Like a Golden-era starlet, Freehand Los Angeles emerges from her dressing room, revived and ready for a close up. Set within LA’s landmark Commercial Exchange Building, which rose up in 1924 during Downtown’s Golden Age and dwindled as the area fell into decline, this freshly dressed siren is once again ready for her close up, after a restoration by the Sydell Group (of Nomad, Saguaro and the Ned fame). With a string of social spaces that borrow from the boutique hotel handbook and egalitarian rooms by New York design firm Roman and Williams, it’s starlet-worthy style at a snip of the budget. We’re already booking an encore.
Noon. Check-in, 3pm. Early check-in and late check-out are subject to availability.
Double rooms from £94.36 ($119), including tax at 16.2 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional resort fee of $30.20 per room per night on check-in.
Rates are exclusive of breakfast. A pared-back, LA-style menu is served in Café Integral on weekdays and in the Exchange on weekends. Dishes include yogurt and fruits, banana-and-date buckwheat bread and eggs with za'atar (Middle Eastern herbs).
When New Yorkers want a steaming hot cup of Joe, they head to Café Integral. But a stay at Freehand Los Angeles means you only have to scoot downstairs, where the Nicaraguan-obsessed roasters have an outlet serving expert-made mochas, macchiatos and cold-brews, such as ice-chai lattes.
Much like the City of Angels, Freehand Los Angeles is a year-round destination on which the sun never sets
At the hotel
A restaurant, cafe, lobby bar and tea room, rooftop bar and swimming pool, a gym, coin-operated laundry, WiFi and valet parking. In rooms: Radio, TV, WiFi, Argan toiletries, a robe, beach bag.
Our favourite rooms
On the 13th floor, we love the Loft Suite for its open, apartment-style layout and unrivalled location. Through giant sash windows, the gleaming skyscrapers of Downtown rise, and custom-made couches line up to take in the view. Families and friends should flock to the four quad rooms, which come with built-in privacy screens, cedar bunk beds and smart ensuite bathrooms.
Located on the rooftop and surrounded by the skyscrapers of Downtown, the pool is the jewel in the Freehand’s crown. Shock-pink sunloungers and parasols tie in with the hotel’s playful theme and the adjoining Broken Shaker cocktail bar keeps you cool in the DTLA heat. Families are looked after too, with a shallow end, floats and inflatables.
No spa, but there's a fitness area with weights and running machines for the readying the Red Carpet body.
A white Trash Tee and utilitarian Down Jacket by hot LA label Everybody, started by two ex-American Apparel designers. Ladies should look to the leather minis and thick-knit jumpers of cult brand Reformation.
You can browse everything from dahlias and peonies to vintage clothing and candles at Sean Knibb’s Flowerboy Project, which has a retail space and boutique downstairs at Freehand Los Angeles, having first launched in Venice Beach in 2015.
Children of all ages are accepted and permitted into all public spaces – though the sociable, round-the-clock atmosphere is maybe best suited to adults. Cots are free for under 2s. Quad rooms are a fun option for families.
The mezzanine level is the best for overseeing the whole restaurant, looking down across retro wood furnishings, loose fabrics and lots of greenery, plus original tiles and flooring from the 1920s.
Follow LA locals with their laid-back approach to style: jeans, t-shirts, leather jackets… anything goes.
Self-taught, 20-something, Mexican-Chinese chef Alex Chang is the fresh face behind the Exchange restaurant. In spite of his tender years, Chang already has a reputation: as a college student he started an underground supper club, which became the subject of Paladar, a Tribeca-pipped documentary. In 2014, he launched his first stand-alone kitchen, Vagabond in Miami, and he’s now been recruited by Freehand Los Angeles to head its main restaurant. In-keeping with the hotel’s sociable, communal theme, the emphasis is on shared plates of Israeli origin, including burnt eggplant and pargiyot (chicken) with shawarma spice and yogurt.
Two drinking dens bookend the social spaces at Freehand Los Angeles. In the lobby, lounge-style Rudolph's Bar & Tea is a nod to Rudolph Rosenberg, the one-time owner of the Commercial Exchange Building. Decked out with mid-century wicker chairs, supple leather couches and plant-packed windows, it serves up intriguing, tea-themed cocktails. Try the Russian G&T, featuring the bar’s own tea blend mixed with Old Tom gin, lemon, quinine and honey made from local orange blossoms. On the rooftop, there’s also the poolside Broken Shaker cocktail bar, with beachy furniture and vibrant colours that are straight out of the original Freehand Miami outpost. Handcrafted cocktails include the Trash-Tini with Grey Goose, Plymouth Gin and charred-onion-infused Noilly Prat vermouth. Small bites include smoked-fish tostadas and shrimp-and-potato tacos.
The Exchange is open for weekday breakfasts (7am–10.30am) and lunches (11.30am–3pm). A leisurely weekend brunch is served on Saturday and Sundays between 10am–3pm. Dinner is dished up between 6pm–11pm, and until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.
During restaurant hours, the full menu is available to order to your room. We’re hankering for the Exchange burger with brown butter, cheese and griddled onions, plus a side order of shoestring fries with tangy amba mayo.
The hotel stands in the midst of a progressive urban gentrification project, surrounded by coffee shops and converted lofts. A century on from its first Golden Age, Downtown is heading Uptown, and the Freehand is primed for a starring role.
California’s busiest hub, Los Angeles International Airport, is a 30-minute drive away, with a daily stream of domestic and international flights. For domestic travellers, Burbank’s Bob Hope Airport is also within reach, taking 25 minutes by car to reach the hotel. Contact the Smith24 team for flights and transfers.
Burbank’s Bob Hope Airport has a direct rail link to Union Station, just two miles from Freehand Los Angeles. From LAX, the easiest option is to grab a cab or car hire.
Angelenos wouldn’t dream of using two feet when there’s four wheels to be had – the Smith24 team can arrange car rental from either Burbank or LAX airports. The straight, gridiron streets of this sprawling city make travelling by car a relatively unchallenging prospect, though rush-hour traffic is notorious.
Worth getting out of bed for
The 65 blocks of Downtown LA are on the up, with young creatives moving in and a parade of new restaurants, bars and boutique hotels opening up. Yes, there’s still inner-city grit here, but like revived urban areas the world over – from Williamsburg to Kreuzberg – that’s all part of the appeal for trend-hunting millennials. Warehouses are being reimagined from their days as textile or food factories. Shopping malls, like the Bloc, are springing up. And both Broadway and Grand Avenue are becoming cultural hotspots, packed with museums and new businesses. A turning point was the arrival of the Broad museum in 2015, within a honeycomb-style building by Diller Scofidio + Renfro – the architects behind New York’s High Line. The not-to-be-missed galleries show off 2,000-plus art works from the private collection of Eli and Edythe Broad.
You won’t be short of a bite to eat in this part of town. Restaurants span from old-world, brunch-favourite Bottega Louiewith its towering macaron counter, to elegant, brasserie-style Faith & Flower with its ceviche-serving raw bar and California-centric dishes of kale and pear salad. Tom George is a new addition, with an Italianate menu of fettuccine duck bolognese and ‘rose gold’ shrimp risotto. Book well in advance if you want to bag a table at Bestiala, or instead head to Broken Spanish where chef Ray Garcia serves up contemporary Latin flavours, from tortillas and tamales to chicharrón (pork belly). Old and new converge in Grand Central Market, a recently revived European-style market hall that’s been serving Angelenos since 1917 and now showcases street-food-style vendors from around the world, including China Cafe and Berlin Currywurst.
The world’s largest public cafeteria, Clifton’s, is a queue-around-the-block affair, that's worth the wait. Unveiled in 2015 by developer Andrew Meieran, a dab-hand at restoring bygone buildings, it scales through five floors of fantastical drinking and dining options, including the original 1935 cafeteria for fast, quality food. Giant redwoods, waterfalls, grazing bison and meteorites fill the eccentric interior.
Downtown LA’s craft-beer scene is brewing nicely. West of Freehand Los Angeles, the Arts District Brewing Company has an industrial-style, neon-lit main room, dotted with bench-style tables and all-American bar games, including ping-pong and vintage skeeball. Closer still, on Wiltshire Boulevard, Karl Strauss Brewing Company has a menu of stouts, IPAs and sharing plates. Bavarian-style Los Angeles Biergarten rubs shoulders with Broadway’s new businesses in the historic Chapman Building, with a 20m-long bar serving a wide range of beers. And speakeasy-style Golden Gopher, opposite the hotel, is yet another fine example the area’s reinvention: purchased in 1905 by president Teddy Roosevelt and recently revived by 213 Hospitality. At hip neighborhood joint The Hamm & Eggs Tavern, live-music fans and wine lovers meet to sample bands and labels from Santa Barbara’s Santa Ynez Valley.
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 city hotel in sunny Los Angeles and unpacked their Dodgers hat, a full account of their California break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Freehand Los Angeles…
It’s all very egalitarian at the Freehand Los Angeles. From the buzzy atmosphere of Rudolph’s Bar & Tea to the multicultural flavours of the Middle Eastern Exchange restaurant, this is a hotel that delights in blending the social spaces of a hostel with the style of a boutique hotel. The result is a base that’s easy on the eye – and the wallet. The era-defining Sydell Group is behind it, having fine-tuned their stylish-but-accessible formula on places like the Ned, the Line, Nomad and Saguaro brands. With the Freehand mini chain – which includes Freehand Miami,Freehand Chicago and now, Freehand Los Angeles – there’s a family resemblence: a revived 20th-century landmark (in this case, Downtown LA’s 1924 Commercial Exchange Building); urban-chic rooms by hip New York design firm, Roman and Williams (also of the Standard High Line); and social spaces that seduce Angelenos as much as visiting guests. It’s millionaire style on a millennial’s budget. Very egalitarian, indeed.