NEW YORK — Anthony and Elaine Lassman, the duo behind the most persnickety and posh series of travel guides, Nota Bene, are tough customers. And subscribers wouldn’t have it any other way. “They saved our honeymoon,” coos Marjorie Raein, who recently returned from the Maldives with her husband, Reza. The couple switched hotels after checking their NB guide, which disparaged every resort in the area save one, Soneva Gili in North Malé Atoll. “They ripped every other place to shreds,” Raein continues. “Usually you find out about these things too late, but we got lucky.”
The NB guides — written by anonymous reviewers who travel undercover to glamorous resorts, both tropical and snowbound, and to topical cities like Rio de Janeiro, Singapore and Dublin, accepting no free tickets or complimentary stays — promise not to waste members’ time. For $350, members, including jet setters like Tamara Mellon, Mick Jagger, P. Diddy and Gwyneth Paltrow, receive 10 issues per year full of inside information, and have access to the NB phone-in center and Web site, where they can learn about destination updates.
“They are really tough,” says City Club Hotel owner Jeff Klein. “Their tone is like some bitter, bitchy queen reporting back to you about everything.” But while the guide criticized obstructed views at the City Club — while praising the stylish decor and convenient location — Klein himself turned to NB when planning a trip to Venice. “I was going to stay at the Gritti Palace,” he says. “But NB said the carpets were stained and dirty.”
That the Lassmans don’t pull punches makes NB’s fee worth every penny. If a trendy restaurant doesn’t live up to its hype or so called luxury hotels can’t meet the Lassmans’ sky-high standards, members are alerted in no uncertain terms. “This two-level rustic Italian has people raving about Mario Batali’s cooking,” reads a review of Babbo in the recently released New York destination guide, “Yet we’re no longer mad about it.” The Peninsula is “very hard to get excited about, unless you’re planning to hole up and do some work.” The floral arrangements at The Carlyle are superb, “but it needs an entire makeover, not piecemeal make-do-and-mend attention.” The NB crew likes plentiful towels, and unpretentious, above-and-beyond, four-star service.
“We’re not out to criticize,” says Anthony, “but people have to trust what we print in the publication. Wherever possible we like to find nice things to bring to the table.”
This week, Virgin Airlines’ loss may be the Four Seasons’ gain, as those working the concierge desk have their chance to shine. “Our luggage has gone missing,” Anthony reports, in town for a party to launch the New York guide at Barneys New York, where NB box sets are sold. “The concierge already has had things delivered from the pharmacy and they’re handling it really well.”