Grafton-on-Sunset

The Downlow On We-Ho

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Sunset Marquis
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Rod Yates acts cool as cool as possible while experiencing one of LA’s hippest precincts: West Hollywood.

It begins with my driver, A.J., a burly African-American in his fifties who picks me up at LAX on a sunny Monday morning in late April. Judging by his stories about Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, I’m clearly the least famous person ever to ride in his luxury SUV, but I’m also not about to hit him in the head with an empty bottle of Jack Daniel’s, as Faye Dunaway apparently once did. I am, however, on route to West Hollywood – “WeHo” to locals -a city of 4.8 sq km with a population of 39,000, located at the base of the Hollywood Hills and adjacent to Beverly Hills. It gained notoriety in the 1920s, the lightly-policed Sunset Strip became a haven for nightclubs and speakeasies, and today is synonymous with cutting edge culture, entertainment and design.

Rod Yates acts cool as cool as possible while experiencing one of LA’s hippest precincts- West Hollywood.

It begins with my driver, A.J., a burly African-American in his fifties who picks me up at LAX on a sunny Monday morning in late April. Judging by his stories about Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, I’m clearly the least famous person ever to ride in his luxury SUV, but I’m also not about to hit him in the head with an empty bottle of Jack Daniel’s, as Faye Dunaway apparently once did. I am, however, on route to West Hollywood – “WeHo” to locals -a city of 4.8 sq km with a population of 39,000, located at the base of the Hollywood Hills and adjacent to Beverly Hills. It gained notoriety in the 19

20s, the lightly-policed Sunset Strip became a haven for nightclubs and speakeasies, and today is synonymous with cutting edge culture, entertainment and design.

RIOT OFF SUNSET

When A.J. drops me at the Sunset Marquis (www.sunsetmarquis.com) on Alta Loma Road, a quiet side street spitting distance from the infamous Sunset Strip, I stand back and take in its understated entrance – a simple awning and a doorman are the only indication that behind its glass doors sit 52 luxury villas and 100 standard rooms that have played host to some of the world’s biggest stars, from U2 to the Stones. As Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler says in the 2013 book marking the hotel’s 50th anniversary, If These Walls Could Rock,”The pool? Probably fit it two times with the amount of cocaine that was done here.”

If the low-key atmosphere and promise of privacy are two of the attractions for celebrities, the hotel’s whiskey bar, Bar 1200, is surely an added bonus. Intimate, dimly lit and – as with much of the hotel and its grounds – lined with framed photos of rock ‘n’ roll icons, I spy no celebs on my first night, but am charmed by a leggy bartender called Courtney who moved here from New York for the perfectly West Hollywood reason that she “gets to live my weird vegan life and do yoga”. She makes a Bourbon Smash (Makers Mark, muddled lemon, mint and Simple Syrup) to nice I have to try it twice. And then a third time. The next day I spend the afternoon supping beers by one of the hotel’s two pools and exploring the lush gardens that flank Cavatina, an alfresco restaurant that on my first evening, plays host to Tony Hawk. It may sound like the domain of the rich and famous, but at $300 a night for standard room, it’s a fantastic base for a week in West Hollywood.

On a budget?

Try the Grafton on Sunset (graftononsunset.com). Still boutique, my night there costs $180, and though the room is much smiler than the Marquis’, its location is excellent.

Grafton-on-Sunset

SUNSET EATS

My initial foray into West Hollywood begins with a stroll along Sunset Strip. Though a renowned haven – rock ‘n’ roll – clubs such as The Whisky, The Rainbow and The Roxy were the epicentre of the ’80s glam scene, and before that played host to the likes of The Doors and Led Zeppelin – my nighttime activities are focused more around its boutique restaurants and bars.

The balmy Californian evenings explain the popularity of alfresco dining, and I spend as much time at Eveleigh on Sunset (theeveleigh.com looking at the sun descend over LA as I do perusing the menu. Owned by two Australians, Nick Mathers and Nick Hatsatouris, and opened in 2010, its food is rustic and farm fresh. And while its handout tagliatelle has the feel of a home-cooked meal, the French fries with truffled aioli steal the night.

Similarly popular or West Hollywood are share plates. At The Church Key (thechurchkeyla.com), also on Sunset, my table picks from the “modem American-styled” menu and orders pork belly salad, strawberry salad, chicken tikka and steak with mushroom ragu pie, all of which is divvied up while waiters circle the room with dim sum carts containing delicacies such as sliders and halibut tacos. My hero? The cocktail waitress wheeling a Pan Am flight case who, with the aid of liquid nitrogen, transforms cocktails into popsicles.

For lunch: Try Gradas Madre (graciasmadreweho.com), an organic vegan Mexican restaurant on Melrose. The BTLA wrap – wheat tortilla, coconut bacon, avocado, chipotle aioli, pico de gallo and greens – is hearty. Wash it down with the Three Miracles margarita-its ice cubes contain absinthe.

BAR HOPPING

It says something about West Hollywood’s bars that when I walk into The Den on Sunset (www. Thedenonsunset.com) – a low-key, good-time place perfect for beer drinking – and see Hot Tub Time Machine actor Clark Duke belting cute karaoke version of Oasis’ “Wonderwall”, it’s not the most memorable sight of my Wednesday night. That award goes to the six-foot-seven transsexual male being led around on a dog leash at The Abbey (www.facebook. com/TheAbbeyFB), regarded the best LGBT bar in WeHo, as women in lingerie writhe around on nearby plaforms. The most surreal sight of all? Drinking a Jack Daniel’s in world-renowned rock club The Rainbow as Guns N’Roses guitarist Gilby Clarke walks in the very moment GN’R start playing over the speakers. The coolest bar I discover, though, is Now Boarding (www. Nowboardingla.com), a vintage cocktail bar on Santa Monica Boulevard with decor inspired by ’70s air travel. My bartender, an Aussie named Paul, recommends the Wheels Up cocktail, consisting of Birdog peach whisky, Aperol and lemon tangerine. Good call.

If you’ve got cash: Hit Soho House (www.sohohousewh.com). Membership costs US$2,000 a year and two members have to nominate you for application, but the panoramic view of LA alone is worth the price of admission.

BODY BEAUTIFUL

Madonna and Taylor Swift are disciples of a new exercise craze called SoulCycle (www.soul-cycle.com/studios/weho/14/) that after a week indulging in WeHo’s bars and restaurants, sounds like something I should do. But as I walk into a tiny room filled with spin bikes and buff locals, not to mention the words “Athlete. Legend. warrior. Renegade. Rockstar. SoulCycle” emblazoned on the wall, I start to have second thoughts. Several minutes in, my legs hold up a white flag and surrender. My liver did it two minutes earlier.

But then something happens: the dimly-lit room explodes with bright light, the supremely fit spin instructors up their tempo, and our host, Angela Manuel – a former professional track athlete, and personal spin assistant to Oprah Winfrey – begins to dance to the deafening R&B while unleashing feel-good mantras of affirmation. It is, in short, like taking a spin class in a nightclub led by an athletic version of Tony Robbins.

“There is something that happens when you’re physically vulnerable, you spiritually open up,” explains Angela after the class. “And when that happens I have an opportunity to pour in and affirm and encourage. It’s about finding that space where you begin to believe that you’re capable, and I can get you to that space and go, in and rewire your mindset when I have you physically vulnerable.”

No wonder some people refer to SoulCycle as Church on a bike. It’s about as Hollywood an experience as you can imagine, but I leave the class feeling bulletproof. Which, after a week indulging in all WeHo has to offer, is a pretty good result.

Soul Cycle
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Also worth doing: A bicycle tour with Bikes and Hikes (www. bikesandhikesla.com) – a great way to are West Hollywood and neighbouring Beverly Hills.
When A.J. drops me at the Sunset Marquis (www.sunsetmarquis.com) on Alta Loma Road, a quiet side street spitting distance from the infamous Sunset Strip, I stand back and take in its understated entrance – a simple awning and a doorman are the only indication that behind its glass doors sit 52 luxury villas and 100 standard rooms that have played host to some of the world’s biggest stars, from U2 to the Stones. As Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler says in the 2013 book marking the hotel’s 50th anniversary, If These Walls Could Rock,”The pool? Probably fit it two times with the amount of cocaine that was done here.”

If the low-key atmosphere and promise of privacy are two of the attractions for celebrities, the hotel’s whiskey bar, Bar 1200, is surely an added bonus. Intimate, dimly lit and – as with much of the hotel and its grounds – lined with framed photos of rock ‘n’ roll icons, I spy no celebs on my first night, but am charmed by a leggy bartender called Courtney who moved here from New York for the perfectly West Hollywood reason that she “gets to live my weird vegan life and do yoga”. She makes a Bourbon Smash (Makers Mark, muddled lemon, mint and Simple Syrup) to nice I have to try it twice. And then a third time. The next day I spend the afternoon supping beers by one of the hotel’s two pools and exploring the lush gardens that flank Cavatina, an alfresco restaurant that on my first evening, plays host to Tony Hawk. It may sound like the domain of the rich and famous, but at $300 a night for standard room, it’s a fantastic base for a week in West Hollywood.

On a budget?
Try the Grafton on Sunset (graftononsunset.com). Still boutique, my night there costs $180, and though the room is much smiler than the Marquis’, its location is excellent.

SUNSET EATS
My initial foray into West Hollywood begins with a stroll along Sunset Strip. Though a renowned haven – rock ‘n’ roll – clubs such as The Whisky, The Rainbow and The Roxy were the epicentre of the ’80s glam scene, and before that played host to the likes of The Doors and Led Zeppelin – my nighttime activities are focused more around its boutique restaurants and bars.

The balmy Californian evenings explain the popularity of alfresco dining, and I spend as much time at Eveleigh on Sunset (theeveleigh.com looking at the sun descend over LA as I do perusing the menu. Owned by two Australians, Nick Mathers and Nick Hatsatouris, and opened in 2010, its food is rustic and farm fresh. And while its handout tagliatelle has the feel of a home-cooked meal, the French fries with truffled aioli steal the night.

Similarly popular or West Hollywood are share plates. At The Church Key (thechurchkeyla.com), also on Sunset, my table picks from the “modem American-styled” menu and orders pork belly salad, strawberry salad, chicken tikka and steak with mushroom ragu pie, all of which is divvied up while waiters circle the room with dim sum carts containing delicacies such as sliders and halibut tacos. My hero? The cocktail waitress wheeling a Pan Am flight case who, with the aid of liquid nitrogen, transforms cocktails into popsicles.

For lunch: Try Gradas Madre (graciasmadreweho.com), an organic vegan Mexican restaurant on Melrose. The BTLA wrap – wheat tortilla, coconut bacon, avocado, chipotle aioli, pico de gallo and greens – is hearty. Wash it down with the Three Miracles margarita-its ice cubes contain absinthe.

BAR HOPPING
It says something about West Hollywood’s bars that when I walk into The Den on Sunset (www. Thedenonsunset.com) – a low-key, good-time place perfect for beer drinking – and see Hot Tub Time Machine actor Clark Duke belting cute karaoke version of Oasis’ “Wonderwall”, it’s not the most memorable sight of my Wednesday night. That award goes to the six-foot-seven transsexual male being led around on a dog leash at The Abbey (www.facebook. com/TheAbbeyFB), regarded the best LGBT bar in WeHo, as women in lingerie writhe around on nearby plaforms. The most surreal sight of all? Drinking a Jack Daniel’s in world-renowned rock club The Rainbow as Guns N’Roses guitarist Gilby Clarke walks in the very moment GN’R start playing over the speakers. The coolest bar I discover, though, is Now Boarding (www. Nowboardingla.com), a vintage cocktail bar on Santa Monica Boulevard with decor inspired by ’70s air travel. My bartender, an Aussie named Paul, recommends the Wheels Up cocktail, consisting of Birdog peach whisky, Aperol and lemon tangerine. Good call.

If you’ve got cash: Hit Soho House (www.sohohousewh.com). Membership costs US$2,000 a year and two members have to nominate you for application, but the panoramic view of LA alone is worth the price of admission.

BODY BEAUTIFUL
Madonna and Taylor Swift are disciples of a new exercise craze called SoulCycle (www.soul-cycle.com/studios/weho/14/) that after a week indulging in WeHo’s bars and restaurants, sounds like something I should do. But as I walk into a tiny room filled with spin bikes and buff locals, not to mention the words “Athlete. Legend. warrior. Renegade. Rockstar. SoulCycle” emblazoned on the wall, I start to have second thoughts. Several minutes in, my legs hold up a white flag and surrender. My liver did it two minutes earlier.

But then something happens: the dimly-lit room explodes with bright light, the supremely fit spin instructors up their tempo, and our host, Angela Manuel – a former professional track athlete, and personal spin assistant to Oprah Winfrey – begins to dance to the deafening R&B while unleashing feel-good mantras of affirmation. It is, in short, like taking a spin class in a nightclub led by an athletic version of Tony Robbins.

“There is something that happens when you’re physically vulnerable, you spiritually open up,” explains Angela after the class. “And when that happens I have an opportunity to pour in and affirm and encourage. It’s about finding that space where you begin to believe that you’re capable, and I can get you to that space and go, in and rewire your mindset when I have you physically vulnerable.”

No wonder some people refer to SoulCycle as Church on a bike. It’s about as Hollywood an experience as you can imagine, but I leave the class feeling bulletproof. Which, after a week indulging in all WeHo has to offer, is a pretty good result.

Also worth doing: A bicycle tour with Bikes and Hikes (www. bikesandhikesla.com) – a great way to are West Hollywood and neighbouring Beverly Hills.