A Dinner Date With Michael Stipe
Over a meal at one of his favorite restaurants in New York City, the former R.E.M. front man dishes on creativity, vulnerability, and his love of food.
From a special object to a delicious meal, a captivating place to an unforgettable experience — a few things delighting our Departures editors this month.
FOR ME AND nearly everyone I know, it’s been a whirlwind month. Is the summer brimming with even more opportunities (and obligations) than normal, or are we just out of practice? The twin stresses of travel and heat have been enough to test many of us. But, at least in my case, the long airport lines were worth the quiet hours spent taking in beautiful views upon arriving in new places. We battled the heat with ice pops and sprinklers. We ate new foods, saw old friends, and caught up on joy. As summer draws to a close, we may feel a bit wilted, but we know we’ll miss the season as soon as it’s gone. — Nina
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My 5-year-old daughter, whose greatest goal is to be an actual queen, has declared Paris her favorite place in the world. “Can you guess why?” she asked me. “Because it is really, really fancy.” (Just holding off a bit before breaking the news to her about what happened to the last queen who lived in Paris.)
But she’s not wrong. I mean, who does luxury better than the Parisians? Recently, I had the chance to do a small tour of some of the fanciest fancy places in the fanciest city in the world. A night at Le Bristol is not to be missed, especially when you have a room overlooking their courtyard garden, and the chance to swim at night in their incredible rooftop pool that’s decked out as a boat (pun intended), while watching the full moon rise just to the east of the Eiffel Tower.
Or how about a visit to the Ritz Club & Spa Paris? Their slate of new signature massages uses essential oils from various flowers, with each inspired by massage techniques from around the world. The treatment room has a ceiling topper with, you guessed it, flowers — tiny white ones in relief, lit from behind by the softest of purple glows. Not a guest of the hotel? While accessible to guests, the spa can also be accessed with a day pass, and includes a subterranean pool that looked particularly welcoming in the middle of a heat wave.
If it’s a facial you’re looking for, there’s La Maison Valmont at Le Meurice, the only spa in Paris operated by the cult Swiss beauty brand. When I interviewed their CEO, Sophie Guillon, last year, she explained to me that they use a combination of natural ingredients and cutting-edge science to create products that are gentle, and really work. I believe it. This facial included a collagen mask and no machines. “Americans — they like machines. But you don’t need it for the wow effect,” Guillon told me. Indeed.
A newer addition to fancy Paris is Madame Rêve, a recently opened hotel that occupies the top two floors of the storied nineteeth-century Louvre post office building. Decorated with lots of wood and a style that nods to the best of midcentury — which I found very pleasing — its rooms look onto a modern inner courtyard landscaped with native plants that wouldn’t be out of place at a very chic beach property. But the view from La Plume, the Japanese-inspired restaurant on the roof, is unequivocal: between the slate-colored rooftops and the Gothic dome of Saint-Eustache, this could only be Paris. — Skye
There is no shortage of luxury accommodations in Napa Valley. If you are looking for something small and private, but with all the amenities and hospitality of a five-star property, Poetry Inn should be your next stop. Upon entering the grounds, you are greeted by one of the many personable staff members who “welcome you home.” Perched high above the town of Yountville with a view from every room, the property is a converted house with only five suites, each with a private terrace where you can enjoy a tasty made-to-order breakfast or a glass of wine and a sunset. Along with the terrace, each suite has a lovely outdoor shower. It’s the perfect place to retreat after a long day of wine tasting; or simply hide out for a long weekend without even leaving the property. — Elissa
Until recently, I never considered myself a particularly beachy person. When I was younger, I typically associated beach vacations with crowds, kids, and the kinds of leisure activities that never particularly interested me. After my recent visit to Pine Cay, I realized that the problem is that I just haven’t been going to the right beaches. Located in Turks & Caicos and situated on a private island near the world’s third-largest barrier reef, Pine Cay is remarkably easy to get to (you arrive via a short boat ride, not far from the Providenciales International Airport) and provides the perfect balance of attention and unfussiness. A member of the Relais & Châteaux group, the resort offers 12 beachfront rooms and suites (each only steps from the ocean), a freshwater swimming pool, and a beautiful clubhouse. Kids aren’t allowed at the resort (though there are family-friendly houses on the island available for rent), so you will not hear the din of children. There are no televisions, and cell phone use is discouraged in the common areas, which themselves are blessedly quiet — no music playing anywhere, only the soothing lull of the ocean. There is a communal bar where you can interact with other guests at the nightly sunset cocktail service, but other than a couple of guided activities (including a stunning snorkeling session just off the reef), my partner and I mostly kept to ourselves. We swam in the clear water on our own little stretch of white-sand beach, napped, and occasionally drifted back to the clubhouse for a drink, or when it was time for one of the incredible meals. The rates at Pine Cay are island inclusive, which means you never really have to think about much of anything, and the staff provides just the right level of attention — there when you need them, but happy to leave you be. By the second day there, my life in New York City seemed much further away than a short four-hour flight. Not only did my Pine Cay experience make me realize how utterly overstimulated I am in my day-to-day, the calm and quiet it provided were a balm I didn’t even know I needed. — Cole
This month I traveled to Prague, a place I’ve wanted to visit since my Milan Kundera–obsessed early twenties. I knew I would fall in love with the city, but its beauty was even more astonishing than I expected. I didn’t know that I would also fall for The Julius, a new hotel near the city center that makes for a perfect landing pad, not least because it’s a mere five-minute walk from the main train station. Designed by Milan-based designers Matteo Thun & Partners, The Julius is part of a new hospitality brand launched by the Julius Meinl family, who’ve been purveyors of coffee and fine foods across Central Europe since the nineteenth century. The hotel is tailored to the contemporary traveler, from touchless check-in to phoneless rooms (everything you need is on an app), and it’s the kind of place where one could happily stay a night or a month. My suite had a full kitchen with a stovetop, SMEG toaster and kettle, a dining table, and even a dishwasher — when I sought a break from restaurant fare, I shopped at the market and made simple meals at “home.” (The hotel also serves an extensive breakfast.) With desk space in the bedroom, two flat screen TVs, a large walk-in shower, and a deep bathtub, I moved seamlessly between remote work and bathrobed leisure time. In all, the suite functioned like a swanky apartment. The clean, art deco–inspired decor, with its touches of sumptuous velvet, felt like the height of modern luxury, and I noted with gratitude the complete absence of bad hotel art on the walls. The Julius is also within walking distance of a range of excellent restaurants and attractions in Old Town, Prague’s traditional center: Wenceslas Square, the Astronomical Clock, the Museum of Communism, the Charles Bridge, and many others. The whole affair is tasteful: upscale but welcoming. The concept is one the Julius Meinl family is likely to export to other European cities; if so, I’ll make it a point to visit those too. — Nina
I’ve always loved my East Village neighborhood spot Oiji, an experimental take on Korean cuisine in a small, chic space. They’ve now added a new, elevated restaurant to their portfolio: Oiji Mi. Located in the Flatiron District, the interiors are big and stunning: a luxe, modernized take on the inside of a traditional hanok-style Korean home. Their five-course prix fixe is refined yet explosively delicious. Standouts were the Oiji Bowl with sea urchin, sweet shrimp, and seaweed rice; the chili lobster ramyun; and the dry-aged duck. This is your next NYC special-occasion restaurant. Another fun addition? They’re opening a gleaming, marble-clad, speakeasy-style omakase room in the back of the restaurant, for super super special occasions. — Sophie
Another new restaurant I tried was Al Coro, in the former Del Posto space. With a live band, the vibe is jazzy and grand, and the meal opens with a spectacular aperitivo spread of little savory dishes — things like stuffed young potatoes and baccala with trout roe and ramps, or fingers of beet wrapped in bresaola. I had one of the most stellar pasta dishes of my life: culurgiones (a Sardinian dumpling of sorts) with razor clam, fontina, and caviar. For a more casual experience, the sexy pizza spot Mel’s next door was bumping and buzzy when I popped my head in. And what I’m super amped about? The space downstairs, Discolo. It’s a subterranean disco where down is up — the traditional light-up floor is on the ceiling, glowing in sync with the music. — Sophie
In my tireless pursuit of regret-proof partying, I have sampled the full suite of nonalcoholic wines available today, and can say with authority that Studio Null makes the best. The California-based company has a lovely red and a white, but I am specifically obsessed with their sparkling rosé, which is so crisp, dry, and close to the real thing that I find myself checking the bottle periodically to make sure it’s NA. For those who’ve been bitten before by seductive packaging: This is not candy-flavored juice or upmarket vinegar in a wine bottle, but real, vineyard-grown wine that has been dealcoholized using a special distilling process. The result is a revelation. — Nina
When it’s warm outside, my drink of choice is always a spritz. While I’ll never turn down an Aperol spritz, I’ve spent the summer experimenting with new liquors to spice up my favorite cocktail. I was introduced to sorrel by a friend who went to medical school in the Caribbean. Sorrel, a festive drink made of hibiscus flowers and spices, known as the “red drink,” has been around since the 1600s and is traditionally served with or without alcohol during holiday celebrations. A liquor version of the Caribbean classic is now bottled and sold under the label Sorel from Jack From Brooklyn, the first-known Black-owned distillery in America post-prohibition, according to founder Jackie Summers. Sorel has gone through a relaunch and is now back on the market. The flavors are smooth and delicate and not too sweet, which makes it the perfect liquor for a summer spritz. Summer’s mission is clear: Continue the tradition of the “red drink” for future generations. Up next, I plan to try Sorel in both my homemade Negroni and old-fashioned. — Elissa
My newest obsession is Picky Wicky, a kimchi brand from Korea. Each can is a snappy umami bomb of flavor. Richer, saucier, and more concentrated than most Kimchi brands, it’s perfect mixed into rice or noodles with an egg on top, over creamy labneh on a slice of sourdough (a super easy yet gourmet snack!), on a charcuterie board, in a grilled cheese, or straight from the can. Anything fermented is medicine for your gut health, so stock up — Korean doctor’s orders. My cans also arrived in a teeny tiny tote that says KIMCHI, which is now my going-out bag and most prized possession. — Sophie
It’s high summer aka chillable red and orange wine season. I’m loving Head to Toe (Female producer! Tastes like a bowl of raspberries! Good with an ice cube, don’t judge me!) and a gem of a Georgian orange, Orgo Kakheti Rkatsiteli. This one is savory, soft, and light on tannins. Both are a great value — bring to a picnic with people you love. — Sophie
Remember “Under the Tuscan Sun,” the bestselling 1996 memoir about an Italian villa that became a sun-drenched escapist 2003 film starring Diane Lane? I love it. Author Frances Mayes has since penned plenty of other Tuscan-themed books, but this month she has a new one out called “A Place in the World: Finding the Meaning of Home.” It’s a series of personal stories from Mayes’ travels that considers the question of home — how, where, and with whom it’s made — and it’s a perfect, light late-summer read. Pour yourself a chinotto on ice and dig in. — Nina
My partner has long, gorgeous curly locks of hair that can quickly turn fluffy after a shower. He’s been using this Fellow Mineral Spray to return a bit of texture and body to his mane. It basically gives you beach hair when not on the beach. With vitamins and hydrolyzed quinoa, it also nourishes the strands and smells really nice, like woody citrus. I tell him he looks handsome when he wears it and he gets all bashful, which is very cute. — Sophie
With the challenges of modern travel making front-page news this summer, it won’t surprise you to learn that some of my recent trips have taken twice as long as anticipated. Hour-long layovers, for example, have morphed into surprise overnight stays. Even if one is able to maintain a sunny attitude when thrown such curveballs (I always am, of course), it takes a toll on the immune system. I have been fortified by these Onrū Travel Immunity supplements — a once-daily dose of vitamins C and D, zinc, ashwagandha, papain (a digestive enzyme), lemon balm, and more, packed into a globe-shaped bottle. There is so much about travel that is out of our control, but these supplements help me feel like I can at least mount a good defense. — Nina
Although I now identify as a full-blown wellness freak, I struggle to take time off to focus on my overall well-being. I become overwhelmed at the idea of slowing down — essentially, in engaging in any non-work-centric activity —without experiencing pangs of guilt over what else I could be doing. It’s a vicious cycle that even the most health-conscious individuals can find themselves stuck in, especially with all the exterior stressors we’re forced to reckon with daily.
However, it seems I’ve finally cracked the code and found that if happiness and inner peace are sold to me in the form of Mexican sunsets, gut-friendly fine-dining experiences, new friends, and nootropic botanicals from my favorite tea brand, House of Waris Botanicals, I can find a way to calm the nagging voices in my head for at least a long weekend.
House of Waris might ring a bell for some of you; we featured the brand’s eponymous multihyphenate founder, Waris Ahluwalia, in a recent issue of Departures, and talked to him about the restorative powers of tea. Knowing Waris myself, and possessing a fondness for his notably warm and mesmerizing personality, I quickly jumped at the opportunity to join a friends-and-family wellness retreat he hosted with Sabine Heller of Sollis Health, that included an impeccably curated guest list of creatives, and was held at the striking new Etéreo Auberge Resort on the Riviera Maya.
In many ways, it was what I imagine sleepaway camp must have felt like for kids who were lucky enough to leave the city during the dog days of summer. Instead of show-and-tell, we had fireside gut-health chats with celeb-fave naturopath Dr. Nigma Talib. In lieu of contact sports, we had yoga, sound baths, and sunbathing by the pool and on the beach. We dined on a delectable plant-based menu infused with House of Waris teas and local fare, prepared by renowned NY chef Camille Becerra. I also bared my deepest and darkest, borderline TMI-level digestion issues with a gifted herbalist by the name of Torin Murphy; after five minutes, he got me to divulge my weirdest bodily concerns previously only found in my Google search history. The bonds that were formed that weekend were all too real.
While it was a short excursion that was over too quickly, it served as a great reminder that everyone, including me, needs to take a break sometimes. Also, there is never a wrong time or place for tea; you can literally put it in everything. I’ve been trying to recreate Chef Becerra’s spicy hibiscus-citrus tea gazpacho and a lettuce with jasmine tea and spirulina salad ever since I returned home. Mastering these recipes has become my new life goal. — Annette
My seemingly endless search for shampoo that works with my wildly sensitive scalp has brought me to CBD products. I know, I know, no news flashes here. I’m a late adopter, but definitely a convert. This green shampoo and conditioner duo from R+Co (colored to nod to the ingredients, I guess) is soothing and smells delicious. And like all R+Co products, their labels are cute too. — Skye
Skye Parrott is the editor-in-chief of Departures. A magazine editor, photographer, writer, and creative consultant, she was previously a founder of the arts and culture journal Dossier, and editor-in-chief for the relaunch of Playgirl as a modern, feminist publication.
T. Cole Rachel is a Brooklyn-based writer, editor, and teacher with over 20 years of experience working in print and digital media. He is currently an editor-at-large at Departures.
Annette Lamothe-Ramos is the visuals director of Departures. A native New Yorker now based in Los Angeles, she is a multidisciplinary artist and creative consultant working in online media, print, and film. Formerly the creative director and fashion editor at Vice, she has also created original documentary shorts and series for several major streaming platforms.
Sophie Mancini is an editor at Departures. Born and raised in New York City, she holds a degree in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University and has a background as a writer in brand and editorial.
Nina Renata Aron is a writer and editor based in Oakland, California. She is the author of “Good Morning, Destroyer of Men's Souls.” Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Guardian, the New Republic, Elle, Eater, and Jezebel.
Elissa Polls is the senior director of content production for Departures. A producer who typically stays behind the scenes, she has worked with creatives from around the world, helping bring their ideas to life. Elissa has over 15 years of production experience and lives in Berkeley, California.
Jess Rotter is a Los Angeles–based illustrator and artist. Rotter’s work has frequently featured in the Washington Post. Her clients range from Natalie Portman to Questlove.
Over a meal at one of his favorite restaurants in New York City, the former R.E.M. front man dishes on creativity, vulnerability, and his love of food.
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