ALISON AND ADAM NELSON'S Chelsea apartment is largely chocolate-colored: dark chocolate-stained walnut and oak furniture; a mocha-y ultrasuede couch; living room walls the color of one of Ms. Nelson's best-selling chocolate bars, Café Con Leche, which she offers in her stylish West Village store, Chocolate Bar; and a bedroom whose walls remind her of a red-wine-infused truffle called Chocolate Lush she will be selling rafts of this weekend for Valentine's Day. These walls, painted a dark, deep, blood red, Ms. Nelson said, "are the color of the ganache at the moment you add the red wine.
"In the hall is a David LaChapelle portrait of the model Naomi Campbell digitally miniaturized and set astride a very, very large chocolate bunny. (Mr. Nelson, who is also an actor, owns a public relations company called WORKHOUSE (www.workhousepr.com); Mr. LaChapelle is a former client.) Lulu, the Nelsons' 1½-year-old daughter, sometimes refers to Ms. Campbell as "Momma."
"What does it mean to live a chocolate lifestyle?" Ms. Nelson asked rhetorically the other day, in explanation of a life philosophy and business plan, and then answered: "It means having lots of fun, not taking yourself too seriously and using the best ingredients. Oh, and eating more chocolate."
Lulu laughed uproariously, and Spot, a 7-year-old Lab mix (black, not chocolate) eviscerated a stuffed duck (his, not Lulu's) onto the living-room floor. Mr. Nelson deftly removed its remains with a pink Hello Kitty vacuum cleaner.
Mr. Nelson, 35, and Ms. Nelson, 31, have been living in this one-bedroom in the London Terrace apartments since July 2001, when a friend's dot-com tanked and the friend couldn't pay the rent. When they signed their sublease, the wait for primary leases was about five years. (The complex, on 23rd and 24th Streets between 9th and 10th Avenues, is so big - when built, it had 1,665 apartments - it feels like its own neighborhood.) When the sublease ran out, after 9/11, Mr. Nelson said, the waiting list had vanished.
Chocolate Bar's brown and orange palette - retro-reconfigured, as Mr. Nelson likes to say - is distinctly of its moment. The Nelsons' apartment, with its vintage television set, collection of double-lens reflex cameras and 40's-style telephone, is more like a sepia print of a much earlier moment sometime in the last century. "I have this thing that when someone takes a picture of me," Ms. Nelson said, "I don't want anyone to know what year it is. I have this notion of being timeless."
They've been married since November 2001. A few weeks after the wedding, Ms. Nelson bonded with Mr. Nelson's college roommate's boyfriend over dinner - and a chocolate layer cake baked by the boyfriend that was devoured by Ms. Nelson.
Intuitively gauging the appetites of a city starving for sin and sugar, the two sketched the outlines of Chocolate Bar, which they saw as a neighborhood hangout and candy store for grown-ups. (South Beach dieters, Ms. Nelson said with some amusement, now eat her dark chocolate bar with peanut butter spread upon it.) The store opened the following May. Monica Lewinsky was their first customer, an occurrence Ms. Nelson took to be a very good omen.
Ms. Nelson is a chocolate lobbyist of the most modern sort, and Mr. Nelson is her most ardent supporter. Thinner than she has any right to be, given a daily chocolate consumption that includes two cups of Chocolate Bar's smoky-tasting hot chocolate, a spiced brownie and at least two truffles, the lovely, lanky and tattooed Ms. Nelson, have aimed to make chocolate seem urgently cool, the opposite of frou-frou. Indeed, with its ironic, 70's-era styling and deadpan candy names, Chocolate Bar is an anti-bonbon.
"When the store first opened," Mr. Nelson said, "people would come in and complain about the price of its $1.35 truffles. Now, they're asking about the cacao content." Ms. Nelson talked about chocolate varietals, and about savory applications like shaving a dark bar onto French bread with olive oil and sea salt.
Nelson's book, "Chocolate Bar: Recipes and Entertaining Ideas for Living the Sweet Life" (Running Press; $24.95), makes a case for a chocolate lifestyle, with recipes for spiced cocoa meatballs, a chocolate malted and a chocolate body scrub. For photographs, it uses not the usual chocolate vernacular -pastry bags or chunks of crumbled bittersweet chocolate - but portraits by Brian Kennedy of urban hipsters brandishing chocolate martinis or huge bars of chocolate, models heavily accessorized with tattoos, gym-pumped arms and ironic upraised eyebrows.
At home a few weeks ago, Ms. and Mr. Nelson seemed the calmest of entrepreneurs, despite a marriage running on two companies. They met in the summer of 1998, when Mr. Nelson was doing a one-man show about Lenny Bruce called "How to Talk Dirty & Influence People: The Sick Humor of Lenny Bruce." Ms. Nelson stage-managed the production and brought Mr. Nelson lunch each day from her other job, waitressing at Once Upon a Tart on Sullivan Street in SoHo.
"She walked in the first day, nearly bald, wearing a tiny rock 'n' roll T-shirt and tattoos and this smile," Mr. Nelson said. "I had to hire her."
Ms. Nelson said she took one look at Mr. Nelson and thought, "Uh oh."
She had dreamed of opening a bakery; he had pretty much run through his dream of acting.
"That was for my disposable 20's," he said. "I just wanted to make a living."
He'd been house-, plant- and pet- sitting for five years, he said, sleeping in theaters or on the couches of friends. His longest run was six months in an apartment on Waverly Place, the home of a celebrity with a sudden hit television show and lots of plants. Mr. Nelson's public relations company's name is taken from a now defunct local theater company, which both Mr. Nelson and that unnamed celebrity belonged to.
"It's kind of an homage," Mr. and Ms. Nelson said at exactly the same time, and in exactly the same spooky, Anne Baxter, "All About Eve" voice. "Er, sorry," they both said at once.
"That happens all the time," Ms. Nelson said.
At first, Mr. and Ms. Nelson worked together at Workhouse. Clients called Ms. Nelson "the Clotter," Mr. Nelson said, "for her ability to stop the bleeding."
Ms. Nelson said, "I just fed them."
They found an empty storefront on Eighth Avenue between Jane and Horatio Streets and renovated it themselves in four months. It had been a mom-and-pop mailbox store, she said, and one night the mom and pop vanished. "The mail kept coming for a while," she said. "As we were making the store, the landlord would be outside surrounded by a crowd of people, his arms full of mail, yelling out names."
Ms. Nelson is waving the chocolate banner alone, with a little help this weekend. From 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday and Monday (the store opens at 10 a.m.), Ms. Nelson will be in Chocolate Bar, flanked by six or seven recruits, ringing up her Booty Boxes (tag line: Give some, Get some) and Love Boxes.
Last year during the same period, the store made as much money in two days as it did during the entire month of September. On Monday, Valentine's Day, Ms. Nelson will send Mr. Nelson flowers, and a box of her truffles.
"He won't be seeing me," she said, "till late Monday night."
Adam and Alison Nelson's apartment in London Terrace in Chelsea features much chocolate-colored furniture - Ms. Nelson owns New York's award-winning Chocolate Bar, a stylish West Village store. In this multimedia presentation she talks about her apartment in New York City.
View the slideshow here:
THE HOUSE THAT WORK BUILT.