Judging by the flecks of glitter and random gold streamers I see on the white tablecloth beneath my avocado toast, it must have been one helluva party. It's 7am in Los Angeles on the day before the Oscars and I've scored a coveted window table for breakfast at The Tower Bar, aka celeb central.
While the views of sunny West Hollywood are impressive, I'm more interested in the scene unfolding in the restaurant as bleary-eyed showbiz people yawn their way in and order omelettes with a side of networking. Clearly a carb-free zone. I eavesdrop on a whispered conversation about the party held here the night before by United Talent Agency for its A-list stars. A wild time was had by all. If I'd arrived an hour earlier, I would have caught the tail-end.
Being fame-adjacent is part and parcel of a stay in West Hollywood. From Sunset Strip to Chateau Marmont and Dan Tana's restaurant, this is a place where the stars have always gravitated towards.
The landmark 15-storey Sunset Tower, where the Tower Bar is located, was established in 1929 and became the chosen LA residence for everyone from Elizabeth Taylor to John Wayne. Today the bar and restaurant is a haven for powerful players in showbusiness, a strictly-no-cellphones establishment that protects the privacy of those who don't usually get much of it.
Housed in celebrity gangster Bugsy Siegel's old ground-floor apartment, the 80-seat room is elegant with art deco touches and vintage photographs. It satisfies a longing for the glamour and intrigue of old Hollywood, while offering a front-row seat to the comings and goings of new Hollywood.
The same can be said for The Charlie Hotel. Located behind ornate gates on a quiet residential street in West Hollywood is a secret world of Tudor-style bungalows, fountains and charming English gardens. Once owned by none other than Charlie Chaplin, it was a safe haven where his megawatt mates came to hide from the world – and the paparazzi. Famous names of today, including Natalie Portman and Liv Tyler, do the same.
Now a boutique hotel, there are 14 accommodation options housed within eight bungalows. All are configured like private houses or apartments, most have outdoor space and no two are the same. Perfectly private, it is one of the most delightfully un-hotel-like hotels I have ever stayed in.
The bungalows are named after the stars who once stayed here, and they don't get any more famous. Fans of the golden age of Hollywood will get a kick out of staying in The Marlene, The Clark or The Gloria. With period decor and classic black-and-white styling throughout, it's not a stretch to imagine those stars loosening their girdles and kicking back with a martini in the very spot where you are doing the same. The difference, of course, is that today's guests enjoy once-unimaginable luxuries such as flatscreen TVs, washing machines, full kitchens and superb beds along with their dose of nostalgia.
The Marilyn is named for seductive Miss Monroe, who resided in the cottage in the 1940s. She stares out playfully from an oversized photograph framed in gold, a vision of glamorous beauty poured into a cut-to-the-waist dress. I like to think she would have approved of the sophisticated all-white master bedroom.
The Charlie cottage, 120 square metres over two storeys, was where the diminutive Mr Chaplin lived. Vintage typewriters and memorabilia are displayed, including Chaplin's bamboo canes, said to have been unearthed in the basement. While showing me around, the 6'2" (188 centimetres) front office manager stoops to enter the front door; at just 5'4" (162 centimetres), Chaplin had no need for a lofty doorframe and reportedly liked to see his guests bow when they entered. Beamed ceilings, curved archways and stained glass windows are from an earlier architectural age. Look closely at a leaded glass window and you'll spot an intricate outline of Chaplin, bowler hat and all. Framed photos show the Little Tramp standing by the stairs on The Charlie cottage's ground floor.
For those who can drag themselves away from the peaceful hideaway, it's a five-minute walk to fine dining, casual cafes and some of LA's most happening bars. The hotel is not for everyone because there's no pool, fitness centre or on-site restaurant, but anyone with a little imagination and a lot of appreciation for the golden age of Hollywood will give it a rave review.
FOUR OLD HOLLYWOOD SPOTS NOT TO MISS
Since 1964, Dan Tana's has served comfort Italian food and late-night steaks to Hollywood's elite. Famous regulars even have dishes named after them (try the veal cutlet Milanese a la George Clooney). Book well in advance. dantanasrestaurant.com
THE TOWER BAR
Put your phone away when you enter The Tower Bar at the Sunset Tower Hotel. The natives don't like to be photographed in their natural habitat. Housed in Bugsy Siegel's old apartment, the property is an A-list celeb magnet. sunsettowerhotel.com
Moody, mysterious and dripping with old-school glamour, Chateau Marmont has been home away from home for stars in West Hollywood for nine decades. The dining room and garden terrace offer prime star-spotting opps. chateaumarmont.com
This legendary stretch of Sunset Boulevard was hopping in the 1930s and 1940s as movie stars partied at the Mocambo and Trocadero nightclubs. Walk the 2.4-kilometre length of it today and pop into lively bars and music venues.
THE NEW FACE OF WEST HOLLYWOOD
SWEAT IT OUT
At Shape House, an urban sweat lodge, the quest for the body beautiful is helped along by FAR infrared heat. Patrons sweat it out for an hour while laying on heated beds, sipping alkaline water. See shapehouse.com
Unplug Meditation is a drop-in, secular meditation studio where participants are encouraged to take a breath and focus on manifesting positive changes. See unplug.com
The crispy Brussels sprouts are reason enough to eat at Conservatory, a multi-tiered space with a street-level cafe that opened in 2018. Faultless service and a cosy firepit make this spot a winner. See conservatoryweho.com
Luxury consignment store the RealReal offers preloved designer goods at fair prices. With a massive handbag vault, curbside drop-off of goods and a rare watch bar, this is the place to beef up your Birkin collection or hand over a Hermes. See therealreal.com
The sale of recreational marijuana is legal in California and at MedMen West Hollywood, visitors can buy weed and infused edibles, including chocolate and cookies. Passport ID required for entry. See medmen.com
Kristie Kellahan travelled as a guest of West Hollywood Travel + Tourism Board.
Delta and Virgin Australia code share from Sydney and Melbourne to Los Angeles International Airport. See delta.com
The Charlie Hotel is more like a private complex of luxe residential bungalows than a hotel. See thecharliehotel.com