Visiting Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens! Philly alternative offbeat travel guide, Busbud bus trip review.
Coming at you from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania! This artistic, laid-back city is well worth a visit — especially as it’s only a two hour ride from New York.
Many tourists come for historic attractions such as the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall… but this isn’t your average travel blog. Let’s take a walk on the weird, artsy side of Philly instead, on my weekend getaway with Busbud.
In the first installment of this two-part series, we’ll wander through this wonderland known as Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens. (Photography by Ashley Yuen.)
(My Spiral UK backpack matched the shimmering mosaic tiles that cover every square inch of the installation. More magical backpacks below):
I recently was in NYC, and wanted to travel somewhere nearby for Labor Day. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania was a natural choice: I have good friends here, and love the creative feel of the city.
My journey was a breeze, thanks to Busbud — a website that helps you easily find, compare and book bus tickets! Their site lets you search thousands of city-to-city routes all around the world, so you can view the best prices, companies and departure / arrival times immediately on one page.
Instead of spending hours on various websites, Busbud let me see all the New York City to Philadelphia round-trip buses available. After making my choice and booking through them, I received an email with clear instructions and the tickets attached. (Their customer service was extremely fast and helpful too.)
Traveling by bus turned out to be enjoyable: I boarded on time, settled into a comfortable seat, and had free WiFi for the two-hour ride. Bus travel is a great option if you’re on a budget, and it’s a more sustainable mode of transportation. I even made a fabulous new friend along the way: this lady and I connected over fashion, and she insisted on posing Japanese-style with me for photos!
Busbud’s cross-platform website and app let you search all the major bus lines, in your local language and currency. They cover routes in 16,000+ cities across over 60 countries… I’ll be using them again for sure, on my next journeys worldwide.
I’m sure you will be keen to visit Philly too… once you glimpse the mesmerizing Magic Gardens! I’m posing in front of the staircase, a favorite photo spot for Instagrammers.
Outfit Details: I wore some old favorites from my wardrobe. A Gladnews “Very Metal” dress from Japan, a Sailor Moon collaboration jacket from Hong Kong, and Linda Farrow x 3.1 Philip Lim sunglasses that I’m now selling on my Depop (email me if you want them, or anything else in my store).
My skeleton leggings are Pamela Mann, from UK Tights. I’ve been a fan of their online store for years: they have a huge selection of stockings, socks and leggings, including many Gothic and kawaii styles.
These whimsical mosiacs stem from the imagination of local folk artist, Isaiah Zagar. Located at 1020 South Street, Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens currently fill three city lots, including indoor galleries and a large outdoor labyrinth.
It was a joy to wander through these colorful tunnels with my cousin and photographer, Ashley Yuen. We passed by objects that made us smile (such as Japanese dolls), and took selfies using the shards of mirror embedded in the tiles.
I’m holding an iridescent metallic backpack by Spiral UK. Shop more unicorn bags below:
Access and tickets: I recommend that you buy timed-entry tickets to The Magic Gardens in advance, from their site. The venue is growing more popular each year, and passes are often sold out or require hours of waiting before an available time slot. Hint: there are student and group discounts available.
Once you walk in, be prepared for this eye-popping sight! Isaiah Zagar’s 3D art surrounds you from all directions.
The mosaics made up of seemingly haphazard objects (kitchen tiles, glass bottles, bicycle wheels, china plates) — yet the colors and arrangements come together harmoniously. He was inspired by Latin-American art, and makes references to other visionary creators within the work.
Look closer, and you’ll see visual references to the artist’s life, family, community and passions. In the photo above, you can also glimpse mysterious words integrated into the found art.
What inspired Isaiah Zagar to create this garden of delights? The story begins in the 1960s, when he moved to the South Street area with his wife, Julia. The couple dedicated themselves to revitalizing this derelict area, by creating beautiful mosaics on neighborhood walls.
He developed an imaginative style — constructed almost entirely from found and recycled objects. Zagar literally used every inch of his environment. Don’t forget to look down, or else you’ll miss the quirky details on the floor.
In 1994, Zagar started beautifying the vacant lots located near his studio. The sculptures grew, and the area expanded… becoming the Philly Magic Gardens as we know them today. Ashley and I spent over an hour here, exploring the various tunnels and grottoes, and taking in the uplifting details.
In 2008, Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens opened up to the public. The non-profit organization aims to preserve Zagar’s artwork in this district, and educate visitors with tours, interactive workshops, concerts, exhibitions and other community events.
These photos show only a fraction of the 3000 square feet space. There’s also an indoor gallery space, which hosts international artists and puts the spotlight on fringe / outsider art.
“99 bottles of beer on the wall….” So much detail and color in a single shot. To this day, Isaiah Zagar continues to create mosaic murals that brighten up the streets of Philadelphia.
If you like my Spiral UK backpack, shop it below:
The Magic Gardens has a basement level as well, which is only open to visitors during guided tours. Some of the artist’s larger works live down here, including a cheerful skeleton.
I’m all about unconventional, outsider and folk art — especially if it veers towards the weird side. Zagar’s playful and surreal visions were right up my alley.
I hope you’ll take a trip to Philadelphia Magic Gardens, and see these fantastic mural masterpieces for yourself.
After our visit, we walked back to our hotel, Le Meridien Philadelphia. I’ve stayed with Le Méridien many times (including in Cambodia and Taiwan), as I love the modern design and ever-cheerful staff.
We had a comfortable room decorated in mod black, white and red. The staff delivered champagne and fresh fruit plates to our room, which we immediately devoured.
How cool is this view from our window? Le Meridien is located right in front of Philadelphia City Hall, built in 1901 and topped with a bronze statue of William Penn (founder of the “Province of Pennsylvania”).
The French-chic style extended to the lobby, featuring sleek metallic furniture, wood panel walls and a tiered chandelier.
We had a spectacular dinner at Amuse, the classic French brasserie located in the lobby. The cocktail menu included hand-crafted creations named after female muses, such as Brigitte Bardot and Edie Sedgewick. Our mixologist, Victor, prepared some of the best cocktails I had in the city — including custom creations that perfectly matched my palate.
We had a hard time choosing from Amuse Restaurant’s menu, filled with French classics like onion soup gratinee and steak frites. After a surprise amuse bouche (raw tuna on a crisp wonton cracker), we feasted on a cheese plate and tuna and crab tower. Next came filet mignon, perfectly braised with sides of asparagus and decadent macaroni and cheese.
We ended with a trio of desserts (including apple tarte tartin and chocolate warm molten cake), and I had a Vieux Carre absinthe distilled in Pennsylvania. Our meal at Amuse was sensational, and the service was impeccable — bravo.
I leave you with a spooky pose outside the Masonic Temple of Philadelphia, which is steps from the hotel. It’s one of the most elaborate Masonic lodges in the US… I can only imagine what rituals take place inside.
Did you enjoy Part 1 of my journey in Philly? Cheers to Busbud for making my bus trip a seamless experience, thanks to their easy and informative booking system.
Coming up next, I got an exclusive look inside the Mutter Museum… you’re going to love this treasure trove of medical oddities!
Jaipur, India: private culture tours with Janu, Rajasthan tour expert! Meeting Hijra, the Indian third gender.
“Jai ho!” Do that Bollywood shake… because Yukiro and I made it to Jaipur, India!
We were traveling with the ultimate Rajasthan tour expert, Janu Private Tours. Owner Mr. Janu is from Jaipur, and he knows his hometown like the palm of his hand.
With his signature enthusiasm, Mr. Janu took us through India’s “pink city” filled with artistic marvels such as a peacock doorway, and a floating water palace.
Jaipur is part of the “Golden Triangle” route that many travelers take, when they visit Northern India. (New Delhi and Agra / Taj Mahal are the other points of the triangle.)
For those of you who love art, culture and palaces — Jaipur is a royal city that captures the imagination. Janu Private Tours took us on a day trip to the most famous attractions, such as the Hawa Mahal with its mysterious windows (above)…
… and even arranged for Yukiro and me to meet “hijra,” the third recognized gender in India! These two non-cis beauties invited us into their home, and taught us the “tools of the trade” — including how to cup one’s hands and make a loud clapping sound. Keep on reading to find out more about their fascinating way of life.
But first, an intro to Jaipur — nicknamed “The Pink City.” With my rosy hair and matching Indian outfit, I felt right at home here.
To welcome the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) in 1876, Ram Singh II painted the entire city pink. This is traditionally an Indian color associated with hospitality, and also mimics red sandstone. To this day, the tradition has been preserved, and all structures inside the Old City are blush-colored.
While it’s possible to travel alone in India, I highly recommend having a guide. India is a safe destination, but tourists can get scammed if they aren’t careful. A local expert takes the stress out of the trip: they know how make the best arrangements for hotel / food / attractions, and figure out transportation within and between cities.
Our friend and guide Mr. Janu always had our backs. He and his drivers are fluent in English, and picked us up each day on time in a comfortable and well-stocked car. As the slogan on the rear window reads, “A good traveller is one who does not know where he is going, but has the trust it will be great.”
His company, Janu Private Tours, provides travel experiences throughout the entire country. Guests can personalize a private tour, with an itinerary that suits their exact interests.
In our New Delhi intro post, I shared Janu’s inspiring story of how he started out as a tuk-tuk driver who barely spoke English. With perseverance, he gradually built up his team to the success it is today. Janu Private Tours is now one of the leading local-run tour companies in the entire country, with a top TripAdvisor rating.
Janu is full of energy, and you can tell he genuinely loves welcoming travelers and offering them the best possible hospitality.
He took us to see his exciting new project: Janu has built a hotel, called “The Marigold Inn”! He worked on the local production of the hit movie, “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” and it inspired him to create the real deal.
In one month, Jaipur’s Marigold Inn will open its doors! You can soon stay in this pink hotel, which has every modern comfort, yet a community feeling. Congratulations to Mr. Janu on the grand opening, and I’d love to come stay here soon too.
Janu never fails to fulfill his guests’ requests, no matter how offbeat they may be. Yukiro and I were curious about “hijra,” the recognized third gender in India — and within a few hours, he had arranged for us to meet two of them in their home!
There isn’t an entirely accurate English translation of the word… but for the most part, hijira are born intersex and/or don’t identify as male or female.
Perhaps you may be surprised to hear that Indian government has declared freedom of sexual orientation as a fundamental right, and gives residents the option to choose “third gender” on passports and official documents.
It’s fascinating that Indian society is overall quite conservative, yet recognizes “hijra.” The term dates back to the days of antiquity, and was mentioned in the Kama Sutra. Janu explained that Indians realized long ago that hijra were “born this way” — so instead of disparaging them for something they did not choose, they created a space in society where they could thrive.
We had a chat with these two Jaipur ladies (hijra generally present as women), who welcomed us warmly and told us about their lives via translation. We learned that for the most part, hijra are identified at birth. They can choose to either grow up at home with their families, or in a community with others like them.
When they reach adulthood, hijra typically decide to live together in a community. In this case, the ladies share a house with the children and pets that they adopted.
Hijra are considered to be lucky, so they make a living by offering blessings. We learned that they lead auspicious ceremonies for newborns, and dance at weddings and other special occasions. I couldn’t help but smile when our new friend gave us a blessing by wiggling her fingers near her temples, and wagging her head side-to-side!
Yukiro and I formed an instant connection with our new friends, who are cheeky, spirited and kind individuals. You can see us interacting in this video; they showed us how to clap!
They generously gave us two saris as a gift, which we wore to the Taj Mahal (that post is coming out soon). We’re grateful to Janu for introducing us to hijra — I can assure you that no other tour guide would have been able to make this visit possible.
Now, let’s see more of Jaipur’s most fabulous attractions. This is Janu’s hometown, so he knows all the little secrets of the city.
We struck a pose at the entrance gate to the pink city, with three magnificent arches.
I loved looking out the car window in India, and taking in sights that were strange to my eyes. Tuk-tuks zig-zagging everywhere, Sanskrit writing, Hindu shrines in the middle of roads…
… and how about a haircut, right on the sidewalk? There was a whole row of barbers who set up grooming stations, on a street in Jaipur!
Janu was excited to take us to Lassiwala, as they make the best lassi in Jaipur. Yukiro and I are fans of this Indian probiotic drink that can be served plain, or blended with salt, spices, or fresh fruit.
At Lassiwala, the drink is tangy and creamy, and served in a disposable clay jar. I would have to agree: this is next-level lassi.
We drank it in the alleyway, and took in more bizarre sights (a nest of electrical wires, a poster with Hindu swastikas and what looked like a Halloween pumpkin).
Onward to the Palace of Winds, Hawa Mahal — a magnificent arrangement of screened windows, set in sandstone. This facade was built so that the women of the royal family could watch festivals from the windows, while remaining hidden from the public eye.
What an imaginative work of architecture! The 5-story exterior looks a bit like a honeycomb, and features 953 small windows decorated with elegant latticework. In true “form follows function,” the design also lets cool air in while keeping the ladies hidden.
Now to City Palace, built in the mid-18th century by Sawai Jai Singh II. This was the seat of the maharajahs, who ruled Rajasthan from Jaipur.
The entrance arch is guarded by two white carved elephants. (You’ll see elephant rides being offered around Jaipur, but these hurt the animals — instead, please support an ethical elephant sanctuary like we did at Elefantastic.)
Across the way stands Mahal Mubarak Mahal, meaning the Auspicious Palace. The architecture is inspired by Islamic, Rajput and European styles, hence the distinct “fusion” look. Toady, it’s a museum that holds art and textiles.
That day, I wore a “salwar dress” or Punjabi dress that I got in an Indian store. It consists of long, billowing pants with a tapered leg and drawstring waist, a sleeveless dress with a long slit down the sides, and a matching silky scarf.
It so happened that the green from our outfits matched the imperial door of the palace.
We’re in the courtyard of Chandra Mahal. Photography isn’t allowed inside, but you can imagine majestic throne chairs, lush carpets, giant fans made of feathers,and portraits of the royal rulers of Jaipur throughout the ages.
We were speechless when we saw the peacock gate at the entry of Jaipur’s Chandra Mahal. There are four gates in total, each dedicated to a Hindu god or goddess and intricately decorated.
The four doorways represent the seasons as well. Yukiro is vogueing in front of the Lotus Gate, which has a vibrant flower petal motif to indicate summer, and is dedicated to Lord Shiva-Parvati.
We strolled through the Diwan-i Khas, or Hall of Public Audience, featuring a marbled floor and chandeliers. On one side stood two gigantic silver vessels, measuring 1.6 meters. Our guide explained that when Maharaja Singh II traveled to England for Edward VII’s coronation, he insisted on only drinking Ganges water — so he brought it with him in the giant urns!
Time to visit another royal stronghold. Janu drove us to Amer Fort, located high up on a hill. This ancient settlement was revamped and developed by Jai Singh I.
Amer Fort is divided into four main sections, each with an entrance gate and courtyard. We went through the Sun Gate to Jalebi Chowk, the first main courtyard where the armies would have victory parades after coming home from battle.
Amer Fort is designed in a Hindu architectural style: lots of curving pillars and arches that resemble the lotus flower.
We visited each of the four levels and courtyards, each different and filled with opulent details. Just look at the decorative tiles captured in this mirror shot.
The fort overlooks Maota Lake and green hills. The visibility from all directions helped the armies spot invaders.
It’s easy to feel like a royal queen of Rajasthan, when you’re surrounded by such splendor!
There’s so much to see in Jaipur, and we were able to make the most of it thanks to Janu. He knew I am fascinated by Indian astronomy instruments (remember my visit to Delhi’s Jantar Mantar?)
Jaipur has an even more impressive collection of nineteen astronomical instruments, built by king Sawai Jai Singh II, and completed in 1734.
These strange looking structures appear to be built by aliens! In fact, they are designed to observe and measure astronomical positions.
Jantar Mantar Jaipur is an UNESCO heritage site. It contains the most advanced and best preserved instruments for measuring the stars, from this era. One of these is the world’s largest stone sundial.
Yukiro’s rainbow umbrella lined up with the radiating lines of the sun dial. (In his car, Janu provides his guests with cold bottles of water, hand sanitizer, parasols, snacks, WiFi, phone chargers… everything you might need to survive!)
The function of each instrument is rather complex, and very advanced for its time. We learned that Jai Prakash Yantra is a sundial with marked marble, with shadows that can measure altitudes, azimuths, hours and declinations.
One section consisted of Rasivalaya instruments, which corresponded to signs of the zodiac. The mysterious curves and staircases are quite the sight to behold.
Yukiro and I are both Leos, and found this illustration under the arch of our instrument. The lion is the fiercest zodiac sign, that’s for certain!
Is it a slide? A skate ramp? A stairway to heaven? None of the above: this is Vrihat Samrat Yantra, the world’s largest “gnomon sundial,” which has markings along the sides, and measures time with the shadow cast from the sun.
Jaipur truly is a city of imagination. We couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw the Water Palace, Jal Mahal. This summer palace is only reachable by boat and appears to float on the surface of Man Sagar Lake.
This isn’t Photoshop… Jal Mahal is real, and it’s spectacular. The floating water palace was built in the 18th century by Maharaja Jai Singh II, as a royal summer retreat and party island. The building actually has five levels — four are submerged beneath the waters.
India’s Floating Palace was abandoned when it began to leak, and remained neglected for 200 years. However, it’s recently undergone some restoration, and visitors can travel by boat to see it once more.
It’s amazing how much we did that day. We even stopped by Heritage Textiles to get custom-tailored clothing (you can choose a fabric, and have anything designed and sewn to fit you perfectly, within a few hours). The owner gave us a demo of hand-block printing, the traditional process of pressing designs on fabrics with rich natural colors that don’t fade.
Finally, time to unwind at our palatial hotel Shahpura House. The staff treats everyone like royalty: when we arrived, this man in uniform held open the door, and the concierge hung orange floral garlands around our necks.
Janu always puts his guests in this regal manor, which hearkens back to the days of the Raj.
We enjoyed exploring this quirky nook, an outdoor pool, and a large breakfast hall (with Indian dishes prepared fresh to order, as well as an international buffet).
Shahpura House offers activities such as spa treatments and yoga lessons. At night, the rooftop bar has free musical / cultural performances for guests.
This dancer performed “bhavai,” a folk dance popular in Rajasthan where the performer balances large numbers of earthen pots on her head.
Namaste Janu Private Tours for this eye-opening tour of Jaipur! This is a day that we will never forget — I feel like I’m still processing everything that I encountered, from the hijra subculture to the peacock feather gates.
Janu offers customized tours like this all throughout India, and will soon be opening his Marigold Inn in Jaipur. If you’re looking for a travel experience as incredible as ours, reach out to Janu here — you’ll be in the best possible hands with him.
Coming up next: the River Ganges of Varanasi, and the Taj Mahal at sunrise. India… what a country, right?
New York Goth travel guide! Ryan & Regina Cohn’s Oddities Flea Market, House of Wax bar, Archer Hotel NYC.
New York, New York. It’s always good to be back.
A lot has changed since I lived here (it seems I’m in reminiscence mode these days). NYC has become a different world than the one I knew: there’s now WiFi in the subways; everyone relies on smartphones for getting around, and takes Ubers to parties in Brooklyn. Meanwhile, I can recall the days of flip-phones and the Korova Milk Bar!
Still, this remains “Gotham City.” I was delighted to meet up with friends old and new, and check out NY’s latest Goth / bizarre bars, club nights and more.
Read on for an exclusive look at House of Wax bar, the upcoming Oddities Flea Market run by Ryan and Regina Cohn…
… as well as Stella Rose’s pop up fashion boutique, Gothic nightlife, and tips for alternative travelers!
This time, I stayed at Archer Hotel NYC right in midtown Manhattan. If you’re only in the city for a few days and love boutique design hotels, then this is the place for you.
(Keep scrolling down for a full look inside, including the epic view of the Empire State from their rooftop bar.)
While I was in New York, Ryan Matthew Cohn and Regina Marie Cohn invited me to visit them in Brooklyn. As you can see in these images, their home is a treasure trove of morbid curiosities!
It was a joy to see Ryan’s infamous skull collections in person, as well as pet their British Shorthair cat, Percy Blue. (The white Scottish Fold, Princess Andromeda, was hiding!)
I’m sure you recognize Ryan Matthew Cohn from his regular appearances on the Discovery / Science TV show, “Oddities.”
You might recall that I was a guest on Oddities; we’ve kept in touch since then, as we obviously share a love of all things dark and deathly.
Ryan and his lovely wife Regina currently work together in this fascinating field. They source, restore and sell unique osteological artifacts and other curiosities, as well as curate, lecture and educate on these subjects.
Exciting news: Ryan and Regina recently launched an Oddities Flea Market, which brings together vendors of all things peculiar! Mike Zohn and Evan Michelson of Obscura Antiques will be two of the many participants.
Their first event was such a success that they’re now hosting a two-day market on September 30th and October 1st –– NY friends, you must come check this out.
Ryan and Regina have brought together only the best purveyors to take part in the Oddities Market. In a single location (Brooklyn Bazaar), guests can browse and buy anatomical wonders, taxidermy, Gothic jewelry, bizarre art… you get the picture.
These photos of Ryan and Regina’s home give you a sense of what to expect. I spy an Anatomical Venus, medical preparations in jars, shrunken heads, and skulls galore… I could spend hours browsing their personal collections, which are enough to fill a museum!
Ryan and Regina are constantly traveling in search of “morbid anatomy” objects, which will be available for sale at the market. Plus, you can browse dozens of tables from Blood Milk, Amber Maykut, Goldengrove Jewelry, Adam Wallacavage, Meagan Meli and others.
Come join Ryan Matthew Cohn, Regina Marie Cohn and friends!
What: 2nd Oddities Flea Market
When: September 30th and October 1st, from 12PM to 6PM.
Where: Brooklyn Bazaar, NY
Ticketing: VIP pre-sale tickets are available for purchase through Atlas Obscura (act fast, Saturday is already sold out). These tickets will gain you entry at 11 am with full access to all 43 sales tables.
Or, just show up for general admission at the door, which is only $3. There’s more info on the Oddities Market RSVP page.
Be sure to let your New York friends know, and say hello to Regina and Ryan for me! I wish I could be there, but we’ll get together again very soon.
Find out more news on Ryan’s Facebook page, and keep reading to peer inside the House of Wax Bar in Brooklyn that he curated…
… but first, an outfit change back at Archer Hotel New York! The midtown location was near tons of subway stations, which made it easy for me to get to appointments in different boroughs. (Address: 45 W 38th St, between 5th and 6th Ave).
I love clean design, and felt right at home amidst the modern, industrial brick-and-glass decor.
My windows had a magnificent view of the Empire State Building (see first photo in this post). Every room came with cozy robes, bedtime books and cute his-and-hers slippers. I could have lounged all day in this plush bed, surrounded by classic brick walls…
… but when you’re in the Big Apple, you’ve got to explore! With Archer Hotel NY’s central location, you can walk to lots of local spots. I confess I made several trips to Joe’s Pizza, which has a new Times Square location for its classic New York slices.
Right in the hotel lobby, you can enjoy a memorable dinner at Charlie Palmer Steak. The NY steakhouse reflects chef Palmer’s bold, progressive American cuisine, which draws upon seasonal / local flavors from surrounding waterways and farms.
Charlie Palmer’s menu has an impressive raw bar and seafood selection. We began with the special appetizer of the day: scallop ceviche. Our server also recommended the outstanding tuna tartare with citrus ponzu, pickled ginger and sesame crisps. It went perfectly with my Midtown Manhattan with rye, aperol, bitters and grapefruit peel. (You know I love my “old man drinks,” and the cocktails here were on point.)
Next came a perfectly seared, melt in your mouth filet mignon. It was hard to choose from the many spectacular sides available (truffle potatoes, asparagus) and sauces (the house CP sauce is recommended).
Finally, dessert: creme brulee with black currant and Tahitian vanilla creme, with passionfruit and vanilla ice cream. For a special celebratory meal with excellent service, Charlie Palmer Steak delivers big-time.
A stay at Archer Hotel NY isn’t complete without a cocktail at their Spyglass Rooftop Bar. On the 22nd floor, you can take in a panoramic view of the Empire State and Chrysler Building, while sipping a crafted cocktail.
The Spyglass bar also has a classic Manhattan happy hour; the “Archer Palmer” with black tea-infused gin and lemon fit with the retro vibe. Cheers to Archer Hotel New York for a fantastic stay!
I enjoyed more outstanding cocktails at The House of Wax Bar in Brooklyn, with my friend Lily Streeter of Alex Streeter Jewelry. As soon as we arrived at the entrance, which is lined with 19th century death masks, we knew we were in for an adventure.
House of Wax is a little hard to find, so listen up: it’s inside the Alamo Drafthouse movie complex on the fourth floor, in the same building as Dekalb Market Hall and Trader Joe’s. (Address: 445 Albee Square).
Lily was wearing the Angel Heart pentagram ring, one of Alex Streeter’s most iconic designs.
We examined the cocktail list by candlelight: they drew upon 19th century ingredients, and had names such as Butcher of Hanover, and Napoleon Death Mask (made with Pierre Ferrand 1840 cognac, Cardamaro, Cynar, rhubarb bitters.) Talk about mixology meeting the macabre!
I’ve been to a lot of theme bars worldwide, but this was one of the most outstanding. House of Wax features a permanent collection of 19th century wax moulages, curated by Ryan Matthew Cohn. He sourced over a hundred medical wax models from Germany, which were once used to demonstrate surgical procedures and diseases.
Lily and I loved trying the Anatomical and Pathological cocktails, which were perfectly balanced and creatively concocted with old-time ingredients. We snacked on small bites (the menu includes pretzels with cheese, edamame hummus, flatbreads and cheese boards).
Between rounds, we walked around and admired the glass display cases of wax figures, eerily lit by chandeliers.
This is not a Halloween kitsch bar. House of Wax is better described as a museum, with a mesmerizing collection that transports you back in time. Lily and I marveled at the wax renditions of diseases such as syphilis, floating hands that demonstrated operations, and painful-looking birth canals. (This collection was also once at the Morbid Anatomy Museum, which is now sadly closed.)
Behind the bar, there were dozens of New York beers on tap. I’m an absinthe aficionado though, and couldn’t resist this cocktail with an egg white foam.
Without doubt, I’ll be coming back to The House of Wax Bar with friends. I couldn’t think of a better place in NY to have a Gothic gathering.
Now, time for some nightcrawling. I’ve written about Goth nights in NYC over the years; the party scene is constantly changing. Right now, a lot of the best Gothic / underground / alternative parties are in Brooklyn.
We started the night with a rooftop DJ set…
… then headed to Saint Vitus bar in Greenpoint, for a 1980s Goth night. Quite a few Gothic dance parties take place in this venue, which has stained glass artifacts, upside-down crosses, and this resident weirdo (at first, I didn’t realize he was a mannequin!)
I reunited with my old pal Zachary, and we reminisced about fun times at the Trash! party. RIP DJ Jess Marquis…
New York’s nightlife is always evolving, and it’s not a bad thing. Zachary told me that St Vitus now has a brilliant synthwave party, called Night.Wav. As a retrowave addict, I’d love to check it out (as well as the other outrun events that are starting to bloom worldwide, like San Francisco’s Turbo Drive).
4am on the waterfront. Late, decadent, alternative nights in New York with friends… that is something that will never grow old.
Last but certainly not least, I stopped by the pop-up shop of my friend Stella Rose. She and I were bloggers way back in the day, and I’ve watched her grow her spirited clothing line to the success it is today.
The boutique was filled with her charming and cheeky designs, from her It’s Stella Rose fashion collection. I have the “No Thank You” pink backpack and sheer tank top above, which she made in collaboration with Print All Over Me.
Isn’t the Stella Rose boutique fabulously decorated? I tried on her handmade rose beret, and held on to her fuzzy pom-pom hair ties that come in different colors.
Angry animals, tropical skirts, ghosts… the cuteness meets attitude is distinctively Stella.
I ended my trip with a “Goth latte.” I heard that Round K Cafe served a matte black latte, blackened with organic coconut ash, almond paste and coconut cream. A drink for dark, lost souls.
Time to pack up my Minions x Away luggage, until my next trip to NYC… I’ll be back soon, as always.
Did you enjoy this peek into Ryan Matthew Cohn’s world, and Oddities Market? If you’re looking for more New York City Goth travel tips, click here – this blog has a decade’s worth of stories from the city!
Celebrating 10 years of blogging! Perturbator concert review: synthwave outrun retro wave music, Akade 80s fashion.
Back to the future, baby!
I’m currently obsessed with synthwave / outrun / retrowave — the music genre that pays tribute to the synthesizers, video games and night driving soundtracks of the 1980s. If you’re in the same boat (or Testarossa), then I’m sure you’ll enjoy this story about Perturbator’s concert and Akade fashion.
This is a flashback post for another major reason… Believe it or not, I’ve reached my 10 year anniversary of blogging! That’s correct: I began this La Carmina blog a decade ago, on Sept 14, 2007.
We’ll celebrate this ten year milestone with a ride down memory lane, through Neo Tokyo and the Future 80s.
Let’s start with the present: I’m currently in love with all things shiny and chrome. Since I was on my way to a futuresynth concert, I wanted to wear something along the lines of this aesthetic (imagine electric neon cityscapes and Miami’s midnight highways, circa 1983).
Unfamiliar with synthwave music? Here’s a dark gaming mix to get you in the mood. Think John Carpenter soundtracks x eighties nostalgia against pulsing, dark, spacey dance beats.
Some of my favorite synth artists are Carpenter Brut, Gost, Lazerhawk, Kavinsky, Dance with the Dead… and Perturbator, who I was about to see live.
I was “dressed to kill” in Akade Wear, an indie clothing line inspired by the retrowave revival. I’m wearing Akade’s New Retro Wave tshirt, which is unisex (I got size XS and tied the end in a bundle, as I did in the early 90s.)
I paired it with this Iron Fist silver skeleton skirt (available here), and a Spiral UK bum bag (which comes in holographic and glitter versions too). Fanny packs rule — why on earth did they go out of style?
I finished the look with a silver hair ribbon in my high sideways ponytail, silver heels, and a bomber jacket by Disturbia. It has a spider on the back, similar to the scorpion jacket in the movie Drive.
The Akade Wear fashion line is a branch of New Retro Wave, the online hub for all things outrun. They’re passionate about the musical genre and associated culture, and bring fans together with articles, streams, events, and now clothing. As they put it, “the sound, drive and sheer passion of the 80’s-90’s is one of the most refreshing sounds to hit the music scene, and has been long overdue.”
I’m having fun “living the 80s dream” in streetwear from Akade! They have a large selection of nostalgic, high-saturation designs for both men and women, and ship worldwide.
Synthwave has gained ground in recent years, and the leading artists are now touring worldwide. Interestingly, a lot of my Goth friends have independently discovered and fallen in love with the genre. Many metalheads and geek-types are also drawn to the retrofuturistic sound, bringing together a fanbase from various subcultures.
Those with a Gothic disposition tend to be fond of France’s Perturbator, who creates futuresynth with a dark edge. The pentagram posters are spot on: “Satan is a computer.” “If machines could feel the way we do, would they believe in a god?”
I was excited to see Perturbator live, at the Rickshaw Theater in Vancouver (he’s currently touring North America, with tour dates in major US and Canadian cities). The concert was close to sold out; I spotted lots of guys in long hair, girls in platform boots, and pentagrams on everyone.
“The Legend Says He’s Half Human, Half Synthesizer” — yes! James Kent (Perturbator) helmed a spaceship pod surrounded by vertical lights, which strobed and flashed blinding colors.
From the moment Perturbator took the stage, the audience never stopped moving. He delivered relentless darkwave, heavy and sinister yet uplifting: one of the best performances I’ve seen in a long time.
You can see video clips from the Vancouver show above and here on my Instagram. He played many of his faster, more aggro tracks like “Satanic Rites,” “Neo Tokyo,” “Humans are Such Easy Prey.”
I was riveted by the strobe and color effects behind him, simple yet powerful. Perturbator kept his hood on and never spoke to the crowd, but bobbed his head to the driving basslines and gestured with his hands during the climaxes.
I haven’t been out to as many concerts recently, but synth-wave is changing this up. Perturbator’s live was enormously engaging, and he’s an act that you need to see in person.
During the concert, my friend turned to me and asked, “How long have you been blogging for?” My expression was like above… for I realized we had reached Year Ten!
My “La Carmina blog” launched on September 14th, 2007 — a time when blogging and social media were in their infancy. To put it mildly, a lot has happened since then.
As we reach my blog’s 10th birthday, it makes sense to do a trip down memory lane. I considered recapping the top events, but you can already find my Year in Review summaries here, and all my travel destination stories in one place.
Instead, I’ve recently been in nostalgic mode — and thought you might have fun revisiting these memories as well.
The early days of this blog (2007-2012 approximately) were very different from the current incarnation. Long-time readers will recall that I focused almost exclusively on Japanese subcultures, particularly Gothic Lolita fashion and Tokyo nightlife.
This was a particularly exciting era in Tokyo, especially for the Goth clubbing scene, weird pop culture, and experimental style. You’ll find a lot of exciting subcultures in Japan still, but they aren’t the same as they were in the mid to late 2000s.
Looking back, I’m glad I captured this transformative time. In 2008, I spent part of the year in Tokyo, and met many of the “creatures of the night” that remain my closest friends to this day.
The Gothic nightlife was wonderfully inclusive, bringing together an electrifying group of locals and expats. In particular, Mistress Maya’s club night Midnight Mess and DJ Sisen’s parties formed the heart of the dark subculture (above is the infamous night when Covenant played).
There was the feeling of anything-goes: the freedom to experiment with fashion (even if it resulted in some fails), dive into the dark arts, and dance til morning to cybergoth electro.
I always felt inspired by the clubgoers at Midnight Mess, as well as the stage shows. You might see Akira Death perform robotic metal, the Dark Marchen prance around in Rococo gowns, and Mistress Maya tie up and dominate a Sweet Lolita dolly.
Many Japanese creatives were regulars at these events, always showing up in death-disco ghoul fashion. Above is Goth designer Kenzo A, and nAo12xu of the band †13th Moon†.
The queens of darkness were of course DJ Sisen and Selia, who mesmerized us with her dark operetta vocals. Absinthe, corsets, feathered eyelashes, cyberlox and chains — yes please.
Our personal style has all changed quite a bit since these days… but oh, we had fun!
I went down the rabbit hole, and realized I’d forgotten about many of the events I’d written about in the early days.
For example, do you remember D’s Valentine? He was the master behind Alamode Market and Gothic Bar Heaven, and club nights at venues like Tamachi Cube — I haven’t thought of these places in years.
At the time, Japan’s extreme body modifications were not widely known about. Snake tongue and bagelheads, oh my!
I laughed at the caption I had written under this photo. “Unzipped pants and nipple tape… what more do you need in a boy?”
Department H, the hentai / drag / fetish party, has always been a funhouse and remains this way today.
Some of the people I partied with have disappeared, while others remain in my life… albeit with different hair, makeup and clothing choices.
The old school Tokyo Goth crew, on the way to Midnight Mess after dinner at Hibari sushi in Shinjuku. Ah… I’d love to teleport back for a night.
Two things that always guarantee a good time: the twins Atsushi and Takashi, and a can of Strong Zero convenience store alcohol!
In the beginning of the blog, I was very Japan-focused. Yukiro and I did a memorable trip to Osaka, where we raged with hard rocker Fu-Ki at occult club night Black Veil. Somehow, I was inspired to do KISS makeup that night…
Harajuku fashion remains exciting now, but it was certainly weirder and rave-ier in those days. I remember that people were infatuated with Takuya Angel’s designs, and yearned to take part in his fashion walk.
Gothic Lolita fashion was thriving. My friends and I loved to gawk at the frilled fashion in Laforet, and hunt for secondhand bargains at Closet Child.
Many of the brands have now closed or downsized, and Lolita style no longer feels fresh to me — but at the time, it was a joy to wear.
I took this snap on Harajuku bridge. Youths still dressed up and hung out here; this is a rarity today.
I was also a huge fan of Visual Kei / J-Rock music at the time (now, I never listen to it — I gravitate to Italo Disco and retrowave). I saw many of my favorite Japanese bands perform, including Versailles and Moi dix Mois (above are Mana cosplays and tributes at the concert).
I forgot that I saw Deluhi live. VK hair and styling though… still so good.
How can anyone resist a host boy with bleach-blonde sky-high hair, and velvet joggers with a leopard print top?
I remember that readers were fascinated by the Japanese pop culture oddities I reported on, such as maid cafes. Today, these are common knowledge, and you can find theme cafes (such as cat ones) worldwide. Times have changed…
While you can’t go back to the past, you can certainly revisit it… 10 years is a long time! I know some of you have been reading this blog since MySpace days, and I am enormously grateful. Thanks for growing with me through some bad point-and-shoot photography, dubious style choices, and epic adventures with friends.
I hope you had fun reading this “old school La Carmina blog” retrospective. Do you have any favorite “member-berries” from Tokyo, or thoughts on how things have changed?
PS: you can find old blog posts in the right-hand sidebar of this blog, under Archives (there’s a drop-down menu that filters by month and year). You can also see all my Tokyo, Japan stories here, from 2007 to today.
PPS: What’s coming up in the future? Only time will tell… fasten your seatbelts, and stay tuned for more wild rides!