Brett Ratner’s enthusiasm for Los Angeles is contagious. Even with a shoddy cell phone connection established from a car (presumably in horrible traffic) on the other side of the country, the big-time director (Rush Hour, Catfish, X-Men: The Last Stand) sounds as starry-eyed about the town as any first-time visitor. And he’s been living there for 20 years.
“When I first got to Hollywood in 1997, it was so exciting for me—going to the studios, Hollywood Boulevard,” he says. “My dream was always to have an office on a Hollywood lot, and now I’m in Warner Bros., where Frank Sinatra’s office used to be.” A dream come true, and nothing much about his attitude has changed.
Born in Miami, Ratner came of age in New York (where he moved for film school at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts) before arriving in L.A. to start his career. But his memories of the city date back much further, to days spent by the pool at the Beverly Hills Hotel. “The first photo booth picture I ever took was with my mom there, when I was 2 or 3 years old.”
Now, Ratner lives a stone’s throw from the property, at the legendary Hilhaven Lodge. Built in 1927 as a guesthouse for entertaining, Ingrid Bergman bought it in the 1940s, actress Kim Novak used it as her love nest, and producer Allan Carr added a disco to the basement in the ’70s. “I’ve always loved houses that have provenance and history, and I always wanted an old, storied Hollywood home,” he says. Hilhaven’s past even inspired the filmmaker’s latest project: a Kentucky whiskey made in partnership with spirit giant Diageo. “The house was originally for having parties. It felt like it should have its own spirit.”
When he’s not out on the town at his favorite go-to spots, you can find him entertaining by one of his home’s four bars, or down in the disco. “The irony is that I now have my own photo booth,” he says, “so it kind of all comes full circle.”
Here, Ratner shares his guide to the very best of Los Angeles, peppered with a few very funny stories (as only he can) about living life in La La Land.
What neighborhood do you live in, and how long have you lived there? I moved to L.A. in 1997. I rented a house off Sunset and then up in Laurel Canyon. Then I moved to the Beverly Hills Hotel for six months until I found Hilhaven in 2000. When I saw the house, it was love at first sight. I walked in and I couldn’t afford it at the time, but I was like, I have to own this house. So I bought it anyway. I lived there for the first year and then I moved in with legendary producer Robert Evans for two-and-a-half years while they restored the entire house—the wood, the beams, the stucco, everything.
Where would you put up friends visiting town? I put them at Hilhaven, or I’d put them at the Beverly Hills Hotel (9641 Sunset Blvd.; 310-276-2251; dorchestercollection.com). It’s about three blocks away, so it’s convenient.
What do you think is the city’s signature dish, and where is the best place to find it? For some people it’s a burger—at In and Out (7009 Sunset Blvd.; 800-786-1000; in-n-out.com), or Plan Check (1111 Wilshire Blvd.; 213-403-1616; plancheck.com)—and for other people, it’s a salad—the McCarthy salad at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
What is your favorite restaurant to take visitors? Craig’s (8826 Melrose Ave.; 310-276-1900; craigs.la) for the scene (and if I’m ever dining with a vegan). It’s one of my favorites because it’s got that old school vibe—kind of like what I imagine Jilly's was like back in the day, which was Frank Sinatra’s stomping grounds. There’s a huge bar scene at Craig’s and the restaurant is just a bonus. I’d also say Sushi Park (8539 Sunset Blvd., No. 20; 310-652-0523) for sushi, Mr. Chow (344 N. Camden Dr.; 310-278-9911; mrchow.com) for Chinese, and Madeo (8897 Beverly Blvd.; 310-859-4903) for the most authentic Italian.
Where can you find the best cocktails? Adults Only (7065 ½ Sunset Blvd.; 323-469-0040; adultsonlybar.la) is great because it’s a movie themed place—I love that. They have really interesting cocktail names, like “Grounds for Divorce.” I think they’re very creative. Seven Grand (515 W. Seventh St., No. 200; 213-614-0736; 213hospitality.com) feels the most authentic and vintage-y—a place people have been drinking in since the ’20s. I love Chateau Marmont (8221 Sunset Blvd.; 323-656-1010; chateaumarmont.com). I love Melrose Station (7384 Melrose Ave.; themelrosestation.com). And Catch (8715 Melrose Ave.; 323-347-6060; catchrestaurants.com), because they have a great mixologist there. I love the Old Fashioned.
Beer list? I don’t really know—I’m not a beer guy. Wherever they serve Guinness.
Wine list? Wally’s (2107 Westwood Blvd.; 310-475-0606; wallywine.com) is such a cool, groundbreaking place, because you’re enjoying the evening among a wine collection. The walls are floor to ceiling filled with wine. You can buy bottles there, and high-end caviar, and cheeses, too.
Where would you choose to splurge on a night out? I would start with a drink at the Polo Lounge (9641 Sunset Blvd.; 310-887-2777; dorchestercollection.com) at the Beverly Hills Hotel—or end the night there with chocolate soufflé. It’s always the staple. It’s also close to my house, so it makes sense. Three nights a week I go for sushi, which is not good for my mercury levels. I love Sushi Park. Pound for pound I think it’s the best quality sushi—probably in America, but definitely in L.A. Afterwards, I’d go to Craig’s or Catch. They’re very close. And I would end up at Hilhaven in the disco, where we would drink whiskey and then dance, because everything in L.A. closes until 2 a.m.
What is your go-to after-hours bar? Always the Hilhaven Lodge Disco. Funny story: Years ago, Puffy (Sean Combs) wanted a place to go when the club closed down and heard that I bought a house with a disco in it. He didn’t know that I was inside the house sleeping, but he found the address and jumped over the gate and let the entire club into the house. This was before I had furniture, art, or anything. I woke up to a thump coming up through my bedroom floor. When I went downstairs, he was on the dance floor with 50 people. Today, if you jump the fence you’re going to get arrested. But if you’re a whiskey drinker, we can work something out.
What’s the best way to spend a Saturday afternoon? At my house, watching movies. I have a theater in the living room at Hilhaven. But if I’m not doing that, I would say Soho House’s Little Beach House Malibu (Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, 22716 Pacific Coast Hwy.; 310-456-2400; littlebeachhousemalibu.com). It’s got a really great outdoor space that’s great for a daytime hang.
What is your Sunday morning routine? It’s about breakfast. I’ll go to the Coffee Shop at the Beverly Hills Hotel. I usually have the silver dollar pancakes and eggs. I always drink grapefruit juice. Or, I love going to Jon and Vinny’s. It’s the best breakfast—everything is friggin’ delicious. I also love going to play tennis at Robert Evan’s house—he has an in-house tennis pro. Or, I’ll go and take a ping-pong lesson at the Jewish Community Center (5870 W. Olympic Blvd.; 323-938-2531; westsidejcc.org).
Where is the best brunch? See above. By the way, Jon and Vinny were both my chefs at Hilhaven Lodge prior to owning their restaurants. Benedikt Taschen poached them after a dinner at my house, and they ended up opening five restaurants together.
Where do you go for the perfect cup of coffee? I don’t drink coffee. But I do drink chai iced tea from Starbucks.
What’s your favorite view in town (that tourists might not know about)? The view from Yamashiro (1999 N. Sycamore Ave.; 323-466-5125; yamashirohollywood.com), which is right above Hollywood Boulevard. It’s a historic landmark and the best view, period. You see all of L.A. It’s just an incredible vista.
What’s your favorite path or trail to follow on a walk? I love to walk around Holmby Park, off the Beverly Glen, or Franklin Canyon. I love the Canyon because there’s not a lot of dogs, and the beautifully tree-line road that leads to it. But the park is like the equivalent of being in Miami Beach, where I would watch old people play shuffleboard, picnic, bocce—there’s a miniature golf course. There’s a lot of activity and I love watching the people.
What are your favorite offbeat cultural attractions in the city? Going to see a movie at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery (6000 Santa Monica Blvd.; 323-469-1181; hollywoodforever.com), it’s awesome. There are a lot of great vintage theaters in L.A. I love Cinefamily (611 N. Fairfax Ave.; 323-330-4412; cinefamily.org) and New Beverly Cinema (7165 Beverly Blvd.; 323-938-4028; thenewbev.com), which is owned by Quentin Tarantino. You can go watch old movies there, and occasionally they’ll have directors or other people from those movies.
What’re your favorite shops, stores, or boutiques? Hermes (434 N. Rodeo Dr.; 310-278-6440; hermes.com). I love luxury goods—tchotchkes, I call them. They have the best cashmere blankets, and other stuff I probably will never use, but they’re beautiful objects. Loro Piana (455 N. Rodeo Dr.; 310-860;0765; loropiana.com) is the best for cashmere clothes, socks, things like that—I just love cashmere. Flight Club (503 N. Fairfax Ave.; 888-937-8020; flightclub.com). Best sneakers in the world. I go there once a month to get the rarest sneakers. I have this pair by Adidas that’s a collaboration with Japanese brand Mastermind, and they’re incredible.
What’s the ultimate souvenir from the city—something you can only get there? The ultimate would be a photo booth picture from Hilhaven. And if you’re lucky, you’ll get a bottle of Hilhaven Lodge Whiskey with it.
What’s the best-kept local secret? My favorite restaurant in all of L.A. is a place called Si Laa (1128 Robertson Blvd.; 310-858-7738; silaathai.com). It’s home-cooked Thai. Three generations of women work in the restaurant: The granddaughters are the servers, the mother and grandmother are in the kitchen cooking. It’s the most delicious, unknown spot in L.A. It’s friggin’ delicious. For the best fried-chicken sandwich, it’s a tie for between Son of a Gun (8370 W. Third St.; 323-782-9033; sonofagunrestaurant.com) and Plan Check. I also love going to Joan’s on Third (8350 W. Third St.; 323-655-2285; joansonthird.com). They’ve got really great cheeses, and salads. Joan gets products you can’t really get in L.A. and sells them there, too.