Frank Lloyd Wright said: ‘Tip the world over on its side and everything loose will land in Los Angeles’. That hodgepodge of characters and culture has created an urban area unlike any other – a major metropolis that came of age in the 20th century, with no centre and no real transit system. While the Golden State’s sprawling city certainly has its faults, its idiosyncrasies have their upside. Because of LA’s grab-bag nature, it’s constantly being reimagined. That in turn makes it an ideal destination for anyone who’d like to do a little reimagining of their own.
Perhaps the best example of LA’s zest for reinvention lies in its hotels. Three iconic addresses – Hotel Figueroa, Sunset Tower Hotel and Chateau Marmont – have not only weathered the decades, they’ve had a profound impact on both the city and those who have checked into their hallowed halls. But they’re not done yet: major renovations, creative collaborations, new restaurants, new bars and glorious new ways to be led astray are keeping them current for a new generation.
CHALLENGE THE STATUS QUO AT HOTEL FIGUEROA
Wander around Hotel Figueroa and your eyes are likely to bounce from lobby skylight to soaring chandelier to jewel-tone velvet sofa to coffin-shaped swimming pool (yes, even in sunny LA it’s possible to have a dark sense of humour). But amid the luxe touches, keep an eye out for subtle symbolism with a message that packs a punch: above doorways, carved into fireplace mantlepieces and likely on your keycard, you’ll find inverted triangles – a motif that harks back to when travel itself was considered an act of rebellion, for women at least.
The triangle, a sign of female strength and power, was part of the original hotel, which opened in 1926. Back then, the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) funded the building – a 13-storey hostel – to host female professionals at a time when travel for solo women was not only scandalous, but also dangerous. In addition to hosting boundary-pushing businesswomen of the 1920s, the Fig (as locals call it) also gave rise to the country’s first female hotel general manager: Maude Bouldin, a motorcycle-riding, airplane-flying hospitality pioneer.
When the Fig reopened in 2018, after a four-year, $55-million-plus renovation, that rebellious spirit was reborn. In addition to bringing the interiors back to their Spanish-colonial roots, Brad Hall, the hotel’s current owner, hired a social anthropologist to uncover the hotel’s feminist past, including that triangle iconography (now the Fig’s logo) as well as 1920s photography, which you can see displayed throughout the property. Additionally, Hall established a female-focused art programme in the hotel, celebrating the works of local women painters, sculptors and photographers.
Should you like to plan a rebellion of your own, even if it’s just a revolt against the mundane, the hotel’s new showstopper is the Casablanca Suite – a sanctuary with a private dining room covered in mirrors that’s accessed through a secret entrance in a bookcase. The private dining room then leads to Bar Alta – an intimate 26-seat reservations-only cocktail bar that’s also part of the renovation. But Alta isn’t your only option for a drink. The new Fig has four additional bars, so pick your poison and your backdrop.
OPEN YOURSELF UP TO REINVENTION AT THE SUNSET TOWER HOTEL
Equally storied and also fresh off a multi-million-dollar renovation is the Sunset Tower. Originally a luxury apartment building when it opened in 1929, the Tower would go on to count Frank Sinatra, gangster Bugsy Siegel, Marilyn Monroe, Michael Caine, Roger Moore and Quincy Jones among its tenants (Siegel was reportedly asked to leave). When John Wayne lived there, a rumour circulated that he kept a cow on his penthouse terrace so that he always had fresh milk (The LA Times later did a little digging and debunked that tale, sadly). One legend that was never quashed, however: Howard Hughes kept several apartments here – one for himself and others for his various lady friends.
An ad that ran in the February 1938 issue of the Screen Actors Guild magazine called Sunset Tower, ‘faultless in appointment… the ultimate in privacy… Hollywood’s most distinguished address.’ That description still rings true today, and while it may appear that the Tower hasn’t skipped a beat, anyone who has kept an eye on the art-deco landmark over the years knows better. By name, the building has been the Sunset Tower, the St James Club & Hotel, the Argyle and the Sunset Tower once again. By reputation, it has been both a hub for the Hollywood elite and a ho-hum lodge (the property fell into disrepair in the 1970s and 80s). When Jeff Klein, the current owner, took over in 2004, he was instrumental in replenishing the glamour, and thanks to a facelift in 2018, ‘the lady’, as Klein calls her, is more alluring than ever.
As part of the refurb, the hotel has a new Joanna Vargas spa, so you can visit the celebrity facialist to Julianne Moore and Rachel Weisz, before hitting the red carpet (whether real or imagined). There’s also a new 650sq m gym in the space that used to be John Wayne’s apartment (nope, still no cow), and one dining area, the Terrace, has been expanded and dressed up in pink leather booths and pastel floral-print couches. Deluxe rooms and suites now have bathrooms covered in sketches by fashion illustrator Donald Robertson, AKA ‘the Andy Warhol of Instagram’. Tower Bar, the legendary restaurant, wasn’t part of the makeover, but certainly the space has changed since Bugsy Siegel called it his home/crime den. There, the martinis are as intoxicating as ever and the ‘no photographs, no phone calls’ reminder on the menus is simultaneously old school and, in an always-on era, forward thinking.
LEAVE YOUR TROUBLES BEHIND (AND LOOK FOR NEW ONES) AT THE CHATEAU
In 1939, Harry Cohn, the founder of Columbia Pictures said: ‘if you must get in trouble, do it at the Chateau Marmont.’ In the decades since, the hotel, now 90 years young, has served as the setting for many a high-profile shenanigan. There, Jean Harlow and Clark Gable engaged in an illicit affair, James Dean jumped through a bungalow window to audition for Rebel Without a Cause, Jim Morrison said he used up ‘the eighth of nine lives’ attempting to swing from the rooftop, Led Zeppelin drove their motorcycles through the lobby, and both Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan have been banned (which says a lot, considering the hotel’s tolerance for tomfoolery).
So when word got out that the Chateau was adding a new restaurant to the property, it came in the most Chateau-esque way – a rumour. LA food writers scrambled to decode what was in store for the new eatery and found only a splash-page website without even a phone number. Eventually, all the details came to light when Chateau Hanare officially opened as an upscale Japanese restaurant set in one of the cottages on the property. But Hanare, created by restaurateur Reika Alexander and featuring a kaiseki-style menu, is still shrouded in mystery. Being hailed as Hollywood’s ‘secret’ restaurant, a table here is now one of the hottest reservations in town.
Not so much of a secret, was the Chateau teaming up with Gucci for an 18-piece capsule offering for the label’s 2019 cruise collection. Alessandro Michele, Gucci’s creative director and a regular hotel honoree, reached out to the hotel with a request to incorporate the property’s legendary logo and mascot, Pan – Greek god of the wild – into his designs. Whether or not you plan to sport the resulting trench coats, bomber jackets, blazers and tees, you have to respect a property that can inspire a fashion giant to make an ‘it’ accessory of a hotel laundry bag (yours for a cool $790, by the way). The newfound allure in wearing Pan may even unseat a certain mouse as the unofficial mascot of La La Land. A rebel til the end.
Want to be led astray? We’ve got travel temptation from secret islands to secluded shores…