The big decision about Los Angeles is where? It’s not like London, where everywhere is basically here unless you’re staying in Catford or Romford or Ilford or one of the other ‘ford’s. If you find yourself in the wrong bit of LA, you’ll be in $25 Ubers the whole time. Like the whole time.
For years it was all about West Hollywood. It’s what you think of as LA. Hollywood Hills as a backdrop, Sunset Boulevard running through it (mind you, that mother is so long it runs through most places), Selling Sunset offices right in the middle of it. The old-school gay bars are down on a couple of blocks on Santa Monica as are Lisa ‘Real Housewives’ Vanderpump’s empire of gay, semi-gay and pseudo-gay bars and restaurants. But is it cool anymore?
Yes. But not as cool as Downtown – or the Downtown Arts District as the old centre of town has been rebranded, no doubt by the kind of people who work in the Oppenheim offices of Selling Sunset. Yes, it’s grungy but it’s edgy. Yes there’s a huge homeless problem but it’s also very diverse. Yes, the office blocks look like Downtown Anywhere In The Whole Wide World but then there’s the Walt Disney Concert Hall by Frank Gehry, which doesn’t look like anything anywhere (OK, maybe a bit like the Gehry Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao) and the turquoise Art Deco Eastern Colombia Building – arguably the most beautiful building in LA. But no arguing! – and the new-ish The Broad modern art museum, which is like a greatest hits of every bit of modern art you were ever interested in from Warhol through Koons to Cindy Sherman.
Dover Street Market, Acne Studios, Paul Smith, a brand new Apple store inside a classic Downtown building, NeueHouse Bradbury (a private members’ club that has been called one of the most thrilling buildings in all America), even Soho House has got in on the act with Soho Warehouse, a huge outpost of the famous London-based private members’ club. Names, sweetie, names.
Even the gay scene here is different from WeHo, where you could be in Miami or Birmingham or anywhere they play wall-to-wall Dua Lipa. Here it’s older yet younger, scratchier but funkier and, again, very diverse: one of the most popular gay bars, the New Jalisco, is Latinx.
And with this new edgy, arty vibe has come a crop of edgy, arty hotels, none edgier or artier than the brand new Proper, a San Francisco-originated group that’s just starting to spread. Right on Broadway (not very much like the New York Broadway) in the shadow of some of those skyscrapers but right opposite an altogether more interesting Mexican-looking Herald Examiner building, which means there’s light and, in the thick of some of that classic LA deco, it’s a short jump from most of the spots listed above, even if you do that jump in a $7 Uber (that’s the minimum).
Walk in and you already have their mission statement of ‘delivering culturally relevant and enriching experiences through iconic design’ right there in your face, with Kelly Wearstler doing the iconic design bit, all orchestrated by staff so genial and fun you’ll want some to take home. Proper pride themselves on finding fantastically stylish historic buildings and the lobby – modest, because of the historic juxtaposition thing – is painted wall-through-ceiling with what look like Mexican folk stories framed by giant cactuses. You’re Instagramming already.
To the left is Caldo Verde, one of two eat ’n’ drink options, with a menu that blends Portuguese flavours and Californian sensibilities in surroundings that showcase about as much history as this part of town has to offer in its classic tiles and stained-glass windows. Your other option, Cara Cara, is if anything more spectacular in that it’s mostly open-air and up on the roof with views across Downtown. The vibe is laid-back, the kind of place you end up spending the whole afternoon, maybe with a little dip in the Jacuzzi and a lie on the sunbeds in between rounds, making friends and finding lovers, maybe by the fire pit if there’s a breeze.
When it comes to rooms, they’re cosy and homey, if your home is impeccably designed with natural textures and Aesop products in the bathroom, that is. And details, everywhere. You’ll just want, like, everything. One of the two superstar Especially Proper suites (we love a play on words) is made out of an old basketball court, the other a disused indoor pool – the place used to be a members club in the 1930s – so homey doesn’t mean small at Proper, not in any way.
LGBTQ visitors will always want to go to West Hollywood – of course they will – but if you feel you’ve been there and done that, or you want to shake up your LA visit and really see a different side to the gym bunnies and bar-flies, then it’s all about Downtown. And if it’s all about Downtown, then it’s all about Proper Downtown LA… and there’s no getting away from that.