Friday, February 8, 2008

Lounge Essentials: Traveling Like It's 1960

I skipped curbside check-in and proceeded straight to the self-service kiosk. Tickets: printed. Luggage: one carry-on, one checked. An airline counter “client specialist” attached my baggage claim sticker to the bag to be stowed and instructed me to the security drop off zone. So far, so good - we were going to make our flight with time to kill. Dropped off our bags and off to the security checkpoint. The queue was fifty deep and a bored Transportation Security Administration (TSA) official repeated her rehearsed line as more passengers approached.

"Please remove your coat and shoes and place them in a bin. Please place any electrical devices in the bin and empty your pockets."

The TSA personnel carefully screened my carry-on bag to ensure I wasn’t contra-banding any liquids over three ounces. They examined my shoes, my stainless steel watch, belt buckle, and then made sure I was “carry on approved” by swiping their metal detection wand at me. Luckily I followed the 3-1-1 rule for carry-ons ( 3 ounce bottle or less (by volume) ; 1 quart-sized, clear, plastic, zip-top bag; 1 bag per passenger placed in screening bin) otherwise I would have been really humiliated with a more thorough inspection and sure confiscation of my mini-martini making kit. Afterwards I was “thanked” and shuffled along toward my gate in a long line reminiscent of pigs to a slaughter. My recent flight to Chicago was more like the last flight out of Saigon than the glamorous experience that comes to mind when the word 'Jet-Set' was coined by journalist Igor Cassini (aka Cholly Knickerbocker).

Traveling by jet plane used to be an elegant affair that originally only the rich and famous could afford. Passengers used to dress their best to fly and the airlines were more focused on quality over quantity. The first class experience was not limited to the front of the plane or the attire of the traveler. The airlines built modern terminals such as Eero Saarinen’s Terminal Five at John F. Kennedy (formerly Idlewild) Airport in New York. The building’s aerodynamic design elements suggest excitement of the upcoming trip. Passengers would relax in the airport lounges, have a few cocktails, and smoke. American Airlines opened the first Admiral’s Club at LaGuardia airport in 1939. As the jet age made air travel more accessible, airlines followed suit and made their terminals more customer centric. This included airport lounges and duty free shops. Accommodations on board were also about creating comfort without sacrificing style. There was literally more leg room, wider seats, and even an onboard cocktail bar or lounge on many Boeing 747s. The staff consisted of courteous flight attendants who were wore stylish uniforms, and even some bad boy pilots. These guys were ex-Air Force and Navy who traded flying sorties over Pyongyang for the New York-London or Los Angeles-Tokyo route. The entire travel experience in the early sixties was an adventure from check-in to take off.

Though I was not actually alive in 1960, I did fly both domestically and internationally as a child in the 1970s and had the good fortune to live in many exotic locales. Believe me when I say the Jet Set vibe was still alive then. The Airport. The lounge. The flight. It was exhilarating. My father was always in a suit (albeit with wider lapels), my mother in a fashionable dress, hat, scarf, and my brothers and I were in our Sunday best. And it wasn’t just our family. Everyone came to the terminal in their best duds.

As an adult, the height of my jet-set experience was from New York to Paris in November 2000. I was traveling in coach but decided to class it up so I wore a black stingy brim felt fedora, Persol black sunglasses, dark suit, white shirt, slim tie, black London Fog knee length trench coat, and leather oxford shoes – very Marcelo Mastroianni meets ska pioneer Derrick Morgan. I boarded with two pieces of carry on, my vintage Pan Am shoulder tote and black leather portable bar by Trav-L Bar. Fellow passengers assumed I worked for the airline despite the Pan Am logo on my tote bag because they asked me if we would be taking off soon. I just smiled. It was an international flight headed out of the country on Thanksgiving weekend. As predicted, I had a free seat next to me so I sat by the window and laid my hat, and jacket on the adjoining seat. The Boeing 747 actually took off on schedule. Once the fasten seat belt sign flashed off, I asked the flight attendant for a cup of ice and popped open the Trav-L bar. She came over and smiled as I started to assemble a cocktail, ‘I guess you are taken care of,’ she joked. I told her to keep the ice coming. She laughed and was even kind enough to check my suit jacket up in business class!

After a deuce of martinis and a light dinner I loosened the knot of my tie and caught some shut eye. Upon landing in Charles de Gaulle 2, I was stopped briefly by the Gendarmes who asked me to open the bar. I gladly obliged and when they peered inside, their frowns turned to smiles, and they waved me through.

The contents of my black B-707 Polystyrene Trav-L bar were:

     One bottle of Stolichnaya vodka (750 ml) (less two martinis)
     A fifth of dry vermouth
     Small jar of olives
     A 6 oz martini glass
     One personal sized stainless steel cocktail shaker
     4 stainless steel 3 ‘’ 6 oz small cups for other passengers
     Serving tray
     6” long Bakelite bottle opener
     A double sided jigger
     A paring knife
     Long stirring spoon

How many of those objects could I bring on a plane today? Zero. Nada. Nix. Niente. Ok maybe the jigger because the average TSA screener would probably not have a clue what it is but certainly not the pairing knife or 6 oz. martini glass!

A-Listers, Comfort, and the TSA

Today, the word Jet-Set has been replaced by 'A-Lister' among the rich and famous, and the 'democratization' of air travel created a more casual environment that is the antithesis of Jet Set. The closest you can come to the original experience is flying in first class where they actually treat you like a human being and not an ass in a seat. The A-Listers are flying boutique airlines like Emirates, staying at boutique hotels, wearing boutique clothes, and eating celebrity chef designed meals in first class. Meanwhile, back in coach the dress down attitude that afflicts the country has hit the air travel like bad turbulence. On the recent Chicago flight, there were literally people in their pajamas because it is “comfortable.” Really? Tight seats, no food, poor service, no pillows, but put a pair of pajamas and presto – Comfort! Then there is the post-9/11 flying environment which transforms the excitement of preparing to board the aircraft into dread.

According to the TSA, today’s travelers must comply with the following rules:

All liquids, gels and aerosols must be in three-ounce or smaller containers. Larger containers that are half-full or toothpaste tubes rolled up are not allowed. Each container must be three ounces or smaller. All liquids, gels and aerosols must be placed in a single, quart-size, zip-top, clear plastic bag. Gallon size bags or bags that are not zip-top such as fold-over sandwich bags are not allowed. Each traveler can use only one, quart-size, zip-top, clear plastic bag.

Each traveler must remove their quart-sized plastic, zip-top bag from their carry-on and place it in a bin or on the conveyor belt for X-ray screening. X-raying separately will allow TSA security officers to more easily examine the declared items.

There is also a "Prohibited List" which must have been the brainchild of some teetotaler. The list of prohibited items is quite serious and includes many common instruments which could cause harm on a plane such as “billy clubs, black jacks, brass knuckles, kubatons, mace/pepper spray, martial arts weapons, nightsticks, nanchakus, stun guns/shocking devices, throwing stars, blasting caps, dynamite, hand grenades, plastic explosives and a dozen other items. I prefer to check my nanchackus so as to avoid violating Federal guidelines thank you very much.

TWA's Terminal Five at JFK
Is it possible to still travel like in 1960?

Unfortunately, you cannot literally do it. In addition to the loss of the more formal elements of airline service and non-smoking ordinances, the post-911 flying environment impacts this traditional jet setter directly – the travel bar experience of yesteryear is gone like the cigarette! However, you can still enjoy the excitement and glamour of travel in the right state of mind.
Dressing up is actually more comfortable

Cramp conditions in coach should not deter you from dressing you best when taking a flight. For men, light gabardine trousers or a suit pants breathe a lot better than dungarees or khakis. Try slip on loafers or car shoes instead of shoes with laces. This will save you time at the security check point and you can also slip them on and off once in your seat for more conform. Since the airlines have gotten stingy with blankets, a light sweater or vest should be kept in a carry-on bag and used incase you get cold. Adding a tie to your attire also acts like a scarf by keeping body heat from escaping. This stylish comfort also applies to the ladies. Surely a pair of light slacks or skirt could be worn in lieu of terry cloth sweat pants with the words “Juicy” on the rear. A scarf or shawl can be both elegant and functional.
The Airport Lounge

Cash in airline miles for admission tickets to the Airline clubs and lounges. These venues provide a comfortable environment to wait for a flight and some even offer luxury services such as gyms and spas. Generally, the airport lounge is reserved for flyers with memberships or business and first class passengers. However, most airlines also sell one-day passes to regular passengers or reduced and even free admission to guest with frequent flyer programs. Some airlines, such as American, sell one day passes for valid ticket holders. The price can be steep running $40 to $60 per guest, so best bet is to cash in some miles/points. Other services include television, periodicals, and complimentary alcoholic beverages and snacks. Luckily I have a credit card which allows me and one guest to access the lounges of most major airlines, so I utilize this feature before every flight. Also check out loungepass or prioritypass for special deals on airport lounges.
Have booze (in see thru three ounces plastic bottles) will travel

According to TSA regulations, “Alcohol brought from outside the security checkpoint area is prohibited - unless in 3oz. containers or less and carried in that damn Ziploc 1 quart bag.”

 Well that caveat to the rules is all I needed to read. Prior to that recent Chicago flight, I made a pit stop at a travel accessory store called Flight 001. The travel Mecca sells everything a passenger needs for air travel from luggage to travel accessories. Their motto 'Traveling in style is no longer a thing of the past' holds true to form. One of their products, the (wink-wink) F1 TO GO BOTTLES carry-on approved travel set now doubles as my travel bar! The set comes with refillable, leak-proof, shatter-resistant vacuum bottles packaged in a stylish zip-top plastic bag with the Flight 001 logo stenciled on the exterior. Best part – it is carry-on approved!!! Sure it is not as aesthetically pleasing as a TRAV-L Bar but it is functional and will save you a few bucks buying liquor on the plane. Pre-made cocktails or straight booze served on the rocks are sure to soothe any travel anxieties.
Jet set travel is not dead yet
Sure, there are the onerous federal regulations, a quantity over quality attitude from the airlines, and a dress down disease afflicting modern air travel. However, there are some positive changes too. Smoke free flying, affordable flights, increased security, self-service check-in, and more destinations are all signs of progress. Nevertheless, the downside of modern travel can overwhelm the plus side. But all is not lost. I believe with the right attitude, a sharp look, and some tricks of the trade, we can bring back the excitement and civility that used to typify air travel in the early 1960s. Dress up for your flight. It is actually more comfortable and you will get less hassle at the check points. Relax in the Airport lounge. A stress free experience will get you in the right state of mind for the flight. If you are still nervous or just want top take the edge off, have a few pre-made cocktails on board. No need to shell out exact change for those miniature bottles. Flying is still an adventure and no matter where you sit, the true jet setter always flies first class.

- Fredo

Thursday, February 7, 2008

What We're Drinking: The Kir Royale - Crème de Resistance!

by Fredo

The Christmas tree is still out on the curb awaiting the mulch police and already Valentine’s decorations are for sale at the store!! Well here is an early bird cocktail special for the gents to make your chick take notice.

On St. Valentine’s Day, you want to impress your special someone, oui? Give your date the royal treatment by starting the evening with a Kir Royale. The Kir Royal, a delicious blend of Champagne and crème de cassis, tastes like class in a flute glass. Crème de cassis is black currant liquor that is slightly bitter. Mixed with separkling wine or dry champagne, it becomes not only an aphrodisiac but a mood setter as well. Ok I am exaggerating but one cannot deny it is a romantic drink with a great story.

The mayor. The hero. The cocktail. In the 1940s, there lived a mayor of Dijon in France named Felix Kir. He was a heroic figure that led the French résistance in the province of Burgundy during the Second World War. To celebrate his efforts, the people of Dijon created a drink made of simple dry, white, peasant wine and black currant liquor. They called it The Kir in his honor. Crème de Cassis had long been used in Burgundy as a mixer with aperitifs and was a natural choice to make the traditional peasant wine, called Aligote, tastier. Once the French media and the upper classes caught wind of this concoction, they substituted champagne and elevated the drink to royal status — The Kir Royale was born. Felix Kir continued to actively promote the original Kir to Dijon visitors until his death in 1968.

What the cornichon is the difference between a Kir and Kir Royale and the Kir Imperiale?

A Kir is generally dry white wine and crème de cassis. Up the ante with brut champagne or sparkling wine and you have the regal Kir Royale. Double down with Dom Perignon and crème de cassis or Chambord and you’ll be tripping the light fantastic with a Kir Imperiale.

The garnish: Purists insist on one or two lemon twists, but for Valentine’s Day I like to sweeten the mixture with a maraschino cherry. After your Kir, your date can play tie-the-cherry-stem-with-their-tongue. Oh my!

The Kir Royale

½ part of crème de cassis
5 parts Perrier Jouet “extra dry” champagne
1-2 lemon twists or a Luxardo maraschino cherry

Pour ½ part of the crème de cassis in each of 2 tall, fluted Champagne glasses. Pour the Champagne into each glass, and add a lemon twist or maraschino cherry.

Make a toast and sweep her off her feet!

(originally published in the Barfly's Beat Jan 2007)

Sunday, February 3, 2008


Loungerati friend and musician J.C Hopkins sends word that a staged reading of his play ROSE DOES RICO will be performed THE PLAYERS CLUB in New York City on Tuesday, February 12, 2008.



by JC Hopkins

Directed by Domenica Cameron-Scorsese

with Jeff Pucillo and Karla Mosley

Program: 7:00 pm
Free Admission
(212) 475-6116
16 Gramercy Park South
New York, NY 10003

A three act, noir-tinged romantic tragedy
touching on issues of race, sex, and incest;
frank sexual situations and language.
Set in 1966 San Francisco.