Griffith Observatory: Scan the Stars

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For a truly unforgettable moment, skip the candlelight and classical music and take your significant other to the most romantic spot in Los Angeles. Date night doesn’t get any better than a moonlit visit to Griffith Observatory, which overlooks the Hollywood basin and gives couples unbeatable, celestial views of LA’s sparkling sprawl, from the base of the mountain to the Pacific Ocean. At night, the stargazing is nothing less than awe-inspiring, so be ready to ponder life’s great mysteries as you play name-that-constellation.

Show up early and check out the observatory, exhibit hall, and planetarium, which were designed to make astronomy accessible to the public, or pay tribute to one of Hollywood’s most iconic actors, James Dean. Rebel Without a Cause was filmed here, and the actor commissioned artist Kenneth Kendall to create a sculpture of himself that’s still on display today. Couples can make a complete day outing, as the 4,000-acre park includes hiking and horseback riding, but nothing makes the heart soar more than watching the sun set over the ocean from the best vantage point in LA.

[Photo: John McStravick]

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The Santa Monica Pier: A Family Affair

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Grab the crew and head over to the Santa Monica Pier for a can’t-miss family fun experience. The kids will go nuts over this iconic attraction, filled with exciting rides, live entertainment venues, and casual, family-friendly restaurants. So let them get the sillies out among the flashing lights, nickelodeon tunes, and arcade games. Treat them to a famous hot dog-on-a-stick, where too much mustard is never enough, but not before taking them on a spin on the historic carousel and a sky-high ride on the Ferris wheel.

A friendly game of skeeball in the classic arcade will indulge the wee ones’ competitive streak, and with prizes ranging from handheld games to life-size stuffed animals on the line, you might just get in on the action yourself. Before it’s over, don’t forget to line up the brood and say cheese: the pier happens to be one of the top ten most Instragrammed places in the world.

[Photo: kadman420]

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Next Week’s L.A. Happenings: Connie And Ted’s, Robert Zemeckis, & Spago’s New Bar Menu

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Opening a trendy restaurant in West Hollywood during Gay Pride Week is genius, but even more brilliant is the restaurant itself. Connie and Ted’s, a new seafood spot by celeb Top Chef Michael Cimarusti, is a trendy little joint that, well, may serve the best seafood this side of Santa Monica. Connie & Ted’s is Michael’s dressed-down seafood joint to his formal Providence, just a short drive away. It’s named in honor of his grandparents, who taught Michael everything there is to know about preparing fish.

The modern-day seafood shack is bright and cheerful and totally fun. There’s an outdoor patio, nautical-themed cocktails, a fire-engine-red booth, and chairs with blonde wood tabletops. Expect raw bar options, three types of chowder (red, white, and cream-based) and even burgers, in addition to the usual suspects (lobster, clams, and—wait for it—fish).

If you haven’t already, nab a front-row seat at Rockwell: Table & Stage for its insanely wild and theatrical live performance called For The Record that pays tribute to a notable director. Playing until July 20th is For The Record: Zemeckis, where the talented (and, let’s face it, easy on the eyes) cast sings, dances and performs creative takes from Robert Zemeckis’ films like Back to the Future, Forrest Gump, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Flight, and Death Becomes Her.

The shows have been garnering a cult following and even the directors and actors from the movies themselves show up in the audience, in addition to A-list fans like Demi Moore, who attended opening night with her daughter Rumer.

Can’t get a table at Spago in Beverly Hills? The bar is just as impressive, especially now, since it’s just launched its new bar menu, offering sweet and intensely savory dishes like Bincho Grilled Chicken Wings and Spaghettini with little neck and razor clams. Wash it all down during the Tuesday to Saturday, 9pm to 11pm happy hour, which features specialty martinis for only $10 and premium wine pours starting at $8.

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Want To Stay With Psychics At Designer Kathryn Ireland’s French Chateau?

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It’s one thing to see celebrity interior designer Kathryn Ireland’s highbrow makeovers on Bravo TV’s Million Dollar Decorators, but to actually live in her chateau in the South-of-France countryside for seven days? A dream – that’s actually a reality. It’s been announced that Kathryn is opening up her 50-acre property this September for an over-the-top, spirituality-focused getaway retreat. Retreat = public = you don’t need to be on a VIP guest list to attend. Hollywood’s top psychic/intuitive, Aiden Chase, will lead the very first Cote d’Azur holistic jam, coined "The 7 Senses Retreat."

I recently interviewed Aiden on what to expect for 2013, and just last week he was appointed an A-List psychic by Hollywood Reporter. He’s also going to be joined by Hallmark Channel’s Lexi Beermann (of Hollywood Pet Mom), and the whole thing is produced by seekretreat.com, who knows a thing or two about this sorta stuff. 

This is the first time Kathryn has extended her home-away-from-home to the public, and the first time Aiden has flung himself this far with his own insanely faithful fans. As far as I know, the retreat is going to be an unforgettable, altruistic experience. 

And, yes, there will be wine. Not only is the retreat inclusive of all meals, daily maid service, access to beautiful grounds that look over vineyards, outdoor pool and gardens, but there’s going to be daily healing meditations, daily yoga, and tons more for what one would consider a very happy bunch of enthusiasts. 

Secure your spot on the retreat here

Today In L.A.: Carson House Opens, David Nayfield Hosts Dinner At Ink., Bamboo Izakaya’s Sushi Stuns

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Carson House in Beverly Hills is so casual, there’s no need to pop the collar. And you won’t find fine china, fussy menus, or celebrity chefs that franchise grocery stores. The new restaurant, opening today (Tuesday), is all about no-frills, peeled-back comfort in a massive shiny space with red leather sofas, hardwood floors, and banks of natural light from the floor-to-ceiling windows. It’s like the home of your dad’s cultured, swanky home – equipped with den, dining room, bar, and living room. At some point, you won’t even remember you’re in Beverly Hills.

The former principles of Vice nightclub (which turned into The Cosmo last week) are less theatrical with the opening of this upscale pub that focuses on an American menu like pretzel burgers, short-rib pizza, and Philly cheesesteak pot stickers. Oh, and of course, a 60+ beer menu, 20 on tap.

Over at ink., winner Michael Voltaggio’s restaurant in West Hollywood—former Eleven Madison Park’s David Nayfield is flying in today to host a one-time, six-course collaborative dinner. Who doesn’t like to fork into an east coast-meets-west coast epicurean affair? Nayfield will be no stranger to the LA dining scene. He’s already partnered up with Cardiff Giant (The Churchill, The Hudson) for an unnamed project downtown slated for late summer/early fall. Tickets for the dinner are $125.

If you haven’t already, trek over to Santa Monica for the recent opening of Bamboo Izakaya. Larry David did. There’s plenty of sushi restaurants on the beach, but Bamboo Izakaya can dish out some fresh and tasty rolls, and the crispy rice is epic. Expect a flow from the private member’s club 41 Ocean (behind the restaurant), which shares one of the same owners—Jeremy Umland—for the restaurant.

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Get the inside-scoop on Carson House, Ink., The Cosmo, Bamboo Izakaya.

Will Lanai In Hawaii Be Home To A Real ‘Hunger Games’?

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When you think of Hawaii, the last island that would most likely come to mind is Lanai. Well, to be honest, it’s a toss-up between Lanai and Molokai, both of which are sister islands to the more popular Maui. Molokai is known for its coconut grove—and that’s about it. The biggest tourist attraction is riding a mule down to Kalaupapa National Historical Park, and this is not an attempt to be ironic. But, unlike Lanai, Molokai is more or less self-sustaining, and it’s still a popular destination for off-the-radar junkies, not to mention there’s a jackpot of royal Hawaiian history that locals love. Molokai is not going to change, but Lanai can go down in history as the island that completely transformed in a matter of years.

Lanai is the sixth largest Hawaiian island, which means it’s one of the smallest. There are only 3,000 locals here, most of whom know each other. When I visited, locals had warned me pre-arrival to stay no more than one night, adamant there’s not much to do there. And they were right. The best highlight attraction was Garden of the Gods, an area of million-year-old rock formations and boulders along a cliff where, in the distance, you can see some of the other islands. Around dusk, the sun hits the soil and rocks in such a way that it presents a cool hybrid of colors.

Over on the other side of the island, Shark’s Bay (or Shark’s Cove) is another natural phenomenon that should be the set of a movie (and it was, if you ever saw the last reincarnation of The Tempest with Helen Mirren). The biggest thrill of this natural landscape is the myth that goes with it. According to legend, a Hawaiian princess had a jealous boyfriend who would lock her in a cave while he was away. One fatal day, she drowned during an abnormal high tide. Grieved, he buried her in the natural rock formation as a tribute in what is now known as Sweetheart Rock, and apparently her remains are still there today.

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And there you have it: that’s Lanai in a (coco)nutshell. So why do visitors come to this 140-square mile island with only 30 miles of paved roads, lack of traffic lights and corporations, and no nightlife or surf spots?

The most obvious answer is the two Four Seasons properties—The Lodge at Koele and Manela Bay—that truly offer that "destination resort" experience. I stayed at the Four Seasons Lanai at Manela Bay, a 236-room property that—in 2007—took over that hotel where Bill Gates got married in 1992. Here, there’s lush tropical gardens within the resort, a terrific Nobu restaurant that has insane views of the bay, and a stretch of sandy white beach that never gets crowded. I spent some time sitting at the Four Seasons al fresco bar and chatting up the ex-pat bartender who couldn’t give me more than two reasons one should visit the island.

"Why are you here?" I asked him. He pointed out the isolation, the fact no one could find you, and perhaps strongly suggested (or, maybe, in my wild interpretation) he was running from the law. Unlikely, but Lanai is the type of place you have to create all sorts of crazy stories in your head in order to have a little fun.

And, to a degree, the bartender is right. Lanai is the type of place one would go to simply feel removed from the rest of the world. The properties are a proper getaway for celebrities who truly want to trek off the beaten path (there’s no paparazzi in Lanai). It’s so off the radar that there were rumors Tom Cruise was considering buying an estate when he visited the island for vacation earlier this year. Oh, you didn’t hear? It’s because nothing really leaves the island.

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The biggest headlining news that actually went international was that the island was bought by billionaire Oracle founder Larry Ellison. Lanai has always been privately owned, and as the “owner” of the island, Larry is the head honcho. Locals see him as a mayor, so to speak. Since he came on board late last year, he’s created new jobs, fixed up some messy buildings, and added benches to Dole Square Park. He also wants to make the island self-sufficient by turning to organic farming. For $500 million dollars (the price tag of the island), Larry calls the shots. It’s like a fantasy video game – only real.

So, what exactly is in store for Lanai, the island that time forgot or, more appropriately, the island no one will remember if Larry doesn’t completely give it a major overhaul? How far can he take his ownership? At press time, Lanai had the lowest unemployment rate among the islands, and there was a two-percent decline in visitors. It’s a terrific island to visit but there could be massive changes as Lanai is practically within Larry’s fate. Depending on his motives and vision, here’s a number of things that could be the potential outcome of Lanai (all completely theorized while on the island, natch), which could change it forever.

Lanai Could Become Home to a Real Hunger Games. Back in the day (thousands of years ago), Lanai was actually a prison island. Women from Maui were dropped off here and had to fend for themselves. If history repeats itself, Lanai could be in trouble (or, we could see a great deal of entertainment). Currently, hunting is legal in Lanai, and spear diving/fishing is a popular activity amongst locals. An actual Hunger Games scenario is not unlikely if Larry neglects the locals and fails to give proper (and more) jobs.

Oprah Could Take Over Lanai. Last year, Oprah made a surprise, quiet visit to the island, shacking up at Four Seasons Lodge at Koele and visiting some of the island highlights. She was also in a bunch of meetings. Could she possibly be the new caretaker of the island should Larry call it quits? Can we expect her to dole out chunks of land the way she gives out cars to audience members?

Lanai Becomes Four Seasons Island. Four Seasons really is the main reason visitors come to the island for, and they currently manage two of the three hotels on the island. The other, Lanai Hotel, is a small, historic hotel in town, and the first hotel on the island, but doesn’t have as much game as FS. What will happen if visitors continue to flock to Four Seasons, and Lanai Hotel gets no love? It means Four Seasons may take over the third property and do what Disneyland did for Orlando. Hey, this is actually not a bad thing. Cocktails on the island, however, will average $16. BYOB.

Lanai Could Become the Next Oahu. This is very unlikely but what if Larry passes his island over to his two children in their thirties, one of whom is David Ellison, an easy-on-the-eyes, American film producer and CEO of Skydance Productions (he produced Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol)? Their imaginations could go wild and, seeing the lack of "party" on the island, they would arrange booze cruises, Coachella-type festivals, and even some pop-up hotels where they fly in world renowned DJs like Calvin Harris to perform beachside. Again, not a bad thing.

Lanai Remains As… Lanai. Perhaps the most plausible (and yet, unmoving) outcome is that Lanai doesn’t change at all. A few more locals get more jobs, Four Seasons continues to brim at occupancy, and the island continues to keep its "Aloha" spirit with the little it offers. Organic farming is implemented and, well, that’s about as much that happens. At least it will give visitors a little more room for imagination.

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[Related: BlackBook Honolulu Guide; More by Jimmy Im; Follow Jimmy on Twitter]

L.A. Happenings: Former Spaces Opened & Marilyn Monroe Resurrected

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Former spaces (and celebrities) are resurrected this week to bring some of the most notable happenings in Los Angeles.

Tomorrow marks the official opening of The Cosmo, an intimate 2,400-square foot nightclub that’s been almost a year in the works. What was formerly the Vice is now luring tourists (The Cosmo is right on Hollywood Boulevard’s famous Walk of Fame) to its wildly Gothic interiors with pointed arch windows, vaulted ceilings, and crystal chandeliers. You’ll feel like you’re going to church in the Renaissance era, only scantily clad waitresses will be serving you all sorts of booze.
Details: The Cosmo (6364 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood) opens tomorrow. To make reservations, visit the listing at BlackBook Guides.

In Venice, Bank of Venice opened this past weekend inside the space of an actual bank (the original Bank of Venice from 1905) but most notably the former Dry Tour wine bar that sorta didn’t work out. On the coveted corner of Windward and Pacific, Bank of Venice is serving up a Pacific Rim meets Pacific Northwest menu with organic, sustainable and GM-free dishes (from meatloaf to seared scallop) and 30 local beers on tap.
Details: Bank of Venice (80 Winward Ave, Venice) is now open. For more information on the restaurant/bar, visit the listing at BlackBook Guides.

With Hollywood’s iconic actress Marilyn Monroe’s birthday coming up on June 1, it only makes sense that Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel (where Marilyn lived for two years and also home to many Marilyn sightings in more recent years) pay tribute to the "blonde bombshell." In the hotel’s Public Kitchen & Bar, executive chef Tim Goodell has created a "Marilyn, Always Remembered" menu that includes a Marilyn Suite specialty cocktail, Strawberry Blonde cupcakes and Neapolitan Meatballs (a dish Marilyn learned to cook while married to Joe DiMaggio).
Details: Marilyn, Always Remembered menu is offered all month long at Public Kitchen & Bar (7000 Hollywood Blvd, Hollywood). For more information on Public Kitchen, visit the BlackBook Guides.

Know every inch of this city by visiting BlackBook’s L.A. City Guides.

This Week’s L.A. Happenings: Chi Lin & Altitude Pool at SLS Opens, New Burgers At LA Market

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NOW OPEN: Chi Lin For The Sexy-Rocker Types
Get your chopstick etiquette in check because Chi Lin is now officially open on Sunset. Brought to you by Innovative Dining Group (the folks behind Boa and Sushi Roku), Chi Lin is a sexy, intimate new dining spot dishing out creative Hong Kong cuisine like Pin Pei Chicken served with hand-made porbien crepes and Leaves of Wild Yam in Lemon Zest, a superfood dark green leaves of wild yam. Insane. Expect lanterns, mirrored ceilings, sleek booths, and a whole lot of neck-craning. Oh, and good Chinese food, of course. 

Chi Lin (9201 W. Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood) is now open. To make a reservation, visit the listing at BlackBook Guides. 
 
NOW OPEN: ALTITUDE Pool Deck at SLS Beverly Hills
All abs on deck! The rooftop pool at SLS Hotel At Beverly Hills is officially open to guests and locals. Grab a bite from the menu created by Jose Andres, book a cabana, and get all sorts of wet at their new weekend rooftop parties. 
 
ALTITUDE at SLS Hotel is open to the public during the weekdays between 11 am and 3 pm. Reservations are highly recommended and can be made by visiting the hotel’s listing at BlackBook Guides. 
 
TUESDAY: Animal Cracker & Iron Chef Burgers at LA Market Restaurant
In celebration of National Burger Month, celebrity chef Kerry Simon is serving up some creative burgers at LA Market Restaurant to flaunt his street cred. Until May 31st, guests can get a mouthful of his Chocolate Double Animal (Cracker)-Style Burger or reunite with the Iron Chef Burger, which appeared on Food Network’s Iron Chef America. 
 
Both burgers are available at LA Market Restaurant by Kerry Simon until the end of the month. For more information on the restaurant, visit the listing at BlackBook Guides. 
 
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This Week’s L.A. Happenings: Nozawa Bar & Rooftop Pool Opens, Taylor Boudreaux Feeds Napa

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NOW OPEN: Secret Sushi Nozawa Bar in Beverly Hills
It feels like a speakeasy, only the highlight at the new Nozawa Bar is sushi. Weirdly, it’s a secret sushi restaurant in the back room of an existing sushi restaurant but with its own chef: Osamu Fujita. There are only two seatings at lunch and two seatings at dinner, so reservations are a must. And no need to fuss over a menu—there is none! It’s a true omakase experience, each course served simultaneously to everyone, and dishes like sashimi and hand rolls are based entirely on the day’s fresh market catch. 

Nozawa Bar (212 North Canon Drive, Beverly Hills) is now open. Lunch is $130 per person; dinner $150 per person. To make a reservation, visit the listing at BlackBook Guides. 

 

MONDAY: London West Hollywood’s Rooftop Pool Opens to Public

After kicking off its fifth anniversary last week, the London West Hollywood has cooled its pool rules. Now, anyone (not just registered guests) can officially and legally throw on their thongs and lounge on the rooftop pool. Several intimate cabanas, sweeping city views, and a delicious Gordon Ramsey menu await. 

 

The rooftop pool at London West Hollywood (1020 N. San Vicente Blvd, West Hollywood) is now open to the public. To book a cabana or a guest room, visit the listing at BlackBook Guides. 

 

WEDNESDAY: Trefethen Family Vineyards at Napa Valley Grille

You may recognize the young executive chef Taylor Boudreaux as one of LA’s Hottest Chefs. Or maybe the fact he won the annual Tavistock Restaurant Group’s first Top Chef of the Year. Either way, he’s prepared an exclusive, four-course rustic menu for at Napa Valley Grille, paired with wines from Trefethen Family Vineyards, Napa region’s leading sustainable winegrower. You can eat well, see a hot chef, and get drunk on great wine. 

 

The four-course rustic menu is $75 per person and only available today at Napa Valley Grille (1100 Glendon Ave, Westwood). To make a reservation, visit the listing at BlackBook Guides.