Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
The L.A. outpost of Starwood's "contemporary lifestyle" brand excels in both style and substance.
It's easy to poke fun at the W brand. Starwood's decade-old chain, targeted at Gen-Xers, can feel painfully hip -- and many of its trademarks are gimmicky at best. Doormats and elevator rugs are changed throughout the day to read "Good Morning," "Good Afternoon," or "Good Evening." The front desk staff -- sorry, "welcome-desk" staff -- answers the phone with, "What's your wish?" And, of course, there's the letter "W" itself, ubiquitous to the last detail: by itself on the pillows in the lobby and outside by the pool, alliteratively on the buttons on the phone in your room -- "whatever/whenever," "welcome desk," "welcome ambassador," "wheels" (that would be valet parking).
But unlike at, say, the new outpost in Boston, where the W's hyper-sleek design and cutesy touches don't quite mesh with its home city, the whole production feels appropriate for Southern California. The Westwood branch, the only W in Los Angeles, features the aforementioned trademarks, natch, and tosses in some "SoCal" of its own. Showtime has aired special screenings of the season finale of Dexter at CHILL (see Features, below), complete with "killer hors d'oeuvres and spine-tingling Dexter-themed cocktails." In the elevators, a camera snaps rapid-fire digital shots of whoever steps inside and posts them, matrix-style, on the wall. Then, in between the slides, come instructions: "Show us your sexy," "Make the mirror face," "What else you got?" What member of the "Me Generation" doesn't like a dollop of narcissism with his hospitality?
As for the substance to go with all that style? Excellent across the board. The W isn't an all-out luxury experience, but it's up there with the best of the upper-midrange places in the city. Everything the W can control -- the rooms, the service, the amenities -- it does superbly. And with renovations in 2012 to the Living Room, bar, and other public spaces, the hotel has created a more cohesive aesthetic throughout. High-tech meeting rooms were included in the renovation as well. The restaurant and Backyard area will receive similar revamping in 2013.
The W's biggest drawback -- and it's not much of one -- is the one thing it can't control: its location. Clean, safe, but somewhat staid Westwood is a fine base for exploring other parts of L.A., and you'll probably have a car no matter where you stay, but if you're not in town for something taking place at UCLA, there's little reason to actively seek out this part of town. If you are in town to conduct business or celebration at UCLA, there isn't a lot of choice nearby anyway. The Palomar, several blocks away, is the only other "major" hotel near UCLA; thus, about half the rooms in the area can be found at the W. Basically, you can't go wrong either way. If you feel like showing your sexy, whisk yourself wayward to the W.
(A final note: As you'd expect, the W tends to fill up for graduation, parents' weekend, and during alumni-related events, so keep those dates in mind when you book.)
Impressive from top to bottom
The front desk staff is on the ball; the concierge knows her stuff. If a guest misses a wake-up call one morning, someone comes by the room to knock on the door and make sure you're up. Cloudy night in UCLA? The doorman will fetch you an umbrella before you head out.
In Westwood, home to UCLA but no major tourist attractions
The W Westwood is in (surprise!) Westwood, a neighborhood in West L.A. best known as the home of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). It's neither the most picturesque nor happening part of the city -- short of premieres at the many vintage movie theaters, there's little here in the way of destination bars, restaurants, or attractions. But it's safe and clean, and as long as you have a car (a safe assumption in L.A.), it's a convenient home base for exploring both Beverly Hills and Hollywood to the east and Santa Monica and the coast to the west.
Huge suites and large studios; all are clean, well-appointed, and eminently 21st century
Like in all W rooms, the ones at this branch have a lot going on, from the fun but useless ("WISH" kaleidoscopes, six-inch-long foam Acuras) to the aesthetic (modern art, stylized furniture) and utilitarian (iPod-compatible stereos, flat-screen TVs). There are no fewer than five sources of light (lamps, deck fluorescents, etc.) in the suites' living rooms alone; the L-shaped couches come with five pillows.
And yet, the W never loses sight of the forest for the trees: it succeeds with the basics as well. The rooms are bright, clean, and (unusual for a W) spacious. Wonderful Studios run 400 square feet; theSpectacular Suite -- the smallest suite type -- is a whopping 650. The beds don't quite match up with those of, say, the Westin -- cotton-polyester linens, no duvets, only two pillows -- but they're still comfy. Our only two complaints relate to the bathroom: The shower didn't drain very well, and washing your hands is unwieldy because of the fashionable but not terribly functional faucets, which are too close to the vessel sinks.
An excellent array, both in quantity and quality
The W boasts an impressive range of features, especially given the size of the hotel, and they're all great, if not quite top-notch:
Kids aren't the target audience here
Not particularly kid-friendly, the W chain is unapologetically geared toward Gen-Xers and -- provisionally -- their well-behaved progeny. From the "intimacy kits" in the minibars to the cutesy directives in the elevators ("Show us your sexy"), the W is clearly designed with hip couples and young singles in mind. That's not to say it won't accommodate kids. After all, the "whatever, whenever" service mantra also applies to the little ones in tow.
Not a problem
The W was fully renovated in 2007 and is still looking sharp. 2012 and 2013 renovations are underway to most public spaces.
Two solid restaurants on-site and a few decent options nearby
The W's main restaurant, NineThirty, is just as overpriced as your typical business-oriented urban-hotel eatery, but its "farm to table" seasonal cuisine makes it a good option for any meal. Besides, Westwood isn't exactly a bastion of fine dining. For a gastronomical trip, grab a meal or two at NineThirty and take the car to Santa Monica, Venice, or Beverly Hills for the rest.
Whiskey Blue, a destination bar
Like many Ws, the Westwood branch features a hip, happening bar popular enough to draw locals as well as guests. The place was hopping well past midnight even on dreary, rainy nights.
Old Hollywood it ain't, but exceptional service and a hip setting makes the W a fun choice.
The W Westwood is a bit new to the wedding scene, but it's making bold efforts to win in the non-traditional wedding market. While they're not wedding planners per se, the hotel does provide guests with a wedding coordinator who can help organize your event -- be it candles or a two-hour appointment with a celebrity stylist for the entire bridal party -- plus you can track your guests (and their bookings) on your own Wow Vows web page. Plus, you can collect Starwoods Preferred Guest reward points for the wedding (up to 20,000 points), the bachelor(ette) parties, rehearsal dinners, and other events at the hotel.
A W that boasts style and substance, this branch has it all: excellent service, amenities aplenty, a hip bar, and large, pimped-out rooms (including almost 150 huge suites). Westwood isn't the most happening place, but it's a fine base for exploring other areas, and the W itself compares favorably with its similarly priced competitors across the entire city.