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California Hotel Boom

Viceroy

SANTA MONICA

Don't be too quick to dismiss the Viceroy as yet another Ian Schrager-esque poseur. This isn't New York, and this isn't Paris. You're in Los Angeles now, and the Viceroy never lets you forget it. The property is the most ambitious creation yet of the Kor Hotel Group and interior designer Kelly Wearstler, who caught everybody's attention with her Moo Shu Baroque style at Maison 140 in Beverly Hills. Little Maison 140 was cheap chic; the 170-room Viceroy aspires to a higher-quality thrift shop.

Everybody drives past it the first time. Look for a white sixties slab with no sign. Knowing it's opposite Shutters on the Beach may help. Once through the door, you'll have no doubt you've found it. Officially, Viceroy is described as "British style with a cosmopolitan spirit," but there's so much going on that everybody sees something different. I took it all as an homage to Hollywood Regency, that glamorous moment of ranch houses with statues of Venus in the driveway, last fully appreciated in Beverly Hills 30 years ago. Fasten your ankle straps, it's going to be a bumpy night. Where else but in L.A. could you get away with colors like these?Parrot green chairs. Gray-stained floors. Silver-foil wallpaper in seventies geometrics. Mirrors are everywhere. The mustard-colored study, with its shag carpeting and motel sofa and lamps, is a room you never dreamed you'd see again in your lifetime. Try sitting in there when the Carpenters start singing "Close to You." Shivers.

People love it. Word was out about the Cameo Bar the week it opened, and by my second visit, a few months later, the bar was packed (putting quite a strain on the poor valets). This isn't the Beverly Hills crowd. It's younger: thirtysomethings who look as if they work in soap operas; advertising types from offices in nearby Venice; assorted pretty young things (what do they do?). They sit shoulder-to-shoulder on every ironic surface, looking their best on the rows of winged chaise longues upholstered in white patent leather—quite possibly by Frederick's of Hollywood.

Getting a drink takes some elbowing; getting into Whist, the busy restaurant, requires some determination. Created by Tim and Liza Goodell of Aubergine in Newport Beach, Whist opens off the lobby and is part of the extended party that reaches outdoors to the pool. Its most prominent decoration is 250 pieces of English china propped against a wall of green mirror. You'll find the "oh-wow" school of service—when I inquired about a wine, I was told it was "awesome"—and a menu with flavors as mixed-up as the decorating. The duck breast with turnips and foie gras of my first visit was excellent; the next time, I tried a less successful pork chop, searingly spiced and so huge it seemed to have come from a dinosaur. But who's kidding whom?This is a scene as much as it is a dining room, and unless you're very serious about food, you're here just to take in all that wattage around you.

Don't stay at the Viceroy if you're not willing to be stimulated. You will either love the rooms or find yourself grinding your teeth; there's no in-between. Every comfort has been provided: big, downy pillows; the softest Frette sheets; a bathroom you can't wait to use; and open views toward the city or the ocean. (Beware: it gets noisy on the pool side during warm weather.) But visually it's restless, with dozens of framed mirrors, wallpaper in a cane pattern, giant plaster sconces, and that acidic color scheme. At night it gets even more bizarre, with a bare-bulb chandelier bouncing off all those mirrors.

It takes great courage for a hotel to step out this far on the fashion limb, but the Viceroy is walking the walk. Now is the time to eat here and, if you can handle it, stay here. A look like this has to keep moving forward, or it gets cold fast. So go soon—you wouldn't want to miss it.

Lodge at Torrey Pines

LA JOLLA

Most people come to the Lodge at Torrey Pines to play golf, but have they any idea what awaits them?When you get here, you cannot believe your eyes.

William L. Evans, a local businessman, felt that the celebrated Torrey Pines golf course, known for its ocean views and soulful, wind-bent pine trees, deserved a hotel to match its reputation. He spent $65 million—an astounding amount of money for 173 rooms—to build a tribute to the Arts and Crafts movement. Starting with the most extravagant porte cochère you'll ever see, with more joinery than a temple in Kyoto, every detail is meant to capture those golden years of the early 20th century, when Midwestern millionaires came to Pasadena every winter to breathe the pure air of Old California.

Everybody, rusticate!

"The lodge is in the style of Greene & Greene, but the spa is in the style of Charles Rennie Mackintosh—are you familiar with them?" the bellman inquired as we walked through dusky, wainscoted hallways on William Morris carpeting. As part of his training, he was taken on a field trip to the Gamble House, the Greene & Greene masterpiece in Pasadena.

Art glass of this period has been done, badly, countless times before—been to an Applebee's lately?—but here it is all studiously and accurately re-created, in many cases by the same factories that built the original houses. The luminous front doors, adapted from the Gamble House, open to another faithful Greene & Greene design, a remarkable chandelier with 2,480 pieces of jewel-like glass set in a frame of wood and leather. The stained-glass panel behind the front desk is an original, from a Greene & Greene house long ago demolished. There are hammered-copper fireplaces and rocking chairs built for the first time from old Greene & Greene blueprints. Torrey Pines doesn't feel like a reproduction; it takes you back to 1908.

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