Steps from the bustling Sunset Strip in West Hollywood lies the Sunset Marquis Hotel, a hidden haven for Hollywood’s elite.
From the outside, it’s hard to imagine the Sunset Marquis played host to decades of decadence and debauchery.
Its inconspicuous entrance, near the end of a dead-end street, is marked only by a cream-colored awning, which looks more like it belongs in front of a New York City apartment building than a trendy L.A. hotel. But pass through the front reception and out into the main courtyard, and you’ll see signs of paradise beckoning beyond the main pool and over a wooden footbridge with colorful koi swimming beneath.
What’s immediately apparent is the lack of L.A. attitude. Everyone is friendly, from Preston the bellman to Francois Martin, the manager from the South of France, who is gregarious and convivial, and sends fresh watermelon juice and a chilled fruit plate to revive us on an unusually sweltering day.
Built in 1963, the Sunset Marquis was the vision of real estate developer George Rosenthal, who turned his attention to the property at 1200 Alto Loma Drive after he and business partner Hugh Hefner considered, then subsequently turned down, a $12 million dollar loan from Jimmy Hoffa to build a Playboy club and hotel not far away.
Rosenthal modeled the Sunset Marquis after the Garden of Allah, a lush West Hollywood mansion-turned-apartment building that housed a veritable who’s-who of the entertainment industry from the late 1920s to 1945.
Because of its proximity to famous Sunset Boulevard music clubs like the Roxy and Whiskey a Go Go, the Marquis immediately garnered the attention of rock stars and their entourages. Every big act stayed there: Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, Bob Marley, Aerosmith. Punk band Green Day was thrown out and banned from the hotel on three separate occasions (once for throwing furniture off the balcony), then always invited back later by the management.
Now comprising more than four acres, the Sunset Marquis has 154 suites and villas, a restaurant and a full-service spa. The property is a series of sprawling buildings, connected by meandering verdant paths flanked by grass and tall tropical trees. Our junior villa, on the second story, is spacious and tasteful. The front door opens into a living area with a balcony that faces the tree-lined inner courtyard. There’s a small dining area with marble table top, wet bar, mini bar (with those exasperating electronic sensors) and a separate fridge for guests’ own goodies.
In the relatively compact bedroom is a king-sized bed with a flat-screen TV. A second balcony looks out onto a residential street behind the Sunset Strip. The spacious bathroom has a standalone tub and separate shower, with delectable Molton Brown amenities.
The room is quiet and luxurious, but does show signs of its checkered past. A small chunk of marble out of the bathroom floor, and what appears to be fingernail marks scratched into the vinyl headboard make us wonder what might have transpired between prior guests.
One of the newest additions to the Sunset Marquis is the spa, which was built in 2008. Spa director Hina Mufti says because of the unusual hours some of their clientele keep, services are available around the clock. Four treatment rooms are self-contained suites, with a toilet, shower and treatment area. Automatic adjustable tables are designed by Porsche, and offer a wide range of adjustability for ultimate comfort. The friendly atmosphere is evident here, too, where Mufti says everyone is treated like family, regardless of their celebrity status.
The spa has a comprehensive menu, but perhaps the best treatments are those customized specifically for the guest’s individual needs, like the massage designed to help sniffling musicians (whether from a cold or something self-inflicted) soothe and repair strained vocal cords. Special treatments also vary with the season.
Although we were heading into fall, the sweltering heat in LA called for a summer scrub and massage. Our skilled therapist massaged a sugar-based, pomegranate-scented scrub onto our body, wrapped us in cool sheets and let us rest a few minutes. We rinsed off under the waterfall showerhead and proceeded to receive a luxurious massage with a matching pomegranate-scented body butter. Not only were we relaxed, our skin felt baby soft and moisturized.
We also enjoyed a comprehensive and thorough mani-pedi, complete with scrub and moisture mask, using the spa’s signature coco-vanilla scent, paraffin treatment and massage. Nail polish options include the usual OPI and Essie selection, but also a wide range of shades from Butter London, a British cosmetics company that formulates its products without formaldehyde, toluene, DBP, phthalates or parabens. Not only did we look fabulous, but we felt uplifted and refreshed by the staff’s friendly and pampering demeanor.
In the restaurant, Cavatina, where we ate lunch and dinner, food was good, fresh and mostly straightforward. We particularly liked the tuna tartar appetizer with avocado mousse, and a refreshing heirloom tomato gazpacho. We were glad to see the salmon on the menu was wild-caught. The only hitch was dessert, where the staff seemed confused about whether a flourless chocolate cake was gluten free.
Perhaps the coolest thing about the Sunset Marquis is the full-service recording studio in the hotel’s basement. Originally a laundry room sealed off by thick walls and a heavy door, management started sending boisterous musicians down to the washing machines for late-night jam sessions when other guests would complain. Now, it’s a full-blown production facility, known as Night Bird Studios, with multiple recording rooms, two grand pianos and a host of both vintage and state-of-the-art equipment, including one-of-a-kind handmade microphones and a screening room. Angelo Caputo and company are there nearly 24/7, at the ready for both pre-booked and impromptu recording sessions.
Although the Sunset Marquis is a well-known playground of the stars, its low-profile location, top-rate amenities and discreet staff make you feel as if you’ve discovered one of LA’s biggest secrets. Even if you’re not a rock star, the Sunset Marquis is the perfect place to pretend you are — as long as you don’t throw furniture off the balcony.