Monday, March 24, 2008

The NY Times Catches Up With My Groundbreaking Trend of Staying in Cheap LA Hotels

Hey, this guy sounds a lot like me:
There was a time, on my frequent trips to the West Coast, when I used to stay at chic West Hollywood hotels, in rooms furnished with designer bottled waters, vinyl beanbag chairs and all manner of pay-per-view television entertainments. Each morning I proudly strode past fitness rooms, spas and barbershops I never visited, and each night I went to bed contentedly knowing that the hotel bar was packed with the sorts of people who would never give me the time of day.

Now, though, with the slumping economy, such sumptuous amenities are as much a relic of the past as the Brown Derby restaurant. Now when I travel to the West Coast, my center of gravity is shifted miles to the east, away from Sunset Boulevard to a far less alluring side of Los Angeles. I can usually be found at one of several low-cost motels in the city’s Koreatown and Thai Town neighborhoods, where the 101 meets Western Avenue and where glamorous expectation meets economic reality.

I know, reporting on the Travelodge as some sort of post-ironic hipster discovery is kind of ridiculous, but I've had the same experience. Bootie LA brings me down maybe once every couple months, and my hipster lodging of choice was the Standard Downtown. Rates there used to be as low as $119 a night, booked online with enough advance warning, and I felt like a rock star, with the Holzer in the lobby and Jose Gonzalez on the stereo on the roof deck. The minimalist rooms were just my style, and upon returning from the DJ gig, half-drunk, at 3:30am, room service was always available with a very tasty burger and fries. Granted, I was usually spending about as much on the whole deal as I was making at the gigs, but whatever, it was a vacation, right?

But things change. First, no longer having the disposable income of my good old LIVE 105 job means budget concerns are paramount; second, rates at the hotel seem to rarely go below $200/night these days; and third, I've stayed a couple non-hipster places and they're really not so bad. My discount hotel of choice is currently the Comfort Inn Sunset, and at about $90/night, it's not like it's free, but I'm saving money on a whole bunch of other things: parking, for one, which is free, and secured, under the hotel, and late-night room service, whose absence forces me to grab a tasty burrito at one of the late-night joints down the street rather than spend $25 on a burger. The rooms are recently renovated, and while the lights all use the worst, flickery fluorescent bulbs, it's pleasant enough, and the times I've stayed there my room faced the building next door, so no street noise from Sunset.

While I've done some work at the desk like the NY Times guy (and utilized the free wifi), part of the appeal for me is that the no-frills room really urges one to get out on the town. The hotel's location a quick drive from Silverlake means tons of cool restaurants and shops are right nearby, and of course Bootie LA at the Echo is just a few blocks the other direction. Since there's no waiting for a dipshit model-turned-valet to get your rental car, heading out is pretty easy.

I'll be interested to see if the Hollywood-area resurgence (a new W hotel is going in right at Hollywood and Vine) will trickle down to the more budget-minded hipster, and we'll see hotels spring up that are no-frills but, you know, cool. I've always lamented that the fantastic Ace Hotel in Seattle (and now Portland) doesn't have a location in every city: while some people might be put off by the hostel-like "bathrooms down the hall" concept, those bathrooms are spotless, like minimalist white labs, and there's a whole row of them -- I never had to wait, ever, and never felt weird about it. These rooms are still just $99/night. But hey, their website says they're opening new Aces in New York and Palm Springs; I'll be interested to see if they keep the low-price but high-style concept. In the meantime, hello, Comfort Inn across from the donuts-and-Thai-food place!


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