Los Angeles’ L.A. Live luxury complex isn’t always alive

Los Angeles’ spectacular L.A. Live development, cleverly planted by the city’s convention center near the interchange of the 10 and the 110, cost a reported $2.5 billion to construct. Its two marquee hotels, a Ritz-Carlton (123 rooms, opened in April) and a J.W. Marriott (878 rooms, opened in February), represent two of the more appealing national luxury brands, and their placement in an eye-catching, bowed skyscraper was tactical, designed to attract convention-goers and concert VIPs.

It’s bustling on nights when there are events at the adjoining Staples Center and the Nokia Theatre. It also hosts the cinema where Eclipse recently held its premiere.

But on other nights, like the ones when I was there, the party shuts down. At L.A. Live, the energy level is all-or-nothing.The hotels aren’t the problem. They’re fairly well-designed, the rooms and corridors spacious, and with terrific views of downtown and beyond. The Ritz’s spa is a fantasia of all-white decor, while the vertical aspirations of the J.W.’s lobby feel akin to a mod 1960s airport terminal. In all, despite the volume of people they can collectively serve, the hotels were a welcome, private respite from the tumult down below on the tough and cluttered grid of Southern California.

I did experience some minor hiccups during my stay, though: My coffeemaker at the J.W. didn’t work and my requests for repair were ignored. There are also a few notable, but not fatal, flaws, the biggest being the private but large pool decks for the J.W. (4th floor) and the Ritz (28th floor) are both in the shade of the connected 54-story condo tower by the middle of a mid-summer afternoon. The $38 parking charge was dizzying, but at least the subterranean lot was so roomy it could eat countless other L.A. structures for breakfast.

The Ritz-Carlton’s 24th-floor restaurant and lounge, WP24 by Wolfgang Puck, should be one of the most alluring nighttime watering holes in the city, given its sumptuous panorama of downtown Los Angeles and the poor suckers laboring along the 110 freeway. But when I showed up at 10 p.m., primed for a martini overlooking the skyline, I was told it was closed for the night. The economics of the L.A. Live project are so immense that tenants are interested only in blockbuster crowds, not off-night scene-making.

It was a shame to seek a martini elsewhere when I was staying in something purported to be a full-service entertainment citadel, but now, L.A. Live is designed to feed guaranteed crowds, not draw its own.

The situation in the rest of the complex, connected to the hotels, wasn’t better. On one of the nights of my stay, the Trader Vic’s began closing at 9 p.m., the same time as the mall in many small towns. But the two hotels’ smart and glassy decor and full-service détente had made me feel urban and chic, and I wanted a highbrow cocktail to suit the mood they put me in. Almost every L.A. Live nightspot was closing, except the sports bar, and I wasn’t in the mind of onion rings.

Rather than settle for the no-view hotel lobby bar at the J.W. Marriott (stylish as it is), I ended up having to leave L.A. Live and search for style on the mean streets of downtown L.A. There, I found the nightlife I was looking for at Seven Grand (a hip and dusky whiskey bar), Rivera (artisan cocktails and modern Latin plates), and Hank’s (a lost-in-time dive bar often populated with tipsy solo men and, on my night, a young gay trust funder and his smitten female BFF).

It was a shame to have to seek a martini elsewhere when I was staying in something that purportedly was constructed to be a full-service entertainment citadel, but right now, L.A. Live is designed to feed guaranteed crowds, but not draw its own, and until that changes, it won’t truly establish itself on the landscape.

That may not be much of a loss, since downtown Los Angeles is one of the most underrated and history-rich central business districts that middle-class Americans have ever ignored. For me, being near downtown L.A. is a one of the most important reasons to choose to stay at L.A. Live.

But if I were a local, I’d never risk heading to L.A. Live unless I had an event ticket in hand, even if it meant battling the influx. The development will never be integral to the Los Angeles nightlife until it jumps the hurdle between serving only guaranteed audiences and offering something distinctive that can be accessed anytime. That’s quite a leap to make if you’re a cynical developer who aligns his goals by his predicted market share and not by a distinctive vision.

‘World of Color’ steps up Disney’s nighttime spectacular game

Disney’s theme park shows are often over-hyped and underwhelming (remember Cinderellabration?), but at Disney’s California Adventure in Anaheim, the amusement titan recently premiered a new show that really does step up the stakes.

World of Color could be described as “The Bellagio Fountain on Peyote”: The lagoon in front of the Mickey’s Fun Wheel was rebuilt to accommodate nearly 1,200 moveable and synchronized jets, which volley water between 30 and 200 feet high while ever-changing LED lights saturate them with vibrant hues. Meanwhile, as a crisp new sound system rocks the park, classic Disney clips (what else?) are projected onto 19,000 square feet of “water screens.” And of course, some climatic streams of fire. If the 20-ish minute show can’t hold your attention, you may have other problems.

“World of Color” could be described as “The Bellagio Fountain on Peyote.”

Although it’s hard to describe, the nightly event is undoubtedly spectacular, absorbing, and as colorful as advertised, although contrary to the P.R., it isn’t as gawp-inducing as the fearsome fire-winged dragons of BraviSEAMo, which ends a long run this fall at Tokyo DisneySea in Japan.

But World of Color‘s premise, novel for a theme park, may provide the biggest entertainment payoff of any of Disney’s current Stateside night spectaculars, and from an industry standpoint, it gives California Adventure a much-needed after-sunset show to complement the fireworks and Fantasmic!, often held simultaneously at Disneyland across the plaza. That solves an infrastructure problem for the previously under-developed California Adventure, but for now, while the show is new and at its most popular, it also creates new ones for guests.

%Gallery-98676%Nabbing a spot in the very front section of the lagoonside amphitheatre is imperative, because the further back you are (and the VIP section is all the way in the back), the less you will see of the splashes of underwater color that accompany every giant spray. In the back, your field of vision can absorb the big pictures, but in the front, you’ll most feel the mist and the thunder.

Disney fans’ curiosity is so high, and demand so strong, that securing a viewing spot requires guests to register early in the day and obtain a Fastpass. Once that’s in hand, they must queue starting in early evening to get into their designated section. Then they have to wait for the show itself. The whole process can chew up a few hours. Meanwhile, the attractions around the lagoon are closed during the shows. That puts some of the park’s best sights out of commission at dusk: Toy Story Mania, the California Screamin’ and Mulholland Madness coasters, that ferris wheel, and the other upgraded carnival-style diversions.

It’s tempting to think of everything Disney does as being part of some grand design, and if you subscribe to that cynical (but possibly realistic) perspective, then you might suspect the hassle of seeing the new show, and the early closure of some marquee rides, is part of a fiendish plan to force guests to spend hours of their touring days in the pursuit of a decent viewing spot. After all, if you don’t see all of California Adventure in one day, you have to spend the money to return.

It’s probably more likely that Disney, having not originally designed the theme park to accommodate this sort of extravaganza, is having trouble coping with the giant crowds that demand to see it during its maiden season.

If you can’t stomach the ordeal of jockeying for a position, you can see the show from a bird’s eye view if you’re staying in a park-facing room in the tower of Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel. The lagoon is so close that the climactic inferno will illuminate your darkened room, and you’ll gain the best appreciation of the careful choreography of the many water jets, but you won’t be able to make out the projections on the water screen or hear the soundtrack clearly.

Neville Longbottom has words for London mayor: Harry Potter belongs in Florida!

At this morning’s press conference for the opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, actor Matthew Lewis, who plays the ever-important Neville Longbottom in the movie series, was asked what he thought about Boris Johnson’s recent dig at Orlando. The London mayor complained that the theme park for Harry Potter, as a British property, ought to be in Britain.

Lewis doesn’t think much of Johnson’s media diatribe. And he’s an Englishman, by the way.

Is the new Hotel Palomar the sign of a rooftop pool trend in Chicago?

Some cites get the rooftop pool concept right. Chicago is not the first place that would come to mind, but if we’re being honest, when summer descends on Chicago, it’s like God is smiling. Its winter weather gives the city a bad rap for the rest of the year, but outside of snow season, visitors to Chi-town could use the mercy of a cool dip.

Kimpton’s Hotel Palomar, which opened in March in River North, acknowledges the Illinois summer heat by opening a dedicated rooftop pool. Although the pool, located on a setback of the 17th floor of the 36-floor building, is enclosed for year-round use, it’s attached to an outdoor terrace, with views of the Wrigley Building and Marina City.

A few other Chicago hotels have rooftop pools — the ritzier Peninsula, nearby, comes to mind, which is telling since the Palomar’s designer, Orlando Diaz-Azcuy, also did the spa and pool of the Peninsula’s flagship property in Hong Kong. But for the past few years, it’s become the amenity du jour for newcomers such as the Affinia, the Avenue, and now, the Palomar.

On a recent Friday, I came back to the 261-room Palomar after a night of dinner and cocktails. The pool was undeservedly deserted. In Phoenix or Los Angeles, the pool deck is mobbed when the temperature goes above 80 degrees, and not always with inviting results. Not in Chicago. In Chicago, the pools are still mostly undiscovered, which makes this a sanctuary you can have to yourself.

While the moody Kokopeli-styled soundtrack might be cheesy by day, by night, as the clouds drifted across Lake Michigan, it made the lap pool feel more like a private spa — with the bonus backdrop of some of America’s most impressive skyscrapers.

Maybe visitors to Chicago still don’t think of it as a rooftop town unless there’s baseball involved. Let them bake on their boozy decks overlooking Wrigley. There are signs that a new kind of al fresco civilization is making inroads in Chicago’s summertime.

The W Hollywood recants and allows guests to jump the line for its pool

There’s been a resolution of sorts for the recent kerfluffle at the W Hollywood hotel, which I wrote about two weeks ago. I found out first-hand that guests are not always permitted to use its gorgeous and enviably situated rooftop pool, despite the high room rates they pay.

The scandal made news around the Web, including at The Economist, which proclaimed itself “horrified” about the revelations here on Gadling. (It was indeed a proud day for me: I also got The Economist to repeat my coinage, “douche-tastic.”)

The newly opened hotel hasn’t broken things off with the Las Vegas promoter, Drai’s, which runs its nightspot and organizes the Sunday “pool party” that guests have been told they’re not cool enough for. But as a mea culpa for the unwanted attention, the W Hollywood is bending the rules.The hotel’s general manager, Jim McPartlin, personally wrote me a note apologizing for the policy. “It is inexcusable, and I can assure you that I have taken measures to ensure it does not happen again,” he told me. “Opening a hotel can be a challenge, but developing a strong service culture is something I practice with my team each day.”

His new measures supersede the statement he issued for my first report on the original doucheitude. McPartlin said:

“Recognizing that most people check out by noon on Sunday and check in after 3 pm, we altered the start time of the pool party to 2:00 as opposed to 10 am. Further, hotel guests have front of line status. These two actions seemed to have cleared up our issues, and I will continue to monitor this very carefully.”

Well, maybe it clears things up. It’s not truly a pure resolution if guests are still required to queue up for space at their own pool, particularly if the available space is being taken up by hordes of off-the-street scenesters wearing fedoras with board shorts and jiggling their bikinis as they dance on the sun chairs.

However, the new front-of-the-line policy is now consistent with a number of other hip L.A. hotels’ clubby pool areas, where hotel guests are permitted to join the doucheteria as space permits.

Last summer, I wrote about a similar situation at the newish SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills, where hotel guests may still be treated like beggars at the feast, but at least they’re allowed in.

The guest entry situation at L.A. hotels’ pools may not be ideal, but at least now you can’t argue that the W’s policy isn’t consistent with its equally misguided competition. Guests may now use the pool, provided they get there really early and don’t mind cigarette ash floating past them.

I also contacted Drai’s, the promoter that populates the W pool for the Sunday parties, for its policy. It sent me a copy of McPartlin’s original response, now obsolete, but never issued me one of its own.

I also wrote about what you can do as a consumer if your hotel denies you the amenities you were promised. That post went up at our sister site about your money, WalletPop.com.

Would I go back to the W Hollywood? My Speedos aren’t in a permanent twist, and between the lines, I’m getting the picture that the service goals of the hotel’s management are at direct odds with the too-cool-for-the-pool objectives of its contracted partner, Drai’s. I’d give the place the benefit of the doubt, chalk the disaster up to opening turbulence, and risk it again. But I’d steer clear of the pool on Sundays.