Gelato, Rock Stars and Eco-Hotels: Three Days in the Heart of West Hollywood

1 Hotel West Hollywood

 

Though we often refer to Los Angeles as a monolith (no one in New York says “I’m flying out to Bel-Air tomorrow”), truth is, it’s sort of a collection of fairly autonomous towns given an overarching “federal” government – which we must admit we’re not exactly sure is in charge of what.

For our purposes here, we’ll refer to them as neighborhoods – and those like Silver Lake and Highland Park have followed the typical hipster arc this past decade-plus…while Beverly Hills remains central command for all things posho, and Downtown, now a combination of business, trendy nightlife and upscale apartments, still struggles for an actual identity.

 

Maxfield

 

But for the dozens of times we’ve made the 3000-mile trip to LA, West Hollywood has generally acted as our spiritual home. No other ‘hood has remained so steadfast in its identity, while also never lapsing in its mission to stay dynamically current. It’s cool, it’s fun, and it actually looks more like everyone’s idea of Hollywood than Hollywood does.

We recently checked into 1 Hotel West Hollywood – a fairly new eco-luxe brand with a pair of sister properties in NYC, as well as one in Miami. With its sustainable chic, casual-cool clientele, and destination F&B offerings, it could not be more philosophically aligned with its 8490 Sunset Boulevard address (just east of La Cienega). And in keeping with WeHo’s “anything you want, it’s yours” agenda, the legendary Comedy Store is just a block up – we caught hilariously woke-defying sets by Whitney Cummings and Anthony Jeselnik – while directly across from the hotel is the equally legendary Pink Dot liquor store, for those late night “back to the room” party supplies.

 

1 Hotel West Hollywood

 

Of course, nobody walks in LA. But we figured we would at least ditch the gas guzzler and do a Bikes & Hikes tour of WeHo, which is ridiculously fun considering the “slopes” leading up to and down from Sunset. We opted for of-the-moment electric bicycles, meaning real cyclists were looking on at us with genuine disdain; and the range of old and new discoveries along the way included the city’s first marijuana-tolerant restaurant, the Lowell Cafe, and Elvis’ house, flamboyantly tucked away in the lower hills (though we’ve always preferred Little Richard).

We then headed for lunch at the exceedingly buzzy Gracias Madre (it translates to “Thanks mom” – aww…). Crowded since its opening in 2014, it boasts a gorgeous Oaxaca meets WeHo interior, with a tiled bar, and Colonial style hanging lamps. The cuisine was fancy vegan Mexican, and has also sated the likes of Liam Hemsworth, Amber Heard and Harrison Ford.

 

Gracias Madre

 

A brief stroll through the Design District took us to Maxfield, a brilliantly curated and very mod furniture shop – mid-century French is a thing there – which also stocks a smartly chosen selection of design finds and bleeding-edge fashion (Anne Hathaway, Lana Del Rey and Usher are amongst the steady parade of celebs that have been spotted shopping there). A separate gallery space has exhibited everything from Galliano-for-Margiela clothing to The Kills’ Alison Mosshart’s paintings to selections from the Daft Punk archives.

GM Nick Remidio then greeted us for a tour of the nearby Kimpton La Peer Hotel (named for its address). And we must admit, with hipster-style fatigue having set in years ago already, we loved that La Peer was a bastion of elegance and good taste, with plush furnishings fitted into a lobby space of Corbusian like understatement, a very nice-looking private pool area, and some gorgeous tile-work at the entrance. We returned that evening for dinner at the hotel’s Viale dei Romani restaurant, where charismatic Exec Chef Casey Lane dazzled us with his creative pasta dishes, including the Pasta Alla Piastra with “the world’s best bolognese.”

 

Gelato Festival 

 

The next day we went deeper into WeHo Italophile culture (trust us, it’s a thing) with a gelato making class at the charming Gelato Festival on Melrose. Founded in Florence in 2010, the festival itself now travels around the world, Berlin, Chicago, Yokohama…and West Hollywood, of course. The shop is staffed by real Italians, and they delighted us with their inimitable charms and delectable flavor creations – all of which are better for you than actual ice cream.

There was nothing particularly healthy about lunch at Pizzana – but it certainly has done away with the notion that you can’t get great pizza in Los Angeles. We could safely say it is definitely not for purists, as these were distinctly high-concept pies – Vegan Funghi, Cacio e Pepe, the spicy salami Diavola…and were all far too decadent for a 1pm feeding.

 

Pizzana

 

We had to fit in some “old” West Hollywood, naturally – and the best place to do it was the Sunset Marquis hotel, which is like a little village tucked away behind Alta Loma Road – albeit one endlessly populated with rock stars. And indeed, we popped over for a visit only to find that Ringo Starr was having an exhibit of his photographs…an opening for which guitar gods Jimmy Page and Joe Perry would make appearances. Dining on the patio were Pete Townshend and Roger Daltry, while Bono and Keith Richards anecdotes were amusingly shared. So…you get the idea.

But we were invited down to the hotel’s exalted Nightbird Recording Studios to have a look around – and were reminded that a new generation – Katy Perry, Rihanna, Drake – were now regularly making music here as well.

Fittingly we then went on to check out the recently revitalized Formosa Cafe, which once hosted the likes of Sinatra, James Dean and Marilyn Monroe. Now it feeds the cool kids a menu of hipsterized Chinese eats (the patio is a total scene) set to a very well curated soundtrack.

 

Sunset Marquis 

 

Back at the 1 Hotel, there was no discernible scenesterizing at the 1 Kitchen by Chris Crary, which is really all about the food, and hits all the right consciousness notes: sustainably sourced ingredients, with an organic garden and beehive on premises, and a good selection of biodynamic wines. A tequila-and-watermelon Quench cocktail paired beautifully with an heirloom tomato panzanella, and the Brandt Beef grilled ribeye was one of the best steaks we’d enjoyed in recent memory. Perfection.

Drinks at the absolutely gorgeous Harriet’s rooftop easily conjured that ever elusive vibe of classic Hollywood glamour, with twinkling lights reflecting on the elegant black and white striped sofas. But our Champagne cocktails also came with a striking view of Janet Echelmann‘s ethereal Dream Catcher installation, dramatically draped between the hotel’s two towers – the old and the new, just as we’ve come to expect of our beloved West Hollywood.

 

Janet Echelmann’s Dream Catcher
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