By Mike Dunphy
Should any further proof be needed of the world’s love affair with L.A., simply look at the record breaking 47.3 million visitors that arrived in 2016 to soak up the Southern California sun, surf the waves, sample the master chefs, don the bling, and literally raise the roof at sky-high night clubs. From Venice beach to Malibu, Hollywood, and the revitalized Downtown, there are a slew of new activities and attractions, galleries, exhibition spaces, performance venues, fashion boutiques, food and wine festivals, and more. Ready to cosset their adventure-weary limbs at the end of the day are a number of freshly minted hotels rewriting the definition of hospitality: in service, design, and good old fashioned razzle dazzle.
NOBU RYOKAN MALIBU
Ever since Chef Nobu Matsuhisa opened his Beverly Hills restaurant in 1987, his last name has become associated with elegance, precision, and quality at the sublime. Moving into the hotel business with Nobu Hotel Las Vegas in 2013, his success only grew, opening the Nobu Ryokan Malibu in April 2017 with Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, actor Robert De Niro, and film producer Meir Teper.
Together, the team transformed a 1950s-era motel overlooking Carbon Beach into a traditional Japanese-style inn, or ryokan, with 16 individually designed, minimalist style suites and bungalows featuring tatami mats, limestone walls, teak soaking tubs, shoji screens, indoor/outdoor fireplaces, and room service from the adjacent Nobu Malibu. In addition to the beach right outside the door, the hotel includes a 37-foot lap pool, fitness center, and relaxation deck ideal for sunsets over the Pacific.
While tourists play on Hollywood Boulevard, locals slip into the restaurants, salons, fashion boutiques, art galleries, piano bars, of the “Cahuenga Corridor,” now home to the futuristic Dream Hollywood. Designed by the Rockwell Group, the hotel fuses Mad Men mid-century modern with Apple contours, particularly in the huge tablet-like windows that wrap the building.
The highlight is the 11,000-square-foot rooftop pool deck, which transforms into a restaurant, nightclub, and dance floor by night. Among the four restaurants is the first West Coast edition of the Las Vegas legend, Tao. Work off the calories at the luxe gym, designed by Gunnar Peterson, who’s trained everyone from Sylvester Stallone to Jennifer Lopez to Pete Sampras.
The roaring ‘20s and Hollywood’s first golden age provide the inspiration for the flagship of InterContinental’s Indigo brand, opened in April 2017 as part of the new $1-billion luxury condo-and-hotel complex along the Harbor Freeway. Dozens of L.A. “easter eggs” spice up the common areas and 350 rooms and suites, including klieg lights, neon signage, vintage photography, and spa-style bathrooms inspired by Art Deco jewelry.
Case in point are the circular entrance and tube booths at the hotel’s lobby restaurant, Metropole, which points to the miles of underground tunnels below downtown once used to transport spirits to speakeasies. Cocktails like the “FDR Martini” and “Pineapple Mule” do the same. Tributes to Anna May Wong, the first Chinese-American movie star, add a further taste of the Orient.
FREELAND HOTEL & HOSTEL
The fondest memories of your backpacking days, have been channeled into this 226-room hotel and hostel inside the former Commercial Exchange Building from the 1920s. However, instead of barebones chambers of dubious sanitization there are posh living spaces outfitted with woven carpets, textile art, and vintage-style furnishings throughout, particularly in the spacious, cozy lobby. Here, the hipness is turned up to 11 with salon-style cocktail service, a to-go coffee bar by Café Integral, and a concept store by Venice’s Flowerboy Project. The bunk beds remain in many rooms, but these come with solid wood frames, luxury bedding, privacy screens, ensuite bathrooms, and secure lockers. The rest consists of full-blown private studios and suites that feature the same earthy, organic décor and textures. Certainly, it may be the only “hostel” in the world with a rooftop pool and cocktail bar helmed by a James Beard award finalist.
Few L.A. hotels can boast the experience of the Hotel Figueroa, which has welcomed guests to Downtown Los Angeles since 1926. Following a two-year head-to-toe renovation, the hotel reopened in September 2017 and remixed its original Spanish Colonial heritage with contemporary design. That means wet-plaster walls, painted accent tiles, wide plank hardwood floors, and leather trim, as well as James Beard Award nominee Casey Lane’s Basque-rooted restaurant freshened by vegetables from the Santa Monica Farmers Market.
The expansion has also added 57 new suites, a second restaurant, a fourth bar, and a garden surrounding the pool on the roof. But it’s at Alta on the mezzanine level that cocktail craft reaches a zenith in the hands of Forbes dubbed “tastemaker” Dushan Zaric, who rose to fame with Employees Only and Macao Trading Co in NYC.
The southern California light counts as one of the major amenities at this glassy 15-floor boutique hotel opened in July 2017 at the foot of the Hollywood Hills. Filtering through floor-to-ceiling windows and walls throughout, the sunny glow illuminates the laidback design. It glows particularly bright in the lobby, thanks to the 28-foot ceilings and wide open layout, not to mention the glass cube “Library” and farmer’s market café, Jane Q.
Head upstairs to the 216 rooms and suites and the views of Beachwood Canyon, the Los Angeles skyline and Hollywood sign add yet more. But it’s around the fifth-floor pool deck that guests can cozy up closest to the sunshine on daybeds or in cabanas. Come evening, the deck’s outdoor lounge opens up for special screenings, chef demos, live music, and maximum chillaxation.
LA PEER HOTEL
Firmly ensconced in the West Hollywood Design District; home to more than 250 visionaries in art, fashion, dining, beauty and more; La Peer Hotel draws significant inspiration from the neighborhood. A lithe, light Deco-ish exterior transforms into a sensory extravaganza inside, thanks to designer Gulla Jonsdottir, who outfitted the spaces with a smorgasbord of shapes, textures, and prints, including the aluminum-sculpted front desk and “leather cocoon wall.”
The same goes for the 105 guest rooms and suites, many of which include deep soaking tubs and Juliet balconies, but the sweetest parts of life at La Peer can be found around the rooftop pool, shaded by leafy olive trees, and at the hotel’s restaurant, Viale dei Romani, a Italian and Mediterranean concept created by Chef Casey Lane that specializes in wood-fired seafood. La Peer makes exploring the wider district all the easier with free, pocket-size neighborhood guide for each guests that lists the top spots for arts, shopping, and nightlife.
The Library at Everly Hotel
La Peer Hotel
Broken Shaker at Freehand Los Angeles
Credit: Frank Lee