Welcome to Los Angeles – where there’s never a “low season”. Gorgeous weather year-round attracts travelers from tough climates, while the entertainment capital of the world draws in jet-setting stars and adoring fans from all over the world for a steady rotation of awards shows, premieres, and film festivals. The perfect location for this flurry of star-studded activity? SLS Beverly Hills.
The list of accolades is long: Condé Nast Traveller “Hot List Hotel”, Travel & Leisure “It List”, Fodor’s “Best Design Hotel. And I haven’t even started on the long list of awards held by Chef José Andrés. But more on him later…
Entering SLS Beverly Hills is unique to say the least. A red carpet welcoming you to the whimsical world of Philippe Starck is one small detail that lets you know you’ve arrived to a destination that is one of the gems of a glittering collection of Starwood Luxury Properties around the globe. True to the hotel brand’s mission, SLS Beverly Hills is an “expression of its location; a portal to the destination’s indigenous charms and treasures” that befit each Luxury Property.
Glittering beneath some of SLS Beverly Hills’ collection of over 77 bespoke chandeliers, Tres lounge is the genius antidote to the hotel lobby experience. Leather lounges, captivating bookshelves, and cozy fireplaces make you feel as if you’ve stepped into your own living room. At either end of this unique design space are two private rooms; The Black Room and the White Room. Each flanks the opposite end of Tres to provide VIP guests an even more luxurious way to dine and entertain.
What to wear in this town? The edgy, yet sophisticated looks from Thomas Wylde. Founded in 2006, this global ready-to-wear and accessories luxury brand is perfect for the L.A. woman out on the town. While its headquarters are here in Los Angeles, Thomas Wylde has developed a loyal international following through brand awareness in Vogue, L’Officiel, and WWD, in addition to runway shows in New York and Milan.
When I went to the showroom to pick up my pieces, I had the great fortune of sitting with Creative Director Jene Park. “The Thomas Wylde brand is strong yet elegant. And a rock ‘n’ roll influence is in our DNA”. Walking among enviable pieces of silk, leather, and other sumptuous fabrics, I learned more about the Thomas Wylde aesthetic. “Our fashions are wearable; it’s not just for the runway.”
I have to agree. While waltzing through the SLS in these varied looks, I felt like I was ready for a night on the town. Comfortable, classy, sexy, quality – all elements that I look for when shopping for myself and my clients are here at Thomas Wylde. And it’s why they have such a large and diverse fan base that includes Madonna, Cameron Diaz, Halle Berry, Heidi Klum, Carrie Underwood, Selena Gomez, Dita Von Teese, Jane Fonda, Vanessa Paradis, and Li Bingbing.
Learning a bit more about Jene’s illustrious background, I was even more impressed to hear that she’d won the sought-after scholarship from Maison Lesage and had spent the early days in her career at the fashion houses of Dior, Balenciaga, Givenchy, and Chanel. As she chose my pieces, Jene imparted with a wink, “there’s romantic movement in our pieces. But it’s still edgy.”
The obvious complement to Thomas Wylde’s edgy and glamorous styles? Jewelry from Ara Vartanian. I discovered Ara’s signature style on a press trip to Brazil earlier this spring when my luxury guide, Flavia Liz Di Paolo took me on a private tour of his São Paulo atelier where I witnessed his artistry firsthand. Sitting with Luna and Val, the motivated women behind the brand, I learned the story of his signature hook earring. “It was his wife who inspired him to make this style. He had observed her wearing larger pieces, and found a way to make it comfortable, yet just as striking.”
When your wife and exquisite gemstones are your muses, it has to be a success! Another one of Ara’s muses is Kate Moss. She recently helped launch his London showroom, bringing the Brazilian designer’s jewels to a new audience. Luckily, I can find Ara’s designs closer to home here in Los Angeles at Broken English Jewelry. A wide array of his two and three finger rings, hook earrings, cuffs, and chokers, all featuring the unique inverted diamond setting are waiting at their Westside boutique to adorn the L.A. woman.
“No two stones are the same so each piece of jewelry I design becomes unique by this mere fact. These characteristics may be the key to understanding a sentence I often repeat when I finish creating a piece of jewelry: ‘The stone always chooses the right person’,” Ara states. And it is this mantra that has made each of his pieces a work of art.
Speaking of art, those of you who have been reading my articles for a while know that I always seek out art on my travels. And it’s something I enjoy while here at home in L.A., too! One of my favorite local artists is Clara Berta, whom I had the serendipitous fortune of meeting at an art event last year. We instantly clicked while acknowledging each others’ funky style: Clara was donning a teal dress from Thomas Wylde and I had on some provocative tights from Wolford.
Clara is an artist at heart, not just by trade. Her energy is infectious and she speaks with passion about everything she does, whether it’s her favorite L.A. restaurant Bestia or the latest speakeasy she’s discovered. Clara did her first art show in 2000, while working as an actress at the same time and along her journey, met a costume designer who introduced her to printmaking. “I spent two years studying with her and getting a more formal eduction. I needed to learn structure. I think it’s important for every artist to have a foundation”.
Next in Clara’s evolution was her one-woman show, Sex Is My Specialty, a performance that she found both healing and cathartic. “I found my voice, and saw how healing and moving the show was for other women.” It’s as if this emotional show prepared her for the sudden death of her husband, when she turned to painting. “I remember my first sale because my love and grief were mixed together in that piece.”
This turning point allowed her to grow as an artist and be truly happy doing what she loves. “I’m inspired by people, nature, and the small miracles that happen in daily life. Sometimes I’m even stimulated by a good meal and the energy of my food!”
Like her art, Clara is exciting, vibrant and filled with energy and you’ll experience that at her studio events with guest speakers including neuroscientists, interior designers, and other artists. Next up for Clara? She has her sights set on Biennale, a possible show in Luxembourg, and hosting a retreat for aspiring women artists here in Los Angeles.
Ok, so back to the Bazaar at SLS! This masterpiece dining concept is the brainchild of internationally recognized culinary innovator José Andrés. His accolades require their own article, but a few are Time’s “100 Most Influential People”, James Beard Foundation “Outstanding Chef”, and President Obama’s “National Humanities Medal”. Wow!
Which is exactly what you’ll say when you step into The Bazaar, where every seductive corner lures you in with a design as diverse as Andrés’ menu. Chef Andrés has created a fanciful array of traditional and pioneering tapas, while the Patisserie features delicate sweets and roaming carts which showcase edible delights that weave their way through glass cases full of art, jewelry, and provocative books.
Sink back into one of the 277 chairs, all selected by Philippe Starck, and sip one of the inventive cocktails that integrate contemporary techniques and tools such as liquid nitrogen, olive and cherry spherifications, herbs, and organic emulsifiers. My waitress recommended their signature caipirinha cart; a welcome suggestion on a hot Los Angeles evening, and the perfect pairing for Andrés’ croquetas de pollo. Ummm! I sat there wondering what gastronomic wonders Chef Andrés will feature at the upcoming opening of Somni…
Hard as it is to break away from the enchanting yet exotic Bazaar, you definitely need to seek out some nightlife when visiting L.A. The best choice? A performance by L.A. native, Anabel Englund. Her vocals infused the international chart-topper “Reverse Skydiving” with a sensual and sultry call to get out on the dance floor, energizing crowds as far away as Brazil and the UK. “Music has always been a part of my life. I was shy, but my whole life has been about challenging myself. If I’m afraid or uncomfortable, that’s a sign for me to go do it. If it’s healthy for me and my spirit, I go for it”.
Hearing Anabel describe what she calls her “moral code”, I can already sense that she is destined for stardom at this early phase in her career. In an industry that is competitive and cutthroat, she’s definitely got her head on straight! “We need to embrace each others’ differences, but we’re all the same. We share the same spirit.” Her spirituality is something that keeps her anchored in a frenzied environment. Anabel’s pre-performance ritual? Prayer. “Even if I don’t have time to be alone, I just say a quick prayer behind the DJ booth and ask God to help inspire me and ignite a fire in someone else.”
And her career is definitely on fire. With an EP due out later this year, Anabel has drawn on her previous collaborative works to produce her recent party series “Gari Safari”, a curated tour of live dance music, an innovative concept that crowds are loving. This L.A. woman is ready for her close-up.
New Orleans isn’t the first place you think of when you hear the word: technology. Competing with other well-known tech hubs like Silicon Valley and Research Triangle, this southern city has rightfully earned its place among these technology centers. Forbes calls it the “#1 Brainpower City in the U.S.A.” and SmartAsset ranks it #1 for growth in tech jobs in the U.S. It’s no wonder that the Collision team chose NOLA as its home again this year.
A live Shark Tank!
Suzy Deering of eBay
I first heard of Collision through their expansive outreach effort to recruit more women to their annual technology conference. I’m not a techie myself. The most tech savvy things I do are this website and my Instagram account. But I took at look at their agenda, the speakers, and the sponsors and was intrigued. Where else could I meet the first astronaut to tweet from space, a world-renowned DJ, and an Olympic medalist swimmer, all while learning about the latest developments with virtual reality, green-tech, and the latest shopping app?
All of this and more was under the same roof at the New Orleans Convention Center in May. A three-day conference sandwiched in between Jazz Fest, Collision Conference is the place to be to learn about cutting-edge technology that is changing the way we think about our relationships with those devices we all cling to – and upgrade every 18 months!
When deciding where to stay, my choice was easy – Windsor Court. Rated “Top Business Hotel” by Forbes, Windsor Court has every amenity a business traveler could want. And the accolades don’t stop there. In 2017, U.S. News declared Windsor Court one of the Best Hotels in the U.S.A., Best Hotel in New Orleans, and Best Louisiana Hotel, while Travel + Leisure readers named the property one of the Top 50 Large City Hotels in the U.S. and Canada.
Well, if its ideal location in the Central Business District isn’t enough, you’re also nearby the French Quarter and iconic Bourbon Street with its lively jazz clubs, Royal Street’s antique shops and art galleries, and steps away from NOLA’s emerging Arts District. But once inside their lush, green courtyard that leads you up to their lobby, you’ll feel a world away from the colorful scene of the city. Fresh roses, stunning artwork, and live piano music coming from the lobby bar all provide a warm southern welcome to Windsor Court.
Arriving in my room, a premium suite with a desk ready for all of my chargers, cameras, and electronic devices, I couldn’t help but be swept away by the panoramic views of the Mississippi River below. Recharging in my plush surroundings, I made some adjustments to my schedule, courtesy of the user-friendly Collision app, and headed out the door to the first event.
So you may not think tech when you hear New Orleans, but you definitely think music. It’s everywhere. And it’s good. The Collison party at the Blue Nile with the Brassaholics had the crowd jumping, myself included. My colleague and I looked at each other and simultaneously said, “We’re staying for Jazz Fest next year.”
You should, too. During our mid-day break at the pool, fellow guests shared stories of the different acts they saw, while I shared some of the latest and greatest apps that people from all over the world were showcasing at Collision. One of my favorites: what I’ll call Shazam for bird sounds. I told the founders how I desperately needed this during my trip to Iguaçu Falls in March where I was amongst wildlife and nature in a way that was truly magical. I would have loved to learn more about these little creatures that sang to me at every turn!
One of the highlights at Collision was meeting Olympic medalist, Allison Wagner. Cheated out of her opportunity to win a gold medal, Allison shared her experience in a raw and revealing on-stage interview about her life after the Olympics, the resulting depression she suffered, and her current efforts to prevent doping in sports.
“I’m choosing to speak up about it and because of my accomplishments, I’m in a position of leadership.” Her accomplishments are many: besides her silver at the Olympics in 1996, Allison was named American Swimmer of the Year by Swimming World magazine, SEC Female Swimmer of the Year, gold medalist at the FINA Short Course World Championships, and held the world record for over 14 years for the 200 IM short course meters during those same years surrounding her disappointing experience at the Olympics.
During my interview with Allison, we talked more about her ordeal after the Olympics, and we agreed that in sports, as in technology, there needs to be more diversity and attention to gender issues to combat doping. “With swimming, the definition of what makes you successful is your race time. I’ve competed with men and I felt like I was proving myself in a different way; it was a satisfying accomplishment. Doping could be viewed as a gender issue because women tend to be doped more often in systematic doping regimes as compared to men.”
Of course, being at a tech conference, we chatted about the next phase for the intersection of sports and tech. “When it comes to tech, we need more advanced testing internationally, and doping regulations and violations enforced. There are great options, but we need better ones. Another interesting aspect of sport is that of intuition which is often not talked about, and in sports, especially in swimming, an athlete is continually adapting to their environment. If you’re stuck on old data, you’re potentially limiting yourself.”
Flashing back to her competing days, which were before the advent of social media and live feeds, Allison feels that she might have been able to gain back those gold medals that she lost. “Connectivity would have been helpful on a variety of levels. I might have talked and shared on social media when my scholarships were taken away. There’s more accountability today for people who dope and for abuses of power.”
Shifting gears, Allison talked about her other passion – art. She’s a founding member of the International Olympic organization called Art of the Olympians, and as a painter, she hopes that the organization can help return the Olympics to its original intentions. “An Olympian is someone who is pursuing excellence with integrity. Not just in sports, but in a variety of arenas. Valuing art as much as we value sports in our community is vital.”
So what’s next for this Renaissance woman? Her focus right now is on being an advocate for anti-doping around the world. “I’m speaking up as a catalyst for change. I’m not elected or affiliated with any organization, but I want to play some role that is helpful for current athletes who are willing to be active on this topic. Many of them are nervous about the ramifications of being vocal. But the ramifications of cheating are far worse. We need leaders who talk about their commitment to integrity and ethics, and governing bodies of sport need to stop limiting athletes’ voices.”
Her voice is poised to be a powerful one in the years to come. Agreeing that women’s voices need to be heard in all sectors, not just tech, Allison imparted, “As women, we have so much ability, and a natural inclination to be resilient. Advocating for each other is important.”
And one of the most powerful advocates was the team at Collision who made an effort to improve diversity numbers at this groundbreaking conference. Vibing off of the amazing accomplishments of so many female entrepreneurs, I worked with the team at Windsor Court to host a women’s networking event at their Polo Club Lounge.
Spacious, yet private, the Polo Club lounge was the perfect setting for our Women in Tech mixer. The newly remodeled space features European antiques and period reproductions from the 17th and 18th century, all accented with saddle-tan wood, marble details, and of course an impressive bar menu with more than 600 labels, and one of the largest Cognac collections in New Orleans! Networking with enthusiastic entrepreneurs from all over the world in this decadent, yet inviting setting, was a great way to end another night at Collision.
After a quick breakfast of the quintessential beignets, it was back to the conference for another day of tech awesomeness. The highlight for today – hearing Natalie Monbiot of SVP Futures talking about experiential advertising and the role of Virtual Reality in Marketing. Her most valuable piece of advice: brands need to think about who they are when there’s no screen to hide behind. In an era of fake news, bots, and impersonal transactions, her advice couldn’t be more timely.
Between mixers, interviews, and seminars, I managed to squeeze in a dinner at Compère Lapin. The stellar concierge team at Windsor Court was able to get us a coveted reservation at this top-ranked restaurant. Although I have no pictures to prove it, my meal started with the most divine buttermilk biscuits. It’s no wonder they disappeared so quickly!
Compère Lapin’s philosophy of “the complexity of simplicity, and the power of pure flavors” was evident in every bite of our meal. A starter of Hamachi tuna dressed in “leche de tigre” was followed by delectable Wagyu short ribs, so soft and tender. Chef Nina Compton’s playful menu draws inspiration from a childhood Carribean folktale about a rabbit named Compère Lapin. But her menu is no child’s play – come hungry to experience indigenous Caribbean ingredients blended with the rich culinary heritage of New Orleans. And of course save room for dessert – the most unique presentation of strawberry shortcake I’ve ever seen! A perfect ending to a perfect meal.
Back at the hotel, I was able to indulge in some more of the hotel amenities that Windsor Court offers its lucky guests. An art lover, I knew the walking tour of the hotel’s gallery would be a favorite. Listening to the audio tour on my phone, I viewed their museum-worthy collection, with pieces displayed throughout the property. Many of the artworks are of British origin with an emphasis on works that depict the Windsor Castle and life of British royalty. Valued at more than $8 million, the Windsor Court collection includes original works by Reynolds, Gainsborough, and Huysman. Among my favorite pieces were the hand-finished chromolithographs of Windsor Castle’s private and State apartments by Sir Joseph Nash which were commissioned by Queen Victoria in the mid-nineteenth century. So much history along these walls!
Although my visit to Windsor Court was short, I did manage to squeeze in a spa treatment. Voted #1 by USA Today 10 Best Spas in New Orleans, this top ranked spa earned its place in my book. My back facial (yes, they have these here!) included a soothing foot massage, and was followed by a difficult choice of cucumber water, green wheatgrass juice, or champagne. Lounging in the relaxation area, I somehow managed to indulge in all three! The only thing to tear me away from this oasis of relaxation was a hungry belly. Luckily the afternoon tea service at Windsor Court was still being offered in the Club Lounge, an added amenity which offers true VIP service to its guests.
My last event of this busy day was a Stanford alumni mixer, hosted in the Polo Club Lounge. Right in line with Collision’s mission of diversity and inclusion, our group had quite the international mix, every racial background was represented, and a wide range of industries including venture capitalists, pro football players, and of course, someone launching the latest, greatest app were all there to mix and mingle, sharing highlights from the conference. Trying to choose just one highlight was difficult, but I’m already looking forward to next year’s Collision Conference and seeing where technology takes us next!
While waiting to check in at my new hotel, Mama Shelter, I overheard the receptionist telling the story of the lobby’s colorful artwork. “Designed to incorporate the art of a local Indian tribe, the theme here is inclusivity. Mama Shelter wants to include everyone; we welcome everyone here”.
This new boutique hotel in Rio de Janeiro is a welcome addition to the funky art neighborhood known as Santa Teresa. Sitting at the top of a windy maze of intertwining roads, Santa Teresa is home to top restaurants like Aprazível and Bar do Mineiro, as well as stylish boutiques such as Baoba, which sources their textiles from Angola and Mozambique. And just across from Mama Shelter is the Centro Cultural, an old villa which hosts art exhibitions and live music performances for the local community.
But you won’t have to go far to hear great music. Mama Shelter has a great rotation of jazz musicians and hip-hop deejays that add even more vibrancy to their hotel. There’s no better way to start a Sunday than by sitting in their open-air restaurant and enjoying a bountiful brunch with a bottle of rosé and those funky beats in the background.
Speaking of funky beats, during my visit to Rio I had the lucky fortune of sitting with DJ Vivi Seixas and hearing about her career, and the evolving path that it’s taken over the years. Born into a family of Brazilian music royalty, Vivi grew up being surrounded by music. “I listened to good music from an early age. As a teenager, I had my doubts and everyone expected me to be a singer or guitar player, like my father.”
That stifling comparison made her nervous and so like any teenager forging their own path, she went abroad at age 18. “At that time, everyone went to the U.S. to study, but I wanted something different so I went to Australia.” A pioneer in many ways, it was here that she discovered the music that moved her: electronic music. Her eyes glittered with happy memories as she recounted those days, “After a visit to a festival, I met a deejay, DJ Tati Sanchez, who took me to some parties and showed me the scene there in Australia.”
This was just the beginning of her musical career. Back home in Brazil, she recalled telling an old boyfriend about a dream that she was playing music for a crowd of people. He nudged her to pursue this craft citing her innate rhythm and good taste, so she took classes, practiced at home, and started playing for her friends. Inspired by everything from Leonard Cohen to Brazilian forro, Vivi explored the full range of electronic music, playing lounge, downtempo, and trip-hop.
But Vivi felt she wanted to make people move and dance instead of chill out. “I had to find music that I liked. Back then I didn’t have much reference of what was techno, what was house, what was trance. I had a friend who said, ‘Here’s my music, you can drag whatever you like to your files’. I explored his whole library and he said, ‘Everything you dragged to your folder is house music’.”
Like any true house deejay, Vivi had to cut her musical chops on vinyl. In 2006, she went to San Francisco to do a music production course and it was here that she really honed her craft with all mediums of house music, learning from Chicago house greats like Mike Frugaletti, Mark Farina, Chris Carrier, and Hector Moralez. “It was there that somebody told me, ‘If you want to play house music, you have to learn how to play vinyl’.”
So that’s what she did. This rite of passage paid off and now DJ Vivi travels all over Brazil. Talking about her love for house music, which she says is so versatile and has varieties that can be played at a beach party, wedding, or club, Vivi does have plans to get back into producing, in addition to finishing her university degree. “Here in Brazil, the scene is changing to provide opportunities to deejays who can also produce. I’m looking for a studio to make that happen – to make that bridge.”
Her latest bridge? Remixing the Raul Seixas songbook. “I was invited by Warner Music to make a CD with remixes of his songs. It was truly a mashup of dub-reggae, drum & bass, blues, house music. But my dad’s fans are very protective of his music.”
Experiencing criticism and backlash from the die-hard Raul fans, Vivi walked carefully across this musical divide of rock ‘n’ roll and house music. “Although many people have done musical tributes to my father, people think there’s nobody as good as him. So I had to find a way to do it organically, combining electronic music and musicians. I loved the result.”
An emotional project that’s been well-received by fans from both camps, the tribute to her father was a reminder of their eternal connection. “I felt like he was there in the studio. I found this piece of him talking on a cassette tape, and I used his words as an intro – ‘Let’s start. I don’t want things from the past. I want something new.’ It was as if he had given me a blessing through the music.”
With chills up my spine, I showed her a photo of some art that was made in tribute to her father by a fan – a self-made artist in the favelas of São Paulo. Giddy at the thought of someone using recycled pieces to make such astonishing art, Vivi talked about her community service work in the favelas here in Rio.
“I work with Jardim Gramacho, next to the Lixão, the dump here in Rio, and I teach music. I used to give money, but I felt the need to help people in a different way.” We talked about our work with non-profits and the work I do with young girls and photography back in Los Angeles, and the mothering we do with these at-risk children in our local communities. “Seeing children doing their homework on piles of trash – it makes you value what you have. And be in the moment of gratitude.” Grateful I definitely was. To have this unique opportunity to sit across from such a vibrant and talented woman, who is forging her path and helping others along the way.
Walking back to Mama Shelter, I became entranced with all of the street art – everything from murals to mosaics, all lending an artistic flair to the streets of Santa Teresa. One of the best features of Mama Shelter is that it is part of the Accor Hotels family, an extensive network of boutique and luxury hotels around the world. Lucky for me, their sister property Hotel Santa Teresa is right up the street and I was able to purchase a day pass to their pool. No need to trek all the way to the beaches now! I had a tranquil, secluded setting to enjoy.
Sitting back in my lounge, I thought about my interview with DJ Vivi Seixas and her fortitude to her craft. How great to meet someone so passionate about their work, and then to pass that knowledge on to the youth in her community through service. My work with Las Fotos Project gives me that same satisfaction. Seeing young girls express themselves through photography and writing makes me feel like a proud mama! Having just wrapped our annual fundraiser prior to my Brazil trip, I thought about one of my favorite quotes about mothers: “Mother is a verb. It’s something you do.” Dorothy Canfield Fisher’s words couldn’t be truer for the work that both Vivi and I do with children in need.
Surrounded by a green garden full of art, flowers, and of course that marine-colored pool, I drifted off into a dreamy trance, lulled to sleep by the soft sound of Marisa Monte playing in the background. What finally woke me up was hunger pangs!
Tearing myself away from the pool was my hardest task of the afternoon, but a dinner reservation at Térèze was all the motivation I needed! This top rated restaurant sits atop the neighborhood with a twinkling view of Rio’s seductive sunsets below.
But the real reason to come here is for the food. Like all Accor Hotel properties, the menus have a French influence. Which is a good thing since the French are known for excelling in all things gastronomy. Let’s start with the bread plate. Uttering a soft, “oh my God” when my waiter set it down, I didn’t know which piece to choose. A sampling of butters, cheeses, and savory marmalades accompanied my choices, making my decisions a bit more delectable. Then a salmon pave dish that was so artfully prepared, I felt a bit guilty taking my first bite. Crispy fresh vegetables, coconut-parsley sauce, and a hibiscus-infused foam danced around baroa quenelles. What is a baroa quenelle you ask? It’s the perfect fusion of Brazilian ingredients and French technique. The baroa is a bright, yellow vegetable known as the “carrot-potato” to Brazilians. And a quenelle is a beautifully shaped scoop, usually used for sorbets and ice creams, but in this case, it decorated my dinner plate just perfectly.
Back in the embrace of Mama Shelter, I sat on the colorful terrace and caught up on some emails, Instagram, and all of those technological advances that allow us modern humans to connect while traveling. But what I loved most about this visit to Santa Teresa was connecting with a new neighborhood, giving me more reasons to love Rio!
Contact me to plan your visit to Rio de Janeiro today…
In a city that can claim summertime weather year round, Los Angeles still has a few markers that signal to its citizens and visitors alike that it is officially summer. One of the most anticipated events, in a city whose temperature can quickly go from blistering to breezy, is the Hollywood Bowl.
The Bowl, nestled in Cahuenga Pass and just a short distance behind Hollywood’s tourist traps, has called this location home since 1919. Over the years, this L.A. landmark has hosted performances from almost every genre, and much of this music history can been seen at the on-site museum, an ideal place to idle away the time while you wait for a performance. Arrive at the Bowl early, beat the traffic, and take a minute to view what the Bowl calls a “living laboratory for experimentation and discovery of L.A.’s music history.”
Walking through the museum, I thought back to when I visited the Bowl as a child with my aunt, an envied season-ticket holder. I recall summers sitting under the starlit sky, soaking in Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and then looking up wide-eyed at fireworks while Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture stomped and saluted our nation’s independence, puzzled by the choice of a Russian composition to honor an American holiday.
Now as an adult, I’m able to appreciate the diversity that the Hollywood Bowl calendar has to offer its patrons. Throughout the years, I have been lucky enough to see remarkable performances by Brazilian artists Bebel Gilberto and Seu Jorge, Jamaican icon Grace Jones, English songstress Sade, and classic rock legend Santana. In a day and age when people throw around the word “epic” at every turn, my definition involves swaying to Jones’ sultry hits under the full moon.
The Hollywood Bowl is not to be missed. Voted as one of the “Top Outdoor Music Venues” countless times by Fodor’s, Rolling Stone, and Architectural Digest, just to name a few, holding that honor is quite noteworthy in a city that can claim much of its activity outdoors. And outdoor dining is half the fun at the Bowl; to call it “picnicking” is an understatement. In fact, one of my favorite cookbooks in a collection that has some strong competition, is my copy of Picnics Under the Stars, a gift given to me by my aunt many moons ago. Besides featuring recipes from famous conductors like Itzhak Perlman and Christopher Hogwood, this cookbook has two features that I love: an index outlined by ingredient(helpful for those with food allergies) and tips for picnicking outdoors, which is something you’ll definitely be doing if you spend any time in Los Angeles.
Speaking of outdoor dining, there’s no formal designation of “Most Rooftop Bars Per Capita”, but Los Angeles can definitely stake its claim at the top of this imagined list. Adding to that list is the rooftop at quirky and colorful hotel, Mama Shelter. Accor Group’s recent investment in the boutique hotel brand brings the U.S. its first Mama Shelter, situated in the heart of Hollywood. A welcome addition to one of the few walking neighborhoods in this expansive metropolis, Mama Shelter adds some flair and fun that leads all the way up to its rooftop with 360 degree views of the Hollywood Hills, downtown L.A. skyline, and the Pacific Coast in the distance.
There’s no shortage of spectacular views from Mama Shelter’s rooftop bar. And this pulsating panorama sets the perfect backdrop for their “Sunday Sunsets” yoga series and their weekly “Screenings Under the Stars”, where guests can enjoy Hollywood classics while taking in the sweeping summer sky. But after you’ve snapped some enviable shots of those vibrant vistas of the Hollywood Hills and beyond, dive into Chef Gerard Sampson’s Mediterranean menu that is sure to send your taste buds on a trip of their own.
Where to begin with this tempting menu? Start with a sampler of Mama’s dips: the cauliflower hummus and roasted carrot hummus are my favorites. Add in the Turkish beet hummus and you have an Instagram-worthy food photo. There’s no shortage of flavor with the rooftop menu. After you’ve finished noshing on your food porn platter, taste the lamb or scallop brochettes, and don’t skip over the vegan friendly options like the Tokyo turnip and brussel sprouts. The refreshing cocktail to pair with this spicy feast: Mama’s Mediterranean Mule that blends rhubarb-infused vodka, ginger beer, and a bit of lime juice for just the right mix of sweet and sour.
Once you’re back downstairs in the rooms designed by Thierry Gaugain, a Philippe Starck protégé, there’s no shortage of kitschy toys to catch your eye. From the flirty costume masks encouraging guests to role play to suggestive sayings adorning their toiletries that you can use to clean up afterwards, Mama Shelter’s adult-friendly vibe fits right in with its Hollywood surroundings. Gaugain’s first U.S. design project is nothing short of playful, yet provocative.
When you’ve recovered from any raucous play that you can record from your room, wander down to Mama’s lobby to see the footage. If you’ve built up an appetite, indulge in Chef Sampson’s take on American diner food in their communal restaurant or sip on one of their signature drinks, all with maternal monikers inspired by Hollywood films. My personal favorite is the “Y Tu Mama Tambien”, a spicy margarita with just the right amount of almond syrup drizzle to tempt your tongue for more.
Sipping on my seductively sweet cocktail, I can see how the design evocatively elicits what hotel founder Benjamin Trigano calls an urban kibbutz. “Guests are encouraged to engage not only with the space and the neighborhood, but with each other, too.” To achieve this, Mama’s ceiling is full of scrawlings and sayings that are good conversation starters for that stranger seated at the next stool. Or test your mental agility with games at the nearby tables, and then dance to a rotation of DJs that play throughout the week. There’s no end to the clever cues coaxing hotel patrons to get the full Hollywood experience.
And to truly do that, one must seek out some music while in Hollywood. Whether you’re looking for the big club bumping electronic dance music from internationally renowned DJs or seeking out those bands that have yet to make it on the big stage, Hollywood is a destination for music lovers.
This music mecca has long been a city known for bringing the best acts to the public. It was here in Hollywood where I saw Gary Clark Jr. perform in the back lot of Jimmy Kimmel, and where my mom reminisces of seeing Led Zeppelin on their first U.S. tour back in 1969. That Led Zeppelin debut at the Whisky A Go-Go launched a generation of boomers that would lead the way for rock and roll fans for generations to come. Walking along Sunset Boulevard, I have to admit I’m a little envious of my parents and the musical acts that they saw perform here on the Sunset Strip.
Although some of these musical greats are no longer with us, their memories live on in sounds and images for those of us that are left behind. Further down Sunset Blvd., I wandered into Mr. Musichead, a gallery featuring a diverse selection of photographs of music legends like David Bowie, Prince, and Tupac. Mr. Musichead, “L.A.’s first gallery devoted exclusively to Art by and about the world’s greatest musicians”, opened in 1998 by Detroit native, Sam Milgrom.
Looking at each of the photos, I thought about how music is tied to so many of my memories. And I’m not alone. It’s a central part of our existence, dating back to the beginning of time when our ancestors made music from their natural surroundings – definitely one of the oldest art forms. I eventually stopped at a photo of Jim Morrison, a genius gone too soon, and thought about a story my dad told me about his visits to the Sunset Strip back in the 1960s.
“Back in high school, your mother and I used to cruise the strip and one thing that always stood out to me was this billboard that was completely covered with a tan cloth. Each week, there was a pair of hands that would gradually pull away some of the cloth, slowly revealing what the billboard was displaying. It was the album cover of a new band, The Doors and the album was ‘Break on Through (To the Other Side)’, their debut from 1967.”
Beginning with a bossa nova beat, it’s no wonder that this is one of my favorite Doors songs, and I’m hoping that my dad will some day bequeath that album to me. Thinking about musical influences and how the great artists always drew on what came before, I wandered through the rest of the Mr. Musichead gallery, wanting to take home half of the pieces and adorn my walls with these inspiring and incredible images.
Maybe you aren’t a photography enthusiast, and would rather call your record collection a piece of art. If so, Amoeba Music should be on your itinerary. In the center of Hollywood, right off of this famed Sunset Blvd, you can spend hours browsing the expansive collection of music, truly leaving no stone unturned to find that rare, obscure record. Amoeba, staking its claim as the “world’s largest independent record store”, houses endless rows of hard-to-find vinyl, DVDs, CDs, 45s, and other memorabilia, making it the perfect destination for the music collector. Stick around for their live events that happen nearly every night of the week and mix it up with other music fans in the heart of Hollywood’s entertainment district.
If for some strange reason you haven’t found what you’re looking for at Amoeba, the Great Rock and Roll Flea Market is hosted at downtown L.A.’s Regent Theater once a month. Just like it sounds, this monthly bazaar hosts various vendors, mostly selling vinyl, amidst artisans selling eccentric creations, all to the beat of a live DJ spinning sets of funky tunes.
It’s easy to spend hours browsing through records; I know – I’ve done it. But save some time to explore the rest of what downtown Los Angeles has to offer. You can continue your urban adventures, whether it’s a stroll through an art gallery, an evening out at one of the free Grand Performances, or a dip in one of the sexy rooftop pool parties, don’t let summer pass you by spending it completely indoors. You can do that in January, also known as “winter” in Los Angeles.
Take advantage of these balmy summer nights and enjoy a meal at one of the many al fresco dining options around town. One of my favorites is Pez Cantina, whose decor evokes a nautical mood, with varied hues of turquoise and marine-inspired details throughout the restaurant. This ideally situated restaurant, the first project of husband and wife team Chef Bret Thompson and Lucy Thompson-Ramirez, showcases a Mexican seafood-centric menu with influences from Europe and the Middle East, all places where Bret had worked during his tenure with the Patina Group. Lucy tells the story with a gleam in her eye. “We were vacationing on a little island near Loreto, Mexico – it was literally something out of a Corona commercial – and we had just enjoyed some freshly caught fish, with the juicy pico de gallo.” What stood out to Bret was the simplicity, freshness, and high quality of this seaside feast, eventually inspiring them to open Pez Cantina.
As Lucy and I mused over the intricacies of Mexican recipes like mole and chile rellenos, she highlighted the Middle Eastern flavors of pickled vegetables, earthy nuts, and succulent seafood, all of which I could taste in one of their feature mariscos menu items. The simplicity and freshness are married together in this delicious dish that combines grilled octopus with a marinated cauliflower salad, topped with light and crispy chicharron, all dressed with a spicy pomegranate walnut sauce. While savoring every morsel, Lucy pointed out that this dish is infused with muhammara, a Middle Eastern spice that Bret discovered while working in Beirut. This fusion, which Lucy calls “Mexiterranean” clearly brings together the best of Bret’s culinary travels around the world.
When Bret and Lucy travel, they’re drawn to explore different foodie destinations, leaning on recommendations from fellow travelers to take them to places like Grand Central Market, where you can try a little bit of everything that entices your palate, or they’ll sometimes seek out those trendy hot spots. When speaking of great food destinations, Lucy immediately mentions Mexico. “There’s a movement in the food and wine scene, and it’s nice to see that there is finally some international recognition of this amazing cuisine that is thousands of years old.”
Continuing with my courses, I enjoyed Pez Cantina’s spicy ahi tuna tostada, a hearty appetizer that gives your taste buds a bit of a kick, and their delicately sweet Hibiscus Berry Margarita. What I love about every dish at Pez Cantina, besides the beautiful presentation, is that each dish is unique and surprises diners with an unexpected take on Mexican cuisine. My main dish, Ahi Tuna wrapped in Smoked Bacon, was a playful mixture of textures and peppery overtones, all on a bed of roasted vegetables and cilantro mashed potatoes.
Both L.A. natives, Lucy and I talked about the resurgence of downtown Los Angeles and how it has become a cultural hub with the myriad of museums like the Broad and MOCA, the nearby arts district, and the musical centers right up the street. Whether or not you make it here in the summer, you’ll definitely find plenty to do with the endless options around every corner.
Walt Disney Concert Hall, the newest addition to the music venues that line Grand Avenue, has housed the Los Angeles Philharmonic since 2003. This architectural and acoustic masterpiece that “embodies the energy, imagination, and creative spirit of the city of Los Angeles” has since welcomed Venezuelan prodigy, Gustavo Dudamel, to a long line of talented conductors. Dudamel and the LA Phil, who won a Grammy for Best Orchestral Performance for their recording of the Brahms Symphony No. 4 in 2011, bring vigor and passion to the L.A. community through their orchestral artistry.
Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of listening to a titillating performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 in E Minor led by celebrated conductor and virtuoso violinist, Itzhak Perlman. At the post-performance reception, I was delighted to learn about Dudamel’s community outreach program, Youth Orchestra Los Angeles(YOLA), which aims to develop musicians, and a new appreciation for music, to underserved communities.
During the summer months, the L.A. Phil’s creative calendar livens up the Hollywood Bowl, until they return to Walt Disney Concert Hall for their 2016/17 season which commences in September. But don’t let that stop you from at least walking by the Concert Hall and standing in awe of Frank Gehry’s carefully crafted curves that look good from every angle.
Luckily for those who want a respite from the heat, what does run throughout the summer are the programs right across the street at the Music Center. Walking through here always brings back childhood memories of seeing musicals like Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables, or my family’s annual trip to the Nutcracker Ballet during the Christmas season.
This year marks the L.A. Opera’s 30 year anniversary, which just wrapped up with a production of La Bohème and will begin the next 30 in September with Shakespeare’s Macbeth. There’s never a shortage of programming at the Music Center. This summer, the American Ballet Theater, along with L.A. area natives Misty Copeland and Stella Abrera, will enchant us with a few performances at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. There’s also outdoor performances on the plaza, with everything from Argentine tango to electronic-fusion to liven up the plaza that overlooks Grand Park and City Hall in the distance.
Whether you’re enjoying this medley of music on the plaza or visiting the Mark Taper Forum to take in the Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Disgraced, the ideal location to enjoy a meal before or after your Music Center escapades is Kendall’s Brasserie and Bar. Located conveniently at street level, Kendall’s offers traditional French brasserie cuisine, all orchestrated by Chef Jean Pierre Bosc, who brings with him a depth of culinary expertise honed in France, London, the Caribbean, and here in Los Angeles.
Chef Bosc draws on his extensive training with star chefs from all over France, including Jean Paul Lacombe, Yann Jacquot, and Michel Chabran from his home region in the south, as well as his tenure as a restaurateur here in Los Angeles as the former owner of critically acclaimed Mimosa to “remind our guests that eating should first and foremost be a pleasure.”
And what a pleasure it is. While I’ve been to Kendall’s many times and thoroughly enjoyed the brasserie classics like moules frites provençal and steak frites, on my most recent visit I took the recommendation of Chef Bosc and tried some of the more experimental dishes that truly highlight his culinary background. After sampling a platter of cheeses that included an aptly named “Saint Angel” brie, I was served the Skuna Bay salmon. Chef Bosc prepares this dish sous vide, a method that ensures each mouthful is marvelous. “I love to use this technique because it controls the temperature and guarantees that your fish will be perfectly cooked every time.” This skillfully prepared salmon dances together with a balanced medley of asparagus, leeks, Meyer lemon confit, piquillo pepper, and Castelvetrano olives, sending your mouth into a state of bliss.
I recommend allowing enough time to enjoy every gastronomic gem that Chef Bosc sends your way. Each and every bite is delectable – and not to be rushed. So if you’re trying to make that evening show, do as my aunt does and book your reservations the minute you buy your show tickets to get those ideal times to savor the entire experience. Or just come and sample their oyster bar during happy hour or partake in their nightly prix fixe menu. Whenever you visit Kendall’s, you’re sure to leave perfectly satiated.
Of course this experience wouldn’t be quite the quintessential French fare without a nod to a culture that sets the bar extremely high for superb, and skillfully prepared, desserts. Scanning the menu, I was pleased to see île flottante amongst the other tempting selections. Having only had it one other time at Bofinger in Paris years ago, it was quite a treat to relish every bite of this delicate meringue floating on a bed of crème anglaise, piled high with caramelized almonds. It’s enough to make anyone swoon.
Sitting amongst Toulouse-Lautrec inspired images, my family and I reminisced about our favorite performances, with my mother sharing the time when I met the Phantom backstage after a performance, and my shocked expression when meeting him unmasked. As we sat there and mused over our favorite performances, and the ones that we’re looking forward to, I felt so grateful for these memories and the gift of music appreciation that they all instilled in me at a young age.
Heading out into the breezy summer evening, I made my way to a preview of Los Angeles’ tallest building that has now added an open-air observation deck appropriately called Skyspace. Sitting atop the 70th floor of the U.S. Bank building, this dynamic experience offers 360 degree views of the cityscape far below. Skyspace presents Los Angeles with a modern design with first class vendors for your next event, and of course an unparalleled point of view for your guests. If you’ve got an extreme fear of heights, also known as “acrophobia”, then maybe it’s better to just take in the interactive technology displays on the 54th floor. There’s no windows, so you won’t be reminded how far above ground level you really are when you see the skyline below.
But if you’re brave enough to head to the top of this building that currently holds the title of “tallest building in the world with a helipad on top”, it’s worth the wait. The highlight of your visit will definitely be the adrenaline-boosting Skyslide, which sends you down a glass slide on the outside, yes outside, of the building. You’re enclosed as you quickly glide down to the 69th floor, but that doesn’t make it any less thrilling. Just try not to look down as you step inside!
Walking around the perimeter of the lounge, I was careful not to step too close to the edge, worried that it might deter me from actually going down the slide. Staring down at the Biltmore, the Central Library, and nearby Pershing Square, my knees became a little wobbly and I backed up to take in more of this expansive view. You can literally see all of the city: the maze of freeways, the hovering helicopters, the staggering skyscrapers, and sprawling suburbs beyond. As I took it all in, and let my heart rate return to normal, I was glad that I completed this daring 15 second adventure. It’s truly a unique feeling. You feel like you’re on top of the world, when in fact you are.
I knew my money was well spent on the London Rock Walk tour when our British guide made the controversial statement about how rock ‘n’ roll started in the U.S. Before leaving our meeting spot near Tottenham Station, our guide, Richard, proceeded to tell us the story of Vince Taylor and the Playboys, his move to California, his move back to London, all while weaving in stories of Chuck Berry, Bill Haley and the Comets, and other rock ‘n’ roll forefathers. Richard, who I imagined could probably weave a good ghost story around the campfire, kept us on the edge of our seats while we wandered through London’s musical landmarks to his soundtrack of storybook snippets about the Rolling Stones, the Sex Pistols, Elton John, The Who, and other musical greats.
Passing through Tin Pan Alley, our group eagerly listened as Richard deftly told how the war, the end of compulsory military service, and school regulations had shaped music history and the bands that had come out of Britain during that era. Circling back to his opening character, Vince Taylor, Richard told the tragic tale of Taylor’s demise into drugs and alcohol, and his relationship with David Bowie. By far it was my favorite anecdote, probably because the main character shares my father’s name, but also because I was nearly in tears as Richard shared how their friendship inspired the famous song “Ziggy Stardust”.
Not wanting the tour to end, our group wrapped up with a lively question and answer session at Carnaby Street. At nearby Camellia’s Tea House, a few of us enjoyed that English tradition of afternoon tea and compared notes on all that we had heard on the Rock Walk tour. Sipping on a pot of handmade “Dancing Rose and Violet” tea, I enjoyed buttery scones, with a medley of clotted cream, lemon curd, and the most perfectly sweet raspberry jam.
After wandering through the shops on Carnaby Street, I took the tube over to Camden. Coming up to the street, I was met with rows of stores selling rock-inspired clothes, pins, signs, and vintage wares. Not knowing which direction to go, I wandered towards The Regent’s Park and dipped into No Hit Records. Searching for a portable souvenir for my brother, I spent some time flipping through their extensive punk collection and left with a couple of records based on the clerk’s recommendations. Not wanting to leave this gem of a music shop, I asked him where to go that night and he recommended checking out the Melbourne Ska Orchestra that was playing nearby at The Forge.
Inspired by the previous day’s rock ‘n’ roll history lesson, I made my way over to Abbey Road. Getting a bit lost in the neighborhood, I wandered down a side street where I came upon an antique mall. Hoping to get directions from one of the antique dealers, I wandered through countless booths of art, jewelry, and enough treasures to make me wish I had brought another suitcase. My favorite shop was a second floor room full of light fixtures; enough to make any interior designer swoon.
Weaving along, I learned that this marvelous place I had stumbled upon was known as Alfie’s Antiques. I had a chance to talk with one of the antique dealers who pointed me towards the famous music landmark with his parting words: “don’t get hit by a car!” Thanking him for his guidance and his tips on what else to see in the area, I realized I had spent over an hour browsing through the booths, so I took a break at the rooftop cafe. A gorgeous summer sky greeted me, as I enjoyed a refreshingly chilled pea soup and crunchy housemade bread.
Eager to reach my destination, I followed the store owner’s directions and headed up the street til I saw throngs of people dodging car horns. Watching groups of families and friends reenact the famous Beatles’ cover for the eponymous album, I snapped some pictures of Abbey Road studio and waited my turn. Nearly getting hit a couple of times, I quickly made my way across the street and inspected the pictures taken by my newfound friends. After returning the favor, I spliced together a few of my photos for an amateur replica of the world famous record cover.
My next stop was Fine Cell Work, a non-profit organization that trains prisoners in skilled needlework and handicrafts. After learning about their “trunk show” from Time Out London, I knew that I had to stop by for a peek at their boutique in Victoria. Once inside their small showroom, I had a chance to browse through hand-embroidered quilts, needlepoint pillows, and even some larger pieces like custom ottomans. Dominic, one of Fine Cell’s volunteer staff, shared some of the history of Fine Cell, how their program has helped over 400 incarcerated men and women learn a new skill, and anecdotes from their volunteers who conduct on-site needlework classes at prisons all over England and Wales. While we compared ideas on everything from prison reform to the lost art of handicrafts, Dominic helped me choose a pillow with the Union Jack emblem-a quintessential British souvenir.
Leaving the Fine Cell boutique, I wandered up the street and did the obligatory walk by the popular British landmarks Buckingham Palace and Big Ben, all while marveling at the lush greenery of the parks in between. My next stop was The Old Spitalfields Market to visit the studio of Joshua Kane Bespoke. I first learned of this gifted menswear designer while viewing the Rude Boy exhibit at Somerset House earlier in the week. Finding his site on Instagram, it turned out Joshua’s flagship store was right near where I was staying. Beckoned by the signature brass necklace I saw on his site, I paid a visit to his shop and luckily had a chance to meet Joshua right before he was closing for the night. An animated mix of dandy and dapper, Joshua was a true gentleman and showed me around his studio, while giving me a little history on his career as a designer and tailor. Boxing up my necklace, he offered tips on where to go in London that night and some must-see spots for my next visit.
Making my way to dinner, I stopped in Rough Trade Records, because one can never visit enough record stores! In absolute bliss, I paced through rows of vinyl, read some staff recommendations, and heard a sneak peek of Led Zeppelin’s highly anticipated release of their reissue campaign. I eventually reunited with friends for a farewell dinner at Dishoom in Shoreditch. Having already enjoyed lunch here earlier in the week, I knew what to expect from this mouthwatering Bombay inspired cuisine. Taking some recommendations from our server, we dined on the most exquisitely assembled dinner, perfectly presented for sharing. Of course my favorite was the Black Dahl, their signature dish that’s simmered for over 24 hours and had me wishing I lived nearby. Relishing each bite of this spicy and savory cuisine, my friends and I shared stories from the day and ideas on how to get me across the pond for another visit.