The California Cool Hotel Hidden In Glitzy Beverly Hills
It’s a balmy Friday night in Los Angeles, and I’ve swanned in after 8pm for a reservation at Viviane, the chic jewel box restaurant tucked inside the Avalon Hotel Beverly Hills.
“No rush, no rush,” says Michael Reed, Viviane’s Michelin-trained head chef, dropping a plate of fresh burrata to the table, and a bottle of Vina Robles Cab Sav to taste.
“Take your time,” says Reed. “We’ve got all night.”
Over plates of slow-cooked ragout with fresh papardelle, and moan-worthy lobster risotto – moreish, cloud-whipped and perfectly al dente – my dinner guest and I imbibe in style by the muted pastels of the hotel’s cabana walls, the glow of the hourglass-shaped pool shimmering over the al fresco perch.
If ‘vibe’ is the hallmark of a memorable hotel experience, it’s fair to say: the Avalon is well ahead of the LA game.
Nestled behind thatches of bamboo and fern on busy Olympic Boulevard at the southern edge of Beverly Hills’ Rodeo quarter, there’s something uniquely understated and under the radar about the Hotel Avalon.
Chef Reed, and room manager Camila Luna (who I meet the following morning) both use “hidden gem” as the venue’s freewheeling descriptor, and it’s right on the money.
“My friends were like: you’re working where?” says Reed. “No one knew about it.”
“It’s very tucked away,” adds Luna. “Even locals are like ‘I’ve been driving past Olympic all these years and I’ve never known you’re here’.”
The fact that it’s a little off the grid only adds to the hotel’s cred. Yet it’s just one part of its cult appeal: the Avalon’s story – its historical lineage – is uniquely rich. Like all good Hollywood tales, its story comes in three acts; and like so many starlets in the Hills nearby, it was born under a different name.
Designed and built in 1948 by legendary graphic and furniture designer Alvin Lustig and Sam Reisbord, the Avalon was originally known as the Beverly Carlton – a Google search for which reveals an array of noir on-site pics featuring A-listers of the day: Mae West, Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Frank Sinatra, and Marilyn Monroe herself, to which the hotel shares its closest celebrity affinity.
“Our outdoor area is practically as it was back in the day,” says Luna on our morning tour. “It hasn’t really changed since it was built; that’s why it’s magical.”
What has changed are the trimmings and the treatment. In 1999, the beloved site was taken over by The Kor Group, and under the design nous of American design maven and grande dame of West Coast interiors, Kelly Wearstler, re-imagined as an 84-room modern boutique setup. Cue flourishes of chic décor and high design amidst the hostel’s pre-existing mid-century canvas.
“She [Wearstler] designed and handpicked everything throughout the property,” Luna affirms. “Anything that gets changed goes through her.
Wearstler’s influence on the hotel aesthetic is beyond evident. Yet in 2015, the hotel went through a second makeover, re-branded under the helm of Proper Hospitality, the group known for modern hoteling with a “looser kind of luxury”: high-end cool, sans pretension.
All in all, they’ve nailed the mix at the Avalon: an artful and balanced fusion of vintage and nouveau.
Three buildings in one
What makes the Avalon even more unique is its setup. As well as the main Olympic building, it houses the Beverly building (featuring penthouse and private outdoor area with, in a clear day, a view of the Hollywood sign) and along the adjacent side street, the Canon residence, a private residential-style nook where Marilyn called home for a couple of years back in the ‘50s.
“We actually had Netflix here last week filming a movie about Marilyn’s life, which we’re really looking forward to,” says Luna.
En route from the Olympic building, we take the side street entrance where Sinatra used to make his exits, up a level to the fitness centre: a spacious den jacked with cardio gear and anaerobic machines. A conference room nearby too, with an expansive table and sleek modern business décor.
But it’s the suites – all 84 of them – that are the real stars of this show. Mine, #320, is immaculately tasteful. In here, ‘roadside motel’ marries seamlessly with nouveau high design accoutrements. The multi-mirrored bathroom with mint tile and white marble deco vanity is a standout; if not the sumptuous queen-sized bed with heavenly thread count. Nothing short of serene. A home away from home. The perfect getaway.
It ought to be noted that the Avalon is a pet-friendly establishment too, with dog beds and treats on offer for all furry travel pals. If you’re keen to head up to Rodeo and surrounds meanwhile, perhaps the latest Louis Vuitton X exhibition, or a slow lunch at Café Gratitude on Canon (all of which yours truly had the pleasure of enjoying), the hotel provides Avalon x Sole bicycles for guests on request (presuming you’re able to peel yourself away from the sundeck and pool).
In the boutique hotel game, authenticity can’t be forced – ’vibe’ is a tough ingredient to engineer. By virtue of its past, the Avalon simply has it – an effortless breeze of ‘cool’ that riffs on the sense that the greats were here, and left a piece of themselves behind.
Super Californian, uber mid-century, oh so rich in Hollywood story, this is a cult star in every respect – a hotel not hungry for the lens, yet in complete command of it when it wants to be. After all the years, it knows who it is – cooly confident, a leading lady in its own right.
(All images: Avalon Hotel Beverly Hills / supplied)
Published 04 October, 2019