A lounge with a patterned carpet and cream chairs

Ritz-Carlton LA elegance in the Club Lounge

In the fourth part of our luxury travel views column from the Autumn/Winter 2022 issue, LUX’s Editor-in-Chief Darius Sanai checks in at the Ritz Carlton, Los Angeles

We are sitting on sun loungers by a rooftop swimming pool. On the table beside us are two unfeasibly green apples and two slightly darker green juices in long glasses. The view to one side stretches to the Pacific Ocean. To the other, a ridge of blue-grey mountains wobbles in the heat haze. It could be any Pacific-rim resort, but it is where such an experience would have been unfeasible a few years back: downtown LA.

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The area, a few miles from my usual LA haunts of Beverly Hills to the northwest and Santa Monica to the west, has never been a tourist attraction. Now, driven by its proximity to the studios of artists who have trained or landed in the city, fleeing more expensive locations, downtown feels, if not the place to be, then a central location from which to explore greater LA.

A bedroom with windows overlooking a city

A corner hotel room with a view

It needed a world-class place to stay, and in The Ritz-Carlton, it has that. At ground level, it looks like a luxury city tower, with separate entrances for the expensive apartments, sorry, “residences”, on one side of the building, and the hotel on the other. I quickly clocked that the Ferraris and Porsches being parked out front by valets belonged to residence owners, rather than hotel guests with seriously exotic rental cars.

On the roof terrace, high above the city, you are in a different world. True, between you
and the ocean and mountains is the LA sprawl, although the pool is sufficiently high that you don’t realise unless you walk to the edge and look.

Unlike the slightly patchy service we can get in some hip boutique hotels springing up in the city, here it’s Ritz-Carlton service all the way. In my experience, this means less formality than, say, Four Seasons, but professionalism all the way.

Arriving late from the airport, we elected for room service, slightly dreading the standard hotel-menu options of club sandwich, pasta or steak, but ordering pistachio pesto campanelle with broccoli, fennel pollen and pecorino. When it came and was set up for us on our big round table by the window, complete with correct wine glasses, we ended up with a chic dinner and a magnificent Californian Chardonnay, with a view of the city lights few LA restaurants could match. We had to make our own atmosphere, but that’s called private dining in a restaurant, and those rooms rarely have this kind of view.

Read more: Luxury Travel Views: Castillo Hotel Son Vida, Mallorca

Next day I saw the real advantage of downtown LA. It’s central. Meeting an artist in south-central? Five-minute drive, not 45. Dinner in Venice? West Hollywood gallery visit? While downtown LA may not be the place you do things, it is a great place from which to do them, without those painful, hour-long drives. Perfect for the traveller with a cross-city schedule.

Find out more: ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/california/los-angeles

This article first appeared in the Autumn/Winter 2022/23 issue of LUX

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yellow bentley
yellow bentley

The Bentley Continental GT Speed

In the first part of our Driving Force series from the AW 2022/23 issue, LUX’s car reviewer gets behind the wheel of Bentley Continental GT Speed.

In this era of speed cameras and efficiency, the idea of a 12-cylinder car expressly made for two people touring the continent and called Speed, seems so impossibly incorrect that we had to try it. Our Bentley Continental GT Speed came in Damson, a rather tasteful purple close to black. The interior was also a deep purple, not of the heavy-metal kind but more what you might expect in the drawing room of the mildly wayward youngest son of an Italian count.

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Considering it is one of the faster models in a powerful car range beloved of footballers, as well as a wealth of a variety of other types, the Speed is remarkably un-blingy and understated. The engine hums: a tuneful moderate hum around town, a more purposeful hum on the highway and a “tuning up at the opera” hum when accelerating hard, when it is accompanied by a tasteful “whoosh”. It never makes any other noises, though; that would be out of keeping.

The standard Bentley Continental GT is such a good car of the type – comfortable, beautiful, powerful, fast and exclusive in feel – you need a good reason to choose the Speed, with its extra horsepower, instead. Driving around town, the difference is marginal. It picks up with a tad more vigour and turns corners more sharply, but this is a heavy luxury car and you can’t throw it around little bends as if it were a go-kart.

 The Speed’s significance becomes apparent on long stretches of empty rural roads. Here, if another car is impudently driving in front of you, shoot past by twitching the gas pedal: the car surges forward, stable whatever the road surface or weather conditions, due to its four-wheel-drive, to obtain its rightful place at the head of the traffic. For more drama when overtaking a line of cars, put the accelerator to the floor and it storms past, attaining a three-figure speed.

clock in a car

The Bentley Continental GT Speed combines all the understated elegance you might expect with the assurance that the driver is truly in the driving seat of the ride

It does all this with an air no other car, even its siblings, can quite achieve: effortless and muscular, yet the right side of involving. Bentley’s engineers have made sure that you, the driver, are not a passenger, as you are in some fast luxury cars. A Bentley driver likes to drive.

The quality of materials in the interior is as good or better than anything else on the road, perhaps barring Bugatti and Rolls-Royce. Even the Alcantara, the man-made suede stitched on the dashboard to give a sportier feel, seems of a lusher, thicker grade than in supercars. The controls feel as if they have been personally machined for you and have haptics familiar to owners of expensive watches.

Read more: LUX Car Review: Ferrari F8 Tributo and F8 Spider

Crucially, the Speed is easy to drive. If you wanted to drive it around Mayfair or Beverly Hills, it would be no problem. Visibility is good, the controls are light and straightforward, and you can get in and out easily. The seats are comfortable in the front, although with limited room for rear-seat passengers, in GT style. If you want a Bentley for four, there are other models in the range – less sexy, but more practical.

Is there anything missing? Objectively, no. Subjectively, while the car offers all the speed you would expect, we think there is room for a Bentley that offers an even more sporty driving experience, even at the expense of some comfort. When that comes, we will certainly want one.

LUX rating: 18.5/20

Find out more: bentleymotors.com

This article first appeared in the Autumn/Winter 2022/23 issue of LUX

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the entrance of a hotel with arched windows and doors and plants
the entrance of a hotel with arched windows and doors and plants

Exterior view of the new Maybourne, Beverly Hills

In the second part of our luxury travel views column from the Spring 2022 issue, LUX’s Editor-in-Chief Darius Sanai checks in at The Maybourne, Beverly Hills

The most curious thing about the Maybourne Beverly Hills is its tranquillity. Here you are at the new US flagship of London’s swankiest hotel group (Claridge’s, The Connaught, The Berkeley), in LA, metres from Rodeo Drive, and yet the overarching feeling is one of peace. How does that happen?

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The first impression of a curious quietude was from the hotel’s rooftop pool terrace. In cities, these are often rambunctious things, squeezed in, next to a spa and a restaurant, a few sun loungers and a square of blue with a highway of guests and staff running through. Not so here: rows of loungers, immaculate staff waiting to serve, a big, blue pool, and a view across rooftops to the Hollywood Hills. You could come here for a week and not feel agitated by noise. Sure, there’s a terrace restaurant but the vibe is more Ibiza chill than urban thrill.

a bar with stools

The Maybourne pool

Our suite was all pastel shades and 20th-century modern furniture, rethought for the 21st century. A kind of Hollywood-meets-resort feel, with some gorgeous photography and art. Maybourne’s owners are significant movers in the art scene, and you can tell: even the lift lobby on our floor featured an Idris Khan edition.

Downstairs, the Terrace restaurant seemed to be a breakfast, lunch and dinner hangout for the Beverly Hills crowd and the Beverly Hills chihuahua (along with a nice variety of other breeds). Opening out onto a public garden, it was also very quiet: no fumes, no traffic noise, no honking horns. All the more interesting because the hotel was originally built in the grand style of iconic US palace hotels (think Boca Raton resort): but here, the style is everywhere, and the noise nowhere.

swimming pool

The hotel’s rooftop pool

The food was also consistently brilliant: sunny and fresh, like pan-roasted dayboat scallops with girolles and sunchokes, and an absolutely vivid, meaty whole grilled branzino with Napa cabbage and basil. The Terrace is a people-watching place, and if you want to watch people more closely, and with a slightly different lens, just move to the Maybourne Bar or the Cigar and Whiskey Bar. What’s the difference between the two? Same as the difference between the Blue Bar at the Berkeley and the Fumoir at Claridge’s (with additional cigars in the case of the Cigar and Whiskey Bar).

Read more: Luxury Travel Views: Mandarin Oriental Ritz, Madrid

It was a bit of a mystery to me how Maybourne expected to create a global brand, given that its London hotels are so distinctive, unified by a crossover in clientele and a certain appeal to the fashion crowd through their louche artiness in their public spaces. Here they are in LA, and they have done just that. Quite an achievement.

Find out more: maybournebeverlyhills.com

This article appears in the Summer 2022 issue of LUX

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artist standing between a blue and red painting
Jeffrey Deitch Gallery
Meeting art doyen Jeffrey Deitch at his gallery in West Hollywood

Part One: Art & rediscovery in LA

When I was spending a lot of time in LA in the 1990s, there were some areas a visitor would avoid at all costs unless they had to. Three of these were South Central, Downtown, and the web of roads behind the boardwalk at Venice Beach.

I am due to visit all three. Heading to LA mainly for Frieze LA, where I am meeting with our partners at Deutsche Bank Wealth Management, the long-term partners of Frieze, I have added a full California schedule on to the three-day art fair itinerary. LA, from Beverly Hills to South Central, is just the beginning.

Partly this is for sustainability reasons, to minimise future flights, and also because I have not been to California since before the pandemic, and as ever it is home to many of the world’s thought and opinion leaders, some of whom are on my schedule, as well as a thriving art scene in LA itself.

I spent the ten years before the pandemic commuting many times a year to Hong Kong and Singapore, as well as on short haul trips to Europe for Condé Nast, my other alma mater. Meaning I built up a British Airways Gold membership and accompanying dependence. I had not been to the Virgin Clubhouse for years. The feel is as much private club as airline lounge, with the key differentiator of excellent customer service. I had a wonderful chat with a manager at the lounge who was bemoaning her inability to return to her native Hong Kong, and we exchanged tips on restaurants there (hers, mainly). When the chairs, food, and champagne are largely the same, this makes a difference. I silently wish Virgin had short and mid-haul operations to my frequently visited European and former-Soviet destinations.

Editor’s note: LUX paid for its flights to California in full and received no support from any airline.

a man and woman standing on a terrace

We met with Forbes 30 Under 30 curator, Emilia Yin, at the Deutsche Bank Wealth Management Lounge at Frieze LA

Central LA is a grid of warehouses, yards and unmarked buildings. Nowadays, inside some of these there are artists’ studios, the artists driven here from around the Americas and elsewhere by then cheap rents. As ever, the artists move in, hipsters get the vibe and start to gentrify, and the artists are forced to move out. That hasn’t happened yet in central LA, but it will. So I enjoyed the moment of visiting a few studios, buried behind delivery yards and run-down buildings, with real working artists inside them. No cafes, no galleries, no bars. Give it two years. It’s a cert that the property investors are already there.

A friend with homes in LA sends me a WhatsApp suggesting I visit Gjelina, on Abbot Kinney Boulevard behind Venice Beach, for dinner. I last knew this street as needle central, with a few porn and pawn shops thrown in (homophones that go together), in the late 90s. But my friend has taste, and many homes, so I take his advice. The food is vibrant, trim, focussed and beautiful, like the clientele. Like nothing anywhere else.

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The street is now lined with (expensive) independent fashion boutiques and teenage TikTokkers wander around making TikToks. They fit the TikTok profile of being blonde, white and wealthy. The porn and the pawn have now moved and multiplied online, but where have all the junkies gone, I wonder? Elsewhere in Donald Trump’s ‘American Carnage’?

artist standing between a blue and red painting

Ross Caliendo is among numerous artists from around the world who have set up in the warehouses around downtown LA

two men standing side by side

Meeting with ocean conservation icon Jean Michel Cousteau in Santa Barbara

I host some clients at the pre-opening event at Frieze, created by Deutsche Bank, in Michael Jackson‘s former mansion above Beverly Hills. People are happy to be able to meet and mingle after two hard years, which seem to have hit LA hard. There is a sense of anticipation about the fair. People have travelled, and people in LA have prepared. It’s the first major cultural event in the city for two years. Art really can catalyse human change.

At the fair the next day, everyone is waxing lyrical about the lounge. Deutsche Bank’s team have created an indoor-outdoor space with garden and water, a few footsteps from the fair and linked by a private walkway. Many guests comment that it should be permanent. Meetings in the lounge are bound by Chatham House rules, but there are plenty of guests, our own and others, who have come from afar, and are loving both fair and lounge. Bravo to the creators, although the Deutsche Bank lounge at Frieze London, with its creations by Idris Khan and events on ocean conservation, was still the more artistic and focussed. In my view.

I drive to West Hollywood to see Jeffrey Deitch, an art world force since the 1970s. In his private gallery, which is probably three times the size of the Serpentine Gallery museum in London, he has put together a museum-grade show, entitled Luncheon on the Grass. Works from Mickalene Thomas, Jeff Koons, Kehinde Wiley and Paul McCarthy line the walls. I am taken by Tschabalala Self’s response to Édouard Manet’s ‘Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe’ in particular. A few of the interpretations are quite explicit.

Which is quite honest, as the idea of a summer lunch on the grass probably brings that out in many people. Any romance aside, I make a mental sketch of my dejeuner sur l’herbe: it would involve rosé champagne from a small producer like Chartogne Taillet and might ask a question of why people enjoying the countryside in my adopted homeland of England are so predominantly white. I decide the reason I like Deitch’s show so much is that it reveals so much about the artists, and how they want to be perceived, or appear to want to be perceived. I will leave the topic there to avoid falling into the trap of the dreaded (and banned in LUX) language of ‘artspeak’.

Deitch tells me it is his busiest day for meetings for years, another sign of what a good art fair can bring to a city.

Maubourne Pool
The Rooftop at the Maybourne Beverly Hills

The next morning, I drop in on a new friend I made at the fair, Emilia Yin, who was introduced to me by a major collector I invited to the Deutsche Bank Wealth Management lounge. I meet her at her Make Room gallery. Also in West Hollywood, it is in a little building behind a car park off the main drag, Melrose Avenue. There is a sense of both Zen and intent inside, and the paintings in her show, by young Brussels-based Italian artist Jacopo Pagin, all sold within days. I buy the last remaining work, an intriguing sketch. I wonder if she is one of the Jeffrey Deitches of the future.

After three days of intense art and meetings, I take a morning swim in the rooftop pool of the Maybourne hotel in Beverly Hills. The Maybourne, grand but laid-back, has a part-city, part-resort vibe and the view from the roof terrace is surprisingly restful. I pick out my favourite mansions in the hills over a green juice.

I have meetings lined up in the afternoon in Santa Barbara and Montecito. Santa Barbara’s main street, State Street, has been pedestrianised at its seafront end and it’s abuzz with cafes, bars, restaurants and an outdoor market. A positive outcome of the pandemic. A little further up the street I meet Jean-Michel Cousteau, octogenarian sage of the oceans, at his offices, which are lined with pictures and souvenirs of his decades in ocean wildlife conservation and filmmaking. There’s a touching picture of him as a small boy with his father Jacques, giving him instructions on how to dive.

Details of our conversation are saved for a major feature in the next issue of LUX, so stay tuned.

Read more: Olivia Muniak’s Guide to the Best Restaurants in Los Angeles

 

Ten minutes’ drive from Santa Barbara is Montecito, the chichi coastal community which plays host to Harry and Meghan, as well as many other members of the world’s rich and famous. It’s supposed to be a low-key place, I am told. I drive past bijou small shops and cafes, created in a faux-rustic style, all perfect. Perfect children walk past holding immaculate ice creams. On the road to the Rosewood Miramar Beach resort, where I am meeting my contact, three police cars, lights on full colour strobe, have formed a triangle, partly blocking the road. As I drive past, I see one individual sitting slumped on the spotless pavement. I wonder what his crime was. Perhaps not owning a Tesla?

My meeting takes place in a wood-panelled drawing room overlooking the beach, with a couple of islands visible in the slash of gold from the setting sun. I feel I am George Clooney in the last scene of a feel-good movie, concluding Bourbon in hand in a highball glass. Except this is the first scene of a (admittedly potentially exciting) business deal, I am not George Clooney, I do not live here, and I am drinking tea.

Back to LA in the dark, the traffic has died down, and I have a calming Margarita in the bar of the Maybourne to prepare me for the drive north the next day.

To be continued

An airport lounge

The Virgin Clubhouse at London Heathrow has a members’ club feel

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