Hid­den gem in the city of an­gels

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - A. Z. B. KNIGHT

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

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