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Playing Tourist in Tinseltown

Amy Wallace, a former Times staff writer, is a senior writer at Los Angeles magazine

The idea was simple. My life was jampacked with work and bill-paying and child-rearing and chores. Wasn’t there a way to get away for the weekend without adding 17 more logistical puzzles to an already too-long list?

The answer, it turned out, was yes. I checked in to a hotel virtually around the corner.

I live in the heart of Hollywood, not far from the ratty apartment building the Black Dahlia once called home and just a few blocks from the sedate, two-story residence where Orson Welles drew his last breath. For almost a decade I had, on the way to work, driven past the neighborhood’s more obvious landmarks, like Frederick’s of Hollywood’s Lingerie Museum. But I had never gone inside. Not until one October weekend, which started out as a trip into Hollywood history and evolved into a melding of the old Hollywood and the new.

My boyfriend, Matt, and I left work on a Friday night and drove 25 minutes from downtown L.A. to the Grafton, a 108-room hotel that opened in June on the Sunset Strip.

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The place promised to evoke the grandeur of historic Tinseltown; the ambience turned out to be more on-a-budget hip, like the retro-offbeat Standard hotel down the street, but that was OK. (Our suite was $230 a night plus tax and parking, but standard double rooms start around $165.)

The pool and nearby cabana, complete with a beaded door and dozens of tiny candles, were tastefully designed. And the pure camp of some of the guest suites was fun to contemplate: Jayne’s Suite mimics Jayne Mansfield’s Pink Palace on Sunset Boulevard, and the Rat Pack Suite lures bachelors with a wet bar and ‘50s-era decor.

We had reserved the Babylon Suite because, well, once I heard the hotel had such a thing, it was difficult to resist. For all the frisky images its name evoked (trapezes?), the room was actually pretty tame in its decor, which featured framed movie stills of Kim Novak and Brigitte Bardot. Its defining feature was the bed, which was round. (I’ll say this about sleeping on a circle: You never really know where you are. That’s an asset when your goal is to take a break from thinking about where you are.)

We threw our stuff down, bounced a few times on the bed, felt ridiculous and then left for dinner. (The Grafton’s restaurant and bar are scheduled to open in April.)

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On the way, we realized what a great location we had chosen. The Mondrian hotel was next door, where the relentlessly trendy Skybar serves up an entertaining late-night street scene of hipsters trying to gain entry. The Comedy Store, where two unknowns named Robin Williams and Richard Pryor once performed, was across the street. The Argyle Hotel, an Art Deco palace featured in movies such as “The Player,” was just down Sunset.

Satisfied that we could, in fact, party in our own backyard, we arrived at the weekend’s first landmark: Musso & Frank Grill, a couple of miles east at 6667 Hollywood Blvd. We had been there before, but this throwback to the golden age of Hollywood is the kind of place worth revisiting.

I had lamb chops and creamed spinach, the best I’ve had in town. Matt liked his swordfish and fully dressed baked potato. The food, as well as great martinis, was served by efficient waiters who give the impression, in their old-fashioned jackets, of having worked at the restaurant since it opened in 1919.

The next day, Saturday, we lunched at the Wolfgang Puck Cafe (a so-so mushroom-pasta dish for Matt, a nice salad for me), on Sunset at Crescent Heights Boulevard. The restaurant is moderately priced and healthful enough to leave room for the next macho meal.

Indeed, after a circular nap, it was time to get ready for dinner at a place I’ve meant to eat at for years: Dan Tana’s, near the hotel at 9071 Santa Monica Blvd. This tiny old-school Italian restaurant, with its red leather booths and low, low lighting, offered more belt-busting fare. I had something with eggplant called Veal Scallopini Karl Malden, which I chose with the same can’t-pass-that-up reasoning that made me book the Babylon Suite.

Here, we discovered that the other great thing about vacationing at home (besides keeping your gym routine), is that you can invite your friends to join you--and they’ll come. As our party of five munched fried shrimp and talked about everything from architecture to tattoos, it felt as though all of us had given ourselves permission to relax.

As if we hadn’t consumed enough, we began Sunday with an all-you-can-eat gospel brunch ($33 each) at the House of Blues, just half a block from our hotel.

Let’s be honest about the food: Even if we were starving, the mass-produced fried chicken and huge vats of jambalaya wouldn’t have been very tasty.

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But the performance was a knockout. The gospel troupe--a high-stepping, God-fearing sextet headed by a magnificent diva in a big white hat--knew how to rise and make a joyful noise. We felt loose enough to stand up and join in.

The weekend was winding down, but with no travel time to factor in, we kept right on going. Hollywood Boulevard beckoned and, after years of resisting its charms, we gave in.

We had to visit Hollywood Toy & Costume, which sells not only masks and rubber spiders but also an amazing collection of severed limbs and fake wounds.

Hollywood Book & Poster is like a museum where everything is for sale--an original “Night of the Iguana” poster, for example, and a rare placard for an unusual double feature: “The Odd Couple” and “Rosemary’s Baby.” But bring your credit cards. One poster for the 1935 horror classic “The Bride of Frankenstein” goes for $6,000.

And then, finally, there was Frederick’s, where we whisked right by the baby-doll nighties and into the lingerie museum at the back of the store. Frederick’s has been around since 1946, and the museum, which opened in 1986, celebrates brassieres through the years.

Want to forget your troubles? Ogling undies worn by Mae West, Marilyn Monroe and Madonna worked for us, for some reason. We emerged amused, refreshed and ready to face another week.

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Budget for Two

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Grafton, Babylon Suite, two nights: $519.80

Hotel parking: 32.00

Dinner, Musso & Frank: 93.48

Lunch, Wolfgang Puck Cafe: 42.17

Dinner, Dan Tana’s: 202.00

Brunch, House of Blues: 66.00

FINAL TAB: $955.45

The Grafton on Sunset, 8462 W. Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, CA 90069; telephone (323) 654-4600, fax (323) 654-5918, https://www.graftononsunset.com.


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