Tag: Washington DC

Steve Rugo: The Whisky Watercolor Club







When Steve Rugo—architect of Chicago’s Alinea, Next, Roister, and other top of the line restaurants around the country—and friends first drew out their sketch pads to try a new medium, little did the five architects know that they had discovered a wonderful way to . What began as some sketching on guys’ trips to Surrey, England, and India has evolved into the Whisky Watercolor Club: painting takes place during the week, culminating in a Sunday afternoon Zoom, where the friends show their work, critique, and learn from one another while raising their glasses in toasts.


Steve Rugo.

“It was March 15. Ankie Barnes, Michael Imber, Thomas Kligerman, and I had all just gotten back from our trip to India and went into immediate pandemic lockdown. Our other member, Douglas Wright, hadn’t been along on that trip but had been on previous ones. It was a brave new world out there, and we had to find our way through,” Rugo recalls. “Our group started talking to one another on a regular basis: ‘What’s going on in your office?’ and the like. We just needed to figure things out. As architects, we spend so much time duplicating reality. I have done a lot of hand drawing but always as an architect. We decided to do something different that lets you shake off some of the worries of this terrifying time and remembered the fun of our sketching together. The Whisky Watercolor Club was born.”


The WWC in India during the holiday: “Soon we will be covered in wildly colorful powder. Doug did not make the trip but was there in spirit.” From left: Ankie Barnes of BarnesVanze, Washington DC; Thomas A. Kligerman of Ike Kligerman Architects, New York and San Francisco; Rugo; Michael Imber of Michael G. Imber Architects, San Antonio.

The five architects are members of the Design Leadership Network and contributed photographs of exotic locales to a stunning new book Travel By Design edited by Michael Boodro. Rugo’s photo of the Oculus at the Hive at Kew Gardens adorns the back cover. Both Rugo and Barnes included photos of Cape Town, which Barnes considers “the most beautiful city in the world.”


Travel by Design.

Through their brushstrokes executed at home workspaces, the friends continue to travel to beloved places like Cape Town, Venice, Province, and the Caribbean, while studying watercolorists who earlier captured these global destinations. Mists, shadows, and the varieties in what they thought was just one color are to be explored: “Is that white skim milk or cream?” they sometimes ask.

When we spoke, Rugo had been working on a foggy bridge for today’s meeting, an assignment he described as “not easy”: “Several in our group are wickedly talented, and I sometimes feel like second string. But it is good for all of us at this time to think of our mental health and not just be caught up in all the frightening things that are going on but to find ways to express yourself.”


Off the coast of Antigua by Thomas Kligerman.


Michael Imber’s rendering of Camden Harbor in Maine.


A wet on wet study of Hedges at Sir Edwin Lutyens’s “Goddards,” Surrey, by Ankie Barnes.


A bit of Tuscany on hot press paper an evocative landscape by Doug Wright (of Douglas C. Wright Architects, New York).

Each week one of the group shares a watercolor by a master such as one of Rugo’s favorites, John Singer Sargent. “When you see his magnificent work and think that he probably spent maybe 20 to 30 minutes on each! Amazing. We have learned to look at things differently, seeing highlights and shadows and the way light reflects,” he says.


Rugo’s palms inspired by Sargent.


A mezcal Negroni and a study or a friend’s eye for portrait.

“For example, if you look at someone’s eye, it is not all one color. Perhaps it is blue, then green, then hazel, then there’s the milky part and the black part,” Rugo continues. “You see things with a new level of detail. Having this hour or hour and a half to take you away from business to the world of abstracts is like a fantasy.”


“One of my favorite pieces, hinting of details, shapes, and people without completing the form.”


Rugo’s Landscape in Northern California.


“An early favorite: a street scene from Tangiers.”


ICAA-award winning house on Orchard painted by Rugo.

Rugo thinks that this weekly assignment and virtual gathering has made the group even better friends: “Our society tolerates zero mistakes, and kids unfortunately learn that. We have learned to fail sometimes in our watercolor attempts without liability. These are great guys to share and learn with—I think we built trust week by week. We congratulate one another, make suggestions, and we really learn something.”


Travel by Design may be purchased directly through its publisher, Assouline, by clicking this link, or at other fine retailers.


Colonial Warriors in New York

Edmund Lester, Stan Brading, Robert L. Burell and IL Governor Brian D. White

By Brian D. White

The Colonial Warriors, the male equivalent of The Colonial Dames, is a leader among Hereditary Societies. As such, I’m extremely proud to not only belong to, but serve as the Illinois chapter’s Governor.  It’s a world of private clubs, calling cards, white tie events and one of the most entertaining and civilized groups I’ve ever belonged to.  I joined about 6 years ago after my father passed away. I was told I’d most likely qualify knowing my family was from Massachusetts. After I proposed and supplied the research and documentation, (going back 12 generations to my qualifying ancestor from the early 1600’s in Massachusetts)  I was accepted and immediately made their Social and Membership Chairman — to no one’s surprise.  I especially appreciate this organization because it not only honors my father’s memory, but I have really enjoyed getting to know our own Colonial and American history better.

This all leads up to our recent trip to New York where about 20 Illinois members and their spouses attended festivities culminating in a Saturday night Gala.  Although I can’t name the private clubs we visited each day and night, I can assure you they were some of the most elegant that New York has to offer.

Nancy & Richard Spain, Edmund Lester and William Parke at the gala.

I arrived on a Wednesday and checked into the first club of our stay. I immediately had lunch with a good friend, Christian Leone, who grew up in Lake Forest and moved to New York in the mid 90’s.  I then had to do some damage at some of my favorite stores in the state.

I began at The Belgian Shoe Store which I first discovered in the early 90’s. The Belgian Shoe Store sells handcrafted shoes made exclusively in Belgium — you can only find these shoes at this store. On this visit, I found a “Mr. Henri” in a conservative brown with black piping versus the “Mr. Casual” that I always wore in my twenties.

Next up was Turnbull & Asser who make the most amazing shirts that literally last 15 years. I proceeded to spend an hour picking through swatches for a custom shirt and after selecting everything was told I’d be better off e-mailing my guy in London because the exchange rate was so favorable. I thanked him profusely and made my order after returning to Chicago!  Later that day, I met up with good friends Christopher and Lise Wolf back at the club for the prime rib dinner. I enjoyed several gin and tonics followed by some great wines, then called it a night.

Thursday morning, I was free to meet up with another dear friend Brantley C. B. Knowles from Palm Beach and Va, who is a Colonial Dame and whose husband is a leader in The Colonial Warriors. I then moved my luggage over to another club where it would remain for the duration of the trip. That night we enjoyed a fabulous reception held at a Yacht Club followed by dinner at our favorite “21” Club for the 20 members of our Illinois contingent. It is always a scene and had fantastic food to match. We had lump crabmeat and a rack of lamb followed by my favorite, baked alaska.  After closing at the 21 just after midnight, we all went back to our friends Damien & Pamela Cregeau’s (from Connecticut) suite for a little post party till just around 2:00 in the morning.
















Friday was packed with a few business meetings to hear about the National Society’s updates followed by lunch at The Loeb Boathouse in Central Park — a real treat.  Many then took the opportunity to visit pre-arranged tours of The Frick, Grand Central Terminal, New York Historical Society and the Metropolitan Museum of Art American Wing tour while I, on the other hand, was ready for a good nap.

Kelly Penry, Edmund Lester, Priscilla Barlow, Aaron Barlow, Robert L. Burell and Colleen Burell.

Friday evening began with a cocktail party at friends Charlie and Lynn Poekel’s at their marvelous apartment on Sutton Place. Here, we met the owner of Scully & Scully: Michael Scully, who had hosted the ladies for an event at the store on Park Avenue earlier that day. We then proceeded over to another club for a lobster and filet dinner where we viewed the presentation of the Society’s Coat of Arms presented by York Herald Peter O’Donoghue from the College of Arms in England.  We were then invited downstairs to the club in the men’s only section where, after the help took off, you could just keep pouring your own drinks keeping track on a little chit as late as you like!

The Honoree and Flag procession at the Gala.

Saturday was the big night where everyone gathered in white tie vestige for the most glamorous evening of dining and dancing. The Alex Donner Orchestra played that night. They always seems to follow us around from party to party, having joined us in New York, Palm Beach, Washington DC and hopefully Chicago soon too!  There was a photo taken of all the Colonial Warriors attending, just like one taken in 1915 at Delmonico’s in New York. Special toasts were made and then came the flag and honoree presentation where our own Lieutenant Governor John H. Strothman was our Illinois honoree and our Deputy Governor General for the state of Illinois, Robert Lee Burell, was the flag carrier.

Warrior photo taken at the 125 Anniversary Gala


The dinner consisted of the same menu that was served 125 years ago starting with a endive salad with blue cheese, toasted walnuts and caramelized pears. Turtle soup au sherry followed. As for the entrées, you could choose from Steak Delmonico or Lobster Newberg and for dessert, a special red velvet cake with buttercream icing. The cake was presented and cut with a sword by both the oldest member (who was almost 100 years old) and the youngest member of the Society (a young man in his early twenties). The dancing continued in between courses and all the way till just past midnight with a packed dance floor. We then walked over to a Pub next door for a drink, and then over to my favorite bar, Bemilman’s Bar at The Carlyle. After its closing at one in the morning, we moved over to a favorite vintage preppy hangout, Dorrian’s, till about four in the morning.  

During this week of festivities and after meeting the fourth new person or so, I realized that many of the cards exchanged only listed the person’s name. This is because just about everyone you meet is listed in The Social Register! Of course! Who needs e-mails, phone numbers, addresses when it’s already “listed”! I had mine printed up at Tiffany’s when I was 22 and out of college and still do. Nevertheless, I always get a kick out of the reaction when I hand these cards to people who didn’t know what to say after seeing only my name engraved on the card.  It’s just about the same reaction I receive when people realize I carry my father’s or my great grandfather’s cigarette case yet rarely ever have a cell phone on me!

“The Cake”

All in all, it was an amazing and fun week in New York. Our Illinois Colonial Warriors and spouses had a marvelous time! We look forward to the next gathering.