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To Sleep, Perchance to Scream

March 23, 1997|--Michael Walker

Dressed in an impeccably tailored business suit, Michael Koffler, general manager of the Hyatt on the Sunset Strip, backs down a hallway on the hotel's 10th floor. Thick artificial smoke chokes the air. Shuffling before Koffler is a gaggle of local travel writers who stop whenever he does.

Koffler stops.

"This floor is rather steeped in history," Koffler says, glancing at a card tucked in his left hand. "Room 1015 at the end of the hall is where Keith Richards hung out over the balcony and drew something of a crowd."

The travel writers stare blankly.

To Koffler's left, through an open door garlanded with love beads, Aimee Thomas, the hotel's front office manager, sprawls on a mattress on the floor of a darkened room, waving the peace sign. "I'm a '60s/'70s girl," she says. Across the hall, Peter Frega, a hotel concierge dressed in a leather jacket and snarled mane, sits on the edge of a bed thrumming an electric guitar. A beer keg and overturned Jack Daniels bottle litter the floor. Tami Schroeder and Tammy Rynveld, who work the front desk, hover in leather minis, black lace and big hair. "Eighties room," Rynveld shouts over Guns N' Roses' "Welcome to the Jungle."

Koffler backs down the hall some more.

"True story: We actually had a member of Led Zeppelin bring a Harley-Davidson through the lobby, into an elevator, and ride it down this hall. And in 1986, Axl Rose was barbecuing steaks out on the balcony. After he set off the smoke detectors and we had a few Fire Department people roll around, he decided he didn't want to grill steaks anymore and threw them to the crowd that had gathered outside."

Koffler stops. The travel writers stop. Down the hall, Frega bellows: "We need more towels!"

The Hyatt on Sunset opened in 1958 as the Gene Autry Hotel. Sold in 1966 and renamed the Continental Hyatt House, it became L.A.'s unofficial innkeeper for traveling bands and earned a richly deserved reputation for anarchy, along with the sobriquet "Riot House." Last year, goaded by the Sunset Strip's revival and, presumably, the $10-million renovation of the nearby Mondrian, Hyatt signed a 10-year lease extension on the property and sank $3.5 million into renovations. Now, with most of the rooms redone in muted contempo decor, the rechristened Hyatt West Hollywood was hosting a coming-out party that deliberately invoked the sex-and-drugs misadventures of its former clientele, complete with dioramas of scuzzy, property-damaging decadence that would not, Koffler admits, be tolerated today.

So if the old Riot House is as dead as Jim Morrison, who may or may not have dangled from one of the hotel's textured-concrete balconies, was this event its wake? Or did it announce instead that yet another totem of rock 'n' roll was now officially memorabilia, fixed in the same weird amber as Woodstock and Morrison, ready for repackaging and exploitation?

"You know," says Frega, who's worked at the hotel for two decades, "they tried to hold down the reputation for so many years. And they finally just said: 'Go with the flow.' You couldn't do that if it hadn't changed. It's a totally different hotel now." Frega plucks his prop guitar. Tami and Tammy flit nearby. Axl Rose's howl shakes the walls. "We still get music people who come through," Frega shrugs, "but they don't do stuff like they did in the '60s and '70s."

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