Sunday, May 28, 2006

Sunset Strip Melancholia

Walking to go see a movie last night, I strolled along the Sunset Strip for the first time in awhile. It was very busy for a Saturday night. I once read somewhere that you can always chart whether or not an LA party neighborhood is attracting celebrities or suburbanites by the nights it was busy--celebs don't go out on the weekend, they leave that to people who have to work for a living.

The Sunset Strip was the first real bit of Los Angeles I saw when I moved here. Mary and I drove out here in the summer of 2003 without housing settled yet, so we stayed with a childhood friend of Mary's who lives in the valley. We arrive there at night, and the next morning, he drove the two of us into the city to look for an apartment. We drove over the hills through Laurel Canyon, which is a narrow two-lane road that goes up and over the Hollywood Hills, crossing Mulholland Drive and winding down through movie star homes and bohemian shacks. At the bottom of the hill, you are suddenly spit out onto into a forest of giant billboards, outlandish restaurants, hotels so ugly you know they have to be famous, and legions of scantily dressed plastic surgery nightmares.

Once I was moved into my apartment, just a block away from the Strip, our friend took us out for a night. We first went to The Standard, and it was everything I wanted Los Angeles to be. It is just a hotel, with a lounge in the lobby where you can...well, lounge. But it was like no hotel I had ever seen before. There was a DJ spinning next to the check-in desk, a thick shag rug, round pillows upon which to sit awkwardly while drinking your watermelon martinis, and a pool out back overlooking a view of the entire city.. And the pi├Ęce de resistance was a lucite box behind the check-in counter, in which sat a young woman in her underwear, asleep. Apparently, The Standard hires women to hang out in the box in shifts, just for atmosphere. It's still my favorite place to go to remind myself I live in Los Angeles.

That first year in Los Angeles, I used to walk the Strip a lot at night, when I was bored and a little lonely. It was always fun to watch the scene. I'd walk by The Standard, to make sure the woman in the box was still there. Next came the Saddleranch, a western-themed restaurant with plastic dummies hanging out the upper windows, and a mechanical bull that always brings out the worst in drunken celebutantes. There was the Hyatt, where Jim Morrison supposedly used to hang by his fingertips from the balconies, freaking out the crowds below, and across the street an outpost of the House of Blues, trying to imitate a rusty southern blues shack. And across from the House of Blues was the Mondrian, home of the Skybar. It's an ordinary square hotel, but completely surrounded by inanity. Two giant wooden doors, so enlarged they look like toys, hang in the middle of the driveway. The valet parkers all have to wear white painters uniform, complete with white caps. To get to the Skybar--I've been once--you have to go into the lobby and take an elevator up to the top. There, you have to make your way past a velvet rope, but once you do, you are in this truly bizarre outdoor lounge overlooking the city. There is a pool, lots of ferns, and plush mattresses scattered about so you can kind of lounge uncomfortably. (There is a theme here.)

Further down the Strip, you go through a section called the Sunset Plaza, which is pretty boring--a poor man's Rodeo Drive. Then you get to the rock club section of the Strip, home to the original Tower Records, Book Soup (the only independent bookstore for miles), the Viper Room (formerly owned by Johnny Depp, and the scene of River Phoenix's overdose), the Whisky (Jimi Hendrix used to live in the apartment above), the Roxy, the Rainbow Room, Shamrock Tattoos, the Key Club, and finally you are spilled out into Beverly Hills.

It's a strange place, the Sunset Strip. It's been a bastion of excess since the 1920s, when it was an unincorporated part of Los Angeles County that therefore was not policed by the LAPD. It became part of West Hollywood in 1985, and has been considerably cleaned up. No more prostitutes, and the drugs available for sale are now fancy party drugs instead of heroin and crack. And the really fancy celebrity party scene has mostly moved east to Hollywood.

But it is still an alluring place, and I never get tired of walking it.

1 comment:

Kelsey said...

What a great post.

That's it. I'm going to hang out on the strip, by god! I've never spent any substantial time there and now I'm beginning to think that's a mistake.