September 09, 2022

From Country to Rock and Glam: The Sunset Strip's First High-Rise Hotel (With the Tallest Rooftop Pool In All of L.A.)

When I would have to visit Los Angeles for my work in the music industry back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it had become passé to stay at the Hyatt House, a.k.a. the Riot House—where bands like Led Zeppelin had famously partied in the 1970s.

But the Sunset Strip was still cool back then, even 20 years ago. We just stayed across the street at hotels like The Standard Hollywood (now closed), the Mondrian, or The Grafton on Sunset (now Hotel Ziggy)—and we felt the Riot House's presence, looming over Sunset Boulevard.

circa 2020
After I moved to LA in 2011, I was drawn to the Riot House a few times—for a free wine tasting in the lobby, for snacks and drinks at the bar, for the party of the debut of Time Out Los Angeles, and on the Rock n Walk walking tour we took in 2019.

It had changed over the years—and not just because of the larger-than-life billboards getting switched out on the west-facing façade.

In the back, by the self-parking, it looks a little less renovated than in the front, where they've glassed everything over and dismantled the balconies. We heard it was to prevent rock stars jumping off of them (like the rumored antics of rockers like Robert Plant, Jim Morrison, Keith Richards, and Axl Rose). Or, I suppose, it kept guests from acting out scenes from the movies Almost Famous and The Doors

During this week's heatwave, I decided to escape my vintage apartment with its leaky windows and heat trapping walls and spend the day at a hotel pool working on my computer. I'd done the same thing last year at the Beverly Hilton—and this year, I chose the Riot House, a.k.a. the Andaz West Hollywood, as my staycation destination. 

Although it's been completely redesigned inside, its lobby still pays tribute to the heyday of the Sunset Strip, when Tower Records was the place to shop (at least from 1971 to 2006, when it closed)...

...and rounding the bend of Sunset Boulevard in your car was the best way to find out what all the new albums were, thanks to its array of eye-catching billboards.  
The Riot House actually pre-dates that era—having opened in 1963 (though a placard in the hotel says 1958) as the 300-room Gene Autry's Hotel Continental ("Where a friend is a friend"), with the singing cowboy at the helm. At 13 stories, it was the Sunset Strip's first high-rise hotel—designed by architect Martin Stern, Jr., perhaps known best for the International Hotel in Vegas (later the Las Vegas Hilton, where Elvis had his residency). 
But by 1966, The Doors had moved into the hotel, and rock and roll ruled the Sunset Strip. In 1967, the hotel's new owners renamed it the Continental Hyatt House—and so began the legend of The Riot House, a nickname that stuck even after the hotel became the Hyatt on Sunset (1976-1997), Hyatt West Hollywood (1997-2008), and the Andaz (2009-present).
On the mezzanine level of the hotel today, there's an art gallery with works inspired by classic hit songs and their lyrics—everything from The Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter" and The Beatles' "Get Back" to Steppenwolf's "Captain America" (above, created by Peter Horvath) and Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise." 

But to get to the rooftop pool, I had to take the elevator all the way to the Penthouse level and then climb the "Stairway to Heaven"...

...after which I was greeted by Bob Seger lyrics painted on the wall above the (not-yet-open for the day) poolside bar.

It was 10 a.m., after all, so I had the pool and deck nearly all to myself (besides one hotel guest who beat me there)...

...with an unobstructed view of the Sunset Tower across the street (from the same spot where the rooftop scene in This Is Spinal Tap was shot)...

...and of that same bend in the road where all those infamous Sunset Strip rock 'n' roll billboards once hung. 

It's the highest rooftop pool in all of Los Angeles—and, for a few hours at least, it was a relatively quiet and relaxed place to lean back, work on my laptop, jump in the pool every half hour, and let the hot breeze dry me off.
It was the best office I could imagine—for a heatwave day or any day—with plenty to drink and eat after 12 noon (like a refreshing watermelon and feta salad, above).

Around 3 p.m., they turned the music up—but I stayed until nearly 5 p.m., only because that's when my laptop battery gave out. 

At no point was it rowdy—at least not on a Wednesday morning and afternoon in 100-degree heat. 

I guess maybe some people might want it rowdy. But those rock 'n' roll days are long gone (despite Andaz having named the hotel restaurant and bar "The Riot House").

Still, there's something magical about that place—below the high rolling hills, above all those big city lights.

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