Are there drag queens in the Middle East? There certainly are — in Tel Aviv, at least!
I’m endlessly intrigued by how subcultures exist (and even thrive) worldwide, especially in regions where being LGBT is grounds for persecution. In the conservative Middle East, Israel is an anomaly: the ancient land is home to a progressive nightlife. And as you will see, it’s fabulous.
On our itinerary, the Israel Tourism Board set aside time for us to explore gay clubs (yes, they are that awesome). The parties don’t start pumping until after midnight, and run until dawn or whenever the crowd decides to go home. My favorite was Evita (Yavne St 31, Tel Aviv), the city’s oldest gay bar. On Friday nights, entrance is free and there is a drag queen performance.
Everyone was so friendly at Evita; people chatted us up and got us dancing. The drag queens came to greet the regulars and goof around for photos.
The club has a mixed crowd — gay, straight, lesbian, etc — giving the party a wonderfully inclusive feeling. In fact, this was one of best alternative nights I’ve ever been to, living up to Tokyo, Berlin, LA, NYC, London and more.
DJ Shlomi Levi has the best name ever. He only broke his stone-faced expression once, to stick out his tongue.
The music was pure fun. Easy, fabulous dance tracks, with some hits and classics thrown in. The club brings in international DJs, like Hansel and Hansel from Switzerland…
… and who can resist a taste of Italia?
I loved watching Osh-Ree work the stage. He’s been a nightlife figure for years, and you can’t help but smile when he sings.
Between the songs, he and K-Long bantered in Hebrew. But the message is clear: “ohohohoh” and “Funtastico” are universal words in the drag queen lexicon!
Osh-Ree told us the gay scene has come a long way in Israel, ever since it was legalized in 1988. Now, Tel Aviv is one of the world’s top LGBT travel destinations, with dozens of parties and a big annual Pride Parade. With no curfew, Israelis party hard and long. Osh-Ree also said, “In this part of the world, you never know when it might be your last night to dance.”
So you might as well enjoy the male stripper and his tiny red undies while you can.
He brought both men and women onstage, and did racy, “acrobatic maneuvers” with them.
Drag queens in cities like San Francisco might stun you with their elaborate sets and dance routines. But I had just as much fun at Evita, where it’s all about having a raucous good time.
The duo sings and dances — no need for lip synching or gimmicks.
My filmmakers are cutting together the travel video now, but here’s a preview of the drag queen show on VideofyMe. (Photography by me, Melissa Rundle and Eric Bergemann.)
We checked out several other fabulous places in Tel Aviv. The Brown Hotel is a new, LGBT-friendly boutique hotel with a lobby decorated in retro-kitsch. So much fun, sipping cocktails at the bar and exploring the rooftop .
My team and I also went to a massive club, Ha’oman 17 (Abarbanel 88, Tel Aviv-Yafo), which has hosted international DJS like Paul Van Dyk and Tiësto. It’s also the site of Shirazi’s FFF gay parties…
… and as you can see, they’re extremely popular! I’ve never seen so many men crammed into two floors, moving to the throb of electronic music.
If you’re in the mood for bar-hopping, I suggest wandering around Rothschild Boulevard. This wide, tree-lined street is a center of Tel Aviv nightlife.
I’m a fan of Nanushka (Lilenblum 30, Tel Aviv), a nearby bar and restaurant that serves Georgian food.
I saw lots of groups of friends eating and laughing. On the walls, there were mannequin heads in military caps.
Nanushka has several funky rooms, including an outdoor space strung with Christmas lights.
I didn’t get a chance to try the Georgian food here (we were already eating so well in Israel!), but it’s a good excuse to come back.
Did you know Tel Aviv has such a colorful gay scene? Are you surprised by the nightlife here?
Coming up — I’ll show you what the drag queen acts are like in Cape Town, South Africa!
While in New York for my recent TV shoot, I stayed at the newly-opened The Paper Factory Hotel. It’s a 100-year-old industrial space that has been transformed into an artsy hotel, with a magnificent view from the rooftop.
Come, and let’s explore a Factory that would delight Andy Warhol…
How amazing is the NYC skyline from the hotel’s rooftop? (All images by Ryan Edwardson Photography)
The purple knit top is Candy Stripper, found at Closet Child. My blue animal print dress is from Siam Discovery Center in Bangkok.
What a joy to explore this rooftop area, covered in intriguing graffiti like the words “Memento Mori.” This building has so much history: a century ago, it was a paper factory.
Today, it’s a 122-room hotel that is uber-modern and comfy, while preserving the historic manufacturing vibe. Old machine parts have become works of art, placed all around.
The Paper Factory Hotel is located in an unexpected place: Long Island City / Astoria in Queens. (Address: 37-06 36th Street, Long Island City, New York).
Sounds far? Not at all: the location is just across the East River from Manhattan, and meters from two subway stops. Ride the metro for 15 minutes, and you’re in midtown.
“Moshi moshi?” I loved playing around with the eclectic objects around the hotel. These included a British telephone booth, Thai rickshaw, Vespa, and vintage kid-sized automobiles.
These days, the main function of phones is for selfie-taking, rather than making calls…
The Paper Factory Hotel cleverly pays tribute to its former incarnation. I noticed elements like a polished concrete floor, inset with clippings from 19th-century Queens newspapers.
Althought I lived in Manhattan for years while attending school, I never explored Long Island City. Today, it’s become an emerging hip neighborhood, with a relaxed industrial vibe.
The lobby has a cafe — you can tell I’m pleased with my giant cup of coffee. Within walking distance, there were plenty of affordable local cafes and pubs. (And this area is safe, so don’t worry about walking around at night.)
The staff was lovely, and I hope I can be back for the summer opening of Mundo, a earthy Mediterranean restaurant. The downstairs area may also be converted into a club or gallery space.
The Paper Factory Hotel often hosts art exhibits and workshops. They’re right by the Noguchi museum, MoMA PS1, and the Museum of the Moving Image.
I’m 100% behind their mission to encourage creativity and collaboration. The website states: “We will help connect you with other like-minded individuals so that you might perhaps motivate each other and restore innovation to all aspects of life.”
My room was enormous — what a nice change from the usual cramped Manhattan spaces!
It even had a kitchenette and stand-alone mirror. I’m wearing a Moi-meme-moitie cemetery dress (Sleeping Garden print by Mana’s brand), and Gal Stern Flashback tights. You can shop her handmade legwear collection through her website.
I hope you’ll keep this hotel in mind, when you’re next visiting NY. Their site has special deals and lets you book online.
Thanks to the Paper Factory Hotel for hosting me and my TV team. We were blown away by this view of the Empire State and Chrysler buildings!
I had the best time shooting with photographer Ryan Edwardson, who is based in Toronto. He has a great eye for composition and capturing natural moments.
Here is a behind-the-scenes shot from our photoshoot on the rooftop.
Ryan caught my happy reaction to a sip of fresh coffee.
He’s a world traveler and storyteller, and this comes across in his photography. If you’re looking for a Toronto photographer — whether for weddings, commercial projects, portraits — keep Ryan Edwardson in mind.
I still have more photos from this chic boutique hotel to show you. Until then, you can see previews (and cat, and current travels in South Africa and Asia) on my LaCarmina Instagram.
Have you been to New York, New York? What do you think of the Paper Factory, and the mood of these images?
PS: I’m on the cover of Kirameki Magazine, out July 15! Here’s a preview of my magazine cover – yes, I’m wearing Moi-meme-Moitie.
Oh, we ate like horses in San Francisco! The tourism board and various PR reached out to us, and set us up with the city’s most innovative restaurants.
For me, trying the local cuisine is one of the best ways to get to know a place and its culture. When you travel, I urge you to open your mind and palate. Don’t hide behind fears and restrictions. You never know what you might discover — like Yukiro’s new appreciation for seafood!
From fresh seafood to Peruvian fruits, here’s a chronicle of our San Fran eats. We loved every experience, but put the favorites at the top. Forks up, and let’s dig in.
Our absolute top pick is La Mar Cebichería Peruana at the Embarcadero. Yukiro agrees: “La Mar with La Carmina was my best meal during the trip. We could have spent a day there, just eating and eating. Seriously, you must visit this seafood paradise if you ever come to San Francisco.”
You couldn’t eat Peruvian seafood and ceviche in a more beautiful setting, at the pier. Loved the outdoor dining space and lively color scheme, which matches my hair.
We started with these plantain chips and dip. It didn’t take long for us to finish the bucket. Yukiro adds, “The service here was very good; our waitress chatted with us like a genuine friend. In the open-air kitchen you could see how all the fresh fruits they make into drinks or sauces.”
“We had ceviche to die for, served beautifully with a lot of fresh and variable seasonings.” Cebiches, or raw marinated fish, are the national dish of Peru for good reason. We had a 100% sustainable sampling platter. The yellowtail one was so good that we ordered another serving.
I’m the type of diner who likes to try a bite of everything, so I appreciated the menu’s many sampler platters. We ordered pisco sour cocktails, empanadas, and causas (whipped potatoes topped with artichoke, beets, broccoli and avocado).
And the award for best dessert goes to… the chocolate lucuma crepe! The Andean valley fruit flavor is out-of-the-park, and unlike anything I’ve had before. If you only go to one restaurant in San Francisco, make it La Mar.
We also adored Le Colonial, a Michelin starred restaurant near Union Square. Inspired by the French era in Vietnam, the entrance is a lush jungle, and the service is top class.
Everything, from the low lighting to the southeast Asia Buddhas, adds to the romantic fantasy. On the top floor, we saw figures in top hats dancing to live jazz.
Yukiro reminisces, “The wine blew our minds far away. Very delicate flavored indeed. The appetizers were Vietnamese inspired and included tofu, spring rolls and skewers. It all tasted magnificent.” For the mains, I fell for the steamed Chilean sea bass wrapped in banana leaves.
Finally, Vietnamese flourless chocolate cake with a warm interior, and lemongrass panna cotta topped with a (Michelin?) star. Yukiro puts it best: “After stuffing our faces with this luxury, we felt we had to roll down the hills of San Francisco to get home!”
I always say that when it comes to food, quality and location matter. Yukiro adds, “I have to admit that before coming here, I didn’t think highly of shellfish. Pier Market Seafood proved me wrong. The crew treated us fellow pirates to a feast of freshly-caught seafood dishes. The pomegranate cocktail was super refreshing and probably the best we had during the whole trip.”
We died over the mahi-mahi (melt in your mouth!) and grilled salmon, swordfish and shrimp. Some of the best I’ve had in recent memory, and this is coming from someone who is always in Tokyo and Vancouver.
Yuki-chan continues, “After this feast we got coffee cocktails and tremendously tasty desserts bestowed upon us. Chocolate cake and home-made apple pie with ice cream. What a treat! I got a nostalgic feeling from my childhood when my mother used to make a similar apple pie. But this one tasted even better than those sweet memories. Overall you must come to Pier Market Seafood for the Mahi Mahi dish, fresh cocktails and tasty desserts.”
In the Marina district, we had a relaxing dinner with friends at Isa Restaurant. “The venue was romantic, gothic and darkly cozy. The very pleasing wines filled our tummies and spirits.”
Our server at Isa was a fun fellow who used to work as a translator to the Cambodian court. “He brought us a lot of nice recommendations, which we took time to share and enjoy.” The chef did a outstanding job of infusing French with Californian cuisine, keeping it simple to let the ingredients do the talking: lamb lollipops, Tomales bay oysters, and baked Chenel goat cheese.
Yukiro enjoyed a good cup of dark coffee after the dinner, and I was all over the refreshing (and pretty) grapefruit granite.
We had a divine time at Pisco / Destino, a Latin lounge and bistro. Modern Central / South American is currently one of my favorite choices for dining out.
“This Latino place was to die for. Their sinfully good sangrias were non-sweetened and ‘diluted’ with more red wine. We had several re-fills due to the exquisite and rich fruit flavor. The best sangria I’ve ever had. Red wine is consumable in all conditions but this was probably its best form!”
“The fresh raw fish in different seasonings, called ceviche, was a killer dish. We loved every slice and dice of it.”
For those with “meaty” appetites, we recommend Historic John’s Grill. This is one of San Fran’s oldest establishments, and was a setting in Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon.
The dark one says, “A traditional American steak house with a long reputation at stake. Could this satisfy a drag queen diva who eats children for breakfast? Certainly, m’am!”
There was an impressive wine list, and we drank their own label — a fine white, recommended by the vivacious server. “The only thing unclear was… why they are named Historic John’s, when the founder’s name was Arnold?”
Start with escargot, Dungeness crab cocktail, and lobster-stuffed ravioli. Move on to the filet mignon, or Sam Spade lamb chops.
And end with fresh berries with cream, and vanilla cream caramel flan. “There was no surprise, you got what you expected and loved it to the fullest. Historic John’s lives up to its reputation for sure.”
After all heavy eating, we were grateful for the seasonal gastropub grub at Urban Tavern. Trevor, Yukiro and I appreciated their mascot, the robot-mechanical horse.
The sunflowers aren’t for eating… but we enjoyed healthy green salads and wraps, with quinoa and hummus. Yukiro especially loved the fresh avocado, and I devoured the yam fries.
But you’ve got to end a meal with dessert, heavy metal style. Here’s to good old chocolate cake, peanut brittle and ice cream.
The sun sets over Fog Harbor Fish House, another Pier 39 seafood restaurant with a cool view of Alcatraz.
(Here are more photos of our SF waterfront explorations.)
It was fun to wear bibs, and crack open this impressive seafood platter — crab, prawns, oysters, mussels and even corn on the cob.
I only wish we had more time to do tastings around San Francisco! Do you make efforts to try local foods, when you are in a new city? Which of these restaurants made your taste buds tingle?
There’s no other way to put it: the next month will be cray-cray. Here’s the huge travel news… I’m off to five countries in two continents, including Africa for the first time!
My filmmakers and I are thrilled to be shooting a travel episode in Cape Town, South Africa. And as the ambassador of a trip-planning startup, Odigo, I’ll be going all over Asia: Tokyo, Hong Kong, Taipei and Seoul.
Want to know more, and meet me in Japan on June 25? Read on for the exciting details. (Above image by Jesse Winter Heading for our Vanity Magazine cover shoot.)
As you know, my filmmakers and I travel around the world, making shows for my series published in Business Insider. (Previous episodes are on my YouTube.) We’ve shot in the Maldives, Dubai, Budapest, Jordan and more.
This time, we’ve teamed up with Cape Town Tourism. They’re bringing us to South Africa to explore the local design, fashion, nightlife, restaurants…
… and animal safari, my very first one! Can’t wait to hang out with Basil Farrow’s lion cousins, in their natural environment. If you have any requests for Cape Town coverage, please let us know in the comments. (Pic by Meraj Chhaya)
But first, I’ll be in Tokyo, as the ambassador of Odigo! This new site introduces travelers to little-known local hotspots in Tokyo and other cities. In a nutshell, you can plan a Japan trip tailored to your interests (such as Goth culture, otaku, or temples), and Odigo will link everything up in the best possible schedule.
Exciting news: I’ll be speaking at Pecha Kucha Tokyo on the evening of Weds, June 25! I’m making a 7 min presentation (20 slides, for 20 seconds each) about my passion for Tokyo underground travel: how I got started, adventures in TV hosting, and funny stories involving mistresses and whips. It’s an honor and challenge to present at this worldwide speakers’ event. I hope you’ll stop by to watch me, it’s free.
And on Sun, June 22nd, I’ll be partying with the Harajuku kids at Heavy Pop. Join the party for visual fashion, alternative music, cake, and a drag queen performance by Yukiro’s dark persona, Die Schwarze Frau.
Then, I’ll be traveling around Asia with my photographers, capturing local spots and meeting with influencers. We’ll be in Seoul, Korea — I haven’t been here for over 10 years! Can’t wait to experience K-pop madness in the flesh.
And I’m excited to be in Taipei, Taiwan – home to some of the most bizarre theme restaurants, including cafes dedicated to Hello Kitty, Barbie and more. (Above two images via Wikicommons.)
I’ll also be hitting Hong Kong with Yukiro and John Skeleton. There are photoshoots in the works… and a lot of shopping and eating during our down-time!
(Image by Ken Yuen and Jacqueline Kwok, for Dark Beauty Magazine cover and spread).
I’m passionate about my Odigo partnership, and believe in their mission to encourage meaningful travel in Asia. I hope you’ll enjoy my upcoming adventures — to stay in the loop, you can sign up for updates on their site.
La Carmina is at your service! Do you have suggestions for places to visit in Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Africa? Any must-see locations or topics to cover? Please leave a comment on my blog or Facebook letting me know, and I’ll do my best to fulfill your wishes.
I’ll do my best to update this blog during this crazy time, but for the most current coverage — including outfits and travel previews — please add my social networks below. Hugs and kisses!