By Neal Broverman
Originally published on Advocate.com March 04 2009 1:00 AM ET
In Los Angeles, shorthand for West Hollywood -- the tiny, trendy city abutted by the metropolis on three sides, and by Beverly Hills on the fourth -- is WeHo . The nickname is fitting since West Hollywood is where many Angelenos go to get laid. Separated by a steep hill, Santa Monica and Sunset boulevards are the main prowling grounds, with gays hunting at the former, straights at the latter. The Santa Monica scene is almost completely devoid of hotels, so if you're visiting WeHo, it often means you're laying your head in the midst of Sunset's overpriced hotel-bar scene -- basically an aggressive, hetero meat market. But with the January opening of Sunset Boulevard's Andaz Hotel, an outpost of sophistication and gay sensibility has finally arrived on the Strip.
Occupying the former "Riot Hyatt," where rock stars of the '70s like Keith Richards and John Bonham once tossed televisions off balconies and rode motorcycles through hallways, the redesigned property is the first American hotel in the new Hyatt-owned Andaz chain (London's Andaz opened in 2007, while two New York properties and an Austin hotel are also in the works). Working with $40 million, design firm Janson Goldstein raised local eyebrows last year when its team gutted the entire 14-story building and enclosed the infamous balconies. The makeover is indeed extreme, but effective. Hip without being obnoxiously so, the new aesthetic has made the hotel relevant again while clearly communicating Andaz's intentions: more style, less bile.
The lobby is mostly dark and stark; only one picture hangs in the airy space. Check-in is accomplished without a traditional desk and without a line. Elegantly dressed hosts direct you to one of many laptop kiosks that handle all the details of arrival, from agent to concierge. Eyes will wander to the lobby's suspended jellyfish-like lights and shiny vertical wall panels that appear to be bursting into flame. A simple black staircase leads to a 24-hour gym and meeting rooms.
The lobby's adjoining restaurant, RH (referencing the hotel's former nickname), is another study in minimalism, where a private dining space is partially surrounded by 400 bottles of boutique California wines and champagnes encased behind glass. Chef Sebastien Archambault and his staff prepare fresh California cuisine from local ingredients in one of Los Angeles's largest open kitchens. Guests can watch the action from the main dining room's long communal marble tables, private two-seaters, or swirling banquettes. An intimate bar, where bookshelves are stocked with volumes about Los Angeles, looks over action on the Strip.
Upstairs, the Andaz hallways are dark and sexy, with lighted room numbers to guide your way. Where some "hip" hotel rooms greet guests with disco lighting and pounding techno, the Andaz rooms are quiet and white; entering one produces a dreamy, ethereal sensation. Rooms facing Sunset run 352 square feet (rooms directed toward the Hollywood Hills are a bit smaller), with a mirror behind the bed, a tasteful desk, a 42-inch flat-screen TV, and a sunroom -- giving new life to those former balconies. Within the sunroom, two plush black chairs are angled diagonally toward the cityscape, and there's an additional 20-inch flat-screen TV. The hotel's 257 rooms include 19 corner suites and a colossal presidential suite on the top floor. And then, like a cherry on top, there's the hotel's heated rooftop pool. Surrounded by lush cabanas, a stocked bar, and a sweeping vista that stretches from the Hollywood Hills to downtown Los Angeles, the Andaz's pool scene has easily overtaken that of the nearby Standard hotel (tiny pool, weak view, crabby service). Cloistered in the Andaz, the annoyances of Sunset and the lures of Santa Monica will be inconsequential. You're already in your element.