Los Angeles Tour: West Hollywood
Hit the town in this perennially buzzy “playground to the stars.”
West Hollywood got its start as an unincorporated area of Los Angeles, a sort of “Wild West” whose main thoroughfare Sunset Boulevard developed in the 1920’s and '30’s as a freewheeling hub for liquor, gambling, and celebrity antics. Today, the world-famous Sunset Strip remains a playground for the stars, with ultra-exclusive restaurants and lounges side by side with legendary rock clubs. But West Hollywood is much more than just a party. There's a convivial community spirit along Santa Monica Boulevard, where the city's vibrant gay and Russian immigrant communities collide, and some of the world's finest retail treasures can be found on “The Avenues,” the city's art, fashion, and design district. At its most classic haunts, you can still catch a whiff of Golden-Era Hollywood glamour.
Inside the dark-gray, hulking exterior of this 15,000-square-foot facility lies a European-inspired spa with modern luxuries and style. A water-wall and floating staircase greet visitors upon entry, and the spa boasts two Russian saunas, a Turkish wet steam bath, a Finnish dry sauna, and ten treatment rooms. Voda also has a salon and numerous pools, and services all senses by offering the Voda Cafe (serving healthy California cuisine) and the V Room Lounge, with a full bar. Plasma flat-screens illuminate the modernity, while Russian-speaking staff members provide an air of legitimacy to the experience.
L.A.’s young and fab make regular pilgrimages to this warren of shops housed beneath a vine-covered roof. Shimmery-blond stay-at-home-moms peruse knit hip-length cardigans, film producers in wrinkled dress shirts pick up Prada ombre loafers, and out-of-work actresses in leopard-print heels stop by Mauro’s Café for crisp baby-arugula salads.
Tip: Don’t ignore the walls when you’re refueling at the café, which moonlights as a gallery; the installations (like a recent series of original black-and-white photos of the Rolling Stones by Philip Townsend) are pretty impressive.
Sunset Tower Hotel
Gorgeously revived in 2006 by hotelier Jeff Klein, this 1929 Art Deco landmark was once an apartment building to the stars (John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe, and Frank Sinatra all had crash pads here). Though it’s been a hotel since the 1980’s, the building’s glamorous new incarnation finally does justice to its extraordinary “bone structure”—which includes dramatic cast-concrete exterior friezes and curved floor-to-ceiling windows. The décor in the 74 rooms pays tribute to the Deco era, but subtly: dark walnut furnishings are trimmed in glass and polished brass, and the bold-patterned fabrics and wallpaper are softened by deep tones of chocolate, gold, and rust. The iPod docking stations, plasma-screen TV’s, and glass shower stalls stocked with Kiehl’s products don’t seem out of place—but somehow the rooms, as well as the common areas, hark back to a distinctly more elegant time.
Part of the iconic Chateau Marmont hotel, this restaurant and cocktail lounge is a magnet for Hollywood’s A-list, with former patrons including Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, and the cast of Mad Men. The interior blends classic design elements—such as decorative mirrors and long red banquettes—with unusual touches like faux monarch butterflies pinned to the ceiling. There’s also a swanky bar area, with dim red lighting and live DJ’s spinning a mix of electro and hip-hop music. In the kitchen, Spotted Pig alum Carolynn Spence prepares Italian-inspired dishes like bacon-wrapped bourbon apples, and tagliatelle pasta with lamb ragoût.
Agostino Sciandri and actor Robert De Niro teamed to open this Tuscan trattoria in 1997. Out front, there are cypress and olive trees, as well as an enclosed patio to protect against (rare) inclement weather. The dining room itself has an exhibition kitchen and a glass and steel bar. The key piece of kitchen equipment is the wood-burning oven, which eschews pizzas in favor of proteins like a 22-ounce T-bone steak and baby rack of lamb. Other choices include the pounded and breaded veal chop, cylindrical paccheri pasta with lamb ragú, and tomato-based seafood risotto. Dolci are classic Italian, consisting of cannoli, tiramisu, and gelato.
Since opening in 1957, this renowned live music club has helped launched the careers of some of rock’s most famous names, from Elton John and James Taylor to Guns N’ Roses and Metallica. The intimate, wood-paneled space remains a respected venue for catching contemporary singer-songwriters, emerging bands, and the occasional surprise show or two (Prince has been known to pop in). Even the small front bar is the stuff of legend: The Eagles’ Don Henley and Glenn Frey first met here and later wrote the song “Sad Café” inspired by it.
Farm-to-table meets nose-to-tail at this casual New American bistro/butcher. The kitchen uses California-raised meats (including unusual cuts like pig’s ears and goat chops) and local produce, while the charcuterie, bread, and even the pickles are made in-house. Small enough to fit on a chalkboard, the ever-changing menu—updated twice daily and blasted out via Twitter and Facebook—includes rustic selections like fried green tomatoes and IPA braised pork at dinner; weekend brunch brings the “2+2+2” (two eggs with two slices of house-cured bacon, two chorizo patties, and a biscuit).
Pacific Design Center / MOCA Pacific Design Center
This hulking campus of interior design showrooms cuts a striking figure in the neighborhood—it’s been nicknamed the “Blue Whale” for the outsized scale of its main blue-tinted building relative to surrounding structures. If you’re not in the interior design industry, you won’t be privy to the wholesale prices from the 2,200 lines represented, but it’s still fun to browse the designer collections, pop-up art exhibitions, and the onsite branch of MOCA (the downtown-based Museum of Contemporary Art), which focuses on architecture and design. For a pick-me-up, stop in at Wolfgang Puck’s Red Seven restaurant.