If anyone knows exactly how to sashay through a grand lobby, it’s someone who’s snogged 007. Yes, in what might be a Mrs & Mrs Smith first, we’ve brought a Bond Girl with us for the day during our stay at the hottest new hotel this side of the Hollywood sign: Downtown LA Proper.
Surroundings are slicker than a shaken-not-stirred Martini, with a side of playfulness, and the air of exclusivity hangs thick in the air. It’s a place where you are absolutely not, under any circumstances, supposed to selfie. Surely the perfect discreet hideaway, then, to record an interview with Hollywood royalty like Gloria Hendry in one of its 148 rooms.
Let’s backtrack first though. This hotel is the latest in the Proper portfolio (Austin, San Fran, Santa Monica) and where the adjective has come to be synonymous with rustic/modern luxury and astonishingly tasteful design that plugs into the history of its surroundings. Here, homage is paid to its 1920s renaissance-era building (a former members’ club for the silent cinema elite, no less) while simultaneously channelling Tulum, Marrakech and the sort of relaxed boho style that today gets called things like ‘gypset’ and ‘jungalow’. Ceramics are big news. Cacti stands proud. Cushions are tufted. The decor is elegantly loud, all artfully arranged by LA designer Kelly Wearstler.
Take, for example, the lobby: itself a work of art in the form of a tropical mural by Abel Macias Studio, which swirls with birds, monkeys and foliage across the curved ceiling. It’s the sort of thing you imagine Frieda and Diego would be impressed by. They’d almost certainly approve of the ground floor restaurant, Caldo Verde – one of two on site by chef Suzanne Goin and restaurateur Caroline Styne – whose tasteful plates are puckeringly fresh. Mrs Smith (my podcast producer) and I savour the brunch menu, where ingredients like summer squash and chipotle sidle up against dandelion and a Balearic cheese known as mahon.
Our stay is during opening month and the atmosphere is buzzy with influencers trying not to be influencey. It’s so new and exciting here, in fact, that the staff are still excited about it. One day we meet a bellboy along a corridor, who is coming out of one of the new and exciting suites. ‘Do you want to take a look?’ he asks, to which we excitedly nod, and he opens the door to a Bond villain-style lair: a giant, 2,500-square foot suite with a full-sized swimming pool in the middle. Surrealist paintings and an embossed mural (by Ben Medansky) line the walls. It’s so unexpectedly impressive that I half imagine Salvador Dali himself to float past on an inflatable.
The same could be said of the rooftop. Though its pool is modest, couched in striking monochrome tiles, it has a bird’s eye view of Downtown and, in restaurant Cara Cara, the perfect sundowner spot. The district beyond is lit up in neon, a glimmer of old Hollywood rubbing shoulders with the new, its streets steeped in history. Proper DTLA is a great base from which to explore and the area is fairly walkable: there’s the recently rechristened Crypto Arena, where you can catch some of the world’s biggest pop acts. Or delve deeper into music history at the newly opened Grammy Museum, where you can survey some of the greatest costumes of all time.
For more bygone glamour, we head over to Clifton’s Republic, one of the oldest establishments in LA, for kitsch interiors and a mean negroni. And, though it might feel like cheating (it’s located at the nearby Ace Hotel), check out the Theatre – a restored movie palace that was once funded by Charlie Chaplin. It’s worth a look for the magnificent entrance hall alone, said to be styled after the Hall of Mirrors in the palace of Versailles.
But while Proper DTLA is fairly compact, you don’t really need to leave. There’s a small onsite fitness studio and you’ll want to spend ample time in the rooms, which have an earthy-meets-industrial feel – all neutral tones and accent lighting.
It was a relaxed setting in which to record an episode of our podcast, the Last Bohemians, across the table from Gloria Hendry. She played Rosie in 1973’s Live And Let Die alongside Roger Moore and regaled us with tales of being flown first-class to New Orleans to audition, breaking taboos as Bond’s first Black love interest, and balancing a job as a legal secretary with working as a Playboy Bunny in the Sixties. The extra-strong latte from Caldo Verde certainly helped fuel the conversation.
No doubt you’ll see future stars down these halls or reclining on the rooftop sunloungers, incognito in fedoras. Or perhaps you are the future star yourself. And if that’s the case: don’t forget to book that Bond suite.
Kate Hutchinson is veritable musical authority. As Time Out’s nightlife editor, she charted the birth of grime and dubstep and accidentally gave rise to London’s short-lived trend of ‘micro-clubbing’. As deputy editor at The Guardian‘s Guide, she made cover stars of Four Tet, Anohni, Mica Levi and others, and hosted the newspaper’s first ever Facebook Live series. She continues to contribute regularly to The Guardian, The Observer, Dazed, Vice, Mixmag and has made several front pages on The New York Times. She DJs regularly, hosts her own show on Worldwide FM, and launched, with her all-female team, the widely acclaimed podcast the Last Bohemians, which won silver at the British Podcast Awards in 2020. Season four, all recorded in LA, is out now.