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Above ground, Broadway was lined with glorious, glamorous art deco theatres. Below, something very different was brewing.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to early-20th-century downtown Los Angeles, when the Golden Age of Hollywood was upon us. This was the original epicentre of the movie business, where artists like Charlie Chaplin took centre stage. United Artists were formed in a huge building right here in downtown, now the Ace Hotel with its beautiful theatre recently given a new lease of life by the hotel chain. A section of Downtown's main street Broadway was named the Theatre District, lined with glorious, glamorous art deco theatres, once the highest concentration of cinemas in the world.
Below ground, something very different was brewing.
DTLA was also the centre of illegal goings-on during Prohibition, where corrupt city officials are rumoured to have smuggled alcohol throughout its 18 kilometres of underground tunnels.
Named the "former highway of the LA underground", the tunnels are mostly inaccessible, largely due to the threat they have had, or will pose, during earthquakes. But there's one point of entry, and a few other places you can see the tunnels, which we'll leave the staff of the Hotel Indigo to point out to you during your stay.
The hotel is nestled into the southwest corner of DTLA, a burgeoning area which in itself is so huge you could spend an entire stay exploring it. The Staples Centre, LA Live and the Grammy Museum are all within walking distance, and an abundance of restaurants and bars close by.
Indigo is the boutique brand by Intercontinental Hotel Group, and this hotel is the latest branch to open – we are here during its first few days. The hotel is part of the Metropolis building which is also home to luxurious condos, going up everywhere as the district becomes an increasingly popular place to live. The hotel is 18 storeys high with 350 rooms, a top floor cocktail lounge and a ground floor eatery.
This new hotel's design is a nod to Prohibition-era Hollywood and invites guests to experience what it was like in Los Angeles during the 1920s. The hotel is, in particular, inspired by the first Chinese-American film star and fashion icon of the time, Anna May Wong. Look closely and you'll notice most of the images you find throughout the hotel depict her life and career.
Next to the lobby, the bar and restaurant are separated by silver tunnel-like archways, with low-slung lights highlighting seats in rich turquoise and lime green velvet; and huge flower prints scale the walls celebrating the Fiesta de los Flores, a popular parade evoking flowers that took place in Los Angeles at the time.
Look for the "motion wall" which is a collection of nine screens that evoke nickelondeons or flipbooks with 24 images of old LA that rotate endlessly. The artwork took a year to make.
We're in a double queen, with ample space and huge windows overlooking DTLA to the north-east. A huge mural on the wall depicting the old city in black and white is merged with pinky red flowers adding a splash of vibrant colour to the room, a nod to Wong's era and the flower festival. Floor lamps in the room resemble stage lighting. Rich colours are found throughout – mauve pillows and navy blue bedcovers with purple walls and a standout white Queen Anne cabinet for the telly. In the gorgeous bathroom, black and white tiles and a contrasting forest green bench stacked with Jonathan Adler toiletries impress, while the image of Anna May Wong on the shower screen invokes the glamour of Hollywood's Golden Age.
There was no food at the time of stay as the kitchen was yet to open, but the bar and restaurant space are so beautifully decorated time must be taken to soak it all in, even if you only stay for a cocktail.
Some of LA's best restaurants can be experienced nearby. Bestia, a huge, post-industrial Italian diner in the eastern corner serves food late to a packed restaurant every night with good reason. It's one of the city's top 10 restaurants. Don't miss it.
Grand Central Market will suit those on a low budget, open from 8am to 10pm every night with a large range of cuisines to suit any palate. Top choices include Eggslut, La Tosteria for Mexican, Knead for Italian pasta and Sticky Rice for Thai. G&B is great for coffee, and across the road, a massive outpost of Bluebottle Coffee is also a good option.
On the weekends, Smogasburd LA nearby in the arts district has a sampler of some of the best food trucks in LA. Lobsteramus, NoMad (run by the three-Michelin-star restaurant Eleven Madison Park in New York), Goa Taco and Little Lama are good options, plus there are market stores and a beer garden for kicking back in the sun with your feed.
As the speakeasys of Prohibition-era are setting alight imaginations worldwide, plenty of bars in LA are recreating the experience with passwords and hidden doorways leading to dimly lit rooms filled with jazz. Birds and Bees is a brand new bar with a hidden entrance which you'll need to locate, then follow an industrial-chic corridor that opens up into a huge 120 seater bar which serves mid-century cocktails to live jazz.
A little further afield in Koreatown, The Walker Inn at the Hotel Normandie has a secret bar at the rear where you can have one of LA's best cocktail experiences. It's tiny and reservations are recommended, but go during the week when it's quiet and sample their unique $US70 cocktail tasting menu.
For the best views of the downtown area, head to rooftop cocktail bar Perch, just off Pershing Square.
While comfort in hotels of this standard are a given, the immersive experience the hotel gives into the area's history is its beacon.
The hotel's art and decor is stunning. From the striking velvets, the beautiful monochrome and emerald bathroom, to the images on the walls – so much time has been invested into guests enjoying every detail.
My gripe with hotels in LA is always valet – such a massive outlay at $US50, which is more than it costs to hire a car for a day. Consider Ubering and the vastly underrated Metro if you don't have to go too far afield.
899 Francisco St, Los Angeles, CA 90017, USA. Phone +1 213-232-8800, see hotelindigola.com
The writer was a guest of Hotel Indigo and Discover LA
Smorgasburg LA: la.smorgasburg.com
Grand Central Market: grandcentralmarket.com
Birds and Bees: birdsandbeesla.com
The Walker Inn: thewalkerinnla.com