HOORAY FOR HOLLYWOOD
THE BOY JUST CAN’T HELP IT AS STEPHEN UNWIN KEEPS COMING BACK TO THE GAYEST PART OF THE GAYEST CITY IN THE USA
Is there anywhere gayer than West Hollywood?
“Your bacon’s coming right out. I’m really excited about it!” Make that “t” in “excited” lazier than your average bottom, imagine the waiter looks like a young Engelbert Humperdinck only with more hair, in front of you is a pool scene that gives Hockney’s A Bigger Splash a run for its glamour, and you’re several sheets to someone - anyone’s - wind. Especially that guy three sun loungers down with the vintage sunglasses and a twinkle in their reflection. This is West Hollywood, saturated in colour, glamour, great looks and a good ol’ dose of insincerity.
The latter is a cliché borne out of fact but overlooked because who the hell cares when you’re having so much fun? Plus it’s catching, as you’ll find out when you’re Have A Nice Day-ing at everyone from the kids at McDonald’s to the dogs at everyone’s favourite hiking spot, Runyon Canyon, over in the Hollywood Hills, where any mutt who is any mutt is walked.
Back to the bacon. I’m sat by the pool at the Standard, the first of the new breed of West Hollywood hotels to put its oomph on modern and sexy, and somewhere I stay more often than my parents’. I keep coming back – as do a lot of the Brit media pack – because it’s just a whole bunch of cheeky, quite-but-not-quite-SohoGyms gays, the beds are big enough to swim in, the breakfasts are moreish (hence my extra order of bacon) and, refreshingly, it’s really quite affordable, especially bearing in mind everything I just said. And you can’t top the location, slap bang in the throbbing heart of West Hollywood.
So let’s get our bearings. WeHo is a square of very gay fun. And people really do call it WeHo. Sounds a bit, you know, “in the know”, but it’s just a lazy, hazy way of saying West Hollywood and what better reason is there than that?
A mix of bars, top-notch hotels, cutesy streets with even cutesier houses and most of the right restaurants (Nobu and Cecconi’s are the obvious ones, Tortilla Republic and Marix are the Mexicans with a big gay following), WeHo has pretty much everything else you need so as never to go anywhere else in LA. Apart from the beach. Or parties in places like Laurel Canyon where people like Joan and Jackie Santangelo make cameos.
It’s also where LA Pride throbs into action during the first week of June. New York et al may beg to differ but it’s the most fun Pride in the States, attracts almost half a million of the up-for-it kind, and you ought to book your hotel room now.
Skimming the top of that fun, gay square is Sunset Boulevard, which we guess needs no introduction. It’s the glittering axis of not only WeHo but the whole of Los Angeles and houses a heady collection of hot hotels – the Standard of course, Sunset Tower, Chateau Marmont and Mondrian – as well as ratty and infamous music venues like the Viper Room and Whiskey A GoGo, but we’ll leave those to the rockers and teenagers. There are also a couple of strip malls, nail bars, tanning salons and lots and lots of billboards, bigger then you ever did see, asking you to “consider” the year’s big movies for your Oscar votes. Seeing as they asked nicely…
So from Sunset (drop the Boulevard bit to sound, you know, local) and its spectacular views of downtown LA, WeHo takes a dip, literally, towards Santa Monica Boulevard (again, drop the Blvd if the mood takes) which is where all the gay bars and clubs are. WeHo finishes up at Wilshire Boulevard, home of the LA County Museum of Art, a behemoth of a place, updated and enlarged a decade ago by Renzo Piano and, last time I went, showing David Hockney’s Yorkshire Landscape Videos. So none of your tat.
Our western border is Robertson Boulevard – home to high-end boutiques including Chanel as well as one of the LA restaurants, the Ivy (try the fried chicken washed down with their super-strength vodka gimlets) - and to the right WeHo turns into Hollywood or Midtown at around La Brea Avenue.
At first glance, Santa Monica Boulevard – or at least the bit we’re interested in - isn’t up to much. Bigger than an A road but smaller than a motorway, by day it doesn’t look much different from a street in The Simpsons – albeit with protein shake bars and shops selling shiny shortyshorts – and at night is the latter just all lit up and twinkling. But this is LA, so there are palm trees and everything is bathed in glamour, and those
“There’s never knowingly not a happy hour somewhere, AND THE ( MOSTLY) GREAT weather means you can loiter outside with as much intent as you can muster”
twinkles are courtesy of among the jumpiest, most fun bars, restaurants and clubs on God’s gay earth.
And the (great) thing about the scene in WeHo is that it’s dirty. The kind of dirty you spell with three r’s. The go-go dancers really go for it, often with X-rated gusto, there’s never knowingly not a happy hour somewhere, and the (mostly) great weather means you can loiter outside with as much intent as you can muster.
Most places you’ll want to be are bars-cum-clubs, the most popular of which are the Abbey (very swishy, very showy, very busy), Micky’s (some people call it a strip bar, I call it my favourite place in WeHo), Motherlode, which attracts a slightly older crowd and is known in the business as a “dive bar”, Revolver and Eleven (two popular haunts right opposite each other that look like they came right out of the Gay Bar Catalogue) and, just a little off the beaten track, Fubar. A tad left-field for WeHo, in that you could be in a bar in Shoreditch, Fubar is where you’ll find the Big Fat Dick competition, every Thursday, which is everything you think it is. Take part if you think you’re big enough, etc.
Oh, and while we have you, Lisa Vanderpump deserves her own segue here. She needs no introduction to those who watch The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. For those fools who don’t, she’s the ex-pat Brit, a classy Sharon Osbourne if you will, who used to own Soho’s Shadow Lounge and is now pretty much the queen of Weho with her glittering empire of restaurants and bars that includes the wonderful Sur and the almost-open P.U.M.P. Lounge.
The only irritating thing is that everywhere – and I mean everywhere – closes at 2am, which is why you need to make friends and influence people and go to their after-hours house parties.
Speaking of which, there’s this idea that LA is impenetrable, but that depends on how hard you try. And boy, do I try.
Being gay helps. Who knew, right? And LA is very gay-friendly. That thing about the entertainment industry being run by gays and Jews is pretty accurate so far, and the former are easy to meet if you, well, try hard enough down on Santa Monica.
Without going all Wikipedia on your ass, LA vies with San Francisco and New York for being the gayest city in the US. And West Hollywood is the really gay bit of that gay city. Can you imagine?
But it’s not a weird, six-pack-gazing ghetto of fancy shops and fancier restaurants, it’s just a lovely place to be yourself and be seen. There’s very little attitude in spite of what people might tell you, and that Brit accent of yours still goes a long way in a city that has tons of Brits.
A haven of glamour and gays, fun and freedom, all the stars that never were really are parking cars and pumping gas, and working as go-go dancers at the clubs down on Santa Monica.
You’re in love already, right?
CLOCKWISE FROM FAR LEFT: LOOKING OUT OVER WEST HOLLYWOOD; THE ABBEY BAR; TENDING BAR AT THE ABBEY; THE GAYEST PART OF THE GAYEST CITY IN THE USA; SUNSET STRIP