FOR A LONG time, I rarely set foot in Downtown Los Angeles. When I traveled to the city, it was to visit friends who live in other, leafier neighborhoods: Silver Lake, Echo Park, Highland Park, Glassell Park. All the Parks. For fun or food we might go to the beach or the hills, but rarely did we enter the most urban part of LA, the part that looks like many other cities with tall buildings and stoplights on every corner.
So when I landed at the Downtown L.A. Proper Hotel, I already felt I was on a kind of dual vacation: one from my home life, and another from the Los Angeles I know and (sometimes) love. This looks like New York, I thought, looking up at the beautifully preserved facade of the Renaissance Revival–style 1920s building, which was designed by Curlett and Beelman. (The building, formerly a private club where Cecil B. DeMille was a member, and then a YWCA, was granted Historic-Cultural Monument status in 2014.) A flurry of comparisons continued to float through my mind with each new impression. This looks like San Francisco, I thought, taking in the crystalline view from the copper bar at Cara Cara on the hotel’s rooftop. This looks like Paris, I thought, gazing out my twelfth-story window at dusk, glowing lanterns lighting the penthouse restaurant in the hotel across the street.
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The Proper has locations in Austin, San Francisco, and Santa Monica. While the views from the recently opened Downtown outpost offer elements of universal urban experiences, on the inside it is unmistakably LA. The interiors, designed by Kelly Wearstler, are glamorous, warm, and inviting — a combination of vintage art deco curves, colors, and prints, with maximalist flourishes like the lobby’s bold floral wallpaper. There are site-specific art pieces by local artists, and over 100 different kinds of tile on the property, including the stunning black-and-white checkerboard surrounding the rooftop pool. The tile, like the rest of the decor, blends a number of styles: Portuguese, Mexican, Moroccan.
It’s typical Wearstler: a stunning mélange that imparts a sense of breeziness. Two massive cacti act as pillars, welcoming guests into the small but commanding lobby where the wallpaper slopes across high rounded ceilings. The rooms themselves are well-appointed but unpretentious. A compact but comfortable loveseat at the foot of the upholstered bed in my room was paired with a heavy oval marble table, the perfect place to set up a laptop — or, better yet, to situate one’s room-service breakfast while watching Bravo on the wall-mounted television.
Some hotels are a place to lay one’s head; others are self-contained worlds, and the Downtown L.A. Proper is one of these. Once I checked in, it was difficult, and seemingly unnecessary, to leave. The energy was luxurious but not at all stuffy, thanks in large part to a sunny staff. My room was bright and comfortable. The gym had everything I needed (and my workout was followed by a shower with the Aesop products in my room). Most importantly, the food was as good as any I’ve had at the city’s best restaurants. There are two eateries within the hotel: Cara Cara is the rooftop bar, which has all-day cocktails and ample outdoor seating, along with a firepit. Caldo Verde is the ground-floor restaurant, named for the Portuguese green soup with potatoes (it’s on the menu here, and stars local rock crab, linguiça, and mussels.) The food and beverage programs come from award-winning chef Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne, who have opened Lucques, a.o.c., and other restaurants together.
In taking the elevator down to dine at Caldo Verde, it was clear that in spite of being open only four months or so, the restaurant is already a destination for Angelenos. Though it was a Sunday night, half a dozen couples lingered in the hallway outside the entrance, waiting for their coveted tables. Everything I ate that night was exceptional: an impossibly fresh yellow tomato campechana (a Mexican seafood cocktail), the brightness of which was balanced by cilantro, chunks of creamy avocado, and crab meat; a plate of prawns with arbol chile butter and salsa verde; and a perfectly grilled piri piri half chicken (a Portuguese dish with a red-pepper sauce made from African bird’s eye chilies) served with fresh arugula over hot, salty French fries, onto which the chicken juices generously dripped. I wished I’d had room for the Boca Negra cake with coffee caramel, bourbon, and caramel ice cream, or even the pistachio flan; alas, I was perfectly sated by the savory meal. I ordered espresso instead, took in the tall potted trees dotting the open space against the brown-and-cream tile work on the dining room pillars, and listened to the din of happy diners. After a meal of such high quality, I was thrilled and a bit surprised to not have to bundle up against the unseasonably chilly evening or retrieve my car. I was already where I was supposed to be. I walked, pleasantly dazed, across the hall to the elevator, got in, and pressed 12.
Nina Renata Aron Writer
Nina Renata Aron is a writer and editor based in Oakland, California. She is the author of “Good Morning, Destroyer of Men's Souls.” Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Guardian, the New Republic, Elle, Eater, and Jezebel.
Ahonen & Lamberg Illustrator
Ahonen & Lamberg is a multidisciplinary design studio based in Paris. Founded in 2006 by Finnish designers Anna Ahonen and Katariina Lamberg, the studio concentrates on art direction, creative consultancy, and graphic design.