We recently sat down with Ettinger CEO Robert Ettinger and legendary style writer G. Bruce Boyer for a free-wheeling discussion on the finer things in life. In this first of a two-part series we hear their thoughts on packing, what makes for a fine hotel, the menu of their last meal and more.
G. Bruce Boyer (left) and Robert Ettinger (right)
What is your packing regimen like?
BB: There’s a joke: “My friends used to take drugs, now they take medications.” My first packing concern now is that I have medications that I need, but apart from that I would say I’m always concerned about my glasses being lost, or that they’ll fall off and somebody will step on them, so I always make sure that I pack an extra pair of glasses. I just think that’s essential. The other thing that I always pack almost regardless of what I’m doing, whether it’s a vacation or for business, is a navy blazer because I can dress it up or dress it down. I can wear it with jeans, with flannels, with a tie or without, with a polo shirt, and so I always, always have another pair of glasses with me and invariably I take a navy-blue blazer.
RE: I like to lay everything out, whether it’s a business trip or a vacation. I lay things out on the bed. And I always start with too much and then I subtract things. And that seems to work. One still travels with too much whatever one does, I find, but one thing that I do again for business or pleasure is I make sure I’ve got enough clothes in my hand luggage so that in case my suitcase gets lost on the trip I don’t arrive without my swimming trunks.
In one case I was going to Japan and I was traveling in jeans and a polo shirt and some sneakers, and my suitcase got lost with all my suits. I had a meeting the next morning with a British ambassador in Tokyo, and I turned up in all I had. I told him it was just a private meeting. He laughed and said, “That’s exactly what I did about 30 years ago, and now I always make sure I’ve got a suit folded in my hand luggage so that I’m not lost if my luggage is”. So that’s my packing regimen, and like you I pack a pair of glasses in case they get lost as well, because without a pair of glasses I can’t see—now that’s not good.
BB: That’s the kind of thing that has happened to all of us at one time or another, where we’ve gone to Italy, but our suitcase has gone to Hawaii.
Bruce Boyer. Image by Colin Coleman.
Is there a single item that you can’t imagine yourself traveling without?
RE: A Swiss army pen knife. It’s got a tiny little screwdriver to make your specs to a bottle opener, which comes in useful sometimes. One time I was in a hotel and all the windows were screwed closed, so using a Swiss Army pen knife I could unscrew it and open the windows. So that goes with me but not in my hand luggage, because that doesn’t get through. It goes in my main case.
BB: I always carried one of those little Swiss army knives too because they’ve got scissors and tweezers and toothpicks—everything. But I put them in my pockets, and I forget about them, and then when I go through the safety checkpoint at the airport the alarms go off. I think I’ve had more of those little knives confiscated at airports than anybody. I must have given the guards about a dozen of those over the years, I keep forgetting that I should put them in my luggage rather than carry them on my own person because I don’t want it to be thought that I’m a terrorist.
RE: That’s why the company in Switzerland that makes them is doing so well, thanks to people like you.
BB: Exactly, I’m keeping all of them in business, I think.
What are your favourite hotels?
BB: Well for me, I’m a great aficionado of a hotel here in Manhattan. To me the Carlyle is such a wonderful hotel. The décor of the rooms is wonderful, but the service is impeccable. The bar in the hotel is just so cozy and friendly. The food in the dining rooms is just so wonderful. And then, on top of that, they’ve got the Café Carlyle there which always has for me the best entertainment, the best musicians around, I just think the Carlyle is a wonderful hotel.
When I was working for Town & Country, I got an assignment once to write about every hotel on the Côte d'Azur from Saint-Tropez to Monte Carlo. Well, it was just fabulous. I started in Saint Tropez and I think that by the time I got to Monte Carlo I had gained about 18 pounds for one thing. But the hotel in Monte Carlo where I stayed was the Hôtel de Paris, and it was the most incredible place—I still can’t get it out of my mind. It was sort of an Edwardian hotel, there were these plush carpets and potted palms, and they had wonderful dining rooms, one of which if the weather was fair, the roof would roll back and it was like eating under the stars. They had a great wine cave, and the amenities were just superb. I remember that if you left your shoes outside your door starting around midnight a man would come around with a big bag and he would pick up your shoes and chalk your room number on the soles and take them away, polish them and then put them back so you would have them in the morning and that was just such a wonderful experience. It gave me an idea of how wealthy Edwardian people used to live and I said, “Wow this is a slot I would like to drop my penny into.”
RE: It’s always hard to find the right balance for business hotels but there’s a relatively new chain called the Rosewood, and they’ve built some fabulous hotels all over the world, particularly the ones in Beijing, Hong Kong and London. They’ve almost not had a budget when they build their hotels. They have huge rooms with comfortable areas to sit in and wonderful lounges for members as well. In fact, the food is as good as in the restaurants, and they have wonderful cellars so that at the end of a long day you can sit down and relax in a quiet area, have something to eat and drink and really just take it easy for the evening.
What makes for a good hotel experience?
BB: To me, it is all about service. I think Robert put his finger on it when he said that if you’re away on business, when you come back at the end of the day you want to be able to relax. So, you want someplace that’s comfortable and quiet and where you’re able to decompress and I would agree with that.
RE: I think what’s important to me is that it’s not too big. I try and choose places with under 200 rooms, at least. Anything bigger than that the lobby is like a railway station and you’re just a number. It’s so nice to walk in and they actually say, “Good evening Mr. Ettinger.” It just makes you feel like you’re at home and you’re part of the whole environment. That’s important to me.
What places are you dying to visit again?
BB: I’m dying to get back to where you are, Robert. I’m dying to get back to London. I just love everything about London. Of course, I think a question like that you could ask anybody in the world and they’d probably say Tuscany. I’d love to get to Tuscany again. But I really would love to get back to London, I haven’t been there for so long. And I would then take a side trip, probably to Oxford. I love Oxford. I, if you don’t mind, I’m going to do a little bragging here because I’m so very proud of this. I was once asked to read a paper at Oriel College, Oxford, and that was very special.
RE: I think Covid has made people realize how much they miss traveling. I love traveling generally, it’s almost a hobby of mine, but one place that I and my wife have been to many times are the Greek Islands. In fact, in a week and a half we are heading off to the Greek Islands in visiting, Naxos, Paros and Skinos and we’re taking our bicycles so we will be cycling around the islands.
BB: You’re really making us feel terrible.
Robert Ettinger cycling in Mani, Greece.
What place have you never visited that is at the top of your bucket list?
RE: I’d like to go to South America and visit places like Peru. I think it’s a wonderful countryside, they’ve got mountains and lots of interesting landscapes. I think South America is the next place, but it’s a long way to go. I have to go for two or three weeks really to get the most of it.
BB: It’s an interesting question, because during this extended Covid lockdown I have given a lot of thought to where I would go that I haven’t been, and I tell you I’ve come to the conclusion at my time of life that I would prefer to go back to places I’ve loved in the past and reacquaint myself with them rather than go to some place new. I guess what I’m saying is that I’m a little too old for adventure, you know.
RE: Going back to places you know and love is so wonderful because you can relax more. You know where you are, you know the hotel and you just feel at home. I’m doing more of that as well; it just takes the harassment out of things and you’re greeted like an old friend.
Switching gears to food, what is your typical breakfast like?
BB: My wife will tell you that if I don’t have two strong cups of tea in the morning, I’m a very nasty man. I brew my own, I have a lovely little modern yellow teapot that holds my two cups of tea, and that’s an absolute must because I’m just a terror if I don’t have that. Once I’ve got that going than I try to eat some kind of fruit, a banana or berries, and then I’ll either have some kind of combination of toast, cereal or yogurt. I love breakfast foods, I love eggs and breakfast sausage and home fried potatoes and all of that, but I don’t eat anything that heavy at breakfast. I want to put something inside of me so that I can go to work and feel that I’ve got something in my stomach.
RE: I’m very similar in a way. I do love a good English breakfast and scrambled eggs and bacon and sausages and tomatoes, but my doctor says it’s not good for me apparently—I don’t know why. So, very much like Bruce I eat fruit and cereal and juice, and if I’m traveling, I’ll sometimes have a good proper breakfast, poached eggs on toast it’s very nice. And to me breakfast is a very important meal, it gives you energy for the day and I tend to have breakfast very early. When I’m working in London my breakfast is about half past six in the morning and that’s in the office, so it sets me up, it gets me working harder.
What is your single favourite restaurant?
RE: At the moment there’s a wonderful hotel in London called Brown’s Hotel on Albemarle Street, and it’s got a relatively new restaurant called Charlie’s. Good British food, good ingredients, good vegetables, good meat, good fish. I’ve had a meal there recently and it was just a delight. It’s not overly stuffy, good service but you can relax in the space.
BB: My favorite restaurant for 30-40 years or more has been the 21 Club in New York and for the same reasons that you’ve mentioned. It’s cosy, it’s not pretentious, the service is just incredible. The food’s good, but it’s not high cuisine or anything like that—it’s just good food in a friendly place. Unfortunately, when Covid came along it shut down, and this sounds kind of frivolous and superficial, but in some respects that was the worst aspect of the pandemic for me. I hear rumors that it’s going to reopen, but I kind of doubt it, and what I really fear that if it does open again it won’t be the same. So, one of the great tragedies of the pandemic for me has been the loss of my favorite restaurant. 21 has been around since the 1920s so it’s 100 years old. It may be gone, and I can’t tell you how much I miss it. It was almost like a home away from home for me, the waiters knew your name and you knew their name and you even knew their kids’ names.
What would appear on the menu of your last meal?
BB: That’s easy, because I’ve often thought that I’m going to end up on Death Row anyway. I will throw my doctor’s advice completely to the wind because it will be my last meal, and I’m going to have a thick cheeseburger and French fries and at least two beers.
RE: If that’s your last meal you can’t even get a hangover, can you?
RE: I think my last meal I would start off with a good Chablis and then I’d have a very mixed meal. I love fish, so I’d start off maybe with some Dover sole—that’s my favourite, a large Dover sole with a little butter. And then because my mother was Austrian, and I went to school in Vienna for a while I love Wienerschnitzel. I’d have a huge Wienerschnitzel cooked in butter. Again, my doctor doesn’t advise it, but again it’s my last meal and I’d tell my doctor it doesn’t matter. To finish, I’d have an English trifle with a lot of cream and custard and strawberries in it. And then it’s goodbye, isn’t it?
Do you have any secrets for getting food or drink stains out of your clothing?
RE: I do, and it sounds crazy, but I love those napkins where there’s a buttonhole at the top and you attach it to one of your buttons, so it really covers your whole front. They give it out on some airlines. Very few restaurants have these—theirs don’t have the buttonhole, so you have to tuck it in and it’s a pain. Attaching it to a button means you don’t get any stains on your clothes, so you don’t need any stain remover. When I go into a restaurant and I take this out of my pocket and put it on the waiter looks at me as if I’m slightly crazy, which I am probably, but that keeps everything clean.
BB: If you get a spot of something on you, pasta sauce or salad dressing or whatever is, the sooner you can treat it, the better so it doesn’t set in. What I will do, and it often doesn’t work but it’s the only thing you have at the moment, is to take an end of your napkin and dip it in a little water, preferably sparkling water. I’ve heard that the carbonation helps and I’ll blot the stain, not rub it hard but just blot it and try to get as much of the stain out of the fabric as you can in a very gentle way and then get it to your drycleaner as soon as you can. I’ve never tried any of these laundry pens and things that people use, so I just stick to blotting.
Interviewed & written by Eric Twardzik