How L.A.’s Boutique Hotels Became Hot Spots for Locals

A new crop of small-scale stays are attracting more than out-of-towners

Boutique hotels were once renowned for their exclusivity: they were only for affluent, artsy, and deep-pocketed out-of-towners. But a new crop of small-scale stays is lighting up the scene, where luxury abounds and the locals are welcome. These hotels aren’t just swanky places to sleep—they’re lifestyle spaces that encourage espresso-sipping, remote-working, and trend-seeking city dwellers to mingle with their most prestigious guests.

The common areas of these boutique properties are the main focus—and where all the best people-watching happens. Their large, open sitting areas feel like beautiful, oversized living rooms for meeting and gathering. Innovative chefs add spice to the scene, serving food that goes far beyond traditional room-service fare. Mornings start with rooftop yoga sessions for early-to-rise guests, as well as people living nearby. And the bars inside these hotels have become go-to places for after-work drinks, before-dinner aperitifs, and neighborhood nightcaps. Young, cool people are flocking to these locales—whether or not they’re sleeping there that night.

“Luxury hotels are trying to appeal to locals in order to maintain top-of-mind awareness for future travelers,” says Michael Silverman, Luxury Hotels Research Lead at Gartner L2. “The Standard, for example, aims to be a destination for locals in New York, hoping that New Yorkers will choose to stay at the Standard when traveling to L.A. or Miami. The NoMad’s eponymous restaurants are featured prominently on their website, and the Ace Hotel’s revamped website features an interactive calendar of hosted events.”

Sydell Group co-founders, Andrew Zobler and Ron Burkle, were looking for properties in downtown Los Angeles before purchasing two commercial landmark buildings, which would become the Freehand and its glamorous sister, the NoMad. The Freehand is housed in the former Commercial Exchange Building and skews younger and less expensive than the upscale NoMad, which is in one of the finest office buildings in the city, the former Bank of Italy. Fit with huge vault doors, to-the-sky columns and a beautiful marble bank lobby, the former financial space exudes ornate elegance and continues to borrow Italian inspiration throughout its interiors.

The Freehand and NoMad are only a block away from one another, and both are known for their chic rooftop pools and bars, modern inn status, and killer restaurants. The Freehand has a trendy vibe, and you can nosh on labneh with shishito peppers or smashed cucumber with sesame; while the NoMad’s handsome interiors and royal color palette lend it an Old World feeling. Sip an espresso any time of the day at their Italian-style standing-only bar or dine on foie gras with miso and what has become a famous roast chicken stuffed with black truffle, thanks to restauranteur Will Guidara and chef Daniel Humm. Both hotels do a wonderful job of intertwining the property’s unique personality and culture throughout its restaurant design and menu.

Ace Hotel Los Angeles was once a theater and office building situated on a very empty part of Broadway. When it opened in 2014, its interior overhaul was an instant hit with travelers and Angelenos alike. The historic space, which sold for nearly ten times the amount the developers purchased it for, is intentionally designed to create community—from the theater to the rooftop bar, the hotel’s interior spaces are meant for both travelers visiting for a weekend and locals looking to hang out and splurge.

“From the moment I first walked into Ace Hotel New York it was obvious that it was a special place. The public spaces at Ace Hotel Downtown Los Angeles are no different,” says Michael Cimarusti, chef partner at Ace DTLA’s restaurant Best Girl. “The vibe in the hotel and at Best Girl is laid back, comfortable, and inviting. It’s energizing to be part of a vibrant gathering place, where I overhear locals suggesting their favorite places in the city to hotel guests and visitors, and where anyone is welcome to come work, share a meal, read a novel by the rooftop pool.

“One of my favorite parts of the hotel is the mezzanine, just to the left of the lobby. I love to have meetings up there—it’s quiet, the lighting is just right and there is always a comfy spot to settle into for a chat—plus, you can have an easy cocktail and a bite to eat. The Theatre at Ace DTLA is also one of my favorite spots in LA to see shows. It’s truly majestic and comes alive with music, art and audiences from all over.”

Opening in summer 2019 is the much-anticipated DTLA Proper Hotel. Housed in a former YMCA building, there will be two ground floor restaurants, a rooftop pool and lounge, and public living areas around the building’s open spaces. While undergoing a tremendous renovation, the library will still feature the original frescoes and the former basketball court will become a Hollywood movie screening room—this is L.A., after all.

Even with the expansion of Airbnb and similar platforms, people are still seeking spaces that feel like home. And with these full service, intentionally inviting properties, where else would you want to look? These boutique lifestyle hotels are not mass produced. They’re explicitly individualistic, and as comfortable as your own living room—whether you’re a plane ride or a quick walk away from home. 

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