It’s a low-hanging, perfect sky over La Cienega Boulevard. A cloudless electric blue only Los Angeles can produce day in, day out. Where the ’50s diner signs – a throwback to a time when these things were built to last and designed with the same amount of care – are highlighted by those Californian rays.
The city of West Hollywood is a small but highly potent area of LA, as much known for its celebrity deaths (and yes, there are murder tours, if you want to see where River Phoenix met that fatal speedball at the Viper Room, or gawk at the Chateau Marmont, where John Belushi met his untimely fate) as for its luxury shopping. It’s also a place where you can’t be a pet ‘‘owner’’, but you can be a pet ‘‘guardian’’, a law West Hollywood implemented 16 years ago.
While the sunset strip and Whisky a Go Go might be the first things that spring to mind when you think of WeHo (no amount of wishing is going to make them stop calling it that, so you may well join ’em) there’s a lot more to it. Discover a side of West Hollywood where old-world glamour and new-school design meet straight up tasty good times. It’s one of the last bastions of beautifully weird in a country gone awfully mad.
The very nice thing about LA is the weather pretty much never changes (except for that one time it snowed in 1949 – think of a shivering, confused Frank Sinatra cursing the skies!), which means plenty of bare skin and slow strolls. On that, Los Angelenos are really weird about people who don’t drive. But everything’s so close in the ’hood you’d be kind of insane to do it any other way.
Start at Verve Coffee for radishes on buttered toast and a charcoal lemonade. You know, it tastes exactly as it sounds thanks to the combination of lemon juice, clay and activated charcoal. And to top it all off, it’s grey – not recommended for the heinously hungover or vaguely sad. If that sounds a little too Californian first thing in the AM, they also do a pretty decent espresso.
Speaking of things that are too Californian by half, here’s Gracias Madre, a ‘‘plant-based’’ Mexican restaurant with a killer tequila cocktail list. The big mystery here is what all these people in athleisure wear are doing lingering in the middle of the day on a Friday. Think-tanking? Blue-skying? Spit-balling? Whatever they’re up to, it involves multiple pitchers of margaritas, young coconut ceviche and a lot of grilled tofu. It’s a great place to do it, anyway, in a massive leafy Mexican-style courtyard, with sunlight spilling through, all finished with a little mescal glow.
But if you, like me, are a sucker for all things vintage and red sauce with a side order of celebrity, Dan Tana’s ticks every single box. It offers the kind of old school hospitality that only a place that’s been doing the same thing for the past 53 years can. The walls are covered in signed sports memorabilia and art, the banquettes are deep brown leather and the tables are covered in chequered tablecloths. The menu is the stuff of your spaghetti and meatball dreams. It’s about as far from cutting edge as you can get, and all the better for it. Oh, and word has it baby Drew Barrymore used to have her nappies changed on the polished wooden bar.
Ah, brunch, the meal that brings the worst out in everyone. The flat-laying. The Boomeranging. The awkward leans. The leggings as pants. And yet, it’s such a delightful marriage of two meals in one. With booze. Especially at New England diner Connie and Ted’s, where the Bloody Marys are poured wild and free, the crab-filled omelettes are luxuriously silky, and the buckwheat blini housing folds of smoked salmon and a slash of creme fraiche is dark and bittersweet.
Wobble down to strip Opening Ceremony bare (the ladies and gents boutique is housed in one of Charlie Chaplin’s old studios) and hold nearly everything at Trashy Lingerie (famous for its $1 entry fee and outlandish undergarments) up at various angles trying to work out which way is up.
Then it’s cocktails at the Marmont (take it from golden age producer Harry Crohn – ‘‘if you must get in trouble, do it at the Chateau Marmont’’) before dinner at Lucques. A fine diner with both feet planted in hyper-seasonality, that could mean a simple stone fruit salad with dried ricotta or stuffed quail with cornbread pudding. It’s also worth noting the Lucques Negroni – if only for the fact they’ve given making their own Campari a red-hot go.
The Standard Hotel is one of those staples of every show with a scene from LA in it. It’s unsurprising – all that whitewash, the massive pool, the Perspex tank behind reception that occasionally features human installations – and about as ‘‘OMG, Carrie, we made it to Hollywood!’’ as you can get. But it’s Alma, the adjoining restaurant, that brings the noise. Check out Sunday brunch for chilled-out diner times with a side of hotcakes, cultured butter and smoked maple syrup. Or there’s ‘‘market price’’ lobster poutine if you’re feeling flush. Oh, and the Warby Parker store inside the lobby will sort you for sunglasses, which you’ll need on the E.P. & L.P. rooftop as you watch the sun go down over the Hollywood Hills. The slick, mod-Asian restaurant, run by former Longrain Sydney chef Louis Tikaram, is well worth a look.
But if you’re after something a little more street level, there’s Night + Market. It’s the only northern Thai restaurant (or any Thai restaurant, come to that) I’ve ever been to that prints very specific instructions to pair pet nat with sticky rice. It works, too. The menu has a whole khao soi noodle section, not to mention pork skewers given a bath in condensed milk before being grilled, making a sort of delicious meat lollipop. Hot salads, spicy grills, the occasional cooling porky noodle. Consider that a win for Sunset.
Where to go
Alma at the Standard The Standard, Hollywood, 8300 Sunset Boulevard, standardhotels.com
Connie and Ted's 8171 California Route 2, West Hollywood, connieandteds.com
Chateau Marmont 8221 Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood, chateaumarmont.com
Dan Tana's 9071 California Route 2, West Hollywood, dantanasrestaurant.com
E.P. & L.P. 603 La Cienega Boulevard, West Hollywood, eplosangeles.com
Gracias Madre 8905 Melrose Avenue, West Hollywood, graciasmadreweho.com
Lucques 8474 Melrose Avenue, West Hollywood, lucques.com
Night + Market 9043 Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood, nightmarketsong.com
Verve Coffee 8925 Melrose Avenue, West Hollywood, vervecoffee.com
Myffy Rigby was a guest of West Hollywood Tourism.