Hidden gem in the city of angels
IF you are after bright, white and modern in Los Angeles, hop two blocks down to The Standard, where the beautiful people are draped picturesquely around the rooftop. At the Los Angeles Athletic Club, it’s a different story altogether. Eccentric? Check. Impressive? Check. Surprising? Check. Fabulous? Deeply.
Here, it’s unfashionably dark and oak-panelled walls are lined with trophies and sepia photos of sporting glories of members past. Forget the fact that the membership book is scored with Hollywood legends, ignore even the fact that Charlie Chaplin lived here — athletic members of the LAAC have through the years brought home scores of Olympic medals, many of covetable gold.
Take a stroll around the splendid halls and hushed corridors of this urban palace, and it’s not hard to see why. There are handball, racquetball, volleyball and squash courts, boxing rings, two swimming pools, state-of-the-art fitness equipment, turkish baths, a spa, an indoor running track and a basketball court polished like a mirror and inlaid with Mercury’s winged sandal (the club motif).
For less-active souls there is a gloriously old-fashioned billiard room, a pub with televisions for all manner of armchair sport, two allAmerican restaurants (one with dickie-bow waiters and a grand piano), and an old-school bar that mixes martinis and was voted the best in the city.
The guestrooms continue tastefully in the clubby, traditional vein, in burgundies, greens and greys, with thick carpets, wingback armchairs and heavy curtains; you could sleep all day here, it is so blessedly quiet and cushioned. And each guestroom, even the smallest, is done on an American scale — huge beds laden with pillows, fruit bowls stacked with gigantic apples and King Kong-worthy bananas.
Looking out of the great big windows to the surrounding skyscrapers, this is not the Los Angeles of imagination.
There are no palm trees, no low, wide boulevards of candycoloured stores, no slender ladies with chihuahuas. Instead, downtown LA is rough around the edges, the homeless have their corners and some buildings sit tatty and derelict. But nobody could fail to notice the creative renaissance under way.
Forget West Hollywood or Los Feliz, the distressed cool of down- town LA is without competition the place to be.
There are countless galleries and art collectives, theatres and music venues, and eateries range from street shacks to awardwinning restaurants. Beverly Hills may be a 20-minute drive away, but it feels like another world.
The Los Angeles Athletic Club has reigned unassailably over these streets for 120 years, witnessing boom time, ruin, and now this glittering new surge.
It is a small, strange slice of Angeleno history and, for my bucks, an unbeatable place to stay. personal training sessions and exercise classes. Getting there: Driving is more or less essential in LA, and the club has an underground car park, making coming and going effortless. Checking in: An eclectic and discreet bunch of in-theknow travellers. Wheelchair access: Yes, to all floors, via elevator. Bedtime reading: If you want to fit in, it’s got to be a script. Bring your own if you’re feeling brave. Stepping out: The gritty mishmash of downtown is on the doorstep. Bottega Louie is round the corner, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner; the area is full of bars, destination restaurants, and budding fashion labels. Brickbats: No room service and an empty minibar. Bathrooms are functional rather than luxurious. Bouquets: Access to the club’s incredible facilities. It’s very family-friendly, with a children’s swimming pool, interconnecting rooms, and organised activities.
A luxury suite at the quirky Los Angeles Athletic Club