She lies before me, wearing almost nothing, stretching out indifferently as I approach... suddenly, Mrs Smith’s elbow makes sharp and pointed contact with my ribs. We are checking into one of Andre Balazs’ hip cheap-chic Californian hotels, the Standard Hollywood, and behind the reception desk is a glassy-eyed model reclining in an aquarium sans eau
, successfully ignoring us as well as the tattooed/pierced goth-rock band checking in at the same time. Cacti on pastel pebbles; egg-shaped cushions on a shag-pile rug; grey carpet adorning the walls and ceiling (very Gracelands); a trance DJ spinning the mood; a professional photographer and a clutch of models breezing by… There's no doubt about it – we are in Hollywood. From here, we have access to LA’s best bars, restaurants, shopping, business deals and beautiful people.
We leave the lobby with its soft, low-slung furniture and hanging Perspex bubble chairs (all occupied by young LA wannabes peering at their iBooks), and we make our way to the mauve padded wall that houses the elevator that will take us to our third-floor room. In the corridor, a dozen or more sprightly, dolled-up Hollywood hopefuls form a line, waiting nervously to be screened in a neighbouring room for a would-be blockbuster. A kingsize bed greets us, as does a flatscreen TV in a space far bigger than I had expected at a hotel in the middle of Los Angeles. What are absent are the usual Californian-hotel swathes of decorative linen and massive fluffy cushions – when it comes to furnishings, the Standard demonstrates ‘less is more’ at its best.
Mrs Smith and I have a habit of immediately making an untidy mess of our hotel rooms but, thankfully, here there isn't much to misplace. Somewhat disappointed at breaking a long-standing habit, we crash onto our surprisingly comfortable bed and, from here, I clock a chair-shaped cushion in the corner of the room that could prove a useful prop for romantic activities. En route to the shower, I notice a mini-bar complete with guides to LA, snacks, and even the Standard’s own brand of condoms – these have thoughtful diagrams on their boxes, for those who find themselves short of inspiration. We also discover useful items such as a CD player, dimmer switches on bedside lights and, in place of the usual bible in the bedside drawer, a torch – a different take on the guiding light principle?
The bathroom is pretty basic – the tub is big enough for two, but only if you’re Ken & Barbie, not their life-size counterparts as spotted in the lobby. But then the Standard isn’t about a spend-all-day-and-night-locked-in-your-room break. This hip hotel is in the heart of Hollywood’s social scene and an Amex card’s throw of the glittering Californian nightspots one reads about in lifestyle magazines. With Los Angeles at your feet, this is where you come to broker big showbiz deals or party until the press proposes it’s time for rehab. And to shop till you drop; the designer boutiques of Rodeo drive are nearby. We drive down Robertson Avenue, the hottest retail-therapy stretch, and pass the Ivy restaurant, as well as serried ranks of hot young thangs toting Kate Spade, Ghost and Lisa Kline shopping bags. At an intersection, one poseurette in a jet-black jogging suit demonstrates the always-auditioning culture in this town, by stretching in a carefully choreographed look-at-me way, while waiting for the traffic lights to change.
The hotel bar, the Standard Lounge, is one of LA’s hippest nightspots, and is active even on Sunday night, packed with partygoers lapping up the sounds from a house DJ, while a Tyra Banks-alike waitress picks up empty glasses. Was that Nelly Furtado brushing by? Isn’t that guy in one of the soaps? Such is the scene.
To those who like to squeeze the most out of the evening offerings, I can recommend the hotel’s restaurant as somwhere to recover. Set up like a Western diner with windows peering onto Sunset Strip, it serves great breakfasts (try the pastries and Mexican-style omelettes). While enjoying a most-excellent muesli, honey and wild berry mix, Mrs Smith and I are even treated to some live entertainment: a tall, big-haired diva in the lobby having a tantrum, throwing her fur coat and baggage into the arms of her assistant as they wait for their overdue limo. It seems an appropriate start to a day in Hollywood.
While I make quick use of the business centre, resplendent with leopard-print carpet, Macs, PCs, and a blue chandelier, Mrs Smith relaxes by the pool, warmed not only by the winter sun but also by a battery of gas heaters, which wouldn’t earn the approval of Al Gore, the current documentary-making toast of Tinseltown. Still, this is one of the best city pools around, with lots of space, vast views of downtown and Beverly Hills, plenty of sun loungers, and a see-through wind-breaker wall – it seems a shame not to take full advantage of this blue-astroturfed setting, despite how un-PC as those villainous global-warming outdoor heaters are.
We love the Standard Hollywood for its energy – no wonder it’s a favourite with young folk; it’s the ideal base for stargazing, be it in the lobby, in the bar or on the streets. And it wasn’t just us doing the analysing; in this looks-obsessed society, you'll be critically reviewed by everyone you pass. You can’t help but do the same. And boy is it fun.