Essential Cocktail Party Nuts
Alright,"I might as well tell you:" My grandfather was the architect, Morris Lapidus. He famously designed the Fontainebleau, Eden Roc and Americana hotels on Miami Beach. There have been countless articles and books written about him and, right before he died, the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum named him an American Original. These are his words, not mine: The "I might as well tell you" part. He never shied away from a great story - especially when it centered around him. And his influence on me, as an architect and storyteller, is the root of why I chose a career in PR.
I might as well also tell you that he wasn't always a wildly famous hotel architect. For the first half of his career he was a critically-acclaimed store designer, pioneering the way we experience retail today. Prior to that he wanted to be an actor, so he studied theater at Columbia University. He got tired of waiting in the wings and became interested in set design, which required that he take architecture classes. His passion for the stage never waned, and it would inform the design tricks he employed to engage shoppers - and later hotel guests - with lighting that drew you into a room, staircases to nowhere - ensuring that everyone made a grand entrance - and many more design elements that we still see used today.
His transitioned to designing hotels quite by accident. One of his over-the-top retail clients held a press conference to announce he would be building the biggest hotel on Miami Beach. When a reporter asked who would design it, he blurted out the name of the only architect he knew. That began a career marked by controversial curves when the industry dictated straight lines, woggles and cheese holes when form-follows-function was de rigeur, that would turn the critics and his peers against him. The New York Times famously stated that you had to be blind to appreciate his work. It was a devastating blow to a man who just wanted to create beautiful buildings that set the stage for people to step out of their lives and experience life like movie stars.
It wasn't all bad. He was successful. And he had the good fortune of - as he put it - outliving his critics. He had offices in Manhattan and Miami Beach and he traveled the world two times over. He closed the Manhattan office during the recession of the 1970s and the Miami Beach office not long after that, retiring in relative obscurity. But in the early 1990s, someone had written a book about him and there was also an award for him - both in Holland. Here's where I come in. I had just graduated from college and didn't have a job. My grandmother had died months before, and he had no one to travel with him. So I won the golden ticket: a European vacation with Grandpa Mo. And here's where the "I might as well tell you" part comes in. From the minute we got on the plane, it's how he replied to anyone who casually asked how he was doing. This was followed by a meticulous explanation of the hotels he had designed, the book that was being written about him and the award he was about to receive. Over the eight hours it took to cross the Atlantic, a lot of people ask how you're doing. It's a rhetorical question that begs the answer, fine. But Grandpa Mo had a different take on that. After he said it to the entire flight crew, the cab driver on the way to the hotel, the door man and the hotel clerk, he finally turned to me and said that this was what my grandmother used to do for him and now it was my job. Got it!
Over the next decade we shared many amazing meals together. He was a masterful storyteller. From recounting how he settled into the Lower East Side of New York as a tiny Russian toddler - the oldest son of a sergeant in the Czar's army - to his awe-inspiring first glimpse of the lights of Coney Island as a young boy, to falling in love with my grandmother - seven years his younger and who had mistaken him for a wealthy horse owner, his stories embodied the American Dream.
The height of his career was the Golden Age of Miami Beach, which was the Cocktail Age of the nation. The Rat Pack graced the clubs of his pleasure palace hotels. Too much was never enough. His Miami Beach apartment was my heaven - marble floors, mother of pearl walls, mirrors everywhere, a winding staircase lined with uplit Venetian glass, a bar with a pony hair base, Lucite furniture. And so much fabulous art. I loved our time together there - sipping cocktails before we went to dinner. Always with Grandpa Mo regaling me with amazing stories.
I never lost sight of my job. When we went to dinner I made sure to inform everyone from the restaurant host to our server, busboys and the folks at tables around us that - I might as well tell you - this is the famous architect, Morris Lapidus. In truth, his star had risen again on Miami Beach. The city was booming, and everyone - from the aging baby boomers who had experienced his hotels in their teens, to a new wave of fans who would experience his hotels in their resplendent renovations, to his peers and - yes - even the critics, celebrated him. There would be speaking appearances - some of which I would fly to - books, articles and then the honor by the Smithsonian.
It was a life well lived. Rags to riches. Fame and fortune. Soaring victories and stunning defeats. Curves, cheese holes, woggles and staircases to nowhere. He was the architect of the American Dream, orchestrating environments that still today make you feel like a star. If you find yourself in one of his lobbies, sipping a cocktail, sighting the celebs and channeling your inner Brat Pack, I might as well tell you that it's no accident.
I love serving proper cocktails in our home, where Grandpa Mo's finest painting (my favorite) proudly hangs. But I never serve them without a snack. And these nuts are one of my favorites. Sure, you could just open a can and pour them in a bowl. But why not take 10 minutes and make your nuts special? These are easy, and they'll wow your guests. Because if I learned nothing else from Grandpa Mo, it's all about wowing your guests.
1 C Unsalted Roasted Cashews
2 T Olive Oil
1 T Chopped Rosemary
1 t Crushed Red Pepper
2 t Salt
1 t Pepper
Heat a pan over medium heat. Mix the olive oil, rosemary, crushed red pepper, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Heat the cashew in the pan over medium heat, occasionally shaking so they don't burn. When they're just turning golden on the edges - about five minutes - take them off the stove, pour them in the bowl and toss.