BACKGROUND The 297-room, five-star SLS Beverly Hills in Los Angeles opened in November last year after a US$230 million renovation (it was previously Hotel Nikko and then a Le Méridien), and is part of Starwood Hotels and Resorts’ Luxury Collection. Designed by Philippe Starck, the SLS heralds the debut for LA-based company SBE Hotel Group’s first luxury hotel brand. Walk into the hotel lobby and behind the reception desk you will see a list of words pertaining to the meaning of the acronym – Style Luxury Service, See Life Sideways, and so on.
The brand hopes to fill the gap between traditional luxury hotel and boutique property, with individual flair combined with everything a business traveller could need – from free shirt pressing in an hour and state-of-the art technology in the rooms to excellent cuisine and service.
WHAT’S IT LIKE? Beyond the flat white exterior lies an elegantly surreal interior. The property is divided into two buildings, with a separate entrance leading to the hotel and another to Bazaar, which consists of restaurants Rojo and Blanca, the Patisserie, Bar Centro and Moss, a retail outlet displaying curious objets d’arts in glass cases. (Look out for the scale model of the Titanic for US$20,000.)
Walk up the red carpet to the entrance, through a covered open-air lounge with antler armchairs and shrubs in pots, and you’ll find yourself in the dimly lit lobby. Reception is around the corner to the left, and to the right of the desk are the lifts, which are bright white with life-size images of LA fashionistas on the walls. Also on the ground floor is Trace, the lobby bar, which has high-legged chairs and white marble communal tables on one side, and cosy couches, low coffee tables and bookshelves on the other.
Everywhere you look there is something odd to catch your eye, whether it’s the pool tables outside the lifts on every floor (you can rent cues from the concierge), the moving digital artworks, or one of the 177 different chairs dotted around. There are plenty of hotel staff on hand to help you with your bags or arrange transport, and looking around, the urbane guests are well groomed, well dressed and well heeled.
WHERE IS IT? On La Cienega Boulevard, just past the Beverly Centre. It is in the heart of LA, a five-minute drive to Santa Monica Boulevard and Sunset Strip. While the hotel provides valet parking (US$30), there is some free parking in the residential area behind the property, although read the signs carefully as it depends on what time of day it is and how long you are leaving the car for.
ROOM FACILITIES My Superior Double room on the third floor was a haven of contemporary cool. It had a smoked glass wall opposite the bed with a 40-inch LCD high-definition TV appearing from beneath the surface at the click of a button, and Alice in Wonderland-type details such as a small shelf of curiosities (a kaleidoscope and a dice with six spots on every side) and a freestanding bath with gold curtains that could be pulled all the way around it and a rainshower above.
As the windows were fairly small and the lighting subtle, the room felt cosy, although in the bathroom it was almost too dark to be helpful. (This, combined with a lack of magnifying mirror, could be problematic for men needing to shave or women wanting to apply make-up.) However, there is no shortage of reflective surfaces as the whole bathroom is walled with smoked mirrors – one of them sliding back to reveal the bedroom. Large bottles of shampoo and shower gel are provided, as well as a shelf of Ciel spa products available to buy.
Other in-room features included free-standing chrome lamps, an ochre-coloured leather chaise, a white leather headboard and chairs, a workdesk with an ethernet port, telephones, an iPod dock (you can get preloaded iPods and iPod Touches from reception), a silver tray with a Christian Lacroix-designed bottle of Evian for US$10 and red crystal glasses, an iron and ironing board, velvety robes and a safe. The minibar, which was stocked with “saints and sinners” snacks, a cocktail shaker and a good selection of drinks, including a bottle of Francis Coppola chardonnay for US$30, was housed inside a bank of panelled cupboards with faces on each door, each pulling a different expression.
For those feeling peckish, the 24-hour room-service menu is designed by Bazaar chef Jose Andres – and if the cuisine served in his on-site restaurants is anything to go by, this will be a cut above the average fare you might expect. Wired and wireless internet access for US$12.95 for 24 hours/US$6.95 for four hours, and a free daily newspaper (USA Today) are provided as standard, but in higher category rooms, a range of extras might include hypoallergenic bedding, gym equipment, a full bar and Mac computers.
RESTAURANTS AND BARS All the food on offer has been designed by world-renowned chef Jose Andres, and one of LA’s hottest dining spots is Bazaar, which is comprised of two restaurants – Rojo, reminiscent of a traditional Spanish eatery with black tables and red chairs, a leg of jamon on the bar and an open kitchen; and Blanca, with an outdoor terrace, white furniture, chunky wooden tables and kiss-me lighting.
I ate dinner here and it was an experience that would be hard to forget. The menu offers modern tapas on one side, and traditional on the other, and you can order from either regardless of whether you are in Rojo or Blanca. Before the first of the dishes came out, a “roaming cart” came to my table and offered me some candy floss foie gras for US$5 – made on the spot just like at the fairground. A little later on, a mixologist arrived, this time preparing a liquid nitrogen frozen cocktail. (After pouring a slosh of steaming liquid nitrogen into a bowl of rum, sugar cane syrup and lime juice, the mixture was beaten with a whisk and then spooned into a glass and decorated with edible flowers.)
Everything from the melt-in-the-mouth sci-fi olives and the guacamole parcels filled with micro cilantro corn chips, to the steamed buns with lemon foam and caviar, and the tuna ceviche and avocado roll, are stunning.
Dishes are priced from US$5 to US$36, with tapas tasting menus for US$45 to US$95. While there is a decent selection of Spanish wine and cocktails, I would recommend a jug of sangria blanca, prepared at the table with cava, fresh fruit and liqueurs. Open 6pm-10pm Mon-Wed, 6pm-11pm Thu-Sat.
The open plan eateries merge into Bar Centro, which has long tables on to which Fellini movies are projected, and free tarot-card readings. Move through to the Willy Wonka-style patisserie, where pastry chefs are hard at work, and you can sit on a purple silk sofa and choose a dessert or sweet (I liked the sound of the lime fizzy rocks, the saffron gum wrapped in edible paper and the white chocolate lollipop with raspberry dust).
There is also Saam, which opened in April, and is hidden away in a room independent of Bazaar. It’s a gastronomic paradise set in a forties-themed “restaurant within a restaurant”, serving a 20-course taster menu with wine pairings (one course equals one mouthful) for US$120.
MEETING AND BUSINESS FACILITIES There are two private dining rooms on the ground floor beyond Trace, as well as a 400 sqm ballroom, and five meeting rooms named after famous monkeys. (The SLS logo is a picture of monkeys swinging from a chandelier, a recurring theme throughout the hotel.) There is also the option of hiring the Garden room, foyer and terrace, the cabanas on the pool deck on the roof, and the Bazaar (up to 1,050 people for a reception) or the lobby lounge. A business centre with PCs is open 24 hours, and [free?] wifi is provided throughout the hotel, including on the rooftop pool deck.
LEISURE FACILITIES On the sixth floor is a stunning rooftop pool with plunge pools, bars, seven private cabanas, man-size flower pots, sun beds and giant mirrors in gilt frames set up side by side to act as wind breaks. Down on the second floor is a top-notch fitness centre that has Technogym cardio and weight training equipment with personal TVs, and a resident trainer. The 465 sqm Ciel spa (open 9am-9pm) has six private rooms, a full service salon, manicure and pedicure stations, and a range of treatments.
VERDICT This is a magnificent property and not your typical business hotel. It fuses surreal design elements with trend-setting luxury, superb cuisine and faultless leisure facilities.
HOW MANY ROOMS? There are 297 rooms, including 127 Superior and Premier king rooms, 58 Superior and Premier double rooms, 19 Terrace and Veranda rooms, 32 Pure rooms (allergen resistant), 19 Studio suites, six Lifestyle suites with Technogym equipment, 27 Signature suites, three Balcony suites, five SLS suites and one Presidential suite.
ROOM HIGHLIGHTS The technology and unique in-room design made this bedroom particularly memorable. The minibar with healthy and not-so-healthy snacks was a good touch, as were the high-quality robes and 300-thread count sheets.
PRICE Internet rates for a midweek stay in June started from US$387 for a Superior King room.