If you have a quarter to feed a coin telescope, you can see forever from the Smurf-blue, AstroTurf deck of the new Standard hotel, past the turrets of West Hollywood châteaux, over the Beverly Hills flats, toward the purpling mass of distant Catalina island. If you swing the telescope the other way, the license plates on the cars crawling down La Cienega seem almost close enough to read through the late-afternoon haze. But if you want to peek into a faraway window, the sort of illicit purpose to which Hollywood telescopes are often put, you may be out of luck: the sight lines are all wrong. Or maybe not.
"You are forgetting," muses hotel owner André Balazs, peering out at the city, "that these telescopes swivel three hundred and sixty degrees. Perhaps where the telescopes on the Empire State Building indicate places of interest, we should install brass plaques on ours . . . and engrave room numbers on them."
Welcome to the hotel of the future, right here on the Sunset Strip: T-1 lines and silver beanbag chairs in every guest room, aphrodisiac yohimbé sodas in the mini-bar, and a tariff starting at just $95 per night.
Balazs, of course, is the proprietor who transformed the nearby Chateau Marmont hotel from a fading Hollywood legend into a swanky clubhouse just shabby enough to frighten off the squares, and turned an old SoHo factory building into a hotel—the Mercer—so sleekly modern that Calvin Klein calls it home. This time he chose as his canvas a cheerful 1964 motel that had long since been reworked into a retirement home but was gifted with great Mid-Century Modern bones.
"The hotels I love," says Balazs, "are the ones that inspire excess in human behavior."
Some of the 138 rooms contain an Eames Surfboard table, a big, puffy couch that is actually inflated, and matchbooks imprinted with the phone number of a local bail bondsman. There's no art in the rooms, but the curtains (as if anybody would ever close them to the glorious views of the Los Angeles basin) bear an Andy Warhol flower print circa 1964. The temperature control knob is labeled so:
What separates The Standard from the kind of hotel whose drinking glasses are sani-sealed for your protection may be little more than bread and circuses, but Balazs has always given good bread and circus. An elegant vitrine behind the registration desk sometimes functions as a stage for performance art and is likely to be filled with drowsy naked models. The shag carpeting in the lobby's Playboy After Dark-style conversation pit creeps up the wall to the ceiling, like Burt Reynolds's hairpiece gone bad. Just off the lobby, where you might expect to find the hotel newsstand, is a combination barbershop and tattoo parlor, walls blanketed with photographs cut out of magazines, and staffed by artists who glower from behind their sharp implements. The hotel could bring cottage-cheese ceilings back into fashion.
Balazs has even installed a DJ booth in the lobby in case some visiting friend—Puff Daddy?—feels like taking a turn behind the wheels of steel.
"A good hotel first has to make you feel comfortable, protected," says Balazs. "But then it has to wrench you out of the familiar, tempt you to do things you might ordinarily be unlikely to do." Like the Sunset Strip itself.
I have my own ideas about the Sunset Strip, the two miles of Sunset Boulevard between Cresent Heights Boulevard and the Beverly Hills border. At six, I tagged along with my father whenever he took out-of-town visitors to look at the hippies. At 14, I begged rides from friends' older brothers to hear Donald Byrd and Ahmad Jamal at the Roxy. At 19, I tossed wadded newspaper at county sheriffs during a punk-rock riot outside the Whisky A Go-Go.
In other words, my relationship with the Strip was approximately that of every other Los Angeles kid in the seventies. It represented a teenage wasteland, infested with hookers and populated by skinny Midwestern guitar players who cohabited four to a room. Once synonymous with Hollywood glamour, the Strip had become run-down, seedy.
Suddenly, the Sunset Strip is jumping with a frenzy it hasn't seen since the late sixties. The mob trying to breach the velvet ropes outside nightclubs—and hotels—sometimes backs up traffic more than a mile. The sidewalks are crowded, for crying out loud. And everything old is new again. Blond starlets spill out of tight black dresses at Barfly as their mothers did when the restaurant was the Rat Pack hangout Nicky Blair's. Veteran trouper Marty Ingels broadcasts his live radio show Saturday nights from Legacy (which used to be the legendary showbiz hangout Scandia), to a crowd that still drops names like Jack Warner and Lew Wasserman. Even the Marlboro Man, the giant billboard cowboy, is back. These days, thanks to the California Department of Health Services, his cigarette droops in a helpless arc, and the brand name has been replaced with IMPOTENT. Just so.
Sure, you can walk the Strip, but you're more likely to soar past the red rope when you roll up in a Benz. Directly below Spago Hollywood, Budget Rent-A-Car (8789 Sunset Blvd.; 310/652-1502) specializes in the sort of dream machines—Porsche Boxters, Mercedes convertibles, Range Rovers, Rolls-Royces—built to impress. Polish up at the hulking concrete Sunset Car Wash (7954 Sunset Blvd.; 323/656-2777), which used to double as a sort of Tunnel of Love for students from nearby high schools and comes with a gift shop twice the size of most airport boutiques. You need never be bored waiting for the carnauba wax again.
Decaf nonfat vanilla blended—with whipped cream—is the usual at Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf (8591 Sunset Blvd.; 310/659-1890). Plus, when your young brother comes to town, the Coffee Bean offers up exactly what he hopes to find: more creamy, toned actress/model/whatevers than you'll find anywhere outside a casting call.