The Mondrian Hotel in Los Angeles doesn't have a sign. Look around all you want, scour every inch of its Sunset Strip facade, but you won't find a single letter of recognition that this is indeed the famous Mondrian.
The thinking behind this omission is simple: if you don't know where the Mondrian Hotel is, then you shouldn't be staying at the Mondrian Hotel.
This is, after all, a haunt for the famous. It's also a haunt for the used-to-be-famous, the wannabe-famous, and the never-will-be-famous. It's a hotel that attracts a certain clientele, but also those wishing to rub shoulders with that clientele, a place to see as much as be seen.
Fortunately, those celebrities and their admirers come with a stunning backdrop: Los Angeles. The Mondrian's position at the base of the Hollywood Hills affords it a commanding view of the place that has shaped its history and its present.
The city is always there, shimmering in the background as you perch on a hotel sun-lounger and sip on a cocktail. It fades into a sea of lights as the sun goes down and the action at Skybar heats up. Sometimes the city is a golden poster on the bedroom walls; other times it invades your cocooned world.
There's a scream from outside my room one night, a piercing yell that's soon joined by more, and more. I peel back the curtain and stare down to the street below, tried to find the source of the noise. There I spot a group of teenagers crowded outside the House of Blues, the famed music venue next door. One of the artists playing tonight has just pulled up in a limo - the kids are going crazy, running towards the car.
You get the feeling that the Mondrian, however, is giving a collective shrug. Famous people? No big deal.
There's a well-known band staying at the hotel tonight, although none of the staff will divulge which one.
All evening actors and entertainment types have been floating in and out of Herringbone, the hotel's lavishly refurbished restaurant, pushing dishes like king crab pappardelle and roasted pork belly around the plate. They've come to drink at the iconic Skybar. They've come to dance and flirt next door.
The regular hotel guests, meanwhile, get caught in the flow, seduced by rich food and strong drinks and the sight of those they think they might recognise.
The Mondrian has undergone something of a reimagining of late. Its outside walls were once covered in a mural of bright geometric shapes, a homage to the modern artist Piet Mondrian, the hotel's namesake - now they're an unembellished white.
The interior, designed by Philippe Starck, has been given a new flourish by Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz, helping the Mondrian claim its place among the Sunset Strip's rock star glitterati, the likes of the Chateau Marmont, the Standard, the Sunset Tower and the Grafton.
There's a feeling of whimsical theatricality to the Mondrian now, something you feel from the moment you pull up outside its unmarked doors. Those doors are several storeys tall and have huge oversized handles - an introduction to the Alice in Wonderland theme awaiting inside. There are huge pot plants in the lobby; an orange-tinted mirror; a couch in the shape of a crucifix; and long curtains to hide the regularity of the outside world. Curtains, too, hide the space in the middle of the foyer. What's behind them?
"Nothing," a staff member laughs. "Just a wall. The curtains are there to make you wonder."
The hotel rooms, also designed by Noriega-Ortiz, boast a similar mixture of class and quirk. While they're set in basic black and white, including diaphanous curtains and sparkling chandeliers, each room also has a bright orange "looking glass", a pole-mounted mirror that conceals a flatscreen TV. One minute it's a mirror, the next it's a TV. This makes complete sense: everyone in Hollywood wants to see themselves on TV.
The rooms are plush and comfortable, but you don't come to the Mondrian to hang around in your room all night. Not when downstairs there's the Skybar, perhaps the Sunset Strip's most famous modern-day drinking establishment. Bar Marmont is just down the road; the Viper Room and the Roxy are down the other end of the street. But Skybar is where it's at.
Skybar isn't just about the pool, and the wooden deck, and the sun-loungers. It's not just about the cocktail bar, or the fresh new design, or the DJs playing after dark. It's mostly about that view, the huge expanse of LA, all the way to the palm-studded beach at Santa Monica, sprawled out before it.
As the sun sets over the ocean in Los Angeles, there's no other place you'd rather be. It's all so LA: the palm trees, the swimsuited guests, the drinks waitresses, the decadent air of excess.
Later, it's time to move into the restaurant, Herringbone, another artfully designed space with stark white tables, bronzed, fake whale-bone chandeliers and views across that blanket of sparkling lights. Herringbone is the brainchild of celebrity pan rattler and former Top Chef winner Brian Malarkey, a man who likes his food hearty.
There's no dainty movie starlet cuisine here - we're talking about whole fish ceviche, live sea urchin, lobster thermador, roasted pork belly, or bone marrow and clams.
After a meal like that, it's all you can do to roll yourself out the door and back over to Skybar, where a cocktail awaits, where the movie stars and their wannabes await, where that view of LA awaits.
It's the city of dreams. You might as well live it.
The writer stayed as a guest of the Mondrian Los Angeles.
STAYING THERE The Mondrian Los Angeles has standard double rooms from US$279 (NZ$321.9) a night. The hotel also offers eight other categories of room, culminating in the penthouse, which costs from US$5000 (NZ$5769) a night. See morganshotelgroup.com.
MORE INFORMATION discoverlosangeles.com.
- FFX Aus