If reinvention is key to staying on top, then the Downtown LA Proper Hotel has mastered the art. Its Renaissance Revival building has been the Commercial Club of the roaring Twenties, the cosmopolitan Case Hotel of the 1940s and a YWCA headquarters. As the neighbourhoods surrounding it have had a movie-worthy makeover to become the city’s coolest, it’s become a towering hangout spot. Under the aegis of the Proper group and their immense team of talent – magpie-eyed designer Kelly Wearstler, two James Beard-award-winning chefs, art-star Angelenos – its been given a Mexican Modernist look with vintage and custom pieces; two restaurants where local cuisines are tastily fused; and a double-decker roof terrace with a panorama that sweeps over DTLA past and present, from the Broadway Corridor across the gleaming tower-poked skyline. Whether it’s a mural that builds on the original façade’s floral motifs or suites using the original pool or basketball court, the hotel has seamlessly moved into the modern world.
12 noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £234.31 ($323), including tax at 15.695 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional service charge of 3% per room per night on check-out.
Rates don’t include breakfast ($30 for Continental selection and from $13 for à la carte choices), which could be an acai bowl, challah French toast or sweetcorn cakes with salmon. There's an amenity of $25 a night too.
Staff stay well-connected to guests via the Alice messaging system, so they’re just a text away if you need them. Plus the Proper App lets you customise service to your tastes – you can use it to order housekeeping, make restaurant bookings and send requests to the concierge. If you’re on workation, the lobby and Caldo Verde have high-speed WiFi and places you can tuck yourself away in for high-end hotdesking.
At the hotel
Split-level roof deck with a fire pit, library lounge, Linus bikes to borrow, concierge, laundry service, plug adaptors to borrow, high-speed WiFi. In rooms: HD TV with Apple TV, Vifa Bluetooth speaker, curated minibar with local products, Kelly Wearstler x Parachute bathrobes, Aesop bath products, bottled water and a fabric steamer.
Our favourite rooms
As both a former members’ club for the roaring Twenties literati and a YWCA, the hotel’s a good old sport all round, and the two headline suites deserve top billing for reimagining the hotel’s work-out spaces. We love the retro preppiness of the Proper Basketball Court Suite, which has the original wooden flooring (with painted play lines) and a custom hoop designed by a local artist alongside furnishings with a Latin flavour and stand-out artworks. Plus it has great acoustics. And, no swim meet has ever felt more stylish than in the Proper Pool Suite, where you’ll have the original 35-foot swimming pool all to yourself (with its own shower and dehumidifier). Along one side, LA artist Ben Medansky has crafted a ceramic feature wall, the original flooring is configured in equally attention-grabbing patterns, and Kelly Wearstler’s pick of Portuguese marbles and vintage statement pieces only enhance its visual intrigue.
The hotel’s heated rooftop pool (open 8am to 7pm) on the upper level of its sundeck, has a view that spans across DTLA’s iconic skyline, with Art Deco theatres, neon-flecked skyscrapers, street art stretching out over multiple storeys and notable buildings such as the Wilshire Grand Center and City Hall. It’s more for posing than paddling though, with a submerged bench running all the way round where you can sit and sip something cool. If you want to get some laps in, book the Proper Pool Suite, which uniquely has the original swimmable pool from when the building was a YWCA – original markings give it a retro feel and a mural by LA ceramicist Ben Medansky along one wall adds some mod swagger.
In the 1930s, when the hotel was the Commercial Club, a physical director would lead members through workout regimens, and today isn’t all that different (although you’re only beholden to a personal trainer if you’d like to be). However, the 24-hour gym is maybe even better equipped now than it was then, with Peloton bikes, Woodway treadmills, a dual adjustable pulley, Smith machine, rowers, benches, barbells, dumbbells, medicine balls and TRX Suspension Trainers. And meditation and yoga classes either take place in the hotel’s ballroom (a lovely light-filled space) or on the roof terrace.
A second suitcase may be needed if you’re venturing into the Fashion District. For afternoons spent by the pool, bring conversation-starting reading material.
The hotel’s Deluxe Queen View and Deluxe Double Queen rooms are specially adapted, although most upper-tier suites have plenty of space. Public spaces are easily navigable too.
One dog can stay in any room for $50 a pet (10 per cent of which goes to the Best Friends Animal Society), under 45 pounds. Additional fees may apply for cleaning, if needed. See more pet-friendly hotels in Los Angeles.
This is more a place for the cool kids than actual kids.
The hotel recycles, uses eco-friendly cleaning products and tries to keep restaurant ingredients as local and seasonal as possible, but it’s their altruism which is the most commendable. The Proper Giving programme pledges one per cent of the hotel’s time, property and management fees towards projects that benefit the local community. The DTLA outpost supports homelessness charity the Midnight Mission and the YMCA (after all, the property used to be a YWCA), the California Hospital Medical Center Foundation and the Navy Seal Foundation.
In Caldo Verde, the banquettes are just close enough to the bar to soak up the atmosphere – and be served promptly – without being too noisy. At Cara Cara, gather round the fire pit or sit close to the terrace edge for the clearest view.
You’re near the Fashion District, dahling, in LA’s fast-tracked-trendsetter of a neighbourhood, so be prepared to work some bold ‘lewks’.
There are two spaces to dine at in the hotel, both developed by passionate James Beard-award-winning chefs and restaurateurs (of the Lucques group of eateries) Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne. Just off from the lobby is Caldo Verde, which – like the hearty soup it’s named after – is Portuguese in style, peppered up with Moorish and Corsican influences. You can order the namesake dish, which comes with hunks of local rock crab and garlicky lingüiça to feed two, or go on a Mediterranean odyssey with octopus braised in squid ink, sherry-soused clams with onion blossoms, or confit-lemon chicken piqued with piri-piri. Even something as simple as chermoula-drizzled carrots wows with its jewel tones and sun-reared freshness. The dining room is lined in sultrily hued tiles, with large light-flooding windows and a central stained-glass installation by experimental glaziers Judson Studios – and there are tables to suit all, from buzzy banquettes to tucked-away corner seats to sociable bar stools and a people-watching patio. Cara Cara is on the rooftop, so scores highly for the view of Downtown LA’s iconic skyline and the bright lights of the Broadway Corridor theatres from its double-decker dining terrace, the menu’s more the ‘nibble by the pool’ sort, with handmade focaccia sandwiches stuffed with artisanal cheese, trumpet mushrooms, chorizo and more; Bajan-style tacos; upscale burgers and summery mains.
There are bars at both Caldo Verde and Cara Cara – but the latter is the one that’ll keep you lingering as you gaze out over DTLA’s cluster of glittering monoliths and rocky mountains. Nurse chilled Napa wines and cocktails with a Mexi-Cali kick by the pool or while gathered round the checkerboard fire pit after dark. And, on the ground floor, hush-hush, speakeasy-style Dalia’s bartenders quiz guests on their preferences before mixing up something bespoke.
Caldo Verde serves throughout the day, from 7am to 10.30pm, and Cara Cara runs from 12 noon to 11pm.
Yes, from 7am to 10pm: freshly prepared dishes from Caldo Verde or choose from a small menu of comforting favorites curated specifically for in-room dining. Craft beers, cocktails, and a boutique selection of wines are always available too.
Downtown LA Proper sits on the corner of South Broadway and West 11th Street, sandwiched between the deco theatres of DTLA’s historic Broadway Corridor, next door to the buzzy Fashion and Flower Districts.
LAX is a 30-minute drive from the hotel; the hotel can arrange transfers from $50 each way.
One for old-school architecture fans, Mission Moderne-style Union Station is the closest rail hub, a 15-minute drive away. For those roaming around Cali, most Amtrak routes across the state pass through here, and it’ll connect you with San Fran and Vegas.
Interstate 5 passes through both San Francisco in the north (a five- to six-hour drive) and San Diego in the south (a two-hour drive) if you’re hankering after a road trip. Downtown LA can be explored on foot, although you may need a car to reach other city hotspots. You can pick up some wheels from LAX and the hotel has secure valet parking for $50 a night ($55 with tax).
Worth getting out of bed for
Who’d a thunk that DTLA would become the place to be? A decade or so ago parts of it were no-go zones and there was little to keep people entertained, but it’s completely turned itself around to become a safe and sophisticated corner of the city. In the hotel you can take yoga or Pilates with a view on the roof deck; tour the artwork, such as Abel Macias’ symbol-laced ceiling mural and Judson Studios’ glorious stained glasses (staff will happily offer more insight and the artists themselves are sometimes available to talk you through them), give it the old college try in the gym and enjoy drinks with a view. Then, there are various avenues of distraction to explore. Come with a healthy credit limit – and some cash – to the Fashion District, where shopping requires some stamina. There are hundreds of boutiques where you can clothe yourself from head to toe in outfits and accessories for all tastes – and indulge in other areas of retail relief. The highest concentration of shops is along Santee Alley. And within the hundred blocks the district covers there’s a handful of galleries, rooftop bars and the Orpheum Theater – one of the palatial Art Deco venues in LA’s Broadway Corridor, alongside the Million Dollar Theater and Tower Theater (now an Apple Store, albeit an architecturally intriguing one). Other big-ticket venues nearby are the Staples Center, home to the Los Angeles Kings, Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Sparks, who play thrilling hockey and basketball games, and iconic music stars also stop here for live shows. Check what’s going on at LA Live too – a vast entertainment complex where you can see a film, catch a show and stop by the Grammy Museum. It’s here where the EMMYs, ESPYs, American Music Awards and American Idol Finals are held. And, the Walt Disney Concert Hall is instantly recognisable for Frank Gehry’s funhouse architecture. And the cultural clout continues with the huge Hauser & Wirth Gallery, free-to-enter LA Museum of Contemporary Art and the Broad, home to Yayoi Kusama’s magical infinity mirror rooms among other important modern installations. And, if your head is spinning with visual stimulus, you’re all fired up from cheering on the home teams’ MVPs and you’re weighed down with your new wardrobe, find a peaceful sanctuary in the lushly frescoed Los Angeles Central Library or the rainbow blooms of the Flower District.
Chef Enrique Olvera’s Pujol is one of the hottest tables in Mexico City for its fine dishes made using indigenous ingredients and its deep pride in its heritage, and now Los Angelenos can experience his sophisticated South-of-the-Border – by way of Baja – plates at Arts District restaurant Damian. Dig into Dungeness crab gorditas, truffled-mushroom quesadillas, striped-bass ceviche and carrot tamal with pineapple, chased with shots of small-batch mezcal. Drawing on the culinary techniques of shared roots across Morocco, Egypt, Israel and Turkey, and bringing aromatic woods, smoking, pickling and liberal spicing into the fold, Bavel doesn’t hold back when it comes to flavour. Order like you haven’t eaten for a week; get dippy things (hummus with duck ‘nduja, earthy baba ganoush, chicken-liver pâté with pomegranate and pickled blueberries) carby conduits, plates to pick at (scallop crudo with calamansi, trout belly shashlik, honey quail with burnt sumac and lime) and the hunger-obliterating lamb-neck shawarma. The team behind it also run must-try Italian Bestia, which is an excellent excuse to slip into a dairy coma, starting with the house buttermilk ricotta spread thickly on grilled bread, followed by the burrata pizza, saffron gnocchi with brown butter and grana padano, and finishing with blue-corn maple ricotta fritters with huckleberry jam. Then brace yourself for some avant-garde dreams…
Get your caffeine high from roaster Cognoscenti Coffee whose stylish and temptingly scented wood and concrete space is just a couple blocks away. And the Original Pantry Cafe is the stuff of LA legend – the original cafe opened in 1924 and allegedly was never closed until a brief shutdown in 1997 (and during the pandemic), but otherwise operates 24/7 year-round. There are tall tales aplenty attached to it – they exclusively hired ex-prisoners, the original owner didn’t turn away a diner, even if they couldn’t pay – but most should be regarded with some skepticism, although it’s reliable when it comes to breakfast favourites: towering pancakes, thick-cut French toast, steak and eggs and various combinations of biscuits, gravy, sausage and eggs. Bring cash and sit up at the counter.
Lost Spirits Distillery is a space where drinks are very much found, using spirits that founder Bryan Davis has crafted to taste aged beyond their years, using tech he developed; but, it’s also a piece of immersive theatre that propels you through surreal worlds, and the less you know about it before you go, the better. The Edison – a much-loved nightlife spot in the basement of a nuclear power plant, also has a penchant for drama, with its lavish steampunk style, games rooms and death-defying aerialists.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this dyed-in-the-wool Californian sandwiched between Downtown LA’s most exciting neighbourhoods and unpacked their haul from the Fashion District and playbills from the Broadway Corridor, a full account of their hanging-with-SoCal’s -cool-cats break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Downtown LA Proper Hotel…
In the boom-and-bust saga of Downtown LA, the ornate Renaissance Revival building, erected by Alexander Curlett and Claud Beelman in 1926, is a prominent character. During the 1920s it hosted big-deal bankers, hotshot film execs and producers, and noted names such as Cecil B DeMille for gin-soused goings-on as the Commercial Club of Southern California – a lively spot with a billiard room, gymnasium and barbershop. Then in the 1940s it was converted into the Case Hotel, a cosmopolitan foil for the equally frou Herald Examiner Building across the street. In the 1960s, the YWCA moved in and weathered the neighbourhoods’ decline and phoenix-like regeneration until the 2010s. Now, it’s emerged from a four-year cocoon as renovations took place to become a microcosm of its unique surroundings as the Downtown LA Proper hotel, at once encapsulating the romance of the Historic Core, the theatre of the Broadway Corridor, the Fashion District’s bold self expression and the vibrancy of East LA’s Latin-American communities. Long-time Proper stylist Kelly Wearstler has drawn on Mexican Modernism with French, Spanish, Portuguese and Moroccan style notes in redressing the interiors, painstakingly sourcing vintage furnishings, creating custom statement pieces, collecting more than 100 styles of handmade tile, and collaborating with artists who encapsulate DTLA. On entering you’re met with Abel Macias’ mural, spanning the length of the ceiling, that borrows the flora and fauna motifs of the façade’s carved arches and draws on the colourful tradition of Otomi embroidery, sculptor Morgan Peck has crafted the reception desk, Judson Studios have fired a surreal stained-glass installation for the restaurant and LA-based ceramicist Ben Medansky has crafted a feature wall for a suite that incorporates the original YWCA pool (one of the top two in the hotel, the other converted from a basketball court). Add dining that draws from the area’s melting-pot culinary scene and staff who live and breathe the locality – and care about showing guests a good time – and this DTLA icon has been recast as the coolest of comeback kids.