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Hotels clamor to create the next destination nightspot for L.A.'s scenesters.
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.