As Hollywood's most notorious celebrity hideaway, the Chateau Marmont is the best spot for A-list sightings, especially in its two fantastic (yet reasonably priced) restaurants. Unfortunately, for tourists, most everything else disappoints. The pool's small, the gym's dark, and the standard rooms are dowdy. Book a room at the London instead, and head here for dinner to get your celebrity fix.
Hollywood's notorious celebrity hideout: great for people watching, but little else
Perched on a hill overlooking Sunset Boulevard, the Chateau Marmont has been a bastion of old Hollywood -- and a way of life for many a celebrity -- since it opened in 1929. With its faded oriental rugs, velvet couches, beveled mirrors, and brass candelabras, the atmosphere is brooding and nostalgic, as discreet as it is decadent. As Harry Cohn, founder of Columbia Pictures, famously told screen legends William Holden and Glenn Ford, "If you're going to get in trouble, do it at the Chateau Marmont."
Loosely modeled after a chateau in France's Loire Valley, this temple of romance and hedonism has a history as thick as the stains on its carpets. Former residents include Greta Garbo, Robert DeNiro, and Lindsay Lohan. John Belushi overdosed in a bungalow, F. Scott Fitzgerald had a heart attack here, and members of Led Zeppelin rode motorcycles through the lobby.
While there's no debating that the Chateau is an icon, it's not a hotel for ordinary people. Those who love the Chateau tend to be part of the Hollywood tribe. They're drawn to its history, its distressed décor, and the air of exclusivity that pervades every nook and cranny. But the Chateau can prove to be one of the most overrated hotels in L.A. As Philip Truelove, a former manager at the Chateau (and current manger of Robert DeNiro's Greenwich Hotel in New York City) toldEntertainment Weekly in 1992, "This is not a hotel for tourists." And 20 years later, that still holds true -- this is a hotel for celebrities, celebrity voyeurs, and connoisseurs of celebrity life.
Oyster wasn't allowed in to photograph any room other than our own, nor did the hotel allow us to take photographs inside the hotel (other than the few that were snuck with a small camera). So the quality of the 62 other rooms, suites, cottages, or bungalows can't be vouched for. But the standard rooms are small (300 square feet) and shabby (stained carpets, grime around the baseboards), with an outdated bathroom -- and overall a letdown. With the exception of minor renovations, rooms haven't been redone since 1990.
Tourists are paying for the cachet of staying at one of the most storied hotels in the world. You can't put a price tag on celebrity sightings. But you'll find a better standard room almost anywhere else in West Hollywood. One of the best, most spacious rooms in all of L.A. is also less expensive. Oyster's advice? Book a room at the London West Hollywood and head to Bar Marmont to satisfy your urge to sight a celebrity.
A little stuffy, but service requests are answered promptly, and guests get preferential in-house reservations
The service is a smidge warmer than anticipated after reading countless reviews about the stuffy (yet courteous) treatment guests received. That said, the air of exclusivity is impossible to penetrate. It's safe to assume that celebrities and regulars get the most attentive treatment, and usually the best tables. However, hotel guests (even a noncelebrities) are entitled to priority reservations at the restaurant and bar, a privilege otherwise reserved for studio directors and names that appear in the IMDB database.
Nightly turndown service
24-hour room service
Fruit tray and a handwritten note on embossed Chateau Marmont letterhead left in the room before a guest's arrival
Service requests answered promptly
No dedicated concierge -- the front desk staff doubles as such
8221 Sunset Boulevard, a renowned address in the heart of West Hollywood
Located in the heart of West Hollywood on the Sunset Strip, the Chateau Marmont planted its flag at 8221 Sunset Boulevard decades before nearby celebrity haunts like the Mondrian and the Standard Hollywood showed up a half-mile down the road. The Sunset Strip, which has long been known for music clubs like the House of Blues, the Roxy, Viper Room, and Whisky A Go-Go, has become significantly more upscale since its strip club and head shop days in the '70s and '80s (a head shop remains, however, across from the hotel).
One of the most prestigious addresses in Hollywood, but its entrance is easy to miss -- it's just a short, narrow driveway marked by a small sign. No porte cochere, no gold-plated gate, no big, burly guards.
The heart of the Hollywood Walk of Fame is two miles away, the Hollywood Bowl is a 15-minute drive, and Universal Studios is about 20 minutes by car.
Steps from the famed music clubs on the Sunset Strip
Sunset Plaza, a walkable half-mile stretch of noted restaurants like BLT Steak and upscale boutiques like Roberto Cavalli and Catherine Malandrino, is a short drive, or 15-minute walk from the hotel.
At least a 30-minute drive to Santa Monica and L.A.'s beaches
Valet parking only, pricey per day (if eating at one of the hotel's restaurants, the first three hours of parking will be validated)
Bob Hope Airport in Burbank is about 14 miles away, which can translate to a 45 minute drive in traffic, but it's still a better option than Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), which can take one and a half hours.
The bungalows where celebrities stay are probably really nice, but the small standard rooms (300 square feet) are less so. Though they feature charming midcentury furniture, shabby carpeting and an outdated bathroom are a let down. For a much lower price, book a standard room at the London West Hollywood -- it's immaculate, more than double the size, and comes with a balcony and enormous bathroom with a double-headed shower and gleaming sunken tub.
Comfortable queen beds in standard rooms with high-thread-count linens, down pillows and duvets, and a divine Nepalese cashmere throw, which can be yours for $600.
Most standard rooms have separate showers and bathtubs, but bathrooms haven't been updated since 1990. Toiletries are generous 2.2 ounce bottles of Kiehl's.
Small pool and dark gym almost outweigh the free Wi-Fi, and DVD and CD lending libraries.
The real attraction here is the people watching. With the exception of the free Wi-Fi and extensive DVD and CD lending libraries, almost everything else, including the pool and the dark, depressing gym, is a letdown.
People watching galore
The small pool is tucked among the private bungalows and feels private, until the traffic noise from Sunset Boulevard starts to get annoying; open 24 hours.
On weekends a small bar is set up by the pool; at other times, you must call room service to get a drink delivered.
Gym is in a depressingly dark room on the 7th floor. Equipment includes a treadmill, StairClimber, elliptical, bikes, and an assortment of weights, all of which have seen much, much better days.
Guests can borrow CDs -- Aretha Franklin, David Bowie, and the Eurythmics, among them -- from the front desk for free (all rooms have stereos), which involves filling out an actual checkout card that you'll find in the guest services book in the room.
Excellent DVD lending library includes classics like Citizen Cane, Annie Hall, and The Sound of Music.
Nothing about this place screams bring the kids, even though free cribs come with soft, luxurious Frette linens. For 80 years the Chateau has been where Hollywood's moguls and starlets come to do their Hollywood mogul and starlet things, which doesn't include entertaining kids, even if those children happen to have been conceived there. Which is always a possibility.
It's so dark in the main areas that you don't really notice any substantive cleanliness issues, but it's a different story in the rooms. The carpet in the standard room was dirty and worn, and there seemed to be years of grime around the baseboards, especially near the minibar. The grounds and areas around the pool are immaculate.
Excellent food -- and fairly reasonably priced, considering
The Chateau has two places to eat: the main restaurant inside, with its infamous outdoor patio where the A-listers flock like it's the last piece of real estate in L.A., and Bar Marmont, which is also on the property, but you have to walk outside and down a small hill to get to the entrance.
With its butterfly-covered ceiling, stuffed peacock in the corner, and plush banquettes, the 1930s Vietnam-inspired bar feels more relaxed than the significantly pricier restaurant, but both share the same executive chef, Carolynn Spence, who was poached in 2007 from The Spotted Pig, a popular (and delicious) New York restaurant. The food is excellent at both places -- and reasonably priced considering the haute locale.
Execute chef Carolynn Spence heads up food at both the formal restaurant in the main chateau, and at Bar Marmont, just down the street from the main hotel entrance.
Bar Marmont is open in the evenings; the main restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Excellent food in both locations; the bar has a less formal vibe and more reasonably priced food than the main restaurant, which boasts an outdoor patio.
Tables on the charming outdoor patio are some of the most sought after in the city -- and thus the best place to spot celebs (a colleague saw Stevie Wonder and Thom Yorke within a few days of my stay).
Martinis are a house specialty at Bar Marmont, particularly the Butterfly's Kiss, made with vanilla vodka and Goldschlager.
Mains at Bar Marmont range from the "Damn Good Burger" (and it lives up to its hyperbole) to a New York strip with onion rings; bar snacks and small plates (highly recommended). Among the best are the bacon-wrapped Armagnac prunes and deviled eggs
Dinner entrees at the restaurant range from ricotta ravioli with peas and asparagus to herbed filet mignon.
Breakfast is especially pleasant on the patio, as well as in the lobby.