Damian Lewis talks about the current perception of billionaires and their wealth in an interview with Prestige Online:
“I think there’s a greater suspicion about billionaires and about wealth and accumulation of wealth. People are asking for the first time, “Excuse me, how did you become a billionaire exactly, because I just lost my house?” So I think it’s an interesting transitional point.
Having said that, I think there will always remain a certain rock ’n’ roll element to the guy with the money and the fast car.”
So yeah we did know a thing or two about this rock ‘n’ roll element before Billions arrived in our lives. We know that those in the very top of the income distribution have multiple luxury cars, a private jet (or two), a chopper, a yacht, a mansion in the suburbs, an oceanfront property, a city apartment, and a country home. They sometimes own a vineyard as a hobby or buy professional sports teams as an investment. They put their names on buildings and hold honorary degrees from universities in return for the money they give to these institutions. They send their kids to the most exclusive private schools, have private gyms in their homes complete with personal trainers and they can jet to Europe for dinner.
But then it turns out, and we find thanks to Billions always keeping it current, there is even more rock ‘n’ roll hidden in the incredible details of the world of the rich and famous… and here is a FUN tour of things I never knew existed before Billions. Let me know if I am missing anything worth being added to the list. Cheers!
We all knew about online dating before Billions. I personally have had no experience on dating sites since I have been off the dating market for the last 23 years; however, I have family and friends who met their significant others through online dating sites. The kind of information these sites collect from applicants help them efficiently match people with similar goals and interests in life and is absolutely convenient for today’s busy lives where it is pretty hard to meet someone randomly.
We find Wags desperately trying to get into Raya, an exlusive dating app, in Season 2 Episode 1 Risk Management. He is desperate enough to try to have the Axe Capital tech guy hack Raya for him. And he is lucky enough to have Stephanie, a current Raya member, who eventually helps him to get in.
There was a bit of Tinder talk in Billions Season 1 where Kate warned a new employee against using it in the office where as Ira was already an active Tinder user where he met girls half his age who knew how to have fun. I did not know about Tinder until I heard about it on the show, but it did not look very different from other dating sites other than the “swipe left, swipe right” option.
A quote from a Raya member comparing Tinder and Raya speaks volumes:
“Tinder has become the dating pool equivalent of riding the city bus.”
Raya is a completely different animal. The service calls itself “an exclusive dating and networking platform for people in creative industries.” It is a dating application that makes use of celebrity and status to cultivate an image of exclusivity which means you cannot just go and register for their services. Membership seems to be determined by two factors: your overall Instagram influence and the vote of an anonymous committee who consider a combination of factors including your Instagram popularity before making their decision. And, of course, whom you know is extremely important. The more Raya members recommend you or follow you on Instagram, it is more likely they will admit you to the club.
Now, who else is dying to see Wags’ Instagram? 😀 And given that we had the privilege to “meet” Wags’ Raya girl friend Prianca in Episode 3 Optimal Play, I cannot help wonder which “creative industry” she works in.
Hangover Relief Service
Wags, as he leaves the Alpha Cup poker tournament early with his Raya girlfriend Prianca and a bottle of Michter’s Celebration for the road, gives Lara a brilliant business idea which she has been looking for since she had to close down her Michelin-starred restaurant after Axe’s 9/11 deals were made public.
I laughed out loud when Lara and Mo showed up at Axe Capital the day after the tournament, to provide the employees, starting with Wags, a medical cocktail of vitamins and anti-oxidants to help them get rid of their hangover!
And I laughed out even louder when I found out that hangover service was not Wags’ imagination but it is a competitive real-life service sector where you can stop by an office or have a registered nurse come to your home to have your hangover fix!
Well, do you have a hangover right now? You can book online here. And given that Lara and Mo are doing house calls for $1K a drip, this one seems to be a bargain 😀 Hilarious!
While everyone asks the question “where the f*** is Donnie?” I ask “what the f*** is that?” when I see Axe wearing a cap, a mask and sunglasses under a shower-looking thing that I know is not one! Massive thanks go to him for explaining to Wags as he leaves his three minutes in a cryotherapy chamber:
“180 seconds and it restores energy at a cellular level.”
Good for you, Mr Axelrod.
It seems the manufacturers market their product with some remarkable claims such as freezing your body helps you to lose weight, tighten skin, relieve any muscle pain, boost your immune system, and even improve you quality of sleep. But, hey, until we have serious research showing these claims are true, I am with Wags on this one:
“Never seen a 65 years old look so fresh!”
Now I knew that the rich put their names on buildings through huge donations to the organization that the building houses. What I did not know was that, firstly, someone can come along and have his name on an already named building by paying to the organization that owns the building as well as to the family whose name has been on the building so far! And that is exactly what Bobby Axelrod does in Billions Season 1 Episode 2 Naming Rights to have his name on Ellis Eads Hall (the real-life National Museum of American Indian in New York).
And, guess what, this happens in real life, too! To give a recent example, the former Avery Fisher Hall, the home of the New York Philharmonic, saw its name changed to David Geffen Hall after Geffen gave $100M to Lincoln Center for renovations and Lincoln Center wrote a $15M check to the Fisher family for naming rights to be transferred to Geffen. Even though the story is obviously not as dramatic and juicy as in Billions, it is still dramatic and juicy. You can read it here.
For your information, it turns out some naming rights have sunset provisions meaning that the building can be renamed, say, 50 years later, with the family holding current naming rights having the first right of refusal. But we all know what Bobby Axelrod would say about that.
“It’s Axelrod Hall. Or Go F*** Yourself Hall.”
Enough said! 🙂
Ultra Fancy NYC Rental Apartments
In Season 2 Episode 10 With or Without You, while Bryan believes he can turn Taylor because they donated to Urban Justice Center and were active in Occupy Wall Street while in college, Taylor is checking out a fancy rental apartment in New York. The real estate agent needs a quick decision because once the listing goes online, the apartment will go by lunch time. A 26K a month apartment in Manhattan does not even stay for a day on MLS. Right!
While I find Bryan quite naive about turning Taylor against Axe, I find him spot on about city apartments: I have never lived in a NYC apartment where heat pipes did not bang, either!
St. Venus Theater
Well, this is where you end up when you “fire walk” with Wags! Over dinner at Wolfgang’s Steakhouse, Wags finds the bankers undercutting Spartan-Ives by 10% over the next two years promising but they should let him “fire walk” them to St Venus Theater for his kind of evening.
I do not know if they shot the episode at Saint Venus Theater but it is a real place with its mission described as follows on the website:
“Our mission is to create something special, something positive and progressive in a world that is dominated by female exploitation and dissatisfaction. We seek to do the opposite. We celebrate the feminine in erotic themes. Our greatest desire is to give the Venus Effect its greatest tribute.
We are many things but we are not a strip club, a burlesque revival show, a swingers event, or a fetish party. We want to excite one’s heart, mind, soul and libido, not just the libido. We have a wide variety of erotic performances that are always a tribute to woman and female sexuality.
We also feature the most erotic and physically transformative lap dance you are likely to have ever known.”
And this is how a female author on Thrillist describes it:
“…a speakeasy-style gentlemen’s club that moves from place to place along with a roster of “normal” girls who look more like the hot chick you walked past in the laundromat and less like someone who has 13 pairs of clear heels. It’s the type of spot that can only be found if you know a guy who knows a guy… and if you are actually a guy.”
You can read about her experience at St Venus here and fire walk at your own risk, if you can 😀
Here comes the birthday boy! Like every other middle-aged mortal, Axe reflects on what he wants from life on his birthday in Season 2 Episode 9 Sic Transit Imperium and finally decides to turn down the special birthday gift Wags gives him: a $360K downpayment for a spot in a “luxury survival bunker” called The Arc so Axe can enjoy the end times in style.
Now, believe it or not, these luxury bunkers exist. It turns out this is how the billionaires get ready for the apocalypse and that the demand for these luxury “doomsday bunkers” is constantly growing.
Here is an excerpt from a CNN report on the billionaire bunkers:
“Many of the world’s elite, including hedge fund managers, sports stars and tech executives (Bill Gates is rumored to have bunkers at all his properties) have chosen to design their own secret shelters to house their families and staff.
Gary Lynch, general manager of Texas-based Rising S Company, says 2016 sales for their custom high-end underground bunkers grew 700% compared to 2015, while overall sales have grown 300% since the November US presidential election alone.
The company’s plate steel bunkers, which are designed to last for generations, can hold a minimum of one year’s worth of food per resident and withstand earthquakes.”
I still giggle as I recall Axelrods’ conversation about the Arc turning serious when Lara gets offended Axe does not want her family to stay with them in the bunker and that he offers to buy them a separate one! Well, isn’t it a relief to know some problems are universal? 😀
Bobby Axelrod returns the “Sic Transit Imperium” (“Thus passes the Empire”) coin securing a spot for him at The Ark because he does not want to play it safe. But it seems a lot of real-life billionaires do not agree with him. You can read a GREAT New Yorker article “Doomsday Prep for the Super Rich” here.
$48M Penthouse in New York City
As much as I have known for decades that sky is the limit in New York Real Estate I had never known how high the sky could be! Well, a little bit of research about Axe’s “bachelor pad” Axe lives in Billions Season 3 reveals that the top-of-the-line penthouse was on sale a few years ago.
Here is the description from the real estate listing:
“Masterful design and modern luxury are uniquely embodied in this 4 bedroom 4.5 bath Duplex Penthouse with a 4500 SF wraparound terrace atop Sky Lofts Condominium. This one-of-a-kind glass house, created by NY architect James Carpenter who designed 7 World Trade Center, is sheathed in high-performance, museum-quality insulated glass atop an historic Art Deco loft building in the heart of Tribeca. The sun and temperature-controlled glass envelope of its 7500 SF interior was tastefully designed with the top art collector in mind. Unobstructed 360 views from this penthouse are truly unparalleled, and include vistas of the Freedom Tower, Empire State Building and Hudson River.
Highlights include Lutron light and shade systems, heated bathroom floors, concrete first-level and hallway floors, teak wood bedroom flooring, troweled plaster walls and ceilings, artwork display lighting, hidden mechanicals, a climate-control system, high-tech security system, and spacious corner rooms that overlook the city. Entertain in grand style in the 42′ x 21′ living room graced by 22′ ceilings, a wood-burning fireplace (1 of 3 in the home) surrounded by a floor-to-ceiling plain-sawn cherry wood hearth, and a perfect Freedom Tower view.
The top-of-the-line chef’s kitchen is clad with premium finishes and fixtures including custom white lacquer cabinets, bluestone counters and professional-grade appliances.
Sliding glass doors in the dining area showcase views while opening up the home to even more light and air. Spill out to the awe-inspiring terrace which can be accessed from any room, where a fully-equipped outdoor stainless steel kitchen, sun deck, hot tub and private outdoor shower await.
Two dramatic stairways lead to the private bedroom suites, all boasting sleek en-suite baths, generous closets and wonderful views. The master bedroom is the ultimate retreat facing the Hudson River, complete with a spa-like onyx bath with a steam shower, Jacuzzi and sauna.”
It could be all yours for only $48M! 😀 😀 😀
And if you cannot afford it, you can still take an exclusive tour of Bobby’s “bachelor pad” here 🙂
When I read the title of Season 3 Episode 6 The Third Ortolan, honestly, I thought it was referring to some Star Trek or Star Wars character or plot that I had no idea about. Yes, sci-fi is my weakest link! That said, when I googled Ortolan, I was fascinated by the almost spiritual dining experience that titles the episode.
Well, what does a true friend do for his best friend who is considering to take the plea and go to prison for at least 7 years? Wags makes Axe meet the ortolan, a delicate songbird, as well as a delicacy in French cuisine, typically cooked and eaten whole.
The traditional way of eating the ortolan involves the diner covering his head with a large napkin which is, the legends says, to shield the shame of such a decadent and disgraceful act from God’s eyes, and, the French chefs say, to keep the aromas from escaping: One part pagan ritual, one part essay in gluttony, if you will. It is also quite interesting to find out that ortolan was French President Francois Mitterand’s last meal.
Axe and Wags have this experience, which feels more orgasmic than religious on screen, with Wylie Dufresne of all people!
Killing and selling the ortolan has been banned in France since the late 1990s. The ban does not only have to do with the bird being a rare species but also with the method used to kill the bird. Wylie Dufresne explains in the episode that they don’t blind the birds as they did in old times anymore but they still drown them in Armagnac, and guess what, that is exactly how Wags wants to go to his eternal resting place that he secured in Episode 4 Hell of a Ride. Besides, he is still a little peckish. Wags’ exchange with the chef about having seconds is all, well, Wags!
“Got any more? I’m still a little peckish.”
“One is bliss. Two is gluttony.”
“How about three?”
“Let’s find out.”
First Tracks Season Pass
We find out about this particular elite privilege while Chuck trades favors around the city to get one Mr. Brogan a gun license. And it is Donny Deutsch who asks for First Tracks Season Pass at Deer Valley in return for a ticket to the Central Synagogue’s Children’s Hannukah Service for Mr. Eisen who would then introduce Chuck to one Ambassador Suarez 😀
Chuck gets this one with a little help from Wendy: The two lunch at The Pool where Birchie is known to have his power lunches and it is Wendy who goes to talk to him for obvious reasons! Guess what? Birchie hurt his knee and his wife prefers the beach to the slopes anyway. So in return for a session with Wendy, Chuck has Birchie’s First Tracks at Deer Valley! So Donny gets his passes and provides the Hannukkah tickets for Mr. Eisen.
Well, my husband and I have been skiing for more than 20 years — we learnt how to ski thanks to NY State’s wonderful ski program when we first came to the US as graduate students — but neither he nor I never heard of first tracks before! So what is the deal with First Tracks? Well, it turns out the lucky few with a “First Tracks” pass can leave their freshly carved marks on the mountain before it is open to the public! And since it is Deer Valley they talk about in the show, here is the information from their website:
“First Tracks is a program that provides pre-arranged, private early lift access and guided skiing from 8 to 9 a.m. from the Wasatch Express chairlift for any size group. First Tracks is a groomed-run skiing tour and must be scheduled at least 10 days in advance, subject to availability. The cost is $1,800 for the first eight skiers and intermediate skiing ability level is a minimum requirement.”
COAT aka “Chance of Action Tonight?”
Mick Danzig introduces this text vocabulary to us at Bonnie’s Birthday.
When you think about it, it can come handy for anyone with a partner 😀 The thing is I did not know it was a real thing until the show creator and show runner Brian Koppelman told us so!
Filed under things I never knew existed before Billions!
— Fan Fun Damian Lewis (@FanFunDamian) March 25, 2019
I yell at my TV “What the fuck?” when another young woman gets into Axe’s apartment after Rebecca leaves to have the paperwork ready to give Axe his stake in Manifest. Well, it is no secret I do not like single Axe. So imagine my relief when I find out that Kelly is just the best stretcher in town 😀
Oh yeah personal stretchers exist in real life! Check out this website to learn about the concept, services and prices!
And we learn from Brian Koppelman’s tweet below that Kelly Stackhouse who plays Axe’s personal stretcher in Billions turns out to be a private yoga instructor who stretches billionaires from time to time. If you want to learn about Kelly’s work in private yoga instruction and bodywork, her website is here!
As Axe is doing a Mercedes AMG GT Coupe test drive with Rebecca sitting next to him, we find out that she is leaving for Houston shortly for the “Vomit Comet” she has booked for $165K.
Vomit Comet is the zero-gravity flight training astronauts have had on planes since 1957. The training simulates weightlessness by making roller-coaster-like maneuvers in the air and makes some passengers nauseous – so the nickname Vomit Comet. Since 2008, these trainings have been run by a private company called ZERO-G. And although the program is designed for astronaut training, many others such as scientists, engineers, students and celebrities have experienced the feeling of weightlessness thanks to ZERO-G.
Want to see how the experience looks like?
How about the cost? Well, it turns out $5,400 + 5% tax gets you a seat on a weightless flight with 15 parabolic maneuvers creating 20-30 seconds of microgravity each. The price includes ZERO-G merchandise, pre and post flight catering, professional photos and video of weightless experience and a certificate of weightless completion.
But if you want to have the entire aircraft to yourself like Rebecca then you have to book a private flight for $165K! And I hope they are not asking Rebecca to pay again because she had to cancel her zero-gravity adventure to solve a little business problem for Axe.
Men in drag on Wall Street? Yes it is a real thing!
Wags’ dream comes true when he finally gets an invitation from Kappa Beta Phi, a secret fraternity made up of high-rank financial executives like Michael Bloomberg, Kenneth Langone and Paul Tudor Jones.
Founded in 1929 prior to the Stock Market crash, Kappa Beta Phi is an elite Wall Street social club made up of high-ranking financial executives. The club’s officers have strange titles like Grand Swipe (the president), Grand Smudge, and Grand Loaf. We learn that Wags is the son of a former Kappa Beta Phi “Grand Loaf” who thought his son was a disappointment when Wags got into his first rehab! Wags has been carrying his father’s photo in drag since the president of the fraternity “The Grand Swipe”sent him the invitation.
Kappa Beta Phi’s Latin motto is “Dum vivamus edimus et biberimus” which translates into English as “while we live, we eat and drink.” And in line with their motto, they hold an annual black-tie dinner at the St. Regis Hotel to induct their new members called the “neophytes.” The new members are required to wear dresses, complete with costume wigs and high heels, and perform some variety show following the cocktail hour.
If you want to read about a real-life Kappa Beta Phi dinner, go here. And in case you get an invitation from the Grand Swipe, we just hope your debut goes better than Wags’ 😀
Ah the kind of things the rich do to avoid taxes!
Axe receives a shitty New Year’s gift in the form of Picasso’s Boy with Pipe (last sold for $104M in real life!) and 17 other paintings he bought at Art Basel the previous year. And while he is happy to pay over $100M for a single painting, he is not happy to pay Uncle Sam his share. So Axe does not want to accept the delivery and tasks Victor with solving his problem.
Enters Danny Margolis who introduces us all to a new concept: Freeport. Just another way for individuals and corporations to game the system!
Freeport is a storage area at a private airport where one can store their art works that are permanently “in transit” so the owner does not have to pay customs duties and sales tax. We learn Margolis owns a freeport in Newburgh, and he offers to store replicas while Axe enjoys the originals at home. You can read about the role of freeports in global art markets here.
Wendy wonders why Wags does not have his precious Patek on when he comes back from his vacation in Miami Beach! It turns out Wags went to a hotel with a 22 year old and woke up alone: Both the girl and his precious watch, which his dad had given to him, were gone. Wags seems to be in such a weak emotional state that the only solution Wendy could think of is not a session with her but a session with a professional cuddler! A WHAT?!?!
YES. There exist professionals who provide people a safe space to feel accepted, respected and worthy for exactly who they are! 😀 And it seems this is exactly what Wags needs! For your information: Anyone can book a therapeutic cuddling session at cuddlist.com!
Wendy and Rebecca experience Extreme Sandbox where they drive real-life construction equipment and literally move dirt and crush cars. I have to say this is the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen — sorry, Rebecca! – but if it is a “state changer” for Wendy then I am all for it!
A family owned and operated business, Extreme Sandbox has two locations, one in Hastings, Minnesota and the other Pottsboro, Texas. They offer individual packages, group packages as well as season passes.
The two things in Season 5 that I never knew existed earlier are both in the season premiere. The first one is Ayahuasca, a psychedelic brew that Wags calls “nature antidepressant” 🙂
Well, we see a “blessed” event taking place somewhere off the Alaska – Canada highway. Axe and Wags are sitting in a sweat hut at a Shamanic Retreat – experiencing “nature’s antidepressant.” Suddenly feeling the urge to get out and vomit turns out to be an essential part of the experience and is considered physical and spiritual cleansing. You can read a personal account of a real life Ayahuasca Retreat here.
As Axe and Wags “graduate” from their Ayahuasca Retreat and are on their bikes with 3,400 miles more to go, Axe confides in Wags that he sees the value in ayahuasca – especially the clarity and the perspective it provides one with but he did not like what he saw. He saw ugliness in there. Hmmm…
This reminds me of Roger Sterling in Mad Men Season 5 Episode 6 Far Away Places where Roger and his wife Jane try LSD which changes their outlook on life and makes them have an honest conversation about their marriage.
Can Bobby Axelrod make a drastic change in his life?
Maybe one day, but not today 🙂
Season 5 premiere finds Taylor under A LOT of pressure. Axe has forced them to be a part of Axe Capital again and Chuck now needs them to hear all the whispers at Axe Capital. While they tell Lauren, who gave them a free pass to All The Rage early in the episode that they are doing fine, they end up in the Rage Room by the end of the episode!
It turns out that a Rage Room (aka Anger Room) is also a kind of retreat, like Ayahuasca, where people pay to break household items and blow off steam. Seriously 🙂 As far as I understand, these places have fake living rooms, kitchens and studies where people wear protective glasses and relax by breaking stuff varying from TVs to computers to desks. It seems some companies allow people to bring in the stuff they want to break. You can read about a real-life rage room experience here.
And as Taylor smashes stuff with the baseball bat, the only thing that comes to my mind is Robert De Niro as Al Capone, in The Untouchables smashing the head of one of his men with a baseball bat. I wonder who Taylor has in mind as they hit left and right in the rage room!