The Chateau Marmont experience… a weekend is just not enough

Hollywood’s appeal grows on you like a fungus… at least it has on me. With each foray into tinseltown, I return home wistfully to an even-keeled, less-colorful existence. Even the seediness has a charm all its own. The extreme contrasts somehow make me feel all at once more alive and in a dream. I can’t be the only one who feels this way. It must be what keeps us all going back and making that pilgrimmage. I am fortunate that my journey to it isn’t a long one. This weekend we had a fabulous experience as guests of the Chateau Marmont.

The Marmont is definitely a special place. We arrived Friday in the mid-afternoon, pulling into the cobblestone driveway with Bonnie at the helm of her Prius after fighting Highway 5 traffic through a good part of our trek. Up the stairs and through the entryway we went to the check-in desk, which sits next to a dining room and a large living room area. The feeling is ancient, even though the building hasn’t yet celebrated its hundredth birthday. Apparently most of the funds went into the architectural elements of the building, leaving little for the initial furnishings and interior decor, and the rooms had been rather shabbily furnished. This changed when the current owner, André Balazs, took it over in the early ’90s, when the carpeting got upgraded and the furnishings and decorative elements were given a face-lift (amongst other things… the phone system had apparently been rather unreliable and that certainly is no longer the case… not that anyone was looking for us…). I was grateful for the wireless internet connection available throughout the hotel and tickled that there were iPod docks in every room which allowed you to enjoy your own music. I’d snapped several photos of the grounds unwittingly before one of the hotel staff informed me that the taking of photos was not permitted anywhere but within the rooms themselves. Ooops. I was grateful that those I had taken weren’t confiscated… though I never did get an explanation as to why they weren’t allowed (though I’ve run into the trade dress issues at other places in the past, such as Starbucks, where I was snapping photos of my little Gabriel eating a chocolate croissant and was very near tossed out to the curb by an overzealous staff member for doing so).

Well, back to our arrival… the front desk was a bit flustered about our arrival, even though we’d reserved a cottage several months prior to. The cottage wasn’t ready, and after slumming in the lobby for a while, they finally sent us to one of the two-bedroom poolside bungalows instead. I can’t say we were disappointed in the least. It was larger than my current apartment by several hundred square feet, and much more comfortable. Gabriel kept proclaiming that he could live there. Well, yes, so could I, if it somehow magically teleported itself to Irvine, without any cost or bother. I kept hoping for a Howl’s Moving Castle moment to take place. During our lobby wait, Bonnie recognized Geoffrey Rush, who recently played the part of Barbossa in the second Pirates of the Carribean movie. It’s a good thing she was with us, because I would never have recognized anyone.

We decided to go for a little walkabout in search of some food and ended up grabbing a late lunch at SushiDan’s. Gabriel was not sure of our selection, but soon was a convert, once he tasted the stuff. Spider rolls are now the unanimous favorite.

Later in the evening Bonnie and I went to see a triple header at The House of Blues… I Hate Kate, The Lashes and The Living End headlined. We’d had dinner there so we were able to pass the line and get into the venue quickly (minus a little snafu which involved having to check my digital camera). I Hate Kate was really good but it was readily apparent that the majority of the crowd was waiting for something else… and once The Living End started performing, we knew what they had been waiting for. What a fantastic performance (not to mention enthusiastic crowd)! We got back to the bungalow shortly after midnight, to Kiko who I’d hired to watch Gabriel while we were out. She was delighted by his good behavior and I was glad that he’d had some fun, even though he was a smidge resentful that he was being left behind while we were going to a show.

Being by the pool had some benefits, but we came to realize that on a Friday night, it might not amount to a whole lot of restful sleep. A party raged by the poolside, even as Gabriel and I were trying to slumber on the most comfortable bed I’ve laid on in a long while. Miyagi’s, another hotspot next door to the Marmont, was hopping too, so we got to experience “the wall of sound” in a literal sense. But, we did fall asleep, and so did all the revelers (eventually). I’ve discovered that Bungalow 2 (though some reports say it was 3) is where John Belushi checked out for good. While taking photos in the rooms, one of them appears to have an “orb” in the photo… so I speculate and wonder if there really are some guests that have decided to hang out for much longer than planned.

The next morning we enjoyed breakfast at the Chateau, outside in the garden restaurant. I’m sure there were more Hollywood luminaries present, but once again, being such an outsider, they could be a snake and… well you know the rest of the saying. Afterwards we went and took a walk in the neighborhood (following a route out of the Walking in L.A. book), returning to the hotel in search of our new accommodations. The plan had been for us to vacate the bungalow at noon and move to a cottage. Once again, after an extended wait in the lobby, and myself being privy to what appeared to be the interview of Mr. Rush while I enjoyed the cross-breeze which blows through the lobby (Gabriel and Bonnie deciding to check out the gym facilities on the seventh floor instead), we are once again offered a different room… this time we are put into Suite 68 and ride up the elevator to our room accompanied by Jerry Stiller, who asks us to press the button for the fifth floor. As before, I would never have known who he was except that Bonnie recognizes him and happily announces that we were graced by the presence of another Hollywood great once he exits the elevator.

Our new room is impressive… a king sized bed and once again a kitchennette with vintage appliances, a dining area, a living room with desk (and wireless connection, though my connection here was somewhat sketchy) and glass doors which open onto a balcony that runs along the side of the building and wraps around to the front. How lucky are we? I can hardly wait until the sun sets and the lights twinkle, and see what kind of havoc I can wreak with my mini (un-tripod-equipped) digital camera.

I slather some sunscreen on and we head back out for our second walk of the day… down Sunset heading east, to the corner of Fairfax where my favorite comic book store sits, Meltown Comics. I can’t leave that place without divesting myself of a chunk of change, and usually have to carry a rather hefty bag upon exiting, because contrary to popular belief, not all comics are created equal(ly skinny). I picked up volume two of Flight, which was the only on of the three currently available volumes that I did not yet own, as well as some comics of a thinner variety, including several issues of a graphic adaptation of Clive Barker’s The Great and Secret Show and volume one of The Blvd Sketchbook featuring the artwork of Bernard Chang, Sean Chen, Tommy Lee Edwards, Trevor Goring and John Paul Leon, all reknowned comic book and design professionals.

We’re planning on walking back to the hotel to freshen up and change for dinner, but by the time we’ve perused and purchased, it is past five and we have reservations at 6PM at Csàrdas, a Hungarian restaurant on Melrose near Vine. We decide to just grab a cab and head straight to the restaurant, arriving a little early but ready to eat. The waitress recommends the buffet, which has a wide assortment of ethnic dishes, including one of my favorites, rakott krumpi, a potato and egg casserole that must be tasted because it defies explanation. Bonnie and I both share an Eastern European heritage, myself being full Hungarian (though I was born in Canada) and Bonnie splitting a Hungarian and Czech heritage (father and mother, respectively). The foods tend to overlap, though, and so we are each familiar with the chicken paprika and the cucumber salad and the stuffed cabbage rolls and breaded veal cutlets and red cabbage… all (and more) featured as part of the buffet. The waitress talks me out of glasses of Szürkebaràt, suggesting a Muscat instead… I regret not going with the drier wine, which was the mainstay of our dinner table while growing up. The desserts are struedel and crémes (much like the French Napoleon, only much better) and I specially request a slice of dobos to share amongst the three of us. I must admit, I miss the more exotic Hungarian pastries that seem to be largely unavailable in L.A…. the Rigo Jancsi and zserbó… and one that I’ve been dreaming of for years, remembered from my youth as a Csoki Csucs (which roughly translates to “chocolate peak”). Bonnie and I determine that we must some day visit Hungary together… she for the first time, and myself not since 1970.

We cab it back to the hotel while the sun begins to wane, and take turns lolling in a tubful of bubbles, courtesy of the Marmont (obviously the tub… not so obviously the bubbles… they had wonderful complementary bath products). After reading for a bit, and Gabriel watching one of his favorite TV show, Naruto, I get my night time pictures in of the grounds and Sunset (with various levels of success), and we retire for the night. Parties rage all around, particularly at ground level, but this time, being as high up as we are, we barely notice the hubris.

Sunday morning comes all too soon. We go to the Saddle Ranch Chop House a few blocks west on Sunset for breakfast and then return to the room to wallow in what’s left of our time in the Chateau… but a mere hour. We pack and ready our bags for transport to the car. Gabriel is disappointed that we will not visit the Virgin Megastore. As I said, a couple of nights is barely enough to whet your appetite when it comes to the Chateau Marmont. Next time I’m going to book a (longer) solo get-away, just me and my moleskines and a laptop and my bagful of art supplies… and I’ll pull out my sketchbook (or perhaps use the Chateau stationery like Hockney did) and sketch a little piece of the Chateau into my memory forever.

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