USA: WE GO TO WEHO
A visit to West Hollywood in Los Angeles is living life in the fast lane.
A visit to West Hollywood in Los Angeles
is living life in the fast lane.
Travel snobs often deride Los Angeles as a city without a soul – a hedonistic playground for superficial wannabes where looking good is key, being seen in the hippest venues is paramount and where the lines between business and pleasure are blurred in a haze of over-indulgence.
Which is exactly why I love LA – especially its pulsating, beautiful heart, West Hollywood. To me, WeHo encapsulates everything great about the City of Angels – the glamour, the fashion, design and endless entertainment venues. It’s where I come to explore my Hollywood fantasies and live like a celebrity, just for a brief moment in time.
Ironically, West Hollywood – tucked into an irregular, pistol-shaped 1.9 square mile (4.9 square kilometre) enclave bordered by Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Fairfax – is technically not part of Los Angeles. It’s an incorporated city in its own right, with its own laws (such as a ban on leaf blowers, declawing cats and the sale of fur clothing), municipal services and strict rent control. More than 40 percent of its 39,000 residents identify as LGBT; and it is a welcoming and accepting community for visitors of all persuasions.
Historically, West Hollywood has always marched to the beat of its own drum. Originally known as Sherman (after its founder, railway boss Moses Sherman), this former railway settlement had a reputation as a place of rebellion, flaunting Prohibition laws and attracting those on the fringe of society at the turn of the 20th century.
Repeatedly rejecting calls for annexation, it refused to become part of the City of Los Angeles and after its name was changed to West Hollywood in 1925, it became a veritable den of iniquity. Its casinos, gambling dens and nightclubs catered to the entertainment industry, many of them bankrolled by mobsters but immune from the heavy-handed enforcement of the LAPD. The Sunset Strip soon became the place to be seen; infamous nightclubs such as Ciros and Trocadero were frequented by stars such as Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Humphrey Bogart and Dean Martin.
Meanwhile, dispossessed and persecuted minorities, including hippies, Jewish immigrants and the gay, lesbian and transgender communities, also found solace in this less-restrictive, accepting pocket of LA. During the ‘60s,
West Hollywood’s underground gay culture boomed; the first gay bars were opened, men were allowed to dance together and gay sports teams were formed.
In 1984, West Hollywood was finally incorporated as an independent city, led by a team of openly-gay councillors, and with a cheeky zip code of 90069! Today, West Hollywood remains an oasis of progressive culture, a bastion of nonconformity and creativity where everyone is free to express individuality.
For travellers, this spirit of acceptance and rebellion makes West Hollywood one of the most exciting, albeit exhausting destinations in the United States. Letting loose and having a good time is mandatory in WeHo; while recovery is also an artform, typified by spa treatments, exercise classes and a lot of snoozing by hotel pools. Here’s our guide to making the most of life in WeHo’s fast lane:
In a party city, a cloud-like bed in a darkened room tailored for relaxation and minimal effort is essential. But while designer flair and comfort is a signature of West Hollywood’s leading luxury and boutique properties, arguably the most important selling point under California’s cloudless sky is the hotel pool.
And nowhere does poolside better than WeHo! Whether chilling or partying with your entourage, each West Hollywood hotel pool offers an unforgettably glamorous, decadent scene. Lying in the sun or under the shade of a cabana beside the shimmering water is usually undertaken with cocktail in hand; while a refreshing dip or toe dangled casually in the water may be accompanied by the grooves of a resident DJ.
My prediction for the coolest place to be seen in 2017 is poolside at the new James Hotel, due to open in January.
The first newly-built hotel in West Hollywood in almost 30 years, this two-towered hotel is already being touted as a game-changer in terms of luxury and hip status.
With glass panels framing sprawling views of Los Angeles in a lush “outdoor living room” setting, the pool at The Mondrian is arguably the most iconic in WeHo, and the one that started the whole ‘rooftop bar’ craze. The beautiful and famous love to hang here, drinking killer cocktails courtesy of the vineswathed Skybar.
The small rooftop pool at the quiet boutique Chamberlain Hotel, is a low-key, intimate offering, a quiet place to recharge on day beds and lounges in the shade of Moroccan-style cabanas. Impossibly glamorous, yet understated.
If you hang around the landscaped gardens at Sunset Marquis long enough, you’re bound to see a celebrity or two. For 50 years, this has been the hotel of choice for visiting rock stars; its two pools the scene of many a wild escapade.
West Hollywood has one of the most exciting culinary scenes in the United States, with a slew of innovative restaurants helmed by world-class chefs putting it firmly on the map as a foodie destination. Add location, a touch of glamour and some of the freshest produce on the West Coast, and you’ll soon understand why even locals choose to dine out for every meal.
The latest restaurant openings for 2016 include Catch LA
(an offshoot of the famed NYC seafood restaurant, located in an alluring rooftop garden); Guild LA, a restaurant, cheese shop and wine bar located inside the former Screen Actor’s Guild; and actress Jessica Biel’s Au Fudge, a cutesy organic café come childcare centre where the littlest members of the family take priority.
Located in a gorgeous tiled courtyard in the Design District, Gracias Madre is a vegan Mexican restaurant with a creative plant-based menu so delicious that even hardcore carnivores succumb to its charms. To complement (or perhaps offset) the healthy food, there’s also an impressive list of tequilas and mezcals, as well as pitchers of margaritas.
A team of ex-pat Aussies spearhead Eveleigh, a rustic indoor/ outdoor restaurant on Sunset that serves organic, locallysourced farm-to-table produce. Prime real estate is the back deck, resplendent with cozy banquettes and a retractable roof.
Church Key is Instagram heaven with its beautifullydesigned, cavernous space where waitresses dressed as flight attendants push dim-sum carts and create dry-ice cocktails before your very eyes. Great theatre, and the interactive, Asian-inspired menu doesn’t disappoint.
Whether on a rooftop enjoying LA’s balmy weather, in a grungy bar on Sunset Strip or in a swanky speakeasy harking back to the Golden Age of Hollywood, enjoying a cheeky beverage has been elevated into an art form in WeHo. A night out usually begins at magical ‘Happy Hour’, kicking on after dinner at a rooftop lounge or on the Strip before hitting legendary gay bars such as The Abbey.
While former Longrain chef Louis Tikaram whips up Asian fusion share plates in buzzing restaurant EP, the rooftop bar (LP) is the hottest ticket in town, attracting capacity crowds who gather around the fire pits to take in the 360 degree views of Downtown and the Hills.
Inspired by the Golden Age of Travel, Now Boarding is a cool Mad Men-esque retro bar, and along with its leather booths, vintage flight path light mural and ‘60s playlist, has a formidable craft cocktail list (particularly good value at happy hour) infused with fresh, fruity ingredients.
For a quiet pre-dinner drink, V Wine Room is a local, library-themed tasting room with a touch of unexpected class. It serves boutique Californian wines unavailable at any other local retailer as well as handcrafted beers.
How my friends from West Hollywood manage to stay slim and seemingly unaffected by the ravages of excess is beyond me! The secret is in the recovery process. Personal trainers are as essential as H2O; and if they’re not at the gym, you’ll find them pounding the pavement with clients at Runyon Canyon, a popular weekend hiking trail.
Some of the latest trends in cardio workouts include Rise Nation, centered around a climbing machine that replicates climbing 600 metres in 30 minutes; intense cycling to the beat of a resident DJ at Flywheel; and ‘luxe fitness’ at Mansion Fitness, featuring a fireplace and Swarovski crystal chandeliers.
Soul Cycle’s spin “experience” is about motivation, a quest to find inner as well as physical strength. Sometimes called the ‘church of the bike’, it’s part nightclub, part inspirational coaching and part revival meeting, complete with fistpumping, whoops and hallelujahs.
If traditional yoga is just too serene and bohemian for you, Playlist Yoga’s 60-minute class brings nirvana into the nightclub, adding a lively soundtrack aimed at matching breath and movement with the beat.
Stars on the award circuit swear by Kinara Spa’s signature Red Carpet Facial, which magically plumps and oxygenates to leave you red-carpet-ready and looking 10 years younger (for a day at least!).
West Hollywood’s Design District bordering Melrose Avenue, Beverly Boulevard and Robertson Boulevard is the heart of design and fashion in Los Angeles, an exciting hub of more than 300 galleries, boutiques and showrooms. High-end designers such as Christian Louboutin, Phillip Lim and Stella McCartney all have flagship stores here, while cutting-edge newcomers and vintage collectors are also well represented.
L’Eclaireur is a legendary Parisian boutique and opened its first US store in a French revival mansion in WeHo, shifting its focus to home furnishings. The gallery space is filled with covetable one-of-a-kind and collectable masterpieces from luminaries such as architect Zaha Hadid, sculptor John Paul Philippe and the Italian designer Fornasetti.
Lose yourself in the fabulous independent Book Soup bookshop on Sunset Strip, where over 60,000 titles focusing on the arts and entertainment are stacked in floor-to-ceiling shelves. Author readings are common, and it’s a great place to spot intellectual celebrities.
Lovers of vintage and retro fashions will be beside themselves wandering through Resurrection, which specialises in designer pieces from the ‘60s and ‘70s. Nothing is bargain priced, of course – but we can all dream … •