LOS ANGELES — There was a moment early on a recent overnight trip with my husband when I feared that our budget-minded, low-expectation getaway was headed in a dangerous direction. We had just checked into our $99 weekend special room at the Hotel Inter-Continental in downtown L.A. There was a king-size bed. There was a remote-controlled TV. And there was a Yankees-Indians playoff game in progess. My husband was stretched out on the bed, and I realized the trip would probably be a success for him if he could merely watch the game in peace. (Our 3-year-old son has a lot of questions about baseball.) And for me, there are days when $99 seems a small price to pay for a decent nap.
But we had better things to do. We were here to experience the cultural life of downtown L.A. Like many parents of small children, we don't get away for the weekend often. So we set out to do as much as we could in exactly 24 hours, and we kept our plans modest. We simply wanted to get away from the kids for a night; see some shows; luxuriate in hotel-room peace, quiet and complimentary bubble bath; speak to each other without interruptions--and keep the bottom line reasonable.
The centerpiece of our getaway was a Saturday night performance of the hit Broadway musical "Rent," playing until Jan. 18 at the Music Center's Ahmanson Theater. Set in the modern-day bohemia of the Lower East Side, it has been called the best rock musical since "Hair."
I called around for a weekend special hotel rate. The Omni's $99 deal entitled you to free cocktails, evening coffee and pastries and a continental breakfast offered in a special suite on a "club" floor; we were told they will put you in a room on the club floors if they have space. The Biltmore Hotel's least expensive rate was $135 for room, parking and continental breakfast. The downtown Hyatt Regency had a $95 special (only available if it has space) that didn't include parking; its rate for the club floor is $120.
We decided on the Inter-Continental ($99 per night including parking, $129 for "club" status) for its location, which is right across a courtyard from the Museum of Contemporary Art. We could walk to the museum, the Music Center and restaurants that stayed open over the weekend.
We checked in at about 3:45 p.m. Saturday and received a voucher for a complimentary cocktail as part of our package. Our room on the 14th floor had a fairly standard layout, but it was good size, nicely decorated in calming sage greens and taupes and well-appointed.
We headed over to MOCA to get in some gallery time before its 5 p.m. Saturday closing. The main exhibit that weekend was Jeff Wall's cinematic photography, but opening that night was "Timepieces: Selected Highlights From the Permanent Exhibition, 1945-1975." We were able to wander through this overview of postwar American art, from Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline to Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg to Mark Rothko and Brice Marden. Shortly before 5 we were herded out by museum guards and repaired to our room to prepare for our evening on the town, downtown.
In the interest of economy, we chose the California Pizza Kitchen in the Wells Fargo Building across Grand Avenue. We had pasta and red wine and enjoyed the absence of kids' menus and crayons. We knew not to expect trattoria cuisine, but we expected decent food for a price. And we counted on the familiar Pizza Kitchen efficiency to get to the theater on time. On this night it failed us. We were there for half an hour before anyone even brought us water and salads. Rushing to pay the check at 7:45, we then had to speed-walk down Grand three long blocks to the Music Center. Whew. We just made it.
Suddenly we were immersed in cultural dissonance: a predominantly middle-age and sportjacketed California audience watching young, broke hipsters belting out the pain and joys of the artistic life in AIDS-era lower Manhattan. At $70 a ticket, you try to go with it. Most did, to witness the standing ovation at the curtain. We emerged into the crush of the Music Center Plaza, where the added Mark Taper Forum and Philharmonic audiences helped create that reassuring sense of critical mass downtown at night. Once through the crowd, we were alone again until we reached the hotel.
Back at our hotel, we took our complimentary drink coupon to the Angel's Flight Bar and had a martini on the moonlit terrace overlooking the California Plaza. A convention at the hotel had packed the inside bar, and we were glad to sit outside in the quiet of one of those little-known downtown spaces to talk about how old "Rent" made us feel.
The next morning I rose early and went for a walk, hoping to combine a little exercise with a mission to get coffee and bagels or muffins. But all of the Pasquas and Starbucks and bagelterias and delis that serve the California Plaza/Wells Fargo workers so well during the week are shuttered on Sunday.