‘Riot House’ No More: A Review Of The Andaz, LA’s Coolest Hotel

pool andaz hotel west hollywood riot houseI’m a budget traveler who has spent more time in dives with droopy mattresses than luxury hotels with spa treatments that cost more than Suriname’s annual GDP. So on the rare occasions when I get to stay someplace truly swanky – usually when the Priceline roulette wheel shines favorably on me or if I’m accompanying my wife on a business trip – I sometimes feel a bit like Jed Clampett arriving with Hillbilly family in tow in Beverly Hills.

Did I shave that day? Is my car the cheapest one on the premises? How much do I need to give the bellboy who is charging over to open my car door? I had this same fish-out-of-water feeling when we pulled up to the Andaz, a luxury hotel in West Hollywood that is part of the Hyatt chain last week. But the place turned out to be very different than any other fancy hotel I’ve ever stayed in.


andaz hotel west hollywoodFor starters, the young man who opened our car door and took care of our suitcases was our one-stop check-in person. After loading our suitcases on a trolley, he escorted us into the sleek, dimly lit lobby, checked us in himself and then brought us up to the room as though we were at a small B & B.

“Now everything in the minibar except the alcohol is free,” he said to my surprise and puzzlement. “So all the soft drinks, bottles of water and snacks are free.”

I asked him to repeat that because I’ve never heard of a free minibar before and I didn’t want to get a bill for a $9 bag of chips, but I’d heard him right. The Andaz also has free wireless Internet and serves good, free California wines from 5-7 p.m. each night. Before I gush about this place a bit more, I should point out that unlike many “reviews” of luxury hotels, this is not a paid endorsement or quid-pro-quo deal. At Gadling, we do not write about free press trips or accept other free travel perks, so you can trust the integrity of our reviews.

andaz west hollywoodOur double room was stylishly decorated and had a curtained off little section in the back with a love seat, comfy chair and Ottoman. My kids immediately claimed this area as their clubhouse, but it was also useful for my wife and I after the kids went to bed.

The hotel was renovated and turned into an Andaz property, one of just nine around the world, in 2009. Gene Autry once owned the hotel and in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, it was known as the Riot House because rock stars used to routinely trash their rooms. John Bonham reportedly once rode his motorcycle down the hotel corridors, Keith Richards once dropped a television set from his room out onto Sunset Boulevard, and Jim Morrison lived there until he was evicted for hanging out a window by his fingertips.

Those days are long gone, but recording artists still patronize the place. A big contingent of Brits including the singer Laura Mvula was there during our stay. And they still play great music in the lobby – I don’t think I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to The Smiths at any other hotel I’ve ever stayed at besides this one.

andaz hotel west hollywoodThe Andaz has everything you might expect in a luxury hotel: incredibly comfortable beds, high-quality toiletries and linens, plus a very nice rooftop pool that offers lovely views of the area. We found the Sunset Boulevard location to be convenient but thanks to the notorious L.A. traffic, it can take a lot longer to get around than you might think.

And now for a few niggling complaints. No hotel is perfect and that includes the Andaz. I found the free wireless to be extremely slow at times and when I called down to inquire I was transferred to an off-site tech support person who suggested I pay a premium to get better speed. No thanks. The valet parking is $32 per night (there is no self-park option), which isn’t exactly a bargain and the sumptuous buffet breakfast is strictly expense account territory at $26 a head.




view from rooftop pool andaz west hollywoodBut you don’t come to a luxurious hotel like this one to pinch pennies, you’re there for a treat and the Andaz certainly is one. Aside from the free snacks, soft drinks and wine, my other favorite perk was the selection of free newspapers. I’m an old-school hard copy newspaper reader and the fact that the Andaz was willing to deliver copies of the New York Times, the L.A. Times and the Wall Street Journal right to my doorstop made me very happy indeed. On my last night at the Andaz, our neighbors stumbled back to their room at 2 a.m. and commenced a noisy party worthy of the hotel’s glory Riot House days. At the time, I was annoyed but in retrospect, it was a fitting end to a memorable stay.

[Photo credits: Dave Seminara, Traveling Otter, Rachel Kramer Bussel, and FiskFisk on Flickr]

Ten great bands that I only discovered by traveling

To travel is to trade.

From the 15th century Portuguese explorers to the overconfident 18-year old who crosses the ocean with a loaded iPod, travelers are always in the business of exchanging things: ideas, food, fashion, genes and diseases. Music is right up there, and with the ease of the MP3, we freely unload playlists to one another like apples in a market.

When I look over some of the best music I own, I realize that I only discovered these bands/musicians from traveling away from home, well outside my own musical comfort zone. Certain bands are universal, others still quite local (or were, once upon a time), but despite iTunes attempts to drench us all in far-reaching world tastes, some music is still homegrown. Here’s a quick (and personal) top ten of my own discoveries accompanied by a slew of cheesy YouTube clips for your listening pleasure.

Trentemøller (Denmark) Something about dark, electronic music and the Nordic countries go hand in hand. Trentemøller has become a legendary DJ who plays across the globe, but had I never gone to Denmark, I would have waited five years for his music to work its way across the Atlantic.

Zero Degree Atoll (Maldives) I met the lead singer of this band in his home country of The Maldives, right after he performed a chilling cover or R.E.M’s “Losing My Religion”. Though he masters Led Zeppelin and his favorite band is Jethro Tull, his own music is sung in the Dhivehi languages and combines the local blend of Arabic and Indian influences.

Cheb Hasni (Algeria) You can’t visit North Africa and not hear the signature sounds of Algerian Raï music blaring in the chaotic streets of the medina, day and night. Cheb Hasni is king of the genre–an Algerian man, who with his band, cultivated a global following before he was murdered by Islamic fundamentalists in 1994. I caught on to Cheb Hasni in Morocco and despite regular online research, have yet to listen to every one of his songs that make up his prolific discography.
Lasairfhíona Ní Chonaola (Ireland) Sometimes when you’re traveling, you just have to take a chance and buy a random CD from the locals. I picked up Lasairfhiona in Ireland’s windswept Aran Islands some 7 years ago and have been listening to this Gaelic singer ever since. I don’t know any other music that captures the spirit of a place like she does.

Faye Wong/ 王菲 (Hong Kong) Anyone who’s been jetlagged in Asia knows the thrill of watching hour after hour of sappy karaoke-style MTV all night long. And yet, I actually discovered Faye in a discount bin in New York City’s Chinatown and had to wait until YouTube came around to take in her full repertoire, which is extremely vast. Somedays she the Chinese Celine Dion, other days the Asian Alanis Morissette–Faye is constantly reinventing herself and loves to do Cantonese covers of western indie classics. So don’t judge too quickly–Faye grows on everybody.

Architecture In Helsinki (Australia) Admittedly, big city Melbourne’s got a pretty crazy independent music scene but Architecture in Helsinki might just be the trippiest of them all. Going on a decade strong, the bizarre musical set-ups of AIH evokes a lot of “What?” reactions while still gaining global fans for their deliciously infectious, irresistibly toe-tapping and hip-shaking songs. As ambassadors from down under, AIH begs the question, is Australia an actual country or just a constant spaced-out party?

For a Minor Reflection (Iceland) Four 20 year-old dudes wailing thoughtfully on guitars. It’s a tried-and-true recipe but somehow, this post-rock band from Reykjavík adds something wonderfully new, delivering long, drawn-out ballads completely devoid of lyrics. Heard them first at Iceland Airwaves, which might be the greatest music festival in the world.

Marisa Monte (Brazil) Fairly popular in Brazil and France, I only came upon Marisa myself while passing through South America earlier this year. Her voice, songwriting, rhythms and melodies fall slightly outside the typical Latin American canon, which is why she’s succeeded in crossing over to an international following.

Springbok Nude Girls (South Africa) Compelling band name and even more compelling music, there’s not a South African out there who doesn’t have a strong opinion about these guys, thumbs up or down. That’s why I started listening to them in London, where there are more South Africans than Brits, I think. Springbok’s broke up a few years back but are apparently back together and playing sold-out gigs in South Africa right now.

Iryna Bilyk (Ukraine) Countries with dysfunctional governments always promise a steady flow of talented artists, and after living there for several years, I can say without irony that Ukraine is no exception. Of the many divas that rock Ukraine’s airwaves, Iryna Bilyk is the most classic–a kind of bottle-blond Slavic Madonna that plays in every cab in Kiev. Like the actual Amereican Madonna, Iryna caused no small scandal when the 40-year old singer married her 22-year old backup dancer. This song is called, “I’m not sorry.”

Feel free to add your own great musical finds in the comments below–Just make sure it’s music you discovered while traveling abroad.(If you spam me with your favorite Beyoncé or Coldplay clip, the world will know that you don’t even own a passport.) Thanks!