Living the Champagne life in L.A. – awesome food + hotels, and Toto too!


LOS ANGELES – I’ve been given a tough assignment by the tourism folks in Los Angeles; tour the city and eat at places that even A-list celebs have trouble getting into. Sip a glass of wine or two with your meal. Stay at a couple of glam hotels. Tour the Grammy Museum in advance of next month’s Grammy Music Awards and the Academy Awards. Take the Warner Bros. Studio VIP Tour. Eat and drink some more.

Downtown Los Angeles is a booming area of town these days. – JIM BYERS PHOTO

I can drink from $200 bottles of wine and nibble on truffles sniffed out by pigs wearing diamond collars as well as anyone. But I always feel a little guilty about it.

So when the skinny jeans waiter at Georgie’s restaurant at the swanky Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills (previous diners are said to include Justin Bieber and Meryl Streep) asks me if I want Champagne with my lunch, and tells me the tourism board is paying the bill, I still shake my head.

“Just sparkling water, thanks.”

The Montage Hotel gets an “11” out of 10 on the swank-o-meter scale. JIM BYERS PHOTO

A few minutes later my waiter asks if perhaps I’d like some a smooth California red wine to go with my main course; golden ravioli stuffed with moist short rib and topped with luscious, woodsy mushrooms. Well, okay. If you insist. I mean, a guy doesn’t want to be rude.

And on it goes for my four-day visit. At The Garland Hotel in North Hollywood I nibble on tuna tartare tacos on the patio in mid-January and stay in a suite big enough to fit the entire roster of the Calgary Flames, with photos on the wall of Roger Moore and Jim Morrison of The Doors. At Level Furnished Living downtown, built by a Vancouver company and featured in a recent episode of The Bachelor, I’m given a glitzy suite with killer views of the growing downtown L.A. skyline.

My LEVEL Furnished Living suite came with an amazing view of L.A. – JIM BYERS PHOTO

Following my lunch at the Montage, I drift downstairs to fabled barber shop Gornick & Drucker (regulars in the past included Frank Sinatra and Ronald Reagan, who had) for a $150 USD haircut and shave. My barber, Jesse, washes my hair before and after the cut and seems to individually hunt out offending follicles on my chin before taking to them with the joy of a dog attacking a pork chop before he wraps my face in a scented towel and sends me on my way with a clean face and a new haircut.

I tour the Grammy Museum and check out exhibits on Count Basie, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles and punk rockers The Ramones. I also get off my butt long enough to do a three-hour bike ride in Hollywood and West Hollywood with Bikes and Hikes LA. We pass by the bustling Farmers Market, check out the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and glide into the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, where we spot a memorial to Johnny Ramone and even Toto from The Wizard of Oz.

On the informative and fun Warner Bros. VIP Studio Tour a group of women from Brazil ooh and aah as we pass by a set with a fake house used in the show Gilmore Girls. They also go nuts over Harry Potter costumes and snap pictures of each other on the set of Friends. Me? I marvel at the sound stage where The West Wing was filmed and crane my neck to see the phony American village that they dolled up for the final episode of Seinfeld.

Visitors to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour in L.A. love having their photos taken on the set of Friends. – JIM BYERS PHOTO

On the last night of my trip I have a reservation at Bestia, a cooler than cool, hard-to-get-past-the-front-door place in the downtown’s Art District. I dine on toasted, home-made bread topped with squid ink aioli, chunks of lobster and tiny red chilies with opal basil.
The sommelier (he calls himself a wine nerd; L.A. having cornered the market on casual some years ago) insists the best thing to drink with my Dungeness crab and lobster butter pasta would be a glass of Champagne. I crumble in the face of this unwilting pressure to live it up, and he pours a heaping helping of Los Angeles hospitality into a large glass.

The food and ambience at Bestia are tough to beat. PHOTO COURTESY BESTIA AND SARAH PRESCOTT

I later find out it costs $175 US for a bottle.

On my way home, the tourism board sends a sleek black limo to my hotel. There’s a copy of Variety magazine and bottles of Fuji water to sip on, plus a plug to re-charge my iPhone. The ride to LAX from downtown can take a while but there’s no traffic on this day and we glide to the airport in a mere 20 minutes.

Maybe I could get used to life in the fast lane.

Paley Hollywood: A lovely, bright dining spot in Hollywood. Try the pasta with crumbled, not too spicy pork sausage.

Casa Vega: An inexpensive, fun spot for Mexican food near North Hollywood.

Bottega Louie: A gorgeous dining spot in downtown L.A., with killer macaroons and a unique breakfast offering featuring a potato pancake topped with creamy burrata and mounds of tangy prosciutto.

EMAIL: jim@jimbyerstravel.com

TWITTER: @jimbyerstravel

INSTAGRAM: @jimbyerstravel1

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