I couldn't resist him, sitting there alluringly in the sultry darkness of the W Los Angeles-Westwood. He was small, dark and handsome, and I just had to put my fingers all over him. But then he froze and refused to issue a single word.
The nerve. The W management had set out this gorgeous, black antique typewriter in the lobby, along with a tray of paper and a sign encouraging guests to compose a love letter, yet they had neglected to put in a ribbon.
"What a tease!" said a handsome bystander, watching my frustration while he swiftly e-mailed on his BlackBerry.
The W is a lot like that typewriter: an intriguing stunner full of come-ons and promises. It just proves that even if a luxury hotel spends $35 million to upgrade an interior that was just 7 years young, it still needs substance to earn the title "luxury."
The annoyances? Waits of as long as 45 minutes at the valet line; slow and indifferent restaurant service; a pool too small for real swimming; highly salted meals; a remodel that puts style over function; and air pollution, inside and out.
The success? Wonderfully contemporary and inviting looks. Celebrity interior designer Thom Filicia, of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" fame, gave the all-suite W the same kind of surface makeover that's great for making positive first impressions.
The newly sophisticated outdoor lounge, the Backyard, is full of wide sofas and dark wicker. The space flows seamlessly toward the new luxurious poolside cabanas, each of which has a flat-screen TV.
Distinctive color schemes and plush fabrics make the guest room suites feel residential and -- dare I say? -- hip.
Though the hotel bar, Randy Gerber's 3-year-old Whiskey Blue, makes the W a hot nightspot, Filicia's improvements allow scrutiny in the bright light of day.
I attended a July preview to hear Filicia explain his "Babe Paley meets Neutra" theme, an approach that mixes the modernity of the 1969 building with a country-club cabana. Groups of journalists oohed and aahed over the swanky, signature touches he has given the 258 suites: low-slung, simple lines executed in neutrals -- straw, charcoal, almond, chocolate, grass and sand; a "lightbox" illuminated ledge that abuts modular couches; light filtering into the bathroom through frosted glass that replaced a hunk of wall.
In mid-October, I checked in to check out the hotel's new look and feel. I reserved a $339 "Spectacular Suite," asked for a free upgrade (which I got, not because they knew who I was but because I asked) and got a room that overlooked the pool and Westwood backyards.
I felt as though I could do laps in the living room, so large was my 550-square-foot, one-bedroom suite, complete with a separate living room and glass-topped table big enough to seat 50 super (thin) models.
I wheezed from the strong carpet glue fumes, which dissipated a bit after I left the lone operating window ajar overnight. The bed (billed as a queen, but it looked and felt more like a double) was outfitted with the now de rigueur down duvet and featherbed. My room didn't have the internally illuminated closet rod, the peekaboo bathroom window or the glowing living-room ledge that were touted during the preview.
It's difficult to generalize about the overall success of Filicia's guest-room redesign because the building, which began life as a UCLA dormitory and was once the Westwood Marquis, is configured with a mind-bending 80 different room layouts.
And much of the renovation is dedicated to technological upgrades that are harder to notice than new upholstery.
If your college dorm room had looked like this, you'd still be there. A double closet, built-in dressers and shelves offered ample storage space, even for serious clothes horses. (If you forget your mascara and lip gloss, a Diane von Furstenberg "survival kit" is for sale in the mini-bar for $26.)
I can't fathom why a hotel so dedicated to the fashionable would cheat on bathroom shelf space. A bowl sink's widely flaring sides left little room for hands beneath the spigot and had counter space for little more than a toothbrush.
I moved the $9 Voss water, four Bliss mini-toiletries, soap dish, two tumblers and three washcloths to a bathroom bench to make room for my makeup. Still, there was no sink space to lay down the blow dryer, a pitiful miniature, and the light on my makeup mirror was dead. Oh, the tortures.
Filicia said he's no fan of bathtubs ("They're very expensive and not used in hotels very often"), yet my room had a perfectly fresh, if ordinary, white tub. Who doesn't love a good soak?
I slept somewhat peacefully in the comfortable bed, though Filicia sacrificed the box spring to keep the design lines grounded. My eyes focused upward on the heavy, yard-wide mirror above the headboard, a flourish that seemed unwise here in earthquake country.
Business travelers frequent the W, I'm told, yet I was glad I didn't have to spend long hours at my room's ergonomically awkward and poorly illuminated desk. The stylish pair of plastic, molded Eames chairs flanking the glass table aren't comfortable for extended sitting.
Yet the W knows the value of cool. It's willing to risk inefficiencies for the rewards of the creative atmosphere its customers demand.
Or maybe the W realizes that few people sit at a desk; they slouch on the sofa with a BlackBerry or laptop, the devices giving the room all the light it needs. The hotel knows to give tech heads a bank of easy-access electrical outlets and a high-speed Internet connection.
Still, until the W design team installs the swing-arm lamps intended to illuminate the couch, the comfiest seating in the room will remain the darkest. I read by the light of a lamp five feet away and by my huge, high-definition plasma TV; a second flat-screen helps light the bedroom.
Officially, the hotel finished its remodel Oct. 15, but on Nov. 1, chef Monique King (co-owner of Firefly Bistro in South Pasadena) introduced new menus of "modern American cuisine with global influences," W says, in the main dining room, NineThirty, and in the Backyard. My food would have tasted a lot better in the Backyard without the acrid smoke wafting from oil lanterns planted within the adjacent waterfall. Smoking is allowed, and if you forgot your brand, the menu sells cigarettes for $8 a pack.
Perhaps dizzy from a lack of oxygen, I incorrectly recalled the time of my Bliss Spa appointment. Unaware I was 30 minutes late, I asked the check-in clerk to confirm my appointment time.
She didn't tell me I was late, so I futzed around in the steam shower and sauna (both good and hot).
Eventually, the therapist found me and added some compensatory minutes. The manager apologized with samples of Bliss products. The spa, the only Bliss Spa in Southern California, still ranks as a favorite because of its nicely priced services (a 75-minute "Blissage" is $150) and consistently well-trained staff.
I'll come back to the spa but to the hotel only if I have absolutely no need to work. Mr. Typewriter and his tempestuous brother, Mr. Not-So-Suite, broke my heart.
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