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Weekend Escape

At Viceroy in Santa Monica, Design Rules

New hotel and restaurant are packed with style--for those willing to pay the price

September 08, 2002|HEATHER JOHN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA MONICA — I was feeling pretty decadent as I pulled up to the valet at Viceroy, the new luxury hotel in the former Pacific Shore building on Ocean Avenue. After all, published rates start at $255 for a standard room. Parking is $22 per night. At these prices, travelers may want to head straight from reception to the bar--and that will cost you too.

But I'm a sucker for things related to design. And its proximity to the beach aside, the hotel's biggest selling point is ambience, of which it has plenty.

Renovated under the direction of interior designer Kelly Wearstler and reopened in July by the Kor Hotel Group, owners of the Avalon and Maison 140 hotels in Beverly Hills and the Estrella in Palm Springs, Viceroy is the company's latest offering in chic boutique.

The overall effect of the lobby works in an L.A. context--a sort of breezy, tropical, Colonial-meets-midcentury-modern design in warm charcoal, white and apple green. (Never mind the 4 1/2-foot- tall plaster cameo perched behind the front desk.) The open lobby doubles as a bar and feels even larger with the help of a mirrored ceiling. Traditional furniture is tricked out with contemporary upholstery, such as the playful chaise longues covered in white faux patent leather. A cane motif is repeated in the hall carpet and guest-room wallpaper. Chandeliers abound. It's all very "Godfather II"--with deal makers by the water--but with a hipster edge.

It was Friday, and though still daylight, the lobby was filling with the cocktail crowd perched on vinyl bar stools, curled up in club chairs and spilling out onto the patio. Before joining them, I collected my room key from a friendly clerk wearing a smart black suit with a lovely lime-green tie. A lot of your opinion of this hotel will depend on your relationship with the color green, the predominant accent on everything from staff uniforms to chairs to pillows to sheets.

Let's talk about those sheets. Behind the Georgian-green door to my room lay an airy, mostly white room, its king-size bed fitted in 300-thread-count white Frette sheets with apple-green trim. The room also was furnished with a chartreuse patent leather ottoman, a reproduction vintage chair in green upholstery, a desk with a funny little lamp with a spaniel-shaped base, an armoire housing an entertainment center (including a surround-sound CD-DVD player) and what the Web site touts as an "exceptionally stocked minibar" (with top-shelf spirits and prices to match). But it was the sheets that had my immediate attention. A similar set at the Frette boutique in Beverly Hills runs about $800.

I had about 30 minutes before I was to meet a friend in the lobby, just enough time for a nap. "If I don't leave this bed for the rest of the weekend, I'll be content," I thought. But then a maid barged into my room without warning. I explained that I was napping. She nodded, grabbed an ironing board standing near the closet and took it into the bathroom to fold it. Only a month had passed since the hotel's opening, so I chalked up the incident to a new staff and decided it was time to hit the bar.

My friend Suzanne and I walked out to the patio, where six roomy cabanas surround two tiny pools. About 200 porcelain dishes--some plain, some patterned--adorn the exterior walls. We settled into white vinyl wing chairs in a corner under a large palm and ordered drinks (mine about $13 with tip).

It wasn't long before we realized we weren't alone. A third party, an inquisitive little brown mouse, had joined us. Suzanne is a little squeamish about rodents, so we asked our server if there was another table. There wasn't. Besides, she added, "He's really friendly, and he stays in this corner."

By 10 p.m. the bar was packed inside and out, awash in a sea of low-rise jeans and midriff-baring peasant shirts, all backlighted in neon green. Suzanne and I chose to go more low-key and drove over to Father's Office on Montana Avenue for a burger and a beer.

This place was a madhouse too, and we had to stalk a table for 15 minutes. After a basket of sweet potato home fries, a creamy pint of Tetley's and a sublime burger, Suzanne dropped me back off at the hotel, where the scene at 12:30 a.m. was even wilder than before. Two doormen guarded the elevators and asked to see a room key before letting me head up--a security measure I appreciated. Back upstairs, I opened the sliding doors so I could hear the ocean and drifted to sleep on spectacularly expensive sheets.

Saturday morning I wandered over to the Santa Monica Farmers' Market at the Third Street Promenade and indulged in one of my guilty pleasures, the Bravo Cucina cart's breakfast burrito: scrambled eggs, mozzarella, pico de gallo and guacamole rolled in a flour tortilla.

The market was lively with locals and tourists poring over samples of heirloom tomatoes and sweet figs. I finished grazing and popped into Hennessey & Ingalls, an art and design bookstore where you can lose hours browsing.

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