The 2019 Hemispheres hotel top 20
Story by Nicolas DeRenzo | Hemispheres May 2019
Our annual compendium of the best new hotels in the world takes us from from Rio to ryokan, Savannah to surf club. No matter where you're going, in these pages, you'll find a place where you'll want to stay.
Hotel Amparo San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
For Social Media Influencers
Just in time for its designation as the 2019 American Capital of Culture, San Miguel de Allende—which is practically an artists' colony unto itself—welcomed this five-room hideaway in the 300-year-old former mayor's residence. Thanks to co-owner Mariana Barran Goodall, who grew up in Monterrey, Mexico, and runs Houston-based Hibiscus Linens, every tiny detail here is ready for its close-up. It won't take long for you to fill up your Instagram grid with shots of gold room keys, hand-stitched napkins, custom bathroom tiles made by local artisans, and even the coasters.
WE LOVE the flower-filled courtyard, a great place to take a selfie or sit with an espresso from the on-site café, which sources Mexican beans from Buna roasters. From $250, hotelamparo.com
Eastwind Hotel & Bar Windham, New York
For Hip Hikers
For many vacationers, the Catskills conjure images of 1950s summer camp resorts and Dirty Dancing. The Eastwind provides a sleek, Scandinavian-style counterpoint to those Borscht Belt spots of old. Opened last June on the site of a 1920s bunkhouse about 150 miles north of New York City, the 19-room retreat is a perfect jumping-off point for hiking, fly-fishing, and snowshoeing excursions. If you're feeling creative, write a few jokes—these are the stomping grounds of Joan Rivers and Henny Youngman, after all—on a vintage typewriter in one of the writer's studio suites. Or take a load off under a Faribault Woolen Mills plaid throw in one of the spartan-chic A-frame Lushna cabins.
Six Senses Maxwell Singapore
The second of two Six Senses urban resorts to open in the Lion City last year doesn't immediately scream “eco-friendly." The posh 138-room property across from the Maxwell Food Centre occupies a 1929 Art Deco heritage building and exudes Old World opulence with fixtures such as brocade headboards, silk lampshades, and damask velvet chairs. However, befitting its home in Asia's greenest city, the hotel is also home to a series of sustainable touches: reusable glass water bottles, biodegradable cornstarch toothbrushes, locally sourced minibar items, and a restaurant that serves responsibly caught fish.
WE LOVE the traditional ice cream tricycle, from which guests can order free organic ice cream sandwiches (in flavors like durian, red bean, and sweet corn) on soft, colorful bread, kept cold by a solar-powered refrigerator. From $240, sixsenses.com
The Middle House Shanghai
Set just off Shanghai's main shopping street, West Nanjing Road, the newest member of Swire Hotels' House Collective is a polished den of understated glamour, courtesy of Milan-based interior designer Piero Lissoni. The entryway is as heart-stoppingly dramatic as any couture runway show: A 3,760-piece Venetian glass chandelier hangs surrounded by emerald-green, bamboo-patterned tiles. The 111-room hotel, which opened last spring, boasts a nearly 700-work art collection—over half of which is Chinese—loosely inspired by the curatorial theme “I Dream of China."
WE LOVE Caroline Cheng's lobby installation, Prosperity, a black robe covered with 12,000 tiny butterfly figurines crafted in China's porcelain-making capital, Jingdezhen. From $268, themiddlehousehotel.com
Palihotel Seattle Seattle
For Stylish Seafarers
Guests arriving at the check-in desk at the first Palisociety hotel outside of Los Angeles are greeted by a portrait of a raincoat-clad, pipe-smoking sailor—a perfect introduction to the subtly nautical vibe that permeates Seattle's newest hotel, which opened in November one block from the bustling Pike Place Market. The prime location means the seafood (sweet-and-spicy salmon jerky, littleneck clams, local oysters) at the on-site restaurant, The Hart and the Hunter, is always as fresh and invigorating as the Puget Sound views from the landmark 1895 building's upper floors.
WE LOVE The Hart and the Hunter's briny Elliott Bay Gibson, which includes oyster-shell-infused gin, Maldon sea salt, bay leaf olive oil, and a pickled onion. From $175, palisociety.com
Perry Lane Hotel Savannah, Georgia
For Aspiring Southern Belles
Few American cities are better preserved than Savannah, with its centuries-old squares and statues and hanging Spanish moss. Last June, the city's Historic District got a rare new addition, the 167-room Perry Lane Hotel. The Luxury Collection property pays such deep homage to the Hostess City of the South that— aside from a loaner jazz guitar from local luthier Benedetto and an art collection that includes works by 81 artists with ties to the Savannah College of Art and Design—it invented a fictional grande dame named Adelaide Harcourt to help define its aesthetic. (Look for her portrait above the lobby fireplace.)
WE LOVE the polka-dotted Gargoyle Artillery statues at the rooftop bar, Peregrin; you'll keep turning away from the views of the Historic District to consider their Gothic-psychedelic visages. From $187, perrylanehotel.com
Hôtel de Berri Paris
For Art Connoisseurs
The City of Light isn't short on artful luxury accommodations, but how many Parisian palaces look like they were born in a Rodin fever dream? The lobby at this Luxury Collection property, which opened last May just steps from the Champs-Élysées, is scattered with sculpted figures and busts, many of them reproductions from the Louvre's molding workshop. Designer Philippe Renaud gave each of the 40 rooms and 35 suites a unique color scheme and art theme; one might have red-and-yellow-striped walls hung with simple figurative line drawings, while another's matte olive-green walls boast Cubist paintings. No matter the decor, reserve a room with a view of the lush garden.
WE LOVE the Bemelmans Bar–meets–Ralph Steadman mural of Parisian street scenes that wraps around the Michelin-recommended Italian restaurant Le Schiap (named for couturier Elsa Schiaparelli, who once lived at this address). From $445, marriott.com
The Ramble Hotel Denver
Most travelers are happy if their hotel has one great bar; at this new 50-room boutique property, there are four, all of them run by the team behind New York's award-winning cocktail den Death & Co. By night, the grand lobby's sunny café transforms into a swanky lounge with velvet curtains and spangly chandeliers. Hidden upstairs is Suite 6A, an intimate 21-seat bar. A ballroom/venue/theater, Vauxhall, is aimed directly at the surrounding River North Art District's culturati. Finally, outside, under the glow of artist Scott Young's neon Wish You Were Her(e) sign, The Garden serves up patio classics such as Aperol spritzes and mojitos.
WE LOVE that the bartenders are so willing to chat about their favorite unsung ingredients, like a French fortified wine called Pineau des Charentes that's featured in the Black Poodle alongside Irish whiskey, amaro, aloe, and sparkling mineral water. From $209, theramblehotel.com
Skylark Negril Beach Resort Negril, Jamaica
For Boho Beach Bums
In Jamaican slang, to skylark is to goof off, mess around, or make mischief. Ironically, that's an activity that the designers at the impeccable Skylark Negril Beach Resort seem not to have pursued. The sister property to the nearby Rockhouse Hotel opened in June on Seven Mile Beach and pairs modernist touches—geometric breeze-block, whitewashed concrete—with pops of color from retro travel posters and throw pillows emblazoned with a print of the island's favorite fruit, bright-red ackee.
WE LOVE the outpost of NYC restaurant Miss Lily's, which serves up Caribbean rums and jerk favorites smoked over pimento wood to a soundtrack of reggae and dancehall hits. From $95, skylarknegril.com
The Hoxton, Williamsburg Brooklyn
For Digital Nomads
The London-based Hoxton chain brought its trademark combination of high design and low rates to the States last fall, with the debut of this 175-room outpost—a perfect spot for freelancers and creative types who aren't chained to a cubicle (i.e., Brooklynites). You and your laptop will feel at home in your cheerily appointed room, which features a smart wall-mounted desk and a retro Roberts Radio. If you're more productive surrounded by others, head down to the beehive-busy sunken lobby, which is done up in eclectic, sherbet-hued furniture.
WE LOVE procrastinating by perusing the Best of Brooklyn line of locally made products—such as Pintrill pizza slice pins, Brins strawberry vanilla jam, and Sesame Letterpress notecards—for sale in the lobby. From $159, thehoxton.com
Woodlark Hotel Portland, Oregon
For Plant Lovers
It's fitting that the latest hip lodging in a town known as the Rose City would be aimed at green thumbs. Opened in December in side-by-side landmark buildings downtown, the 150-room Woodlark Hotel is decorated with moody black-and-white botanical photos by Imogen Cunningham, while the conservatory-like foyer teems with a greenhouse's worth of potted trees. In this pattern-obsessed city—remember the famous PDX airport carpet?—the guest rooms' custom wallpaper, featuring the sort of native Pacific Northwest flora you'd find in nearby Forest Park, is sure to become iconic.
WE LOVE the artfully composed bouquets for sale at the lobby outpost of Colibri, an elegant flower shop co-owned by James Beard Award–winning chef Naomi Pomeroy. From $125, woodlarkhotel.com
Janeiro Rio de Janeiro
For Sun Seekers
This 53-room hotel in beachside Leblon was opened last fall by fashion designer and Osklen founder Oskar Metsavaht, but its stark, sun-bleached, minimalist aesthetic owes a great deal to another Brazilian Oscar: architect Oscar Niemeyer, the Rio-born genius best known for New York City's UN headquarters and Brasília's space-age government buildings. In a city beloved for the ostentatious vibrancy of Carnaval, the Janeiro's sandy earth tones, blond freijo wood, travertine limestone, and sculptural rattan pieces offer an oasis of calm.
WE LOVE the 18th-floor infinity pool, which overlooks the white cliffs of the Cagarras Islands and the Morro Dois Irmãos (Two Brothers Hill). From $288, janeirohotel.rio
United Places Botanic Gardens Melbourne, Australia
Many new hotels tout their live-like-a-local bona fides, but few feel as much like a posh apartment block as this 12-suite bolthole, which opened last June in Melbourne's gallery-filled South Yarra neighborhood. If location is everything, you can't do much better than a property overlooking the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, while suites include all the trappings of a dream flat: rain showers with Le Labo products, oak parquet floors, sleek furnishings from Patricia Urquiola and Grant Featherston, and a bar cart stocked with Tasmania's award-winning Sullivans Cove whiskey. Best of all, each suite comes with personalized concierge service.
WE LOVE the in-room breakfasts from the team downstairs at Matilda 159, an open-fire restaurant serving such creative dishes as sea bream tartare and spanner crab with prawn butter. From $461, unitedplaces.com.au
Shinola Hotel Detroit
For American Artisans
A lot is riding on the shoulders of Shinola, the Detroit-based watchmaker that has become synonymous with the Rust Belt's renaissance. In January, the company got into the hotel game with a 129-room space that sprawls across three new buildings and two downtown landmarks—the former Singer Sewing Machine shop and the T.B. Rayl Co. hardware store. Throughout the property, you'll find products made exclusively for the hotel, such as scented candles with notes of cherry blossom, leather, and smoke, and Shinola-branded cola in the Michigan-centric minibar.
WE LOVE the in-room Runwell desk clocks, scaled-up versions of the first watch the company ever produced. From $255, shinolahotel.com
Belmond Cadogan Hotel London
You'll be inspired to put pen to paper at this reimagined Chelsea property, which opened in February after a flawless $48 million renovation of the 1887 Cadogan Hotel. Oscar Wilde's former pied-à-terre is now part of the Royal Suite, in-room libraries are curated by family-owned John Sandoe Books, and an installation of 600 bronze-cast hardbacks encases the lobby elevator bank. Guests of the 54 rooms and suites are granted a key to Cadogan Place Gardens across the street, where they can sit under a mulberry tree with a notebook and sketch their own picture of Dorian Gray. Need inspiration? One taste of the decadent chicken butter at chef Adam Handling's eponymous restaurant will do the trick.
WE LOVE that reading in the bath is encouraged: The deep Victoria + Albert soaking tubs feature a bamboo bathtub tray complete with a book stand—and a holder for your Champagne flute. From $620, belmond.com
Eaton DC Washington, D.C.
For Social Activists
K Street may be synonymous with D.C. lobbyists, but, as of last September, it's also home to a new hub for budding activists. Katherine Lo—the daughter of the Langham hotel group's chairman—designed her 209-room Eaton DC to inspire the next RBG or AOC at every turn. Tune in to the house radio station, grab a book from the Radical Library (which features works by Roxane Gay and Langston Hughes), or brainstorm with fellow progressives over turmeric lattes at the Kintsugi café. You can even call down to the front desk for a nightstand copy of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
WE LOVE Erik Thor Sandberg's Wonderland-themed lobby mural, Allegory, which replaces Alice with civil rights icon Ruby Bridges, the first black child to desegregate an all-white elementary school. From $199, eatonworkshop.com
Noah Surf House Santa Cruz, Portugal
You'll want to learn the Portuguese word for “to chill" (relaxar) before you set foot in this surf-bum paradise, which opened on the Silver Coast, 50 minutes from Lisbon, last July. Its 21 rooms are divided between a central surfhouse that features hostel-style bunk accommodations and 13 boxy bungalows that dot the hilly dunes. There's an inescapably '70s SoCal vibe here, from the beanbag chairs and rope swings to a skate park and an organic garden filled with a small brood of hens.
WE LOVE the upcycled decor, which incorporates traffic signs, old boats, octopus traps, and fishing nets. From $182, noahsurfhouseportugal.com
KAI Sengokuhara Kanagawa, Japan
For Zen Seekers
It's impossible not to relax at Japan's newest onsen (hot spring) resort, which opened last July in Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, two hours by train from Tokyo. The art-themed ryokan invites you to slip into a yukata (cotton robe) and then do absolutely nothing—except soak in the milky, mineral-rich water piped from the Owakudani volcanic valley into a communal bathhouse and private guest room soaking tubs. Equally invigorating are 24-year-old chef Akari Sash's inspired kaiseki dinners; with dishes like abalone grilled over nearly 400-degree stones, she'll have you forgetting all about Western-style spa meals.
WE LOVE the tenugui (cotton towel) decorating workshop, which feels like a sophisticated answer to the adult coloring book trend. From $332 per person, including breakfasts and dinners, kai-ryokan.jp
The Carpenter Hotel Austin, Texas
You'll wish you could sign up for a meal plan at this millennially minded hotel, just steps from Zilker Park. Food-world power couple Christina Skogly Knowlton and Andrew Knowlton (the host of Netflix's The Final Table) are behind the offerings at Hot L Coffee and Carpenters Hall, a restaurant located in, yes, a former union hall. Start with huckleberry butter–topped waffles, snack poolside on the best chocolate chip cookies ever, then sip a pear brandy–based Kind Eyes cocktail before a dinner of big-as-your-head chicken schnitzel. The 93 rooms are just as delectable, with custom-designed striped cotton blankets, blue-and-terracotta-tiled bathrooms, and thoughtful, vintage-inspired over-bed lights.
WE LOVE that each room has a terrace, outfitted simply with two folding chairs—the perfect place to sip a surprisingly inexpensive minibar Lone Star at the end of the evening.From $175, carpenterhotel.com
7Pines Resort Ibiza Ibiza, Spain
For Swanky Swimmers
Forget Ibiza's party-hearty reputation: At 7Pines, on the Mediterranean island's quieter west coast, relaxation is key. Guests at the 186-suite property from The Leading Hotels of the World don't need to pack much more than a bathing suit (and a dinner-appropriate outfit or two) because they'll want to spend all day snapping mermaid-inspired Instagram shots along the infinity pool's glass wall. Need a change of scenery? A five-minute walk down a stone staircase leads to secluded Cala Codolar beach, where all the sunbathers look like they stepped out of an Antonioni film. Finish the day with a massage at the Pure Seven Spa, which, of course, has its own pool.
WE LOVE that no matter where you dine—on modern Asian cuisine at The View, prawn tartare at the Cone Club, or piña coladas at the Pershing Yacht Terrace—the Balearic Sea is always in sight. From $448, 7pines.com
Photo Credits: Marcus Jolly (Hotel Amparos); Jordan Layon (Eastwind Hotel); © E Leong (The Middle House);Eric Laignet/Paris Images (Hotel de Berri); Adam Szafranski (The Ramble Hotel) Nicole Franzen (Shinola Hotel); Courtesy of Belmond Cadogen Hotel (Belmond Cadogen Hotel); Adrian Gaut (Eaton DC); Noah Surf House Portugal (Noah Surf House); Akifumi Yamabe (KAI Sengokuhara); Alex Lau (Carpenter Hotel); Tomas Alonso Salvador (7Pines)
Today, we remember the colleagues, customers and every single victim of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
I know each of us in the United family marks this difficult moment in our own way. Still, we all share a common commitment to honor how our brothers and sisters left us and also celebrate what they gave to us during their lives. We remember their professionalism and heroism. We cherish their camaraderie and friendship. We carry with us the examples they set forth, especially in the heroism and bravery displayed by so many on that terrible day. Above all, we understand a simple truth: While thousands of our fellow human beings lost their lives in New York City, Arlington and Shanksville, the attacks of September 11th were aimed at all people of peace and good will, everywhere. They were attacks on the values that make life worth living, as well as the shared purpose that make us proud of what we do as members of the United family: connecting people and uniting the world.
We may live in times scarred by discord and disagreement, and we know there are those around the world who seek to divide us against one another. But, on this day – above all – we come together, as one. We affirm our core belief that far, far more unites us as citizens and fellow human beings than can ever divide us.
Let us embody that belief as we go about serving our customers and one another – on this day and every day – as we continue to help building a world that's more united. Let that be our memorial to the sisters and brothers we lost, eighteen Septembers ago.
Story by Justin Goldman | Photography by Tanveer Badal | Hemispheres September 2019
No one comes to Los Angeles without having at least a little foreknowledge. If you're a film geek (like me), you know where the heist crew had breakfast in Reservoir Dogs and which building was Nakatomi Plaza in Die Hard. If you're a music geek (like me) you can name the clubs Guns N' Roses welcomed to the jungle and the streets Dr. Dre went rollin' in his '64. If you're from New York or San Francisco (like me), you probably hate LA on principle—for the smog, the Lakers fans, the fame-seeking ethos of Hollywood. And yet, no matter how much you think you know the City of Angels, there's always something more to learn, something real to find. LA County, after all, comprises more than 4,000 square miles and 10 million people (including the largest Mexican and Asian immigrant communities in the U.S.), with a GDP of $700 billion. It's impossible to make an LA guide for everyone, but if you (like me) are a fan of Chinatown and Charles Bukowski, beaches and bowling alleys, Michelin stars and micheladas, here's one for you.
Beaches and speakeasies on the Westside
I'm in Los Angeles, so of course I'm eating breakfast by the pool. More specifically, I'm in the lovely atrium at FIG, the poolside restaurant at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica. In the water, a couple of kids are splashing around in unicorn floaties. On the wall above, Muscle Beach's best-known lifter, Arnold Schwarzenegger, flexes in a mural. On my plate is a scramble chock-full of fresh produce—tomatoes, asparagus, peppers, spinach—from Santa Monica's famed farmers market.
The pool may be Hockney-worthy, but these flip-flops were made for walking. Five minutes down Ocean Avenue, I cross a bridge over the Pacific Coast Highway and onto the Santa Monica Pier, passing the Route 66 sign, caricature artists, funnel cake stands, and carnival rides on my way to the end of the pier, where fishermen toss their lines in the water and tourists snap photos of a sea lion barking for scraps. The sharp salt smell of the ocean beckons, so I backtrack to the sand, where I roll up my jeans and watch the surf slide over my feet. I lose my thoughts in the rhythm of the waves, until a big one crashes in. Reverie over.
A prideful lifeguard tower on Venice Beach
Going wheels-up at the Venice Skatepark
I watch the surf slide over my feet, losing my thoughts in the rhythm of the waves, until a big one crashes in.
I keep flippin' and floppin' my way south toward Venice Beach, the epicenter of Southern California's grungy, punky beach culture. Snatches of the Doors leak from surf shops and sunglass stands on the very strip where Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek formed the band. Are you a lucky little lady in the City of Light? Or just another lost angel… I kill a few minutes watching skaters ollie along the undulating walls of the Venice Skatepark, and then I exit the beach, going a few blocks inland to the Venice Canals. Developer Abbot Kinney built these narrow waterways in 1905 to evoke some other Venice, and while I don't see any gondoliers, the homes lining the canals make for a fun self-guided architecture tour, veering from glass-walled Modernist structures to mosaic-tiled hippie bungalows.
A few more blocks up Venice Boulevard, I reach the town's main drag, Abbot Kinney Boulevard. I'm having lunch at Gjelina, which for more than a decade has offered the sort of farm-fresh cuisine and casual-yet-sceney vibe that the rest of the world thinks is LA. I sit at a distressed-wood table and chow down on California king salmon tataki; grilled peaches with burrata, prosciutto, and chicory greens; and a perfectly cooked black bass with olives and heirloom tomatoes. If this is what people associate with LA, I can see why everyone wants to move here.
My feet are flip-flopped out, so it's a good thing my college buddy Matt, who lives in Hermosa Beach, has loaned me his car—a cobalt Chevy Volt we call the Blue Dragon—to help me navigate this unending city. Fortunately, you don't need to be a Targaryen to ride this dragon, so after retrieving the car from the Fairmont valet, I fly up the 405 to the J. Paul Getty Museum, which stands on a hill above the most heavily trafficked freeway in the U.S. I park and take the tram up, then meander through the Robert Irwin–designed Central Garden, following a trickling waterfall to a reflecting pool and an X-Files-esque azalea labyrinth. The scene is so transporting that it's easy to pass a couple of hours without even entering the galleries. Oops.
No time for regrets, though. The afternoon has begun to wane, so I drive back to the Fairmont and take a seat on my balcony to watch the curtain fall on another day in America. Once night has settled and the lights have come up on the pier, I walk over to the Third Street Promenade, an outdoor mallwhere fairy lights twinkle and purple jacarandas bloom above shoppers and buskers singing Justin Timberlake. At the food court, I go up an escalator and tap a code into a black door marked "private." When it opens, I enter Dialogue, an 18-seat tasting-menu hideaway that was one of just 24 restaurants in LA to receive a Michelin star this June. As he passes me the gorgeous plates (21 of them!), chef Dave Beran explains how the Roots' album …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin inspired his menu.
"I reached out to Questlove, and he told me they wrote that album over the course of the last year of their manager's life," Beran says. "It's essentially their progression emotionally. You had to experience that album the way they intended it, and that led us to the idea of writing a tasting menu that had to be experienced the way we intended. Just as the seasons look forward and backward, the dishes do as well. Every dish has something in it from the last one and something to look forward to in the next. Your snapper had a ginger mist on it, which went into the ginger-rhubarb foam, which leads to a rhubarb chip with matcha and lilac pudding, followed by a cucumber-lilac soda. None of our dishes are intended to be complete thoughts as much as completing each other's thoughts." Food for thought, indeed.
The landmark Venice Sign at sunset
After dinner, I'm buying Matt a drink as a thanks for lending me the Blue Dragon. I take a cab to Abbot Kinney and meet him at the restaurant Scopa Italian Roots, where we tell the maître d' we have a reservation at Old Lightning. He promptly confiscates our phones and leads us around to the side of the building, through an unmarked door, and into LA's premier bourbon bar. The glass case along the wall taunts us with shelf after shelf of nigh-impossible-to-find vintage bottles. Matt leers covetously at a collection of limited-edition Willett, while I pine for the Pappy. I tell the bartender, Jesús, that I love the wheated flavor profile of the Van Winkles but can't shell out $3,000 for a flight. He brings me a more affordable sampler: a delectably corn-sweet Old Taylor 6-year from 1980; an Old Fitzgerald made by a legendary Kentucky warehouse manager who stole from his stores to create his own sought-after blends; and a 101-proof Evan Williams 12-year that's normally available only in the Bluegrass State. "I hope you didn't drive," Matt deadpans, although I think he's just trying to confiscate my Old Fitzgerald. Not a chance, pal.
Artful architecture and swinging nightlife in DTLA
Los Angeles may have an underrated metro system, but the city's true essence is found where the Blue Dragon and I now sit: in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the 10. I pull up my rush-hour playlist, and Guy Clark sings, If I can just get off of this LA freeway, without getting killed or caught…
Eventually, I reach the center of the city, which the Spanish founded in 1781 as El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles but has in recent years been rebranded simply as DTLA. I'm starting the morning with a bite at Grand Central Market, a 1917 building that's home to all sorts of hip food stalls. I stop at the G&B Coffee counter and get an almond macadamia latte to sip while I wriggle to the Clark Street Bread stand, where I order avocado toast. It tastes like California.
On the other side of the market, I spot one of LA's signature architectural sights, the Bradbury Building. The interior of this National Historic Landmark, which was built in 1893 and features five floors of ornate iron railings and elevator shafts climbing toward an expansive skylight, looks both stunningly vintage and eerily futuristic. It's little wonder Ridley Scott chose it as the setting for the climactic scene of Blade Runner.
I exit through the side door and gawp at the Pope of Broadway, a soaring mural of Anthony Quinn on the former Victor Clothing Company building across the way, before continuing on through DTLA. This area was once so rundown that it wasn't much of a leap for Scott to imagine that by 2019 it would look like a post-apocalyptic dystopia, but over the last decade it has become the reenergized hub of the city, thanks to places like The Last Bookstore. This temple to the written word is probably best known for its second-floor book tunnel, which tourists and wannabe influencers line up to snap selfies in. I ask a clerk what he thinks is the definitive LA novel, and he points me to John Fante's Ask the Dust, which local literary god Charles Bukowski called "a wild and enormous miracle."
It's a good thing I picked up the reading material, because I'm going to have a wait at my next stop. One of the wonderful, contradictory things about this wonderful, contradictory city is that some of its best restaurants are in run-of-the-mill strip malls. One of these is Sushi Gen, in DTLA's Little Tokyo, where a long line has formed before the doors even open. I take my spot and read for a few minutes—Los Angeles, come to me the way I came to you, my feet over your streets … you sad flower in the sand—before I'm seated at the sushi bar, where a chef slings slices of Tsukiji Market–quality fish (buttery tuna, briney sea bream, sweet shrimp, creamy uni) at me until I wave my napkin in the air like a white flag.
The Pacific Seas bar at Clifton's
The afternoon sun is beating down and bouncing up off the pavement, so I elect to walk off my meal indoors, at The Broad Museum. The four-year-old building, which entrepreneur Eli Broad and his wife, Edythe, created to house their 2,000-piece collection, stands like a square of honeycomb next to the flamboyantly curvaceous Walt Disney Concert Hall next door—a contrast that associate curator Sarah Loyer tells me was very much intentional.
Jeff Koon's "Tulips" at the Broad Museum
"Where the Disney Concert Hall reflects light, our building draws light in," she explains. "The ceiling has 318 individual skylights that light the collection gallery. At peak sun hours we have all natural light." We ride the escalator up to the third-floor gallery, an acre of column-free space where pieces by Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami, Yayoi Kusama, and Kara Walker are on display. I'm particularly struck by Deep Blue, an expansive mixed-media canvas by Los Angeles artist Mark Bradford. "It's inspired by the 1965 Watts Rebellion," Loyer notes. "You can see the map of the city grid, and the different dots and colors represent historic losses from that event."
We ride the Broad's escalator up to an acre of column-free space to see pieces by Jeff Koons and Yayoi Kusama
I thank Loyer for enlightening me and then zip over to the recently restored Hotel Figueroa, which features works from a new artist—often a Southern California woman—every quarter. I valet the Blue Dragon and take a few minutes to peruse Topanga-based painter Sophie Kipner's blind-contour portraits before stretching out on a poolside lounge chair with a Bohemia beer. When I mention to the waitress that something about the pool seems odd, she tells me it's shaped like a coffin. That seems like a bad omen for tonight…
But hey, if I gotta go, there are worse places to have my last meal than Nightshade, Top Chef winner Mei Lin's much-hyped new restaurant in the up-and-coming Arts District. A taxi drops me at a converted warehouse space that's an Instagrammer's dream—blond wood, white brick, mint and emerald green upholstery, and hanging plants—surpassed only by the presentation of the dishes: Hokkaido scallops in a coconut vinaigrette, chicharrón chunks with a bright green coconut and trout roe dipping sauce, prawn toast that tastes like Vietnamese spring rolls, Szechuan hot quail served atop Japanese milk bread (à la Nashville hot chicken). If the atmosphere is heavenly, that last plate is hellish; my eyes start burning upon its arrival, and it takes an extra glass of grüner to cool my mouth after its departure.
Let's keep turning up the heat! Clifton's is a DTLA institution, a Depression-era cafeteria that fed 10,000 people a day, eventually fell into disrepair, and was ultimately reborn as a four-story nightlife bazaar following a 2015 renovation. I climb past the giant trunk of an (admittedly fake) redwood tree to the top-floor Pacific Seas tiki bar, where I sit in a wicker chair under a mermaid statue and sip a Scorpion Bowl (rum, gin, cognac, orgeat, and god knows what else) that is, yes, set on fire by my waitress. Before I get stung, I descend one floor to the Brookdale Ballroom, where dancers in Gatsby-esque getups swing to a New Orleans jazz band. A woman sashays by me in a peacock-feather outfit, but she's gone before I can ask her if this is real or if I've been consumed by the flames of Szechuan pepper and Polynesian mixology.
Hollywood history and Eastside eats
It was all real, and I'm paying for it now. Good thing I know the perfect place for a clean-living kind of breakfast. Sqirl is on the edge of East Hollywood, in an area that's still dotted with 99-cent stores, but the line of part-time models waiting outside betrays its hip quotient. I make my way to the counter, order an Horchoffee (vegan horchata shaken with a double espresso) and a Crispy Disco (brown rice with mint, cilantro, cucumber, scallion, avocado, fried egg, and sausage), and grab a seat at the sideboard. The restaurant's sprightly owner, Jessica Koslow, brings over my food and gives me a playful punch on the knee as she takes the stool next to mine.
"It was a lot of pressure to be this funky place and be like, 'Here's what's happening in Los Angeles,'" the Long Beach native says, recalling the rapturous reviews she received after opening in 2012. However, she does take pride in being an evangelist for SoCal cooking. "There are so many different pockets of LA that [its cuisine] is hard to describe, but if you want a neighborhood restaurant for LA, you're here."
The Angel of Breakfast gives me a hug and waves me back to my food. After devouring the Crispy Disco, I head to The Hollywood Roosevelt hotel. Upon checking in, I rendezvous with Tours by Locals guide Jasmine Jia, who takes me on a winding drive through Griffith Park to the Griffith Observatory. The triple-domed Greek Revival building is one of LA's most recognizable—it can be seen in Rebel Without a Cause and La La Land—but Jia tells me it almost didn't get built. The city turned down funding from tycoon Griffith J. Griffith in 1912 because he had infamously shot his wife (who survived) a decade earlier. "There was a sensational trial," Jia says. Griffith re-donated the money when he died in 1919, and the Observatory was completed by the WPA in 1935. Today it's both an interactive astronomy museum and a spot from which you can see the Pacific Ocean, DTLA, Dodger Stadium, and the Hollywood sign.
The soup bowl–size chalices of salty, limey beer are garnished with shrimp, and the straws are even crusted with tamarind candy.
Now, the question every tourist in LA inevitably faces: Should I take a picture with the sign? As we drive over, Jia tells me it was erected as a real estate advertisement in 1923, when it originally read "Hollywoodland." "The land was sold, and the sign should have been taken down," she says, "but it became associated with the movie industry and LA and became a landmark." It was later shortened to Hollywood—better to fit the photo Jia snaps of me from the vista point in Lake Hollywood Park below.
Jia drops me back at the Blue Dragon, and I head to a far less touristed part of the city. Another college buddy of mine, Rob, was born and raised in Cypress Park, his parents among the tens of thousands of Mexican immigrants who settled on the east side of the Los Angeles River, and I've asked him to show me a couple of off-the-radar spots. I cross the concrete riverbed into Boyle Heights and meet him at El Tepeyac Café, an institution that serves old-school Mexican food. Rob points me toward the gargantuan chile verde–slathered Original Hollenbeck burrito, which is stuffed with rice and beans and guacamole and pork and comfort. Next, we zip over to La Chupería, in neighboring Lincoln Heights, where the bartender brings us two micheladas, soup bowl–size chalices of salty, limey beer (a Modelo bottle floats mouth-down in each cup) rimmed with chili sauce and garnished with cucumber, celery, and shrimp. The straws are even crusted with tamarind candy. As we slurp our drinks and watch a replay of the previous night's Dodgers game on the TV, I ask Rob what places like this mean to LA, and if he's worried about them disappearing as the city changes.
The busy lanes at Highland Park Bowl
"Gentrification brings restaurants and nightlife to areas that were overlooked, but now you have these immigrant-run mom-and-pop businesses, which have contributed so much to LA's cultural identity, operating under the threat of extinction," he tells me. "Without culture, LA risks losing its home too."
I thank the homie for the knowledge, and we split up with plans to meet later. I really need to stretch my legs, so I head to Echo Park. A popular walking path circles the lake where Jack Nicholson's J.J. Gittes snapped compromising photos of Hollis Mulwray in Chinatown, but today it's strangely calm: just a couple of teenagers lazily peddling swan boats and a few kids quacking at the ducks near the shore.
Feeling a little lighter, I get back in the car and cruise up Sunset Boulevard, shopping my way through LA's hippest 'hood, Silver Lake. I browse kid-centric bios of Prince and Bowie at MRKT, whip-stitched watchbands at Dean, and vintage rock 'n' roll tees at Sick City Records. Past the junction with Hollywood Boulevard, I make a pilgrimage to the swirling mural that appeared on the cover of Elliott Smith's Figure 8 album. The storefront has changed tenants several times—it's now a well-regarded Filipino restaurant—but most of the artwork remains, serving as a shrine where fans of the deceased songwriter still leave remembrances.
Echo Park Lake
We order frozen White Russians and 'Dead Flowers' comes on. I'm pretty sure we're in a Big Lebowski dream sequence.
Nostalgia makes me hungry. Dinner is at Majordomo, superstar chef David Chang's first California restaurant. I'm joined by Rob and Matt (who has come to reclaim the Blue Dragon) at a table beneath a skylit warehouse ceiling, and we go in on silky tofu topped with uni and avocado, dungeness crab mafaldine pasta, and a pot of boneless chuck short rib onto which our waiter slices a hunk of raclette. "Has anyone ever asked you to carve it straight into their mouth?" Matt asks. "All the time," the waiter replies.
We continue the impromptu reunion at another one of Rob's favorite spots, Highland Park Bowl. A diverse young crowd rolls strikes inside the 92-year-old bowling alley, LA's oldest, which is decorated with league championship banners from decades gone by. We order a round of frozen White Russians, a cocktail the bar calls The Dude Abides, and as we lace up our shoes, the Rolling Stones' "Dead Flowers" comes on. I'm pretty sure we're in a Big Lebowski dream sequence, but I don't see any purple jumpsuits, and the only thing that's nihilistic is the score of our game.
I hug my friends goodbye and hail a ride back to the Roosevelt, where I slip into a robe and look out the window of my suite. Hollywood Boulevard is asleep; the only stars sparkling are the ones embedded in the sidewalk. Good night, stars. Good night, moon. Good night, Los Angeles. I'll see you soon.