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Leonardo Sipped Here

By Sharon Waxman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 13, 1998; Page E01

   


We are looking for Young Hollywood. We are not specifically looking for Brad Pitt, though if we happen to run into him, that will be fine.

But first we have to make it past Mark Panasuk, the goateed sentry with the "icy cold demeanor" (as one local magazine so accurately put it), beyond the cordon, down the corridor and into the inky inner sanctum of Hollywood's pulsing center of cool.

No, we are not at the gate to Paramount Pictures, that sprawling Spanish-style park in the heart of the working man's Hollywood. (It has walking tours, Monday to Friday, for $15 a head.) No, we're not at Universal, the bland glass-and-steel complex at the edge of the Hollywood Hills, where there are tours all day every day for a $38 entrance fee. (But you knew about those.) We're not at Sony, not Disney, not 20th Century Fox, which is worth visiting if only to see its brand-new, palm-lined skyscraper across from the "NYPD Blue" set. (Actually, you may have to sneak in; tours are currently suspended due to construction.)

No, we are at the Sky Bar at the Hotel Mondrian on the Sunset Strip, the place to be if you want to stumble across those who are hot, those who want to be and those who look damn good anyway. We say stumble because the only lighting across the open-air deck, graced with an oversize divan and some chairs pointing toward the L.A. skyline, are candles. The ambiance is Zen cool. No music. No business card-swapping.

No Brad Pitt either--but Neve Campbell in a tank top.

Sky Bar, open for less than a year in the refurbished hotel (now owned by New York developer Ian Schrager, of Studio 54 fame), has quickly become a locus of unattainable hip. It is a place where waiters and pool boys are chosen from head shots. A place where you must make a reservation to drink a beer. A place where valet parking costs $10. (I parked at a Starbucks down the block.)

If it is Saturday night and you are at all overweight, forget about getting in. Even with a reservation, entry is not assured. On the Thursday night I came, a stunning redhead and her wavy-haired date began to plead, "We're from Australia. . . ." The inscrutable Mark twitched his goatee. "Yeah?" he challenged. A pause. Exquisite torture. Then: "Come on in." Los Angeles magazine recently named him as one of the most powerful people in the city.

To find Hollywood, '90s Hollywood, you start at night. Hollywood doesn't exist in the daytime, not much. Sure, you can tour the studios, but you're always at an arm's length, and who likes to follow the rules? Yes, you can lunch at the Ivy on Melrose--catch Morgan Fairchild breezing in, gabbing into her cell phone--or at Toscana in Brentwood--will you even recognize Jim Carrey's agent at one table and Tracey Ullman (her back to the door) with her husband at another? Little can be gleaned here, really.

But after 10 on the Sunset Strip, it's another story. From the newly redesigned Mondrian to the art deco masterpiece two doors down, the Argyle, past Barfly and up to the Bar Marmont beneath the imposing Chateau Marmont hotel (where John Belushi overdosed and I once saw Quentin Tarantino making out in the parking lot, and it wasn't with Mira Sorvino), most of what you want to know about Hollywood is here. You'll rub elbows with Roseanne. See James Van Der Beek at the next urinal. You could even get discovered. Hey, it's happened.

But, Washingtonians, please, a word to the would-be's: no tweed, no houndstooth or Oxford cloth. Even wool is borderline. Play it safe: Wear black in any synthetic fabric you can find, preferably with Lycra. Coat: leather. Not optional. Thus equipped, you, too, can be a part of Hollywood's unself-conscious cutting edge.

Hollywood used to be located in Hollywood. That was back in the '30s and '40s, when the Mary Pickfords and Clark Gables had their mansions in the Hollywood Hills, above the strip, below the sign. Now the stars live closer to the ocean, in Beverly Hills and Pacific Palisades and Malibu. You can buy the map to their houses at any of the "Star Map" signs you find along Sunset Boulevard. Be advised: The maps are of dubious accuracy--the one I bought listed Rita Hayworth, Orson Welles and many other dead people--and don't expect to see much even if you bother to check out the addresses on the list. Most big stars live behind gated, wooded protection (wouldn't you?); Engelbert Humperdinck appears to be the clever Sunset resident who placed life-size statues of tourists in his front yard.

If you are intent on seeing stars, there are a couple of daytime places to hang out that the guidebooks won't tell you about. There's Montana Avenue in Santa Monica, a picturesque stretch of elegant-casual boutiques, antiques shops and cafes filled with screenwriters laboring on laptops, some 17 blocks all the way to the ocean. Montana Cafe (corner of 16th and Montana) has reliably decent, overpriced California cuisine, and there's always someone major here--Steven Spielberg or Arnold Schwarzenegger with his kids. Disney chief Michael Eisner has been known to eat down the street at the excellent Italian trattoria, Locanda Veneta, at Montana and 10th Street. For French bistro food try the Marmiton at Montana and 14th, across from one of the only non-megaplex theaters in the city, the Aero. For the cheapest lunch of all try the deli counter at Wild Oats, an all-organic grocery store at the corner of 15th and Montana.

Another top people-watching locale is the Century City shopping mall just west of Beverly Hills; this is one of the few outdoor malls anywhere, with excellent shopping (Bloomingdale's, Pottery Barn and the usual suspects) and an awesome food court, everything from Mediterranean to Chinese to Cajun, and most of it pretty good. Also three hours of free parking, something you can only truly appreciate after having paid for it (or worse, gotten a ticket for trying to avoid it) for a couple of days. This is a good place to get the flavor of the daytime entertainment industry--the agents, the lawyers, the dealmakers. The Century City skyscrapers are filled with them. The Fox lot is just next door, so actors and production folks you see here probably have business across the street.

Also worthwhile: Gold's Gym in Venice, the original man-loving, body-pumping factory, favored by Schwarzenegger himself. And the ever-fashionable Fred Segal boutique on Melrose in Beverly Hills, a magnet for the "Clueless" high school girls and your garden variety L.A. babes.

One more tip: If you've ever aspired to be a member of a live television audience, your day has come. You too can call up and get tickets to live or taped shows, from "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" to "The Nanny" to "The Price Is Right." They can all be reached through the general phone numbers for local ABC, NBC or CBS affiliates.

But the truth is, this is an industry town, so you're likely to bump into entertainment people just about anywhere you go, whether it's Universal Studios or the Getty Museum. Even the dry cleaners in Brentwood is a pretty good bet. Keep your eyes peeled.

One of the few exceptions to this general rule is, oddly enough, Hollywood itself. Old Hollywood is still where it was, down the road a quick stretch east from the Sunset Strip. Sadly, though, it has long been overrun with winos, the homeless and kebab stands. Hollywood and Vine, the epicenter of glamour in its heyday, now has little to offer. There is still the Walk of Fame, where you can scrutinize the names of stars in the sidewalk; Mann's (formerly Grauman's) Chinese Theater, with the handprints and footprints in the cement, is still a gleaming monument to cinema's glory days. There is a wax museum, the huge Hollywood Bowl cinema-round and lately a new Hollywood Entertainment Museum, with the original set from "Cheers" and exhibits about editing and special effects. The once-magnificent Egyptian Theater, also on Hollywood Boulevard, is set to reopen after a major renovation (the first film scheduled: DreamWorks' "The Prince of Egypt").

Still, the area won't really come to life until builders complete a massive project begun this fall to completely overhaul the neighborhood. Armed with a $385 million budget, developers will be building a sprawling new home for the Academy Awards (now usually held in south-central Los Angeles, believe it or not), a vast luxury hotel and a major shopping mall. Sketches handed out to the media show not only a massive archway leading to this 21st-century equivalent of the Roman Forum, but sculptures of rearing elephants atop columns around its public space. Wow; we'll come back in a few years.

In the meantime, Old Hollywood can be done in half a day. You can catch a tourist street car at the Roosevelt Hotel, across from the Chinese Theater, or wander around on foot. But if you really want to get a taste of old-time, gritty, glitzy, gory Los Angeles, try the Graveline Tour. For $40, a silver Cadillac hearse will pick you up and take you on a creeped-out visit to Los Angeles's most famous scenes of crime and/or tragedy. Did somebody say O.J.? I thought so. The two-hour tour also includes such tasteless stops as the Viper Room, the very hip club on the Sunset Strip co-owned by Johnny Depp, where pal River Phoenix overdosed and died.

But the Viper Room--another place where you have to exude attitude and looks to get in--is actually best visited for what's going on inside. Loud, live music. Crowded dance floor. And occasionally Johnny Depp.

In the '90s, Hollywood is a happy place. People are out--spending, drinking, mixing, dancing. The hot spots, and there are a lot of them, seem to be packed all the time.

Here's one. There's always a crowd at the center of the current swing craze, a place called the Derby on Franklin Boulevard in Los Feliz (just north of Hollywood). This is said to be the spot that started the whole national fad, and there's no denying the infectious atmosphere. Tonight the Riff Rats are playing, a stage full of guys in neon-colored zoot suits, with a saxophone player getting down and dirty on the dance floor.

What is most wonderful about the Derby is its lack of pretension and its genuine mix of swing lovers of all shapes and sizes. There are dancers in their sixties, teenage girls dolled up in '40s-style dresses and flat shoes with their dates wearing suspenders and hats. There is a Chinese couple rocking out to the music, Mexicans, whites, blacks--this is one of the few clubs in multicultural Los Angeles that appears to be a true mixing bowl. There are also free dance lessons Sunday to Thursday from 8 to 9 p.m. If you're coming on a Saturday, show up on time; there's a line to get in for $7 a head.

Another sizzling, happy-to-be-young-and-in-the-in-crowd spot is Lola's, a new bar-restaurant on Fairfax Avenue, straddling West Hollywood and Hollywood. The owners have renovated a ramshackle warren of low-lying buildings into a high-style harem; the walls are yellow stucco, the furniture is all shapes and sizes. There's one room with a pool table and a Magritte-like bicycle on the wall. There's another room with ocher walls and candlelight. The food is basic and not bad--mesquite chicken breast, steak and fries, baked halibut (steer clear of the vegetable ravioli)--priced between $11 and about $18 per main course. The big draw, however, is a two-page martini menu, everything from a Chocolate Martini to the "I Dream of Jeannie" Martini (with Pimm's) and a Mad Max (with grapefruit juice).

And finally, I would be remiss to tell you all this and leave out one of the newest-oldest spots to capture a bit of Hollywood glamour. Lately there's only one place to be on Friday nights and that is the Fenix, the reservations-only bar at the Argyle Hotel on the Sunset Strip. The hotel has succeeded in recapturing the drama and seduction of old-time Hollywood with oversize stills of Bette Davis, Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe, background music like Peggy Lee crooning "Fever," and a marble and leather-upholstered bar. The pool area overlooks the L.A. skyline, but you'll probably be too busy staring at Minnie Driver or George Clooney on the banquette. Manager Michael Eisenberg, who was hired to get the buzz going on this joint, confides that Leonardo DiCaprio often shows up here in the late hours of the night.

No Brad Pitt?

Well, no, he says, but "we have literally turned away Dean Cain," he allows. Dean Cain? "Superman," he reminds us. Aaaah, yes. Such is the fleeting nature of celebrity. Hollywood is a place to enjoy in the moment, because it never lasts long.

As for the Fenix, call Eisenberg yourself. And tell him The Washington Post sent you.

Sharon Waxman is a Washington Post Style section correspondent covering Hollywood from Los Angeles.

DETAILS

Hollywood

GETTING THERE: Most major carriers fly to Los Angeles, either direct or with connecting flights, from Washington. If you're staying on the west side (Santa Monica, Brentwood, Westwood, Beverly Hills, Century City), you'll want to fly into LAX, which has the most flights. But if you're staying in Hollywood, you may well want to try flying into Burbank Airport, which sometimes has cheaper fares. Prices seem to be all over the place, from $280 round trip with a Saturday-night stayover and a seven-day advance reservation, to $2,000 with none of the above. Research required.

WHERE TO STAY: Los Angeles has a near-endless supply of hotels, from fleabag and overpriced to charming and affordable to no-holds-barred luxurious (as in the Beverly Hills Hotel, Four Seasons, Regent Beverly Wilshire, Hotel Nikko, Sheraton Miramar . . . the list goes on). A favorite low-budget stop of mine in Santa Monica is the tiny, just-remodeled Hotel Carmel (310-451-2469), a European-style hotel on Broadway, between the ocean and the Third Street promenade. Rooms range from $85 on up in winter, $119 and up in summer.

The Oceana Hotel (849 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica, 310-393-0486) has opened this past year and is a model of California flair and comfort. This small hotel has roomy, brightly appointed suites, it's along Ocean Avenue--meaning most of the rooms have views of the Pacific--but it ain't cheap: from $250 for the cheapest rooms. A couple of options further east: Hotel Del Capri (10587 Wilshire Blvd, L.A., 310-474-3511) is a small, charming place with rates from $90 to $110. Suites with kitchenettes are $115 and up.

There are a host of midsize, midpriced hotels off the Sunset Strip, but I highly recommend the Mondrian in West Hollywood (8440 Sunset Blvd., 213-650-8999)--at least to walk around the lobby. Philippe Starck's redesign is witty and always surprising, from the oversize mirror near the concierge desk to the dazzling candle-strewn bar down the center of the lobby. Rooms from $265 for a double room to $2,100 for the four-bedroom penthouse suite.

WHERE TO EAT:

* Toscana (11633 San Vincente Blvd., Brentwood, 310-820-2448). Authentic gourmet Italian food; everything--the pastas, risottos, antipasti and baby rack of lamb--is mouthwatering and cooked to perfection. Insist on tap water or you'll get the bubbly stuff for $3. Reservations highly recommended. Dinner for two about $75.

* The Ivy (113 N. Robertson, Los Angeles, 310-274-8303). Lively Cajun-inspired cooking, seafood, beautiful tuna steaks grilled, seafood salads and imaginative pasta dishes served on bright ceramics by dishy waiters. Reserve. Reserve. Reserve. Lunch/dinner for two about $80.

* Lola's (945 North Fairfax Ave., West Hollywood, 213-736-5652). Fifty different martinis, handsome men playing pool, beautiful women lounging at the bar. Decent food. You get the picture. Dinner for two about $50.

* Hotel Bel Air (701 Stone Canyon Rd., Los Angeles, 310-472-1211). Excellent food in paradise-like surrounding; the hotel is an oasis of quiet and luxury in the middle of residential Bel-Air, favored by stars for its intimacy and discretion. California cuisine.

* Spago Beverly Hills (176 N. Canon Dr., Beverly Hills, 310-385-0880). Celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck's latest location, grand, fancy and overpriced. Keep an eye out for Tony Randall at the bar, who virtually lives here. California cuisine as seen by an Austrian transplant. (Wiener schnitzel is not, to my knowledge, a native California dish.) Expensive; reservations hard to come by but imperative.

* Campanile (624 S. La Brea, Los Angeles, 323-938-1447). Legendarily tasty and tasteful Continental (Italo/French) food in elegant surroundings. They make their own bread. One of few uncrowded, noise-free places to get a top-notch meal. Try the crisp, flattened chicken. Dinner for two about $100.

NIGHTLIFE:

* The Derby nightclub (4500 Los Feliz Blvd., Hollywood, 323-663-8979) is the center of the current swing craze.

* Graveline Tours (323-469-4149) offers visits to notorious L.A. scenes of crime and/or tragedy.

* House of Blues (8430 Sunset Blvd., 323-848-5100) is a celebration of blues music, live, every night. Southern cooking.

* Two hot bars are the Fenix at the Argyle (8358 Sunset Blvd., 323-848-6677); reservations needed Friday night) and the Sky Bar at the Mondrian (8440 Sunset Blvd., 323-650-8999).

STUDIOS:

* Universal (818-777-1000) costs $38 for adults, children 3-11 $28. Studio tour and all rides included.

* The Warner Bros. tour (818-954-1744) is $30 and includes a peek at the backlot, sound stages.

* Paramount (323-956-4848) offers a two-hour walking tour Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. every half-hour. The cost is $15.

* For tickets to be part of a live audience: ABC (310-557-7777), CBS (818-753-3470) and NBC (818-840-3537).

INFORMATION: 1-800-366-6116, www.latimes.com/HOME/DESTLA. --Sharon Waxman

   
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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