By Shane McGinley
For die-hard movie fans Hollywood is the centre of the universe, but the city has a lot more to it than stars and cars
Arriving into Los Angeles after a long British Airways flight from Dubai, via London, you can’t help noticing the striking billboard for the fourth season of popular show Homeland just as you enter the famous Sunset Strip.
Depicting the main character Carrie Mathison wearing a red headscarf with blonde hair amidst a sea of black burqas, you can’t help thinking this poster is probably in cities all over the US, if not the world. However, the difference is this is Hollywood and only in Hollywood would you walk a few metres ahead and run into the star of the show, the lovely Claire Danes, in gym gear pounding the pavement during her mid-morning jog.
Hollywood truly is the centre of universe for those who enjoy celebrity spotting and don’t want to read about celebrities, but want to come up close to them one-on-one. Driving ahead, we swing past the Viper Room, the hip establishment once owned by Johnny Depp and the infamous spot where rising star River Phoenix died of an overdose in the street outside. Our destination is the London West Hollywood, a haven of understated British taste in the heart of Tinseltown.
Like everything in Hollywood, the hotel (above) has a great story to tell and when it was built it added a ninth floor without permission and it lay there as a ‘ghost floor’ since 1984. Only recently granted permission to expand, the hotel has just completed a $25m renovation.
The makeover has resulted in the addition of 21 new suites, which include five enormous Gate Suites. Ranging in size of up to 1,975 square feet and designed by the London-based David Collins Studio, which famously worked on the interior of Harrods, the manager tells me the size and luxury of the rooms has been designed specifically to appeal to Middle Eastern clientele.
While nine floors seems tiny compared to the towering skyscrapers in cities in the Gulf, LA is a sprawling low rise city, so the balconies give a perfect sunset view of the City of the Angels, especially from the rooftop lounge. For food lovers, the ubiquitous Gordon Ramsey has lent some of his British flare to the hotel and has opened a restaurant within its walls six years ago.
Dubai and Los Angeles have much in common: They both made their fortunes originally from oil, but have since diversified into expansive cities – Dubai into property and tourism and LA into the entertainment world.
Like Dubai, many people had warned me that Hollywood would be seedy, plastic and a bit fake.
On first arrival, I thought it did seem rather grubby, almost like it needed a good clean, but soon the laidback attitude began to appeal. People are a lot friendlier than its reputation would suggest and every person and place has a story to tell.
When one colleague forgot her lighter as we sat in a classic American diner, the friendly waitress handed the keys to her BMW out the back to go borrow one. In how many cities would that happen? Also, in how many cities would the waitress be driving a BMW?
Wandering out of the hotel, past the aforementioned Viper Room we cross over to Whiskey A Go Go, where the likes of The Doors and Guns ‘N Roses got their big break. Today, you’re more likely to be asked for ID and encounter a heavy metal moshpit, but it just adds to the character, as does the highly recommended Davey Wayne’s.
At first arrival this looks like a small off licence, but open the large traditional fridge, walk through it Narnia-style and you’ll find yourself in a traditionally laid out venue, with book racks, college kids and a silver food truck out the back serving grub late into the night.
If you want to draw the night out even longer, venture to the equally infamous Chateau Marmont, where you could spot anyone from Lindsay Lohan all the way up to stars on their way from the Golden Globes with their trophies in hand.
One top tip is that Hollywood’s traffic is notoriously bad, so we decided to team up with a firm called Bikes and Hikes LA and were chaperoned by our tour guide Eric for two days. Day one consisted of a trek up through the Hollywood Hills’ Griffith Park to check out the famous Hollywood sign for the prerequisite sunset photo. Much like some of the Dubai boomtime projects, Eric told us how there were plans afoot to turn it into a hotel with each of the letters packed full of suites and apartments. Luckily, the upsurge in LA’s fortunes means this is hopefully unlikely to happen.
Day two saw us ditching the petrol guzzlers and instead hoping on a two wheeler for a pedal-powered tour of the city. But, be warned, when it says Beverly Hills, they are just that and pushing up the steep slopes has been known to drain the colour from many an unprepared cyclist.
But, fear not, it is worth it to get a glimpse of the famous homes around Beverly Hills and Bel Air and the famous 90210 zipcode. Whether it’s the house where Frank Sinatra supposedly romanced Marilyn Monroe, the toilet where George Michael encountered an undercover police officer or where The Osbournes filmed their reality TV show, the streets truly are bathed in pop culture and tabloid scandal.
In that regard, one essential hotspot on the tour is Greystone Mansion (above), a 55-room, Tudor-style 46,000 square foot home built on 16 acres and considered the most expensive home built in California when it was completed in 1928.
The scene of an infamous family murder-suicide that shocked Hollywood in the late 20s and 30s, it is also one of Hollywood’s most popular filming locations. Owned by the state since 1995, it has featured in dozens of movies, including Batman and Robin, The Bodyguard, Ghostbusters II, Spider-Man, The Witches of Eastwick and X-Men.
Keeping the two wheels rolling, fans of Dubai Mall will be in heaven on Rodeo Drive, where the cars are as impressive as anything in a Sheikh Zayed Road showroom and the customer service is on par with that seen in Pretty Woman.
Back on four wheels to battle your way to the airport, I have one piece of advice. We flew British Airways on the new A380 ‘Red Carpet’ service and while there was much debate as to the appeal of the top deck in Business Class, I think it’s a clear winner. It feels more low key, you don’t have the long rows of seats veering off into the sunset and it makes the superjumbo feel a bit more intimate in the battle to get some sleep and beat the jetlag on the other side. And who knows, you might even see a celeb or two on the crossing over.