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Monday, November 16, 2009

The Sofitel Hotel Los Angeles and SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills

When the luxury SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills (465 South La Cienega Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90048, 310-247-0400) opened on La Cienega earlier this year, the location put it down the street and into direct competition with the remodeled Sofitel Hotel Los Angeles, formerly Ma Maison Sofitel (8555 Beverly Boulevard, Los Anegles, CA 90048, 310-278-5444).

Given their location on the border between Beverly Hills and West Hollywood, both hotels are a good stop for anyone pursuing business or pleasure in the area. They offer conveniences expected of luxury hotels but their approach to their customers are wildly different.

At Sofitel Hotel Los Angeles, the lobby is dark, backlit, and mirrored, the better to flatter the hotel's patrons with classic Hollywood-style glamor. The rooms, as in all Sofitel's, are devoted to comfort with a French appreciation of spare elegance.

The hallway to the right of the concierge desk leads to the intimate Stone Rose Bar and LA Simon. If you want a designer cocktail in a subdued setting, the Stone Rose Bar is for you. There are enough Martini varieties to keep a conversation going until the wee hours of the morning.

If you're hungry, Chef Kerry Simon serves what he calls "Modern American comfort food with a flair." That means crab cakes with Asian slaw, classic Caesars, freshly made pizzas, roasted chicken, meatloaf, surf and turf, spaghetti with meatballs and a 20 oz. bone-in rib eye so big they call it the "cowboy". Desserts hit high notes on all the standards: creme brulee, apple tart, dark chocolate mousse cake, beignets, and a "junk food sampler" that will take you on a sugar-rush back to your childhood as you eat gourmet versions of cotton candy, cracker jacks, Rice Krispie treats, cupcakes, snowballs, a peanut butter sundae, vanilla bean milkshake, and assorted cookies.

Whether you're a guest or a day-tripper, a great way to enjoy the pleasures of the hotel is to have a Spa-and-Dinner. One of the best dates my wife and I ever had was to arrange simultaneous massages at LeSpa, with a private session in the NanoSpa Immersion Therapy room, as a prelude for a leisurely dinner at LA Simon. Being so perfectly relaxed was a great way to enjoy Chef Simon's food.

The SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills is as elegant and pampers its guests as well but the approach is completely different. From the outside the hotel would appear to be just another large hotel on a busy street, but one step inside the lobby alcove and you know you're not in Kansas any more. The monkeys on the hotel's crest are a pretty good give-away.

SLS prides itself on being witty, hip, and clever. You get that from the way they twist-and-flip their "SLS" moniker which can mean "Style Luxury Service," "Start Living Smartly," "Society's Latest Scandals," or "Shoes Love Shining."

Even before you enter the lobby, you're confronted by larger-than-life flower pots and a silver tea pot. Philippe Starck designed the interiors and much of the art. His playful touch is felt everywhere in the hotel.

An interesting fact about SLS is that only registered guests can enter the hotel lobby. Which is nice if you're a power-broker, politician, athlete, or starlet who wants privacy while you wheel-and-deal in LA.

The lobby has all the creature comforts associated with a luxury hotel but those familiar elements are redesigned with an elegant subversiveness.

A long communal dining table shares the space with a club-like bar area where you can order drinks and appetizers. The bar is off to the left of the entrance where the bartenders work in a room-sized cubbyhole servicing customers seated in the lounge or at the long table. Entering the elevator on your way to your Phillipe Starck-designed room, you appear to join a party already in progress. The walls are lined with back-lit, full-sized photographs of beautiful, hip, stylish, and, presumably, interesting people.

On the roof-top pool, the cabanas and chaise lounges are so over-sized, the feeling you're left with is that you are forever-young, or at least, a child in a Magritte landscape. Sometimes, especially in the rooms, you might confront the dark side of witty-design when you try to sit in a beaded chair or you stumble over something that is sticking out where it shouldn't but overall the effect is delightful.

The rooms are chock-filled with high-tech toys, geared to the iPhone-iPod aficionado. Usually when I arrive at a hotel, when the bellman deposits me in my room I don't take him up on his offer to explain how everything works. In this case, definitely ask, "How do I turn on the lights? Where's the TV?"

There is no question that SLS is in the business of reinventing the hotel experience. They do a great job of making travel fun again.

But there is more. SLS wants the public to visit. If the lobby is off-limits, that's not true of the Bazaar.

The Bazaar was created to house the imagination of chef Jose Andres. Like a culinary Cirque de Soleil, the Bazaar has a lot going on. There is an upscale bar--with those over-sized chairs that make you feel like a kid in a candy store--a very expensive retail store selling art and household objects selected by Philippe Starck, 2 restaurants (Rojo and Blanco), 1 dessert bar, and a dining room reserved for private parties.

Jose Andres' menu is probably one of the most complex and original offerings in Los Angeles. There are traditional Spanish dishes like seared piquillo peppers, toasted bread with fresh tomatoes and Manchego cheese, paella, stuffed green olives, and the best ham you've ever eaten. But Andres trained with world-renowned chef Ferran Adrian so he also offers chemically marvelous creations like liquid olives that are actually olive-essence turned into a gel by the magic of alginate. For those who can afford a playful hit on decadent treats like foie gras, chef Andres serves a cube of that delightfully delicious indulgence on a stick, wrapped inside an airy globe of cotton candy.

At the Bazaar you can have almost anything your heart desires, just be prepared to pay for it. The restaurant is not inexpensive but you'd never know that from the crowds that pack the restaurant every night.

Staying at either hotel is a win-win proposition. There are many luxury hotels in Los Angeles but the Sofitel Hotel and SLS Hotel are unique unto themselves in their very different ways.

This is a dedicated TravelingMom post.

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