Monthly Archives: July 2011

J.J. Hat Center – A shop experience of a bygone era.

It is no secret that I love hats. Unfortunately, they don’t always love me back, but that is another story. They are just as practical as they are an accessory that adds immensely to your personal style. The problem is that no one sells hats anymore these days. Sure there are plenty of street vendors cashing in on the latest straw fedora craze, but like glow lights at the circus those are meant to last until you reach the corner of the next block. You can also find some in stores that are stocking them because fedoras and driving caps are “in” again, but try asking one of the kids on the floor if they can help you find your size or a specific brand and they just stare back (“I just work here…”).

That’s why I pray everyday that shops like J.J. Hat Center will never disappear because it would mean that hats, as they were meant to be, are extinct. These gentlemen know their hats and can tell your size just by glancing at you. They are welcoming and extremely helpful. It is one of those places you wouldn’t mind hanging out in to shoot the breeze with the guys – just like an old school barber’s shop. The stories and the anecdotes keep you smiling as they grab hats seemingly at random for you to try, but all of them fitting you well and making you look and feel great. I walked out yesterday with this super-lightweight linen driving cap by Doria (Borsalino’s casual line). The color works with anything you have on and keeps the sun off without overheating your noggin.

If you are every near the Empire State Building in New York walk a couple of blocks south on Fifth Avenue and you will see a large yellow Borsalino sign nestled between tchotchke dealers and fast food joints. Open the door and step into a shop experience of a bygone era when the staff was courteous, friendly, helpful and actually knew what the heck they were talking about.


The Cosmos are alive and kicking (literally).

I grew up watching all sorts of sports, but my Italian half pulled harder and I have had a love affair with the beautiful game since I could remember. I love my “calcio” and I love my AS Roma (“giallorosso” – yellow-red – flows through my veins). When I was a wee-one I was only occasionally in Rome visiting family and always during times of the year when it was off-season for soccer (only when I moved to Rome after college did I become a season ticket holder).

So in New York I had the legendary New York Cosmos of Pelé, Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto and Chinaglia fame (although the latter had played for loathsome Lazio – Roma’s derby rival) and went to games even as the franchise was inexorably declining following Pelé’s re-retirement. The franchise is again attempting to enter MLS as an expansion team and many people want to see it succeed and create a (hopefully lasting) rivalry with the Austrian-owned Red Bulls now playing across the river in New Jersey. I do hope they succeed for the good of soccer and for the good of New York City. In the meantime, I can do no more than show my support by wearing their colors (see Pelé’s replica jersey below) when kicking the ball around with my son in the park (they have also introduced a new Cosmos “Blackout” line of clothing by Umbro).

British Coffee… makers.

I love my coffee and I love trying all sorts of gadgets to make it. Until recently, though, nothing beats my stovetop Bialetti. There is one that comes close if only for the fact that it is a French press which I still consider an inferior method to a Moka machine. And yet, the Freud Cafeterie coffee press is a thing of beauty and makes a mean cup of coffee to boot. I got my hands on a small Freud press a few years ago in London as I was perusing Fortnum & Mason. I have been searching for a large ever since, but it is currently sold out so I may have settle for their equally gorgeous teaball. Who, in fact, would have thought that these ultra-cool coffee machines would come from the Land of Tea?

Tonic Port: Something to look forward to.

It’s another sweltering summer day here in the Northeast and a Monday to boot. So I thought I would keep it short and sweet so you could get back to fanning yourselves with a piece of paper or sticking your head in an ice bucket. Let’s say this is something to look forward to when the weekend slowly winds down in the next few days.

On my recent jaunt to Portugal, I inevitably stopped by the Douro Valley to get some Port into my system. I knew a bit about Port before I went, but it was certainly eye opening to get a run down by some of the locals as to the plethora of Ports – vintners and types. I will leave the bulk of that newfound knowledge for another time. For now I wanted to tell you about White Port.

The lesser known of the Port wines the white is perfect served chilled and even better when mixed with some tonic. I recently tried several bottles and found that so far one of my favorites is Fonseca’s Siroco since it is on the dry side (there is quite a range of sweet to dry white ports). I have walked into some of the usually well-stocked wine and spirits stores here in the city and found one or two choices at best so you may have to order it online, but it is worth it. Here is how I serve it:


White Port and Tonic

Take and Old Fashioned glass (aka low ball) and fill to taste with ice.

Mix in equal parts white port (chilled) and tonic water (chilled).

Squirt some lemon to bind it and drop in the wedge.

Stir and serve.

It goes well with pretty much anything you are apt to serve and eat during a hot summer’s eve. It is deceptively light, but I would go easy on it since white port is still a fortified wine so it will hit you out of nowhere if you imbibed too generously and your grilled prawns are going to go from perfectly cooked to charred in no time.


A Few Good Watches

Following the highs and lows of the classic “general purpose” military field watch’s popularity merits a stock market like graph (we might even discover that there is a correlation). As far as I am concerned it is one of the few “must have” watches in anyone’s collection. Lightweight, uncomplicated and perfect whether you are at work or play.

There are many watchmakers that have actually made or make variations of this watch (i.e. Polar, IWC, Lemania, Omega, Heuer, Seiko, Smiths, Hamilton etc.), but today there are only a few that are still military suppliers as most of the world’s armed services no longer source standard issue watches and certainly not made by any of the leading manufacturers.

The few “official” suppliers left are the Marathon Watch Company (Richmond Hill, Canada), CWC – Cabot Watch Company (London, England) and MWC – Military Watch Company (Zurich, Switzerland). Mainly supplying “on demand” watches for specific divisions within the U.S., Canadian and British Armed Forces (as well as other military and law enforcement organizations), these manufactures make due by selling overstock or “civilian” versions to the general public through specialized surplus outfitters.


Although I do admire what Timex has done for J.Crew or what TOKYObay has going on with their “replica” military watches, for the same price (and often less) you can get the real deal.

If you want to treat yourself to something really special you can hunt down some N.O.S. in thrift stores or online. I got my own 1984 USAF issued Marathon (17 jewels, Tritium, manual etc.) online and have had it for several years now.

If you want to gussy it up a bit then there are plenty of colored NATO straps around to have a different one for each day of the week.



Nausica: A Red from Sicily

I recently discovered a great red wine that I wanted to share with you. Made from the Sicilian Nero d’Avola grape, vintner Cantina Salvalai from the north of Italy has created Nausica, in their own words, has created a bright ruby red displaying notes of ripe fruit, mulberry, plum and tobacco. What is wonderful about this wine is not only how affordable it is to add to a good table wine rotation, but it really grows into a well-balanced wine a few days after uncorking it (initially most will find it a bit tart). This allows you to savor it over the course of several meals without the worry (typical of certain other reds) that it will taste a bit off if not consumed quickly. It is actually a light red, but it has enough body to enjoy it with richer fare. Uncork, pour and enjoy!



Bespoke Tailors Grow In NoLita

I recently walked through one of my old neighborhoods, NoLita, on a rare visit (these days) to the lower end of Manhattan. As always the revolving door of stores is staggering. Double-take after double-take of old haunts brought me to Mott Street between Prince and Spring. There was not one store that I recognized from years past and yet I did make two very interesting discoveries. A piece of Saville Row (blasphemy!) and a bit of Broolyn have taken root here and I stumbled across these guarded secrets by pure chance. I say guarded because although already attracting a devoted following, or so I am told, I had never heard of these two haberdashers. There are several reasons for that I am sure, the first of which is work and parenthood that no longer allow me the luxury of idly meandering the nooks and crannies of this city. Also, the custom shirts and suits command prices that are certainly fair for the work and material, but are not at all for the faint of heart.

Lord Willy’s is Monty Python dressed to the nines. Whimsical, in fact, in that most serious of British ways. You have a choice here of off-the-rack or custom for both suits and shirts. There is a wonderful selection of fabrics and a predilection even on the custom shirts for the trendier and easier to wear wide collar. Monochromatic ties are offered to make sure you understand that the shirt makes the man and ties are just their sidekicks. Of course, umbrellas are present to remind everyone that the accent around here is British. I would encourage you to visit Lord Willy’s website which is very entertaining and where Alex Wilcox, the founder, offers some very sensible advice for today’s true gentleman.

A few steps north is a Brooklyn transplant that decided a few years ago to bring his family’s 70-year-old business to Manhattan. SEW (Scott Evan Wasserberger) has a definite downtown vibe to it and yet the rolls of stacked fabric and the sewing machines are distinctly Garment District. There is no “look” at SEW and it makes it that much more welcoming to walk in and browse since you will definitely find something that is in your “style”. One tweak to several classic herringbone jackets that I was admiring is the very colorful fabric found under each collar. A hidden sartorial tweak that peaks out every once and a while letting people know that you are not so boring after all. Everything in the store and bespoke is New York made and that is rarer than rare these days. The SEW blog gives you a better idea of the excellent custom work that they do and is certainly inspiring for anyone interested in tiding up a bit.

I am just happy to see more true haberdashers opening up around town. Even if you are not a suit and tie person, there will always be those occasions in which you will need a suit that fits you properly – not too tight and not like a potato sack. Instead of buying bulk shirts and hoping they guessed your fit why not splurge on one perfect fit?