Raising the bar
YOU expect the unexpected when you’re opening a new hotel, but nothing quite prepared Jason Pomeranc for the phone call he received as he rushed to get the doors open at the new Thompson Beverly Hills.
“Did you read the newspaper?’” the caller asked Pomeranc, the co-owner of Manhattan-based Thompson Hotel Group. “There was a leftist guerrilla attack on the port in Colombia and our stone [a specially made black polished concrete intended for the hotel’s lobby] is being held hostage by the guerrillas at the port.”
Pomeranc, 36, can laugh now, as he puts the finishing touches on his hotly anticipated Wilshire Boulevard property (the former Beverly Pavilion Hotel is designed by Dodd Mitchell Design, responsible for the Grafton’s Boa Lounge, among other trendy clubs and restaurants). But it will be a race to the finish, not only to meet the expected opening in September, but also to stay ahead of the competition. Thompson Beverly Hills is simply the latest in a crush of new hotels vying to fill Angelenos’ insatiable appetite for hot nightspots.
Throughout L.A., hotels are being transformed, South Beach-style, into destinations for locals who want to make the scene. And Pomeranc should know: He also operates the Hollywood Roosevelt hotel (for owners Goodwin Gaw and David Chang), home to celebrity magnet bar Teddy’s, as well as poolside glamour spot Tropicana, the place that (thanks to former promoter Amanda Scheer Demme) helped reinvigorate the destination bar in L.A. two years ago. Most recently, the Roosevelt pulled off a minor coup in the hotel world, hosting Prince in a series of June concerts (two more gigs are expected at the Hollywood Boulevard landmark early this fall).
With occupancy rates up all over Los Angeles, local hotels are busy renovating their bars to catch up with the Roosevelt -- Pomeranc included. With the Thompson Beverly Hills, he promises to transform an otherwise sleepy stretch of Wilshire Boulevard (between Crescent and Canon drives) into an after-dark hotbed.
“I’ve had my eye on Los Angeles for a long time,” says Pomeranc, who has four hotels in New York in various stages of completion in addition to his flagship SoHo property, 60 Thompson.
Yes, he’s aware that established hotels like the Beverly Wilshire are already doing booming business in the 90210, but he has two secret weapons to ensure that top-tier travelers (what he calls “urban nomads”) will pick his hotel: an exclusive bar (the rooftop lounge ABH) and a red-hot -- he hopes -- restaurant (a West Coast outpost of famed New York sushi restaurant Bond Street) on the ground floor.
“Beverly Hills is suffering under the tyranny of beige,” he jokes, before adding more seriously: “The fact that Beverly Hills has no lifestyle hotel [in the area] interested me.”
A trend explodes
L.A.'s love for a great hotel bar has been a long affair, from the starlets who draped themselves along the bars of the Biltmore in the ‘40s to Sunset Marquis’ rocker-packed Whisky Bar in the ‘90s. The Mondrian’s Sky Bar transformed Sunset Boulevard for good (and bad) in 1996; one could argue that the Downtown Standard planted the first designer flag on that former lunar landscape in 2002.
But in the last few years the trend for destination lounges has exploded, to the point where even the old school is playing catch-up. The Beverly Hills Hotel, no longer content to simply rely on the Polo Lounge to lure the A-list, debuted its new post-Deco Bar Nineteen 12 last week to much fanfare. The iconic bar at the Chateau Marmont was recently overhauled for a new generation.
In addition to Pomeranc, local hoteliers Avi Brosh and Stefan Ashkenazy have ambitious plans to launch or re-brand hotels over the next year, all with slick lounge components. Even nightclub developer SBE Entertainment -- which owns and operates two of L.A.'s trendiest clubs, Hyde and Area -- wants in on the action; it’s opening its first hotel, the SLS Beverly Hills, early next year.
So what’s the appeal?
We suspect valet parking plays some role. But beyond that, there’s L.A.'s apparently undying lust for the new and more fabulous, which Pomeranc believes is missing in spades from Beverly Hills.
“Besides a hotel bar at one of the traditional hotels in the area, which are usually not that exciting after a certain hour, there’s not much to do,” he says. “This area needs a tremendous injection of adrenaline.”
With a big side order of exclusivity, of course. Much like 60 Thompson’s bar in New York, A60, ABH will be open to hotel guests and their friends only. (Well, that’s the official line; if Posh and Becks should happen to drive up, all bets are off.)
And those guests are part of the appeal: You never know what jet-setter might be milking a whiskey sour in the hotel lounge. You also can’t discount the sense of escape a hotel provides, or the naughty glamour implied in a room just a credit card away. Indeed, Pomeranc sees ABH as a nod to “a slightly decadent period of Beverly Hills that existed for a moment -- this sort of Robert Evans-esque, Warren Beatty ‘Shampoo'-era type thing.”
Arguably the most anticipated (and dreaded) of the new bars is Pure, which opens atop the W Hollywood in 2009, and will likely push the gentrification (and traffic problems) of that neighborhood right over the edge. Literally. The club will hang out over the edge of Hollywood Boulevard on a glass precipice.
Pure, like most of its competitors, is as much about design and architecture as a well-shaken martini. “The word ‘ethereal’ describes it very well,” says Frank Clementi, one of Pure’s architects from Rios Clementi Hale Studios. “All the layers will be transparent and open. The entire perimeter of the bar itself will be glass ... guests will actually have the opportunity to float above Hollywood.”
And those guests will naturally be as rarified and ethereal as their surroundings -- something Stefan Ashkenazy is hoping to duplicate at his hotel’s new bar, but with a twist. The owner of West Hollywood’s Valadon Hotel (and son of 1980s WeHo hotelier Severyn Ashkenazy, builder of Le Parc Suites, the Mondrian, the Bel Age, L’Ermitage and other hotels) is planning to relaunch the Valadon next year under the Petite L’Ermitage name (though Raffles bought L’Ermitage, the Ashkenazy family retains the rights to use the name).
“We’re not aiming for what other hotels are aiming for,” he claims from Valadon’s rooftop deck. Ashkenazy, who (with brother Adrian) recently bought the adjacent house on Larrabee Street to expand the 80-room boutique hotel, says he is after the members-only feel of the old L’Ermitage. "[Our lounge] will be filled with real characters -- people that help animate the space -- not just actors and models. We refuse to be hijacked by a team of designers or investors. We have a specific vision for our bar -- and we want to make it magic.”
Ashkenazy and Pomeranc would agree on this: Hotels are the perfect way to control bar clientele. “The hotel itself is its own velvet rope,” says Ashkenazy of the Valadon, which, like the nearby Chamberlain hotel, is tucked away on a quiet residential street. “If you’re not staying here, you can’t come in.”
But there is some democracy in this movement. In stark contrast to the Thompson and Valadon, aspiring hotelier Avi Brosh plans on welcoming just about any hipster who has money to spend at his audacious, Standard-esque new airport hotel, the Custom Hotel, set to open this fall.
“We will be literally one of the area’s only, if not the only, contemporary nightspot,” says Brosh of his poolside destination, the Hopscotch Lounge (one of three lounges planned). “We expect it to have a local California casual vibe, and I hope the sense of possibility of perhaps meeting someone special -- if maybe only for a night.”
Part of the 42-year-old’s radically populist approach is to attract locals from adjacent areas like Marina del Rey, Playa Vista and Westchester. “We want the Hopscotch crowd to be representative of those who actually live in L.A., so when people come stay with us from Cleveland or London they can experience an authentic local crowd.”
Authentic? Now that is radical.
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Where the action is (and will be)
Bar Nineteen 12 at the Beverly Hills Hotel
9641 Sunset Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 273-1912.
The stylish, post-Deco companion bar to the famed Polo Lounge looks to remain packed with the moneyed set for some time, thanks to inspired design (including a backlit, white onyx bar), dangerously inventive spirit options (cherry martini popsicles, anyone?) and palm-tree studded views from the terrace. Former Four Seasons bar manager Philip Spee is already running Nineteen 12, which opened just last week, with genteel professionalism.
The Tropicana/Teddy’s at the Roosevelt Hotel
7000 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 466-7000.
Summertime is when the Tropicana truly rocks. Promoters David Schneider and David Heath’s selective Thursday-night throwdown, “Night Swim,” attracts the most eclectic hipster crowd in town (prone to drunken plunges into the pool when the mood strikes). The dimly lit and beloved Teddy’s, of course, remains one of the toughest bars to get into thanks to A-list regulars like Leonardo DiCaprio.
The Penthouse at the Huntley Hotel
1111 2d St., Santa Monica.
Sipping gin while watching the sun set over the ocean is proving to be a tonic among Santa Monica’s beautiful set. Expect lines some weekend nights; get there early, grab a seat and a mojito, and get comfy on one of the white leather banquettes. Restaurant included.
Purple Lounge at the Standard
8300 W. Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (323) 650-9090.
The once-packed WeHo Standard may be old news, but the hotel’s “secret” bar off of Sweetzer Avenue is quietly making a comeback. Rich Royal’s Monday-night soiree at the Purple Lounge packs in the cool kids, with regulars like James Blunt and Tichina Arnold mixing it up inside the dark, plush club.
West at the Hotel Angeleno
170 N. Church Lane, Los Angeles. (310) 481-7878.
Comfortable modern couches and distinctly L.A. urban views overlooking the 405 (a lot prettier when you’re not on it) make the buzzing hotel’s sleek, circular bar/restaurant the perfect romantic antidote to the area’s more pedestrian bars.
WeHo’s demanding scenesters should appreciate this sleek, Sunset Boulevard offering from Chicago. The planned lounge will likely be modeled on the flagship hotel’s happening J Bar. Think swank, dark, sexy -- though they might want to rethink the signature cocktail: Stoli Raz, elderflower and lime juice served in a martini glass coated in a hard, raspberry candy shell. Yuck. Projected opening: 2009.
Gordon Ramsay of “Hell’s Kitchen” fame will be in charge of all food and beverage at the newly redesigned Bel Age Hotel (renamed the London), and British interior designer David Collins’ firm (responsible for Claridge’s Hotel and the Blue Bar at the Berkeley in London) will be making its L.A. debut with the still-unnamed bar. Projected opening: January.
Designed by Cheryl Rowley’s Beverly Hills-based firm, the yet-to-be-named bar within Westwood’s anticipated Palomar will have a “hip, bustling vibe,” according to a San Francisco- based representative for Kimpton hotels. That remains to be seen. But you can expect wood floors, light colors and the oversized lamps everyone seems to love so much. Projected opening: early 2008.
Hyatt West Hollywood
Location, location, location: This place, in the heart of Sunset Strip, certainly has that. But can the former “Riot Hyatt” make noise again? Remodeling will include the ground floor’s yet-to-be-named bar. Projected opening: late 2007/early 2008.
If you like your Sidecar with a side of jumbo jet, then Avi Brosh’s Hopscotch Bar at the Custom Hotel near LAX is for you. DJs playing house music poolside should help drown out the noise. Projected opening for Hopscotch: late November (the hotel debuts a month earlier).
W Hotel -- Hollywood
Pure is coming to L.A. in a big way. The Southland’s version of the Vegas juggernaut will grace the roof of the anticipated W Hotel Hollywood. Let’s hope Britney (a regular at the Pure in Vegas) doesn’t trip off the glass walkway jutting over Hollywood Boulevard. Projected opening: 2009.
SLS at Beverly Hills
Exclusivity is next to godliness at the forthcoming SLS Beverly Hills, which will be managed by the folks behind such hard-to-get-into bars as Hyde. Projected opening: mid-2008.
Best of the old school
Gallery Bar at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel
506 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 624-1011. www.thebiltmore.com
Los Angeles doesn’t get more classic or more noir than inside this legendary lounge with its smooth, granite-topped bar, high painted Renaissance-style ceiling and giant martini glasses. The Biltmore was designed in 1923 by Schultze & Weaver -- perhaps two of the best hotel architects of the 20th century and creators of such iconic structures as New York’s Waldorf-Astoria. In the ‘30s and ‘40s the hotel hosted the Academy Awards and in 1947 Elizabeth Short was last seen in the lobby before turning up dead. In her honor, the Gallery Bar serves up a mean “Black Dahlia” martini made with Absolut Citron, Chambord and Kahlua.
Bar Marmont at the Chateau Marmont
8171 W. Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 650-0575. www.chateaumarmont.com
Party like a rock star at the bar adjacent to the Sunset Strip’s most notoriously debauched hotel -- a veritable castle-to-the-stars built in 1929. What happens at the Chateau tends to stay at the Chateau -- unless, of course, like Led Zeppelin, you drive your motorcycles through the hotel’s gothic lobby. Even the hotel’s most tragic incidents -- John Belushi overdosing in a garden bungalow, Helmut Newton’s fatal car crash in the driveway -- somehow add to the mystique of the place. Recently the bar received a face-lift, but owner Andre Balazs strove to retain its shabby chic while updating its menu with gastro pub fare crafted by former Spotted Pig chef Carolynn Spence. Of course, you’ll still spot the most stars (both earthly and celestial) in the hotel’s utterly charming courtyard.
Veranda Bar at the Figueroa Hotel
939 S. Figueroa St., Los Angeles. (213) 627-8971. www.figueroahotel.com
Casablanca collides with ancient Arabia at this lush watering hole in a ravishing garden setting overrun with bougainvillea, spiny cactus and succulents. Just a basketball’s throw from Staples Center, the Figueroa opened in 1925 as a YWCA and turned into a hotel after the Depression. Oodles of celebrities frequent the place for pre- and post-concert parties, fashion shows and the like, but no one at the hotel crows about it, which is why the place has come to epitomize the ultimate in laid-back -- even self-effacing -- style. The ornately tiled bar with its flickering candles, well-worn wooden stools and tranquil blue pool are the perfect place to enjoy a mojito with fresh muddled lime.
The Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel
9641 Sunset Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 276-2251. www.beverlyhillshotel.com
Old Hollywood style and grace are trapped in amber at this most famous of hotel hangouts. Built in 1912, the “Pink Palace” quickly became the epicenter of Hollywood’s burgeoning, and frequently decadent, social scene. In the ‘20s Charlie Chaplin, Rudolph Valentino and Gloria Swanson were regulars; in the ‘30s Clark Gable and Carole Lombard met secretly in the bungalows before Gable’s divorce; the “No Slacks for Ladies” rule was relaxed thanks to pants-loving Marlene Dietrich. In the ‘40s the El Jardin Restaurant was renamed the Polo Lounge in honor of Spencer Tracy, Darryl Zanuck and Will Rogers (among others) who played polo in the nearby bean fields, then caroused at the hotel’s restaurant. Today, meals and cocktails are served at cozy, semicircular green booths or outside on a charming tiered brick patio shaded by a twisted Brazilian peppercorn tree.
The Bar at the Ritz-Carlton, Huntington Hotel & Spa
1401 S. Oak Knoll Ave., Pasadena. (626) 568-3900. www.ritzcarlton.com/en/Properties/Huntington
History refuses to give up on this timeless Pasadena landmark. Built in 1906 as the Hotel Wentworth, cursed with a rainy and disastrous first season, purchased in 1911 by Henry Huntington and renamed the Huntington, the treasured structure was declared unsafe in the event of an earthquake and closed in 1985. After a $100-million overhaul (which entailed demolishing most of the original), the hotel reopened in 1991 under the famed Ritz-Carlton moniker. During its tumultuous but always glamorous existence, the 383-room resort has played host to everyone from Teddy Roosevelt to Bing Crosby to Albert Einstein. Catering to a more dignified crowd than you’ll generally find in Hollywood, the Bar blends warm wood furniture, equine artwork and classy cocktails for a comfortable (if somewhat patrician) night out.
Blue on Blue at Avalon Hotel Beverly Hills
9400 W. Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 407-7791.
Built in 1949 in sleek mid-century modern style and named the Beverly Carlton, the property was purchased by the Kor Hotel Group and opened as Avalon in 1999. Maison 140 designer Kelly Wearstler was brought in to make the aging three-story structure into a high-end resort worthy of a Beverly Hills ZIP Code while maintaining its winning 1950s charm. (If it was good enough for one-time resident Marilyn Monroe, it’s good enough for you.) There are few places more relaxing to have a drink than at the hotel’s bar, Blue on Blue, and particularly in one of the comfy cabanas around the glowing, hourglass-shaped pool.