Splendor in the sprawl makes a trip to Los Angeles entertaining
Los Angeles may be the closest Houston gets to a “big sister.” Sure, Texans may feel like closer kin to rival cities like Dallas or Austin. But there’s something about L.A.’s unexpected charm that taught me there can be splendor in sprawl and has me scanning for cheap fares back to the "City of Angels."
Many disdain downtown L.A., but I was at a conference and somehow the Modern Languages Association didn’t offer literature professors across the country options in Beverly Hills or Malibu. Maybe next time.
I was pleasantly surprised by the liveliness of downtown, which locals tell me is relatively recent. For my first trip to L.A., I was holed up in the Luxe City Center downtown. So what if it’s a former Holiday Inn going through its own version of reconstructive surgery?
The restaurant and pool were closed, explaining the stellar rates, the rooms nicely re-habbed, and the showers fierce. It was surprisingly peaceful, considering that it’s directly across from the Staples Center and its neighborhood wonderland of restaurants and bars called L.A. Live. If you’re in town for the Lakers, this will be handy for snacks and drinks before and after.
It’s not just Bravo that gives me my fix of reality-drama. I’m kind of in love with Gordon Ramsay and would actually pay to eat his food while he yells at me. Alas, time was too tight to make to Gordon Ramsay at the London hotel in West Hollywood. I had to settle for a touch of Hell’s Kitchen.
Eating at Kerry Simon’s L.A. Market was anything but settling. A year as head honcho of that fine eatery was the ultimate prize this year on Hell’s Kitchen, so perhaps our food was prepared by season eight winner Nona Sivley herself. Perhaps not. Still, the lamb tagine and roasted chicken were more than worth the trip.
Not all the desserts were, though I liked the elevated junk food approach. Avoid the tough devil’s food cake (served with a massive glass of milk) and stick with the lusciously twice-baked banana bread.
Across from the Luxe was the Grammy Museum. Readers, I was skeptical. Is there any more self-promoting and self-celebrating profession than the music industry? Oh right—the film industry! Well, extraordinary exhibits on Janis Joplin and John Lennon proved me wrong.
I did wish, a little bit, that I were staying at the Moroccan-themed Figueroa Hotel just down the street. And brunch with a friend at the über-cool Standard Hotel made me feel like executive Eurotrash. Just the day before I visited, the Standard installed a Jenny Holzer sculpture in the lobby, a gorgeous silver LED column with blue letters of Holzer’s Truisms sliding up to the ceiling.
When Holzer’s truism “Protect me from what I want” flashed by, I knew I was in trouble. I searched my pocket for angular Euro-glasses, hoping to fit in. I had to settle for some beautifully-cooked eggs and resisted the urge to have a mimosa at 10 a.m. The vivid yellow interior will get you revved up morning, noon, or night. The restaurant is called 24/7, and it’s amazing and true they serve their brasserie delights all day. That’s so L.A.
Downtown was deco heaven, but the granddaddy of all the deco I saw was the gorgeous and green Wiltern Theater on the edge of Koreatown at Wilshire and Western. Had I not be surrounded by vicious L.A. drivers I would have leaned my head out the window to gawk.
Gawking was all I could do at the Getty Center. Call it a center or a museum if you will, but atop a hill 12 miles northwest of downtown in Brentwoodis a veritable temple of art and the most impressive museum complex I’ve ever seen. This must be what $1.3 billion looks like. It’s worth every penny. Richard Meier’s architecture and Richard Irvin’s gardens make you think you’ve arrived in heaven. There was too little time to check out the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades, but there’s always a next time.
What would a trip to L.A. be without a little cinematic splendor? Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to be invited to a party with the could-have-should-have-beens of the film industry for a cocktail or seven. But that can get way too Day of the Locusts. Head to Paramount Studios for a V.I.P. tour. It’s $40 a head and there’s no bag of V.I.P. swag. But you will get two hours on a working studio with a group of no more than eight.
I was dismayed to see that most of the sound stages are occupied by Nickelodeon hits for 'tweens. And the thing that got my tour group most excited was a visit to the set for the Dr. Phil show. “Hey, that’s where his wife sits!” someone enthused as I wondered, “What kind of doctor is he?”
But we also passed buildings named for the great divas of the silver screen: Marlene Dietrich, Gloria Swanson, and Carole Lombard. Talk about angels. On the way out I touched the original Paramount gates, which should guarantee me success in show biz.
I won’t hold my breath.