Stephen Unwin pens an obituary for what he believes was the world’s greatest hotel
“Excuse me, are you talking about diazepam?”
The accent was Australian that’d been in America longer than home, the hair a twinkling blonde bob cut just so, that diamond grinning from the hand now clutching our side of the booth the kind you cut egos with. And the eyes? Looking for all the right trouble.
Funny she should ask, we were. “Great! Mind if I join you?”
“I come to LA every month in my boss’s private jet to take her dog to the salon. She’s a porn billionaire.”
Funny she should ask, we didn’t.
We were in our favourite booth, third along with the bar just there, feet tucked childishly under legs to knock off a few years, the familiar cool of the fleshy banquette pressed against our thighs, looking out over Sunset Boulevard and playing ye olde “You Have To Shag One Of The Next 10 People”. We were dining right out in The Standard’s 24/7 diner on their sloppy patty like we always do as soon as we can manage after landing at LAX. Plant-based, because we’ve seen the light, and washed down with colder-than-ice Vodka Martinis because we’re not monsters. It’s up to you where the diazepam came in – it’s her lust for life that got us right there.
“I’ve just taken the dog to the groomers,” said our favourite new person, who you can call Olivia Newton-John if you like. We asked if she lived local. West Hollywood, perhaps. Or Beverly Hills. Up from Malibu? Certainly not the Arts District because New Girl hadn’t quite trickled down yet and also, that diamond.
“Oh, Scottsdale Arizona!” she answered, doing that American thing of giving too much information just in case. I’m from Manchester Greater Manchester, if you’re taking notes. “I come to LA every month in my boss’s private jet to take her dog to the salon. She’s a porn billionaire.” See, information!
Most conversations with people in the booth next to you don’t go like this. To stand a chance of breaking the cycle, you need to go to The Standard West Hollywood. Or you used to need to, because The Standard West Hollywood is no more. It shut up shop last week, out of nowhere, out of the bluest of LA blues, just like that, no warning, no countdown, no time for strongly worded emails, no “But what about meee!!?”s, and certainly no time for mainlining broccoli and bananas to take the edge off the comedown. Gone, girl. The people in charge say “indefinitely”, and we live in hope. Something about money/rent. In the meantime, can we just take this moment to remember the beautiful, imperfect, perfect bit of real estate that was the world’s greatest hotel?
The Standard West Hollywood used to be an old folks’ home, right on Sunset Blvd – which is one of the busiest roads in LA, so the old folks on that side of the building must’ve had the right hump. Sure, Sunset is American road-long, but the bit we care about is the Sunset Strip, the West Hollywood bit. Because gays, gays, gays. And gays win prizes and make a neighbourhood pretty. André Balazs (off-of rich, handsome and formerly Mr Uma Thurman) agreed, did whatever rich people do and, as the world held its breath for the sparkly new millennium, he was opening up the first hotel of his fabled Standard empire.
Because gays, gays, gays. And gays win prizes and make a neighbourhood pretty
It was the start of a beautiful thing. He was disrupting before someone in a Next suit came up with “disrupting”. He took unfashionable, fugly buildings and turned them into swans, the kind everyone wants to ride. He looked beyond the funk of Garibaldis and lavender potpourri of that old people’s home to see its art deco loveliness. There was the pool in the back yard that really could be something, the perched position on Sunset with all those views of Downtown LA, the wily L-shape for privacy, the huge rooms that didn’t need major structural stuff to sort them out, the slight set-back which meant glamorous drop-offs in your blacked-out Jeep Wrangler, the exposed white concrete that glows in the sun and pouts at night. And only three storeys. To all intents a roadside motel zhuzhed up, at a time when roadside motels had only ever been ew!
Also clever, he didn’t over-faff with the interiors. Keeping it raw, before that was a thing, he just splashed colour and whimsy to get your heart racing. Blues mostly, because they make the white concrete pop. From the Andy Warhol fabric curtains in the bedrooms to that throbbing blue… what are we calling it, Astroturf? for the pool area, which was a revelation and a revolution. Throw in plastic-fantastic en-suites – in orange! – for those huge rooms, plus silver pleatherette teardrop beanbags, wall-to-wall carpets, a scented candle you can burn for your pleasure and “gimmick” goodie boxes containing packets of condoms with come-hither slogans, and we’re done. Fun and humdrum, a juxtaposition that just totally works. Then he splashed “The Standard” on the front of the hotel – but turned it upside down. Because of course he did.
The lobby became a thing, through those glass doors that peeled back with a Grammy-winning whoosh and gifted you a whole world of silly glamour. Perspex swings – Emmanuelle meets Austin Powers – hanging from the exposed ceiling, angular poufs for loitering, the old school barbers, before old school barbers had come back-back-back then (genius!). Behind check-in: a human aquarium containing a man in pants or a woman in pants, whichever takes your fancy, often reading a book, which must’ve been nice for them. People who’d already been got major chufties when they saw the Sex and the City girls checking in – it’s the episode where Carrie goes to Hollywood to talk movie deals and Samantha penises – while everyone else who fancied themselves a bit smart for town started working on their beelines.
The staff were in on it too. Co-conspirators in relaxed polo+shorts combos, there was an unspoken pact between you, them, fun. There was that one night, after an all-day sesh in the gay bars of Santa Monica Boulevard (downhill on Sweetzer, take a right, very walkable in a city where people don’t walk), when I lost my mates then my shoes, tried to get into a good three or four clubs (barefoot) with my Oyster card, fell into a bush outside the Mondrian a block down from The Standard and was ushered home by a security guard who looked like Luther Vandross (miss you!), thereupon pulling a total blank when it came to name and room number so trying (try banging, why not!) every single door on the second floor in case. Finally, the nice man in the white polo shirt and off-blue shorts on night duty got black coffee and sat with me, gently coaxing that sort of information Americans give willy-nilly. The next morning? A wink, just in time for more.
This place was a murmuration of glamour and hi-lo jinks, shifting with the sun
Or the New Year’s Eve we were supposed to go to Chateau Marmont over the road for dinner with a bunch of women who got married for a living, but opted instead for McDonald’s Happy Meals and a half gallon of Tito’s vodka (they come with handles!) in our room, heckling the neighbours across our balconies like we were in Naples or something. For the first part of the evening, anyway.
Then there was the club downstairs that yo-yoed its cool but never its appeal to children-of. I think I talked to Paris Hilton – could’ve been Perez – in there about cats, right next to a succulent, which is the sort of anecdote I should save for dinner parties. Or the days in work limbo, in-between interviewing celebs for magazines back home, sat on those poufs in the lobby with restless legs and checking-checking-checking the batteries in that crappy voice recorder while waiting for the limo the studio or the record company had or hadn’t put on for you to turn up, remaining sober because you’re good like that then meeting your interviewee and wondering why you’d bothered.
I cherish that time I asked for extra bacon at breakfast and, just as it was working its way from the kitchen, my waitress clocking its progress and deadpanning, “Your bacon’s coming. I’m so excited for you,” in a Keeping up with The Hills twang – and who knows, maybe she was. The ping pong by the pool, the hob-nobbing with the hob nobs in the pool, the neon pink inflatables bobbing on the pool before those things were even a twinkle in an Instagrammer’s overdone eye; the pre-parties, the after-parties, the pre-post-parties, the pre-loading for Falcon down in Hollywood of a Thursday; making friends, finding lovers, ditching them for better ones, preludes to those racy steamy parties up in the Hills or down on Santa Monica, the people, the people, the people.
The pool parties.
The go-to for the coolest debauchery in town, The Standard West Hollywood was never knowingly not rammed with journos, A-list celebs, AA-refuseniks, the peripatetic Brit pack, publicists in fuck-you Celine sunglasses, shiny gays in John Varvatos jackets buttoned just so and definitely no socks with those Gucci loafers all the way from Fred Segal, Housewives in all the latest chins, jobbing actors serving margaritas (no salt), billionaire porn barons, boys who like boys, wheelers and dealers, film stars’ progeny, anyone who was anyone and the odd person who was no-one at all.
This place was a murmuration of glamour and hi-lo jinks, shifting with the sun. From hair-tied-back dawns to squiffy dusks to way past other people’s bedtimes and right back round again, the great and the even greater ebbed and flowed and sucked it in through The Standard’s turnstiles. Those lucky bitches in their valley of the dolls.
The Standard West Hollywood was a safe space for fun, the most tectonic game-changer in hospitality since Ian Schrager gave us the boutique hotel in mid-80s NYC. Thinking about it gives me a funny tickle. And it’s therapeutic to think about nice things, says Andy from Headspace – and he’s an ex-monk with, like, half a billion in the bank so who are we to argue? Because when you tire of The Standard West Hollywood, you tire of LA. And that ain’t happening any time soon. And if someone’s willing to stump up the rent, “Olivia Newton-John” will join you in the nearest booth, if you’re lucky. C