”

Raymer reports that while it may scratch easier than glass, acrylic has become the state-of-the-art material for extravagant designs because of its ability to be bent and shaped. ATM’s design and installation process begins with an interview of the customer, whether a celebrity or suburban hobbyist. “First we find out what the client has in mind, then turn it over to our artist to create a rendering. Once we get the client’s approval, we go from there,” explains Raymer.

One of the company’s more outrageous projects, scheduled to appear on Tanked later this year, features the third appearance of comedian Tracy Morgan, whose pool house in posh Alpine, New Jersey, will be transformed into a massive 16,000-gallon shark tank designed by ATM. King explains sufficient space, structural soundness and a willingness to take care of the habitat (in addition to capital, of course) are the only limitations to ever-more-elaborate aquariums. ATM’s largest project was a $4.5 million aquarium for a megachurch in Texas, and an upcoming 70,000-gallon project in California will be the largest tank ever installed in a private residence.

Photos courtesy of Infinity Aquarium Design.

Jay Silber, a partner at Lakewood, New Jersey’s Aqua Creations — which serves metro New York City and beyond — reports affluent clients love the soothing effects of aquariums, while other owners are attracted to the feng shui benefits of having water and fish in a home. “One very wealthy client, he’s a big player whose home has a media room, disco room and everything you could ask for, tells me, ‘Jay, when I entertain, the first place everybody goes is to the tank!’”

Silber reports, “We build aquariums from $20,000 to $100,000, depending on how crazy you want to go, but we concentrate on creating a really interesting environment.” He insists the best installation practice is from the ground up, working with architects and builders to engineer the tank, accommodate proper plumbing and allocate sufficient space for an equipment room.

Compatibility, color and movement are the critical considerations when selecting the assortment of fish, according to Tiemens. “We try to create an underwater display that’s realistic and offers an environment that’s natural for the respective species, one in which every color of the rainbow is presented and where you’re constantly seeing different fish,” he says.

Photo courtesy of Life Aquariums.

Brett Raymer of ATM cautions homeowners, “You need to remember these are live animals … they’re pets, not just decoration, so you can’t just get it set up and forget about it.” He therefore advises clients to enter into a maintenance contract with a reputable company like ATM to ensure proper care. These days, advanced technology allows owners or aquarists to monitor water quality and manipulate pumps from anywhere in the world with the touch of a smartphone.

Acrylic Tank Manufacturing Las Vegas

Aqua Creations Lakewood, NJ

Reef Aquaria Design Coconut Creek, FL

Adam Hunter, Inc. Los Angeles

Infinity Aquarium Design Los Angeles

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Mainstream Middle Eastern

Once relegated to unpretentious mom-and-pop eateries, the diverse cuisine of the Middle East has graduated to sophisticated, award-winning restaurants across America.

Not long ago, those craving Middle Eastern cuisine would drop into a hole-in-the-wall in an ethnic neighborhood to score some falafel, hummus or a lamb kebab. Although such bargain-priced adventures continue to satisfy, that region of the world has now been discovered by classically trained chefs who are elevating its cuisine at trendy, upscale restaurants.

Every Middle Eastern culture has its own food (some countries even have distinct local cuisines), but culinary boundaries are much more amorphous than national borders. Despite a surprising degree of cultural diversity, the region’s indigenous products — chickpeas, dates, pomegranates, saffron, and olive oil, to name a few — result in some universal themes, even among adversaries.

Additionally, the use of spices like turmeric, cumin, garlic and sumac contribute to consistencies from Israel to Turkey, Lebanon to Iran. The cooking of all of those distant lands is drawing unprecedented interest among American diners, who are attracted by both its exotic qualities and relative healthfulness.

Photo by Nicole Franzen

Food Photos by Kristin Teig Photography

Chef Michael Solomonov, a native Israeli who grew up in Pittsburgh, opened Zahav (“gold” in Hebrew) in Philadelphia a decade ago and has won multiple James Beard Awards for his modern Israeli cuisine. Hardly an elitist, the chef/owner is frequently found covered in flour, preparing his legendary laffa bread dough for the restaurant’s wood-burning oven. In his festive, high-ceilinged dining room, traditional lanterns hang over the bar and a photo mural of Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda Market sets the mood.

Author of Israeli Soul and Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking (for which he won a couple of those awards), Solomonov is pleased to introduce authentic Israeli cooking to American diners. “Zahav was our way of bringing Israeli hospitality and the soul of Israeli cooking and dining to the U.S.,” says the chef. Solomonov reports that originally the menu was very literal, concentrating on authentic Israeli dishes. “But now we’ve become more comfortable in this conduit role and the relationship that we have for being a culinary tour guide, implying Israeli food without having to copy-and-paste recipes we see over there.”

“We can’t simply call Israeli cooking ‘Middle Eastern,’” insists Solomonov, noting the diverse influences in the country, including about 100 cultures represented by Israeli residents. “We have this convergence of European, Middle Eastern and North African cuisines all happening symbiotically — that’s what makes our food Israeli,” he says.

Photo by Kristin Teig Photography

Hummus with various toppings arrives with Solomonov’s signature laffa, while other mezze include veal carpaccio with coffee-brined egg and preserved lemon, and grilled duck hearts with green garbanzos. Grilled over coals are merguez sausages, harissa-spiked hanger steak or branzino, all elevated versions of traditional dishes from Israel.

The acclaimed chef points to diversity as one of the factors contributing to the current popularity of the region’s cooking, noting that its reliance on vegetables and traditional techniques (e.g. cooking over wood) also appeal to contemporary restaurant-goers. “Diners are always looking for something new, and since there’s so much history and soul in this cuisine, I think it relates to American cooking more than people realize,” says Solomonov.  

Photo by Dylan + Jeni

Bavel Los Angeles

In the Arts District in downtown Los Angeles, where crumbling factories are being transformed into chic art galleries, boutiques and bistros, young chef Ori Menashe and wife Genevieve Gergis have become prominent restaurateurs. Their first establishment, Italian-inspired Bestia, gave the Arts District culinary cred back in 2012, and this year they followed it up with Bavel, a contemporary Middle Eastern eatery.

Menashe was born in L.A., but raised in Israel, and collectively the couple also has roots in Morocco, Turkey and Egypt, so their menu at Bavel is informed by the entire region. L.A., with its large Persian and Armenian populations, is a city already accustomed to Middle Eastern cuisine, but Bavel satisfies a pent-up demand for a more sophisticated, contemporary experience. Dishes such as velvety foie gras halva, lamb tartare and grilled dorade with red charmoula delight diners.

“We always wanted to open a restaurant that showcases cuisine from our family lineage with flavors and spices we grew up with,” explains Gergis, who also serves as Bavel’s pastry chef. The couple does not believe in being limited by expectations of authenticity and is more concerned about allowing high quality ingredients to take center stage. “Everyone is always searching for authenticity, but every day in this world people are creating beautiful new works of art and delicious things to eat while only being authentic to themselves,” explains Menashe.

At Cambridge, Massachusetts’ Oleana, a mile from the Harvard campus, chef/owner Ana Sortun creates a progressive menu inspired by the cuisine of Turkey, which she fell in love with as a young chef. “The food is so rich, but nothing is heavy,” says Sortun, explaining the sophisticated use of spices in Turkish cooking is distinct from any other cuisine.

“My mission was to expand people’s perception of the Mediterranean and bring Middle Eastern cuisine into the mainstream,” says the classically trained Sortun, whose heritage is actually Norwegian. She suggests that increased travel to the region, health-consciousness and advocacy from chefs like Zahav’s Michael Solomonov are contributing to unprecedented popularity of the region’s cooking.

“I try to introduce my customers to authentic flavors, not necessarily the kind of authentic dishes I would cook if I was a native of Turkey,” says Sortun, who admits a penchant for creativity. A meal at Oleana might begin with mezze such as spinach falafel, quail kabab with a baharat spice blend, or Mediterranean deviled eggs. Larger plates include za’atar-spiced chicken with a Turkish cheese pancake or striped bass with pistachio muhammara, followed by desserts like a Turkish rendition of profiteroles.

Photo by Kristin Teig Photography.

Oleana Cambridge, Massachusetts

Sortun also co-owns a casual bakery and mezze bar in Cambridge called Sofra, and Sarma in nearby Somerville where former Oleana chef Cassie Piuma presents Middle Eastern exoticism disguised as familiar American comfort foods. “We wanted Sarma to be young and accessible, with small plates and a big bar,” says Sortun, who adds, “It’s more playful, less serious than Oleana.”

Snacks at Sarma include Turkish-spiced beef jerky, brisket shawarma served taco-style, pork belly biscuit sliders layered with jalapeño-whipped feta, and a Middle Eastern riff on the iconic Philly cheesesteak. “Cassie is using language to make the cuisine at Sarma more accessible,” says Sortun, noting that expressing familiar concepts builds trust with diners.

New Orleans hardly seems the place to find exceptional Middle Eastern cuisine, but Big Easy diners are happy to take a break from gumbo and étouffée for chef Alon Shaya’s contemporary Israeli cuisine. His restaurant, Saba (“grandfather” in Hebrew), features a homey dining room and a menu that layers modern concepts over ancient traditions from the Middle East.

Photo by Susie Cushner.

Sarma Somerville, Massachusetts

Food Photos by Brian Samuels.

At Saba, Shaya offers a selection of hummus preparations incorporating everything from spicy Brussels sprouts to blue crab, while octopus is treated with shawarma spices and foie gras is complemented with date honey and Marcona almonds. Caviar may precede family-style harissa-roasted chicken or Moroccan-inspired lamb shank pastilla.

“We don’t try to invent anything,” says Shaya, who states the restaurant’s goal is to create food that evokes memories and emotions. Concurring with Philadelphia’s Solomonov, he reports, “Israeli cuisine is different because of the immigration that occurred over the last 70 years,” with cultural influences in Israel, including Russian, Yemenite, Greek, and Moroccan. “It’s how those cuisines intermingle that make it unique,” adds the Israeli-born chef/owner.

Shaya does not necessarily subscribe to the view that Israeli and Middle Eastern cuisines are suddenly trendy. “I think it’s just good, comforting and recognizable food,” he says, adding for emphasis, “I think it’s actually anti-trendy, and that’s why so many people like it.”

Bavel Los Angeles

Saba New Orleans

Oleana Cambridge, Massachusetts

Sarma Somerville, Massachusetts

Sofia Bakery & Café Cambridge, Massachusetts

Zahav Philadelphia

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A Market for Modernism

Photo by Rich Montalbano


Mid-Century Modern design came onto the scene before color television. But rather than appearing antiquated today, it inspires contemporary designers and homebuyers.


The popularity of Mid-Century Modern design continues to accelerate, confirmation that the masters who introduced the look in the ’40s and ’50s were visionary innovators. Decades later, the work of those architects, interior designers and furniture makers still appears fresh, and current expressions of modernism invariably build on the mid-century movement.


Sam Lubell, a leading authority on Mid-Century Modern design, whose books include Mid-Century Modern Travel Guide: West Coast USA and California Captured, believes the genre’s enduring appeal can be attributed to simple, elegant aesthetics, the success in reducing architecture to its most basic elements, and nostalgia. “Mid-Century Modern is a blend of technology, simplicity and a style that’s very ‘cool,’ for lack of a better word, enhancing people’s appreciation of it,” says Lubell. The writer suggests that vintage photographs from the era reveal how truly revolutionary Mid-Century Modern architects were. “Cars in the photos appear to have nothing to do with the houses. It’s hard to describe just how radical and ahead of their time they were,” he observes.


In the U.S., passions for Mid-Century Modern residential design burned first and most intensely in and around Los Angeles, responding to trends already underway in Europe, but not so elegantly applied to single-family residences. In a city where challenging established convention was not discouraged, disciples of Frank Lloyd Wright — pioneering architects Rudolph Schindler, Richard Neutra and John Lautner — transformed residential aesthetics and attitudes.


The genesis of Mid-Century Modernism may have occurred in the City of Angels, but today’s epicenter of the style is Palm Springs, the desert resort city 100 miles east of L.A. Practically the entire municipality is a living museum of mid-century design, and that signature aesthetic has become as much a tourist attraction as Palm Springs’ legendary golf, tennis and shopping.


Every February, the community celebrates its architectural legacy with Modernism Week, where architects, designers and collectors from around the world draw inspiration from home tours, seminars, film screenings, and receptions in famous settings that include not just residences, but Mid-Century Modern hotels and restaurants.


Lisa Vossler Smith, who served as a volunteer for Modernism Week when it debuted in 2006 and was named executive director five years ago, reports the 2018 edition drew 126,000 people from 15 countries, more than double the attendance in 2015. She has observed an ever-increasing commitment by local residents to embrace their city’s architectural heritage and believes Modernism Week has profoundly influenced preservation efforts in Palm Springs and beyond. “Our goal is to educate visitors, so they can take back what they’ve learned to their own communities,” says Vossler Smith, who actively supports similar events across the country. 


Vossler Smith insists the fascination with Mid-Century Modern design is multigenerational, while conceding popular shows like Mad Men have contributed to the genre’s hip factor. “Clearly, there’s a sense of nostalgia for the baby boomer generation, but we find younger homebuyers are also attracted by the more simplistic, minimalistic lifestyle offered by these homes,” she says. “We’re now starting to explore new building projects informed by the mid-century design period,” says Modernism Week’s executive director, noting the influence of trailblazers such as Neutra and Schindler is evident in contemporary modern architecture.


While Vossler Smith admits Mid-Century Modernism is ideally suited to Southern California, she reports outstanding examples from the era are plentiful in places like Denver, Phoenix and Chicago. In Denver, real estate broker Adrian Kinney is a local expert on Mid-Century Modern homes, and his personal renovation of a Cliff May-designed residence reinforced his enthusiasm for quality design from that period. Finding some modernism too austere, Kinney was delighted to discover the warmth that many mid-century architects, like May, brought to their craft. “The more I learned, the more I wanted to educate everyone about what this modernism thing was all about!,” says the real estate professional.


“Buyers of Mid-Century Modern properties range from boomers to millennials, all wanting something different, functional and livable, with a sense of character,” says Kinney, who co-founded Denver’s own Modernism Show to draw attention to the Mile High City’s architectural assets. “After attending Palm Springs’ Modernism Week many times, I knew Denver needed to have one,” he says. Identifying more than 6,000 Mid-Century Modern homes in metro Denver, Kinney declares, “I want to showcase these to the world.”


Best known for its sugar-white beaches, the Gulf Coast city of Sarasota, Florida, shares a rich Mid-Century Modern heritage. Local broker Martie Lieberman of Premier Sotheby’s International Realty is recognized by both the real estate and architectural communities as an authority on the “Sarasota School of Architecture.”


Lieberman, who co-founded the Sarasota Architectural Foundation, is passionate about Mid-Century Modern homes and has made the sale of those properties her specialty. Observing that many houses from the Sarasota School elicit a sense of delight at first glance, she suggests the interiors are equally impactful. “You’ll see some of the most sophisticated uses of space and light, which most people have never experienced,” she insists.


Architects like Paul Rudolph and Victor Lundy created low-slung, glass-ensconced homes that were a dramatic departure from the prevailing Mediterranean style, explains Lieberman, noting they attracted idealistic young designers to Sarasota in the ’50s and ’60s. “They thought they would change the world with their new ideas, new materials and a new architecture,” she says. According to the niche broker, newcomers to Sarasota are quickly won over by the community’s architectural legacy, and Lieberman reports that significant Mid-Century Modern homes can command premiums of 15 to 35 percent.

A prefabricated home designed by legendary Mid-Century architect Cliff May, erected in 1955 in Denver.


Real estate broker Adrian Kinney restored this 1955 Cliff May property in Denver, fueling his passion for mid-century design.


Photos by Atom Stevens

This originally appeared in Unique Homes Fall 2018


Click here to view the digital edition.

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Commitment to Service

Freedom Learning Group's President

Stacey Ecelbarger

A collaboration between two organizations ensures that the scientific and technical expertise of military spouses is fully deployed.

In our appreciation for active military service personnel, the sacrifices made by their families — including military spouses with advanced degrees putting their own careers on hold — are sometimes overlooked. A partnership between Freedom Learning Group LLC (FLG) and the Society of Military Spouses in STEM (SMSS) aims to fully utilize the talents of these men and women in technical fields.


CEO Nathan Ecelbarger, a former police officer and U.S. Marine Corps reservist currently deployed to Stuttgart, Germany, co-founded FLG in 2016 with his wife, Stacey. She serves as president and has a keen appreciation for the challenges facing military families. “When we arrived overseas, I realized that highly qualified military spouses were getting jobs at the coffee shop on base just to fill a gap on their resume,” recounts Stacey. She remembers thinking, “This is not right. These underemployed attorneys, engineers and scientists should be able to utilize their expertise even while stationed overseas.”


As an adjunct professor in law enforcement, Nathan was introduced to the use of educational content experts by college textbook publishers like Pearson and McGraw-Hill. “Subject matter experts are a lifeline to publishers. Compared to full-time tenured professors (with many competing priorities), military spouses are more motivated, more committed to quality work and always meet deadlines,” reports Nathan, who says those nomadic specialists are not just looking for employment, but for continued professional credibility. “A Ph.D. in civil engineering doesn’t want to work as a barista, but as an engineer,” he says, yet notes the transient nature of military life and language barriers overseas make that challenging. “Through contract work with FLG they can use their training to develop the educational standards for their own industry,” explains Nathan.

“The need for reliable, qualified subject matter expertise is continuously increasing across the educational publishing industries,” says Stacey, adding, “Military spouses are extremely efficient, team-oriented and intrinsically do things right the first time.” Her husband, who explains that FLG trains content providers to write like educators, quips, “Having to navigate their way through the military bureaucracy as part of their lifestyle, military spouses are already, by definition, project managers and educators.”

“We’re thrilled to partner with SMSS, as our missions closely align and we share a common goal to empower and support military spouses,” explains Stacey, whose company also has affiliations with organizations representing specialties like law and healthcare. “By providing high-quality, affordable services to our clients, we look forward to employing more science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professionals, keeping them working in their chosen fields from any location on the globe,” she says.


Nonprofit SMSS was founded in 2016 by military spouses determined to maintain their careers despite the challenges presented by the military lifestyle. “We’re delighted to partner with a company that understands the needs for remote employment in STEM, and also has personal knowledge of what veterans and military spouses face,” says SMSS co-founder and Director of Outreach Michelle Aikman, who is herself a chemical engineer.


“We’ve been really fortunate to employ almost 100 military spouses,” says Stacey. She reports her company’s first military spouse hire, an unemployed engineer stationed in Germany, has since been promoted to FLG’s Senior Project Director developing educational content for the world’s biggest publishers while managing editorial teams of military spouses just like her.

This originally appeared in Unique Homes Fall 2018


Click here to view the digital edition.

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The High Life

Beer may be the everyman’s drink, but there are some ultra-premium brews priced like fine Bordeaux.


By Roger Grody


Budweiser is the “King of Beers” and rival Miller Brewing Company dubs its flagship product “High Life,” so the concept of elitism has long pervaded the mass-production market. But a new breed of brewmasters is transforming the beer drinking experience through exotic ingredients, elaborate packaging and price tags that would make a sommelier blush.


Craft brewing, a dominant trend in the industry, has fostered diversity, innovation and a focus on high quality artisanal ingredients. Also emerging are small-batch, ultra-premium beers with price points more akin to fine wines than budget-friendly, old-school labels like Pabst Blue Ribbon.


Leading beer authority Stephen Beaumont — his 13 books include The World Atlas of Beer and Premium Beer Drinker’s Guide — reports plenty of media interest in super-expensive beers but does not believe their hype represents a major shift in the industry. “It’s not so much a trend but an attention-grabber,” he says, conceding that whenever a beer sells for $800, people naturally take notice. He suggests that standing in line for the chance to buy a limited-release beer is part of an experience that transcends the palate, and points to 3 Floyds Brewing Co.’s Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout as a prime example. On Dark Lord Day (most recently on May 19, 2018), fans make the pilgrimage to Munster, Indiana to score some of the scarce bottles.


Many high-priced beers are one-off events rather than regularly available products, and their stratospheric price tags are often attributed to extremely limited production. Sapporo, the massive Japanese brewery, introduced Space Barley in 2009, made with barley from seeds that were kept alive in the International Space Station by Japanese and Russian scientists. The grain’s exotic provenance made this one of the most unique beers ever produced — facetiously referred to as “out of this world” — and a six-pack retailed for $110.

From 2008 through 2014, Australia’s Crown Beverages produced a vintage beer called Crown Ambassador Ale, a limited-production beverage designed to cellar for a decade. The handsome 750ml wine-like bottles were originally priced at about $90 but now command in excess of $1,000 on auction sites. The brewer suggests serving it in a red wine glass and reports it pairs well with pungent cheeses, wild game and desserts.


Samuel Adams, the brand that introduced craft brewing techniques to a mass market, has offered 10 vintages of a limited-edition beer called Utopias, a blend of batches aged up to 24 years. At 28 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) — as opposed to the typical 4 to 6 percent — this beer is more akin to a Port or Cognac. Aging in a variety of wine and spirit barrels (the 2017 vintage included a stint in Scandinavian aquavit barrels) further invites such comparisons.


“My original idea for Utopias was to push the boundaries of craft beer by brewing an extreme beer that was unlike anything any brewer had conceived,” reports Samuel Adams Founder Jim Koch. “We’ve continued to stretch the boundaries in brewing with the release of our 10th vintage and I’m proud to present to drinkers this lunatic fringe of extreme beer worthy of the Utopias name,” says Koch of the 2017 vintage. Only 13,000 ceramic bottles resembling copper brewing kettles were released, with a suggested retail price of $199 per bottle. Commentators like Beaumont praise Utopias, suggesting its character and complexity warrants the high price.


BrewDog is a funky Scottish craft brewery (Beaumont calls the company, not necessarily disparagingly, “an unapologetic attention-seeker”) that produces highly rated beers with product names like Elvis Juice, Clockwork Tangerine and Tactical Nuclear Penguin. One of its most celebrated products was Sink the Bismark!, a 41 percent ABV ale that retailed at approximately $75 when released in 2011. If you can find the high-octane brew today, you’ll pay north of $200 for a 330ml bottle.


End of History is a BrewDog beer with a staggering 55 percent ABV. Only a dozen bottles were produced for its first release in 2010, so prices skyrocketed to $750 or more. The beer is now brewed at BrewDog’s Columbus, Ohio facility, legal in the Buckeye State only after a 12 percent ABV cap was lifted in 2016. Despite its American Heartland production, the beer is fermented with juniper berries and nettles from the Scottish Highlands. To raise money for the company’s American expansion, $20,000 bottles were offered to investors. And for packaging that could be viewed as either cool or creepy, each End of History bottle is inserted into a taxidermied squirrel, with the neck of the bottle extending through the mouth of the sacrificial critter.

Denmark-based Carlsberg Group is best known for its eminently affordable Carlsberg label, but offers more than 500 different brands from Uzbekistan to Laos and periodically experiments with high-end beers. Released from 2008 to 2010 is its Carlsberg Jacobsen Vintage, which was originally priced near $400. It can still be cellared until 2059 and remaining bottles are considered precious. “It’s quite a flavorful beer with lots of character and complexity,” notes Beaumont. This year, the company introduced new cask-conditioned beers in conjunction with Nordic Food Lab at the University of Copenhagen.


“The starting point was a curiosity about whether we could brew beers of sufficiently high quality to match Denmark’s elite gastronomy,” says Jacobsen Brewmaster Morten Ibsen, who notes, “We succeeded.” A limited allocation of Jacobsen’s Chanterelle Lager was provided to Michelin-starred Restaurant Tri Trin Ned in Fredericia, Denmark, where dishes on the multi-course tasting menu were carefully crafted to complement the beer’s unique character. The launch reinforces the concept of fine beer assuming the stature of wine in the highest echelons of the culinary world.


Perhaps no craft brewery in America is as dedicated to the art of “culinary brewing” as Chicago-based Moody Tongue Brewing Company, whose mission is to develop flavor profiles that pair well with fine cuisine. Founding Brewmaster Jared Rouben, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and an alum of Michelin three-star Per Se in New York, approaches brewing beer as he would a savory dish in the kitchen. “It’s about sourcing the best ingredients, handling them with care and knowing where, when and why to incorporate them,” he says, adding, “The finished product just hits a glass instead of a plate.” 


Moody Tongue’s Shaved Black Truffle Pilsner (about $120 for a 22-ounce bottle) is a beer designed to complement rack of lamb as effectively as a Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Several acclaimed restaurants have placed it on their lists, including New York heavyweights Per Se and Blue Hill. Part of Rouben’s inspiration for founding Moody Tongue in 2014 was his frustration with seeing the beer selection relegated to the last page of restaurants’ beverage lists, with few choices that could elevate the dining experience. “My inspiration comes from the ingredients,” says the chef/brewmaster, insisting he is not motivated by price. “As soon as truffles go down in price, so will the beer,” he quips.

Shelton Brothers, Inc. is a prominent Massachusetts-based importer currently offering more than 800 labels, including those of Cantillon, a Belgian brewery whose traditionally fermented Lambic beers command high prices. Commenting on the current crop of headline-grabbing beers, Co-Founder Dan Shelton, states, “American craft brewers have figured out a lot of ways of getting people to spend more money:  higher alcohol levels, novel ingredients, creating the impression of scarcity by limiting access, and using what are purported to be innovative techniques.”


“Most of this is just gimmickry,” insists Shelton, who believes the trend toward exotic food additives is cresting. Unimpressed by truffle-infused beer, he says, “I sincerely hope that what comes next is a renewed interest in what I think of as just ‘good beer’ — beer made in the traditional, painstaking way that actually tastes like beer.”



Haute Brews



Crown Ambassador


Moody Tongue Brewing


3 Floyds Brewing




Shelton Brothers,


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Culinary Investments

Photos courtesy of Le Bernadin

Overall, Americans are shunning haute cuisine, but for elite diners there remain plenty of opportunities for conspicuous consumption.


By Roger Grody


Generally, “fine dining” — typically evidenced by crisp white tablecloths, crystal stemware and formal service — is rapidly disappearing in America. However, for those restaurants that stubbornly adhere to tradition and insist on genuine luxury, the experience is elevated … along with the price.


Charlie Trotter, the renowned Chicago chef who died in his prime, insisted that fine dining actually represents good value, citing the superb ingredients and intensive labor (100 people from farmers to servers) that contribute to a world-class meal. Average Americans cannot afford mansions or yachts, but many can occasionally experience the world’s finest cuisine. The restaurants featured herein honor Trotter’s philosophy, with some pushing his principle to its limits.


Le Bernardin is one of New York’s temples of gastronomy, where chef/partner Éric Ripert has earned acclaim for fresh, seasonable seafood enhanced through sophisticated French technique. With options between $170 and $225 per person, the prix fixe menus at Le Bernardin are actually restrained for a Michelin three-star restaurant, but a couple can drop a bundle once caviar and wine are added.


“Luxurious service no longer equates to the stiff environment with formulaic interactions that was once popular,” reports Ripert, and while Le Bernardin has pioneered a more approachable experience, the chef/restaurateur still values tradition. “We continue to be a destination for special occasions, which is a large part of why we uphold some of our more classical dining requirements, such as gentleman wearing jackets,” he says. Allowing guests to visit the kitchen and take photographs with staff might not have been something his mentor Joël Robuchon would have encouraged decades ago, but Ripert views it as part of the evolution of fine dining.


While French cooking has the reputation for being the most expensive, it is Japanese cuisine — particularly the art of sushi — that is the priciest in America today. Discretely tucked into a diminutive space on Beverly Hills’ Rodeo Drive is Urasawa, whose entire seating is essentially comprised of just eight chairs at a sushi bar. There, for a flat fee of $425 per person (before tax, tip or a drop of sake), sushi chef Hiroyuki Urasawa personally pampers guests with an omakase (chef’s choice) meal in which extraordinary ingredients are matched by artistry on the plate.

Photos by Allen Hemberger, interior by Matthew Gilson

Urasawa-san is a protégé of sushi chef Masayoshi “Masa” Takayama, whose own restaurant previously occupied that same Beverly Hills space. When Takayama was lured to New York to open his 26-seat Masa at Time Warner Center, the prices went up and are now $595 per person, although gratuities are not accepted.


Masa’s sushi bar, a solid piece of hinoki (Japanese cypress), is sanded daily to create a luxurious tactile surface, while flowering branches of seasonal plants provide the only distraction from the master’s work behind the counter. A procession of glistening, edible jewels — the exquisite plating includes ample caviar, truffles and uni — comprise an unforgettable two dozen-course feast that most believe is worth the price.


Alinea, the renowned flagship of culinary innovator Grant Achatz, is sometimes mistakenly viewed as an elaborate stage for the chef/owner’s bag of molecular gastronomical tricks, but innovation alone does not earn three Michelin stars. While the interactivity and playfulness of the cuisine may turn off traditionalists who insist on the hushed formality of what typically passes for fine dining, the sophistication of Achatz’s ingredients, imagination and technique is undeniable. The price for this carefully choreographed presentation of culinary and performance art can reach $385 per person, prior to making a wine selection.


While acknowledging the “absurdity” of paying so much for a meal, Jeff Ruby, chief dining critic at Chicago magazine, insists the Alinea experience is a sound investment. “Someday, Alinea will be gone, and people will speak of it with awe, and its legend will grow,” he says. “Like people who brag that they saw Michael Jordan play in his prime, you can say you ate at Alinea. That is worth way more than $385 to me.”


Ruby believes even traditionalists can find pleasure with Achatz’s concept, as long as they go with an open mind. “People walk in with a chip on their shoulders and Alinea knocks the chip off and turns it into some kind of dehydrated truffle orb,” quips Ruby, insisting Achatz and his crew deliver on their promise night after night.


Located in a posh hotel 20 miles north of downtown San Diego is Addison, where 22-karat gold-trimmed doors open into a soaring foyer while four limestone fireplaces warm the classically inspired premises. In the kitchen, Executive Chef William Bradley prepares a contemporary French cuisine while $10,000-plus treasures are stocked in the wine cellar. Although the chef’s 10-course tasting menu is a relatively manageable $250, Addison recently hosted a Krug Champagne dinner that at $1,000 per head is extravagant by any standard.


“At Addison, every element is fine-tuned through the lens of creating the best and most memorable dining experience possible for our guests from the moment they walk through the door,” reports Bradley. Noting that many diners are celebrating special occasions or have traveled a great distance, he adds that small details (e.g. generously spaced tables, stools for ladies’ purses) are the foundation of the guest experience.

Photos courtesy of Tory Kooyman and Jakob N. Layman

“Hospitality is timeless, as is the desire to be transported,” says Bradley, noting that the dining experience at Addison — it is tucked away in the hills above Del Mar — echoes its physical separation from metropolitan San Diego or L.A. “In an era where we’re so connected to technology, it’s more important than ever to maintain fine dining traditions that separate our guests from the stress of their daily routines,” suggests the chef.


Addison’s bar is currently dispensing a $250 cocktail called the Corpse Reviver XIII, a reimagination of a classic libation with roots in the 19th century. This gold dust-embellished version contains Adrien Camut Rareté (a Calvados so rare only 10 bottles are allocated to the U.S. annually) and 40-year-aged Rémy Martin Louis XIII Cognac. With its price equivalent to the tasting menu, this is clearly an indulgence worth lingering over.


In San Francisco, Saison ranks as the most exclusive and expensive restaurant in town, where exquisitely presented contemporary American fare is served in a space where the boundaries between dining room and kitchen are all but erased. A procession of nearly 20 small courses, which changes daily and can be tailored to the preferences of individual diners, carries a tariff of $398 —before even exploring Saison’s world-class wine list.


In Las Vegas, where winners and losers alike are as predisposed to consume opulent cuisine as they are to purchase Louis Vuitton bags, every major hotel has at least one ultra-high-end dining room. At Caesar’s Palace it is the eponymous restaurant of Guy Savoy, one of Paris’ Michelin three-star stalwarts, where the “Prestige Tasting Menu” runs $385 per person and premium wine pairings add another $375.


At Twist, a celebrated dining venue at the Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas, Chef Pierre Gagnaire (another giant of the Parisian dining scene) presents what may be the luckiest menu on the city’s legendary Strip. A seven-course meal is paired with seven fine wines to comprise a memorable gastronomic experience, and hopefully its $777 per person investment can be recouped with some additional sevens in a nearby casino.


At the Mandalay Bay’s Fleur in Las Vegas, even the ultimate comfort food can inflict extensive damage to one’s budget. There, chef/owner Hubert Keller applies the city’s legendary glam to the humble hamburger, layering foie gras and truffles over a wagyu beef patty. It arrives with a bottle of 1995 Château Pétrus, one of the world’s most treasured wines, followed by a $5,000 tab. 

Photos by Bonjwing Lee

Addison San Diego

Alinea Chicago

Fleur by Hubert Keller Las Vegas

Restaurant Guy Savoy Las Vegas

Le Bernardin New York

Masa New York

Saison San Francisco

Twist Las Vegas

Urasawa Beverly Hills

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Presidential Perks

A glimpse at some of the finest Presidential Suites in the world reveals that some of the amenities in just one of them include: Cantilevered glass balconies, a breathtaking library with a 26-foot cathedral ceiling, a Bösendorfer baby grand piano, lacquered walls with inlaid mother-of-pearl detailing, world-class art and a master bath clad in rare Chinese onyx.

In most hotels, the “Presidential Suite” will never host a U.S. president, but its very presence suggests a property possesses the requisite luxury for the most exclusive clientele. It is an opportunity for interior designers and staff to pull out all the stops to create the ultimate accommodations for heads of state, A-List celebrities or billionaire entrepreneurs.


Since James Monroe held the office, U.S. presidents have gravitated to The Greenbrier, the stately West Virginia resort 250 miles southwest of Washington, D.C., now a short flight aboard Air Force One. Surrounded by 11,000 rolling, wooded acres, the retreat has the serenity of Camp David but with world-class golf and cuisine. After a visit from President Eisenhower in 1956, a secret Cold War bunker was constructed at The Greenbrier for the relocation of Congress in the event of a nuclear attack.

Photos courtesy of The Greenbriar

The Presidential Suite is located in a wing called The Windsor Club at The Greenbrier, and currently commands $25,000 per night. A sweeping staircase leads from the entertainment areas on the ground floor to seven bedrooms (all with en suite bathrooms) above. An additional 18 bedrooms for guests or staff are available upon request. Originally decorated by legendary interior designer Dorothy Draper, the Presidential Suite still features her signature style of American Baroque furniture and vibrant hand-painted wallpaper.


According to Dr. Robert S. Conte, the resort’s official historian and author of The History of The Greenbrier—America’s Resort, the suite was created in 1947 when the property was converted back to a hotel after serving as a U.S. Army hospital during World War II. “It’s at the end of a long corridor, which provides a sense of privacy and has a dedicated concierge,” reports Conte.


Of the 27 presidents who have stayed at The Greenbrier, only Eisenhower actually slept in the Presidential Suite, as other suites offer more manageable spaces. But its occupants have included Indian Prime Minister Nehru, as well as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. The 5,500-squre-foot suite is ideal for corporate entertaining, and one family has made a tradition of booking it every Christmas for 25 years.


On the 51st floor of the I.M. Pei-designed Four Seasons Hotel in Midtown Manhattan are a pair of beautifully appointed 1,350-square-foot “Presidential Suites” with stunning views of the New York skyline and neighboring Central Park. But heads of state, royalty or big-name celebrities may prefer to ascend to the Ty Warner Penthouse, a 4,300-square-foot suite with 360-degree views and extraordinary appointments. The Four Seasons reports the showcase suite, a collaboration of Pei, hotel owner Ty Warner and iconoclastic architect/interior designer Peter Marino, is the product of a $50 million investment.


The Ty Warner Penthouse features the four highest cantilevered glass balconies in the world, perched over one of New York’s most prestigious and strategic addresses. A breathtaking library offers a 26-foot cathedral ceiling, floor-to-ceiling bronze bookcases from French sculptor Claude Lalanne and a Bösendorfer baby grand piano. Lacquered walls with inlaid mother-of-pearl detailing, world-class art and a master bath clad in rare Chinese onyx contribute to the architectural drama, while service perks include a 24-hour dedicated guest manager and Rolls Royce with driver at the ready. The nightly rate for this opulence is about $60,000, arguably a bit pricy for a public servant.

The Presidential Suite is located in a wing called The Windsor Club at The Greenbrier, and currently commands $25,000 per night. A sweeping staircase leads from the entertainment areas on the ground floor to seven bedrooms (all with en suite bathrooms) above. An additional 18 bedrooms for guests or staff are available upon request. Originally decorated by legendary interior designer Dorothy Draper, the Presidential Suite still features her signature style of American Baroque furniture and vibrant hand-painted wallpaper.


According to Dr. Robert S. Conte, the resort’s official historian and author of The History of The Greenbrier—America’s Resort, the suite was created in 1947 when the property was converted back to a hotel after serving as a U.S. Army hospital during World War II. “It’s at the end of a long corridor, which provides a sense of privacy and has a dedicated concierge,” reports Conte.


Of the 27 presidents who have stayed at The Greenbrier, only Eisenhower actually slept in the Presidential Suite, as other suites offer more manageable spaces. But its occupants have included Indian Prime Minister Nehru, as well as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. The 5,500-squre-foot suite is ideal for corporate entertaining, and one family has made a tradition of booking it every Christmas for 25 years.

Photos courtesy of Caesar’s Hotel and Bel Air Hotel

On the 51st floor of the I.M. Pei-designed Four Seasons Hotel in Midtown Manhattan are a pair of beautifully appointed 1,350-square-foot “Presidential Suites” with stunning views of the New York skyline and neighboring Central Park. But heads of state, royalty or big-name celebrities may prefer to ascend to the Ty Warner Penthouse, a 4,300-square-foot suite with 360-degree views and extraordinary appointments. The Four Seasons reports the showcase suite, a collaboration of Pei, hotel owner Ty Warner and iconoclastic architect/interior designer Peter Marino, is the product of a $50 million investment.


The Ty Warner Penthouse features the four highest cantilevered glass balconies in the world, perched over one of New York’s most prestigious and strategic addresses. A breathtaking library offers a 26-foot cathedral ceiling, floor-to-ceiling bronze bookcases from French sculptor Claude Lalanne and a Bösendorfer baby grand piano. Lacquered walls with inlaid mother-of-pearl detailing, world-class art and a master bath clad in rare Chinese onyx contribute to the architectural drama, while service perks include a 24-hour dedicated guest manager and Rolls Royce with driver at the ready. The nightly rate for this opulence is about $60,000, arguably a bit pricy for a public servant.


On the other coast, a favorite spot of the rich and famous is the Hotel Bel-Air, whose attraction is not only its prestige but its seclusion. Buffered by 12 acres of landscaped gardens with an idyllic swan pond, the hotel’s Presidential Suite is understatedly elegant, with arched floor-to-ceiling windows, chandeliers hanging from coffered ceilings and luxurious limestone floors more suggestive of a grand residence than a hotel. A stunning Bianco Ondulare marble-clad fireplace and grand piano occupy the living room, while gracious dining for 10 is accommodated in a room with silver-laced, hand-painted walls. Guests pass through French doors into a private courtyard with its own swimming pool, reflective of the signature serenity of the entire property.


The Bel-Air’s versatile 6,775-square-foot Presidential Suite, for which the nightly rate starts at $15,000, is accessed through a private entrance ensuring privacy and providing a more residential feel. “The suite is situated in a compound layout, so anyone traveling with security or an entourage can have connecting suites or rooms,” explains Kayal Moore, assistant director of rooms at the Bel-Air. Addressing the enhanced service that complements the environment, he says, “We truly offer a unique and tailored stay for each guest.”


Everything on the Las Vegas Strip, where there is a different standard for conspicuous consumption, is over-the-top, so it should come as no surprise that the premier accommodations at the city’s iconic hotels are truly spectacular. Many decadent suites are set aside for high rollers at Caesar’s Palace (none officially titled “Presidential Suite”), some whose pink onyx bathtubs with 24-karat gold fixtures are better suited for pleasure than official business.

Photos courtesy of Caesar’s Palace

When President Obama and family stayed at Caesar’s, they occupied the Cleopatra Villa and the adjoining Mark Antony Villa, totaling 20,000 square feet of lavish, marble-clad space with a glass-covered atrium, six bedrooms and an oversized outdoor spa. “Now that I’m president, they upgraded me,” Obama reportedly joked during his 2009 stay, acknowledging the over-the-top accommodations. The two combined suites, priced from $33,000 per night and favored by platinum record pop stars, royal families and tech tycoons — are accessed by secure private elevator and served by a dedicated butler 24 hours a day.


The Venetian, Las Vegas’ luxury Italianate hotel, offers not one but four Presidential Suites that combine understated elegance with a little glitz, consistent with a property that values artistic expression. Each suite’s 5,200 square feet of living space includes grand marble foyers, lavish dining rooms and a pair of bedrooms with elegant amenities. Naturally, the occupants have access to any of the hotel’s acclaimed chefs and can relax over a game of billiards in a stately game room. Hotel representatives report the Chairman Suites at The Venetian’s adjoining sister property, The Palazzo, are larger, flashier and even more befitting the highest of rollers.


Clearly, Washington, D.C. knows how to accommodate diplomats, prime ministers and sultans, with suites pre-approved by the Secret Service. The Presidential Suite at the Mandarin Oriental, which has nightly rates starting at $15,000, offers spectacular views of the nation’s capital and traditional yet exquisite décor. A hexagonal living room with vaulted ceiling and crystal chandelier adds to the ease of entertaining in this 3,500-square-foot suite, where stunning spa-like contemporary bathrooms — the master features a two-person glass shower — adjoin spacious sleeping quarters.


Hotel manager Marie-Elise Lallemand insists the Mandarin Oriental’s Presidential Suite is the only one in the District with genuinely monumental views, noting its 180-degree panorama encompasses many of the capital city’s most recognizable landmarks. In fact, a circular window in the 10-seat dining room perfectly frames a postcard-worthy vista of the Washington Monument. “With two bedrooms, two-and-a-half baths, dining room with chef’s prep area, living room, office, sitting room, and grand foyer, our Presidential Suite is truly unique,” says Lallemand, who maintains the level of service is commensurate with the presidential premises.

Sweet Suites

Hotel Bel-Air Los Angeles

Caesar’s Palace Las Vegas

Four Seasons New York

The Greenbrier Sulphur Springs West Virginia

Mandarin Oriental Washington, D.C.

The Palazzo Las Vegas

The Venetian Las Vegas

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