USA: WE GO TO WEHO

Vacations & Travel - - Contents - BY JULIE MILLER

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:

SLEEP

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.

EAT

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.

DRINK

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.

RE­COVER

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!).

SHOP

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 … •

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