On the third level, Grace listened at length to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, then took a turn making her own music on electronic keyboards and drum kits.
(Since our visit, the museum has unveiled "Strange Kosmic Experience," an exploration of the Doors, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix that will stay up through Feb. 13.)
Lucky Strike Lanes, on the second level of L.A. Live, seems to devote more of its space to eating and drinking than it does to actual bowling. Also, Lucky Strike bans children after 7 p.m. And despite its location in the middle of a sports and entertainment district, it forbids "athletic wear or sports jerseys" after 7. Clearly, there are complicated social factors at play here.
On the Saturday afternoon we dropped in, I counted at least seven children on the 18 lanes. And the rest of the place was mostly empty. We paid $4.95 per pair of shoes and $6.95 per person per game. (Yes, that's high, even for Los Angeles, even if you don't fill in the "gratuities" line on the shoe-rental-and-bowling bill.) But it was free to arrange a gutter guard to keep Grace's tosses in play—a crucial element, because this was her first trip to a bowling alley. And it was nice to settle onto on a comfortable couch instead of the usual bowling-alley molded seating unit. While a waitress brought tasty, unhealthy food (Exhibit A: golden brown nuggets of fried macaroni and cheese), we had a blast.
"I've never had a nice Pino Grigio in a bowling alley before," Mary Frances said.
And I'd never seen a grown man bowl an entire frame while holding a cell phone to his left ear. But now I know it can be done. And I suspect that if he'd tried that stunt after 7 p.m., the Lucky Strike dress-code enforcement officers would have tossed him to curb for unauthorized headgear.
ESPN Zone aims to be the ultimate sports bar and grill, with more than 150 TVs and lots of team T-shirts and hats that you'd better not wear to the bowling alley across the way. But ESPN wants to be family-friendly too. Hence its Sports Arena arcade upstairs. Among the bright lights, bells, buzzers and weaponry of its 45 games, there are a few contests a 5-year-old can handle. So we tiptoed into the din, bought the required card and swiped it to get a few games going. Of course, the ESPN people charge fairly stiff prices, and they've made it a hassle to collect the unspent credit on your card. But really, who goes looking for conscientious capitalism in an arcade? We spent about $10, got about 20 minutes' amusement, and introduced Grace to her second new major sport of the day: air hockey. It was an OK deal.
We ate well, too, including two good breakfasts at L.A. Market, off the Marriott lobby; and a hearty lunch at the Farm of Beverly Hills, which is in the L.A. Live complex.
But the best meal, by a country mile, came at Wolfgang Puck‘s WP24, a new Asian eatery and lounge on the 24th floor of the Marriott/Ritz-Carlton tower.
Entering, you first pass the lounge, which is full of curving enclosures made of sticks and ropes. (Vegas meets Asia meets Noah's Ark.) Then you reach the more subdued dining room. As night falls and the lights from neighboring buildings begin to glitter outside the floor-to-ceiling windows, you realize that the room's rectangular ceiling lights have been conceived to look like inverted little skyscrapers. You're suspended, 24 floors up, with a full-sized skyline beneath you and a miniature above. Meanwhile, swarms of servers are assiduously delivering and removing plates of snapper, pork dumplings, fried rice with lobster and baby peas with mushrooms.
We had arrived early on just the restaurant's sixth night of business, which may help explain why the staff had lost the reservation we'd made seven hours before. But once we were seated, the meal was tremendous, the servers adept, well-informed and kid-friendly too. The experience cost plenty—most main dishes are $34-$44— but for us, the value was there.
I can't say that about our night at the Ritz-Carlton. Though rates are said to begin as low as $369, the best we could do on a Saturday night was $459. Then, once we had arrived and been assessed $50 for overnight parking (the most I‘ve ever paid at a Southern California hotel), we learned that hotel's spa wasn't open yet. Also, though WP24 has been billed in some places as a three-meal restaurant, it was serving only dinners, and hotel staffers weren't sure when that would change.
From its tiny but distinguished lobby to our 24th-floor room (a generous 450 square feet), the Ritz's look is more Asian, less Vegas, with lots of flowing-water imagery, abstract photography on the walls, art glass along the hallways. As we entered, the well-drilled doormen welcomed us in unison. Upstairs, we found the beds had handy adjustable reading lamps and a sliding bathroom door, just like our Marriott room. The flat-screen TV: 48 inches. In the bathroom, one sink –and a 5-inch strip of leftover blue painter's tape still clinging to the wall over the toilet.
We didn't snack or hang out in the Ritz-Carlton Club Lounge on the 23rd floor (that would have added $70 per day more to our tab), but we made a couple of visits to the warm waters of the 26th-floor pool (where the poolside shade pods looked just like the ones at the Marriott pool down below). Alas, the Ritz pool-area snack bar was closed at 5 p.m. on a Friday and at 11 a.m. on a Saturday.
Also, the clock on our desk was broken and went unreplaced despite a call to the front desk. Not so well played, Ritz-Carlton.
I'm not saying you'll suffer at the Ritz. It's comfortable. The staffers are eager to please. The amenity gremlins have done some cool things—especially the TV screen inset behind the mirror in the bathroom. (Turn it on and you won't miss a moment, and you can watch the news while you're shaving.) And the Ritz team aced the toothbrush test too. A free brush and toothpaste appeared at our door within 10 minutes.
But I wouldn't make an overnight visit to this Ritz-Carlton until the staff can offer assurances that all offerings are up and running. And even after that, whether you're a lone grown-up or a traveling family, I don't think the Ritz-Carlton people have given us enough reason to pay Ritz-Carlton prices. After all, it's so much cheaper to sleep downstairs with their corporate cousins, and it's just about as much fun.