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Fit to a T

W is a sleek bar on the scene where guests can talk and be heard over the music.

August 31, 2000|DIANNE BATES | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

At some point in the last 20 years club conversation degenerated into a shrillscream in a dance-choked room. After-hours liaisons were arranged by miming.

I'm happy to announce that patrons at W actually talk to each other. On a Wednesday night, when everyone else is home watching the last "Survivor" episode, the appealing redo of the Westwood Marquis is filled with interesting people engaged in spirited conversations. I know. I'm listening.

The guy next to me is watching his digital footage of the Democratic convention on a tiny Sony player surrounded by a couple of critical females. Over near the huge glass-and-wood Japanese folding screen two professor-types are peppering their witty repartee with snatches of foreign phrases. The restaurant, Mojo, is filled, and the bar seats are all occupied by lively hipsters.

Strains of nuevo-Cuban music accompany but never overwhelm the infectious communicating. Outside in a garden lanai area, the end-of-the-sunset crowd enjoys food and drink at the Mojito bar while lounging around the pool in overstuffed chairs. In one of the Internet-equipped poolside cabanas, two earnest and slightly disheveled young men peck away at their laptop screenplay.

Clearly, W has landed in the right spot. The hotel is conveniently located for Westside digitypes, cyberheads, entertainmentindustry-professionals (yes, it's starting to be one word), UCLA students and faculty--most anyone who formerly made Hollywood a destination for classy night crawling.

While Randy Gerber and Ian Schrager duke it out up on Sunset Boulevard, 39-year-old Barry Sternlicht is stealing some of their local glow. Five years ago Sternlicht, CEO of Starwood Hotels and Resorts, started creating his W hotels. There are now 10 in the United States, with Sydney and Hawaii locations in the works.

Targeting Entertainment Industry Professionals

According to Teresa Holden, director of sales and marketing, Sternlicht is targeting all those entertainment industry professionals--a sweeping group that seems to encompass everyone from starving screenwriters to wealthy entrepreneurs.

"And this is a good place to come for those up-and-coming people in the entertainment industry who want to look better off than they really are," Holden says. Presumably, John Travolta's recent late-night visit was for a different reason.

General Manager Albert Charbonneau, who managed L'Orangerie for seven years, says Starwood Hotels even hired a former set designer--Dayna Lee--to put the L.A. stamp on W. The lobby and restaurant have a grand scale to them. The mirrors and long draped curtains are a bit Cecil B. DeMille yet soften the angular modern design. Ultrasuede stools and couches look appealing under low mood lighting broken up by high-intensity spots. Board games help to break that singles ice. Chess is a classy conversation starter, you betcha!

At the backlighted stairway at the entrance, water cascades down the Frank Lloyd Wright-style steps, under glass, of course. Whether a tribute to Fallingwater or not, the overall effect is of walking on water, a comfortable place to be for those industry types, n'est ce pas?

Chef Jason Segal offers up nuevo-Latin cuisine and finds a way to include tequila in both an oyster shooter and an ice cream float. Menu items range from $5 to $55, with entrees in the mid-$20s. Draft beer is $5, wine is $8 to $12, but tequila is also the bar's specialty. So many varieties. So little time. Cocktails are served by tall women-with-stories dressed in long black pleather pants and '50s-style black tunic/bustiers. Tattoos abound.

The hotel's sound system self-adjusts to the crowd noise level. Classic jazz and soul provide the background on weeknights but when the place is crowded on weekends the music is mostly "drinking alternative"--louder, but still not deafening. So far, the weekend traffic and lines of limos haven't caused a stir on the quiet residential street, and that's the way the hotel likes it. Take note, greedy Hollywood valet services: parking at the W costs just $4 for three hours.

Another concession to sleepy Hilgard Avenue is that the outside pool bar closes at 10 weeknights and 11 p.m. on weekends. The precautions hardly seem necessary. The W crowd is composed of smartly dressed (no jeans or sneakers on weekends), amiable people who have arrived. Or want to appear so.

The W is a scrumptious, sleek, don't-call-us-a-club addition to an awakening Westwood. The W stands for words--and you'll hear more of them here than anywhere in L.A.

BE THERE

W, 930 Hilgard Ave., Westwood. Mojo restaurant open 6 a.m.-11 p.m., except Sundays, 6 a.m.-10 p.m. Bar open 11 a.m.-1:30 a.m. (310) 443-7820.

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