A beloved LA icon is brought back to life: Reviewing the new Fairmont Century Plaza
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Editor’s note: Welcome to our new TPG hotel reviews! We’re trying out some novel formats as we rate hotels around the globe, aiming to help readers decide where to stay and where to skip. We’ll still do some of our signature in-depth versions, as well as longer-form pieces for hotels we think readers will be the most curious about. For now, though, we’re going to keep things snappy and give you all the information you need if you plan to visit the same hotels that we decide to check out.
On a related note, before booking any travel, be sure to keep up to date with our country-by-country guide to pandemic-era travel restrictions and requirements.
Hollywood loves a good comeback story, and throughout its 55-year history, the Century Plaza Hotel has certainly had as many twists and turns as an Oscar-worthy screenplay.
Originally opened in 1966, the hotel was commissioned by Alcoa to be the centrepiece of Los Angeles’ Century City development (and to showcase aluminium’s utility as a construction material) on the former backlot of 20th Century Studios.
The 19-story, 750-room hotel was designed by architect Minoru Yamasaki, who was also the creative mind behind the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center. The Century Plaza soon became a landmark thanks to its distinctive crescent-shaped façade and the visual effect created by its reiterative balconies.
Over the years, the hotel played host to Emmy and Grammy ceremonies and private concerts by the likes of Elton John. It was also the site of the only U.S. Presidential State Dinner ever to take place outside the White House, hosted by Richard Nixon in 1969 to honour the Apollo 11 astronauts.
But after decades in the spotlight, the hotel faced near-certain demolition at the hands of new developers until a grassroots preservation campaign managed to save the property.
Now, in the midst of an extensive £18.7 billion project, the hotel has been restored to its former glory as part of a mixed-use development that includes two new 44-story residential towers. It reopened as a Fairmont in September 2021, and as someone who has visited the hotel off and on for nearly 30 years, I couldn’t wait to get a first glimpse inside.
Given the hotel was just two weeks into its new incarnation, some of the eventual amenities and services were still not operational, so this review is written with those (pardonable) shortcomings in mind.
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If you’re not familiar with LA and its many neighbourhoods, Century City is fairly central and located just north and east of the convergence of two of the city’s major thoroughfares, the 10 and the 405 (as Angelenos would phrase it).
The hotel is about a 30-minute, $30 (£22) rideshare from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), roughly 20 minutes east of the beaches of Santa Monica and about 30-40 minutes from downtown…assuming you’re not driving at rush hour, that is.
Aiming to stake out a position among the highest-end luxury hotels of Los Angeles, the Fairmont Century Plaza is currently posting room rates that start at $725 (£543) per night but are more often around $805 (£602). That said, if you log into your Accor Live Limitless (ALL) account, you might find member specials like the one that got me a room and daily breakfast for two for $715 (£535) per night.
Just be aware of taxes and fees, which can add an extra $100 (£75) per night, and valet parking, which costs $65 (£49) plus tax per day.
Non-elite ALL members earn 25 points per 10 euros ($11.65) spent at participating hotels and can redeem them in increments of 2,000 for 40 euros ($46.60) off hotel charges.
- The hotel’s historic curving façade and overawing public areas were painstakingly renovated and have as dramatic an effect as ever upon arriving guests.
- Designers leaned into the hotel’s Tinseltown credentials with cheeky film and music references everywhere from the lobby bar’s cocktail menu to rooms’ do not disturb signs.
- Eager-to-please staff are always on hand to help with everything from bags and bar orders to impromptu spa tours and lightning-fast housekeeping.
- Though dining options are limited (and pricey), the contemporized French classics at Lumière make it feel like the perfect cross between a casual Parisian brasserie and a special occasion destination.
- In short: The cost of everything.
- The hotel is among the priciest in the city, but the relatively small and impersonal rooms might not measure up to competitors.
- With gorgeous, grey-stone corridors and treatments incorporating products like Natura Bissé, the palatial 14,000-square-foot spa is bound to be a draw for some, though many guests might baulk at the astronomical fees, including $75 (£56) just to use the facilities.
- The rooftop pool has show-stopping city views but feels small for a hotel of this size and does not get sun for large portions of the day.
- All-day dining is not yet available, so fire up DoorDash or Grubhub if you’re hunkering down for a lunch meeting.
Like me, you might remember the Century Plaza Hotel from its most recent incarnation as a rather impersonal Hyatt Regency.
But the visionaries at design firm extraordinaire Yabu Pushelberg have reimagined the hotel in its mid-century modern heyday … with a few updates, like Jaume Plensa’s giant mesh sculpture dubbed “Laura” gazing out from the grand driveway and Ferrari-red nighttime lighting on the façade that makes the room balconies look like royal boxes in an old-world opera house.
Once overcrowded and dark, the lobby has been transformed into a bright, breezy space with a come-as-you-are cocktail lounge, live water features and cosy fire elements, plus private seating areas galore in which agents and studio execs will likely strike deals.
That said, there have been major concessions to the new mixed-use and residential developments on the property. Gone is the expansive pool deck out back, replaced by two condo towers that block the sun and coastal views at the new rooftop pool.
Given its location and price point, the hotel is positioned to be most popular with business travellers looking to woo entertainment industry types, as well as visiting celebrities in town on press junkets, though leisure travellers in search of a centrally located base of operations should also enjoy it.
Several of the tower’s top floors have been converted to residences, so there are only 400 guest rooms now, including 49 suites and 70 Fairmont Gold rooms with access to the hotel’s lounge and dedicated concierge service (as well as an on-demand martini cart for turndown service).
My standard category Fairmont King room was a respectable 320 square feet and located toward the northern end of the seventh floor, with its own private balcony on which to enjoy breakfast or alfresco work (though the sun was bright out here for much of the day).
Along with the pillow-top king bed dressed in white linens, there was an oversized bureau with drawers for clothing and the minibar, as well as a Nespresso coffee maker with a 65-inch HDTV on the wall above it. Next to the bed was a small sitting area with a marble-topped table that served (with some difficulty, given its shape, height and weight) as a desk, though plugs and USB ports galore throughout the room made it easy to stay charged up.
Behind a sliding door, the grey marble bathroom contained a single vanity, a walk-in shower and a separate tub, all stocked with Le Labo products in a sweet-smelling (but not redolent), bespoke Fairmont scent.
Overall, the decor was understated, which dampened the sense of luxury. However, references to movies ranging from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “Pretty Woman” to “Rocky” and “The Big Lebowski” on items like the hanging tab for fresh linens and the bedside notepad brought some Hollywood glamour and fun to the ambience.
Food and drink
A few weeks into the hotel’s new chapter, the dining options were still limited to breakfast and dinner at a single restaurant or via room service and a minor evening menu of small bites at the lobby bar. The rooftop pool bar was not yet online, nor was all-day in-room dining.
Named after motion picture pioneers the Lumière brothers, the hotel’s main restaurant is located down the hall from the reception area and is a loving ode to bustling French brasseries, with distinctive white and green tiling, welcoming booths and an assorted array of brass light fixtures that play off the meaning of lumière.
The dinner menu has all the usual suspects of mainstream French cuisine. The French onion soup for $16 (£12) was savoury with a gooey gruyere topper, while the seared sea bass at $38 (£28) was juicy and mild on its bed of onion soubise and roasted salsify. There are both cheese and charcuterie counters to order items from a la carte menu with prices ranging from $14-$26 (£11-£20), and the luscious chocolate cremeux with cassis and black sesame at $14 (£10) for dessert is not to be missed.
The breakfast menu is likewise small but satisfying, with standards like avocado toast, freshly baked pastries and even crepes with ham, cheese and egg that arrived via room service equally fresh and hot as when enjoyed in the restaurant. Prices are exorbitant, though: Breakfast for two was nearly $100 (£75), and dinner for two with drinks rang up at more than $300 (£225).
Trippy music-inspired libations in the lobby bar topped $20 (£15) apiece but were delicious. They included the old fashioned-like Camp Maclean with rye, smoky lapsang souchong, a drop of crème de cacao and Amara Averna bitters for nuance; and the surprisingly fruity and refreshing Forever 27 with Campari, Cointreau, orange juice, egg whites and soda.
Amenities and service
One of the hotel’s main draws is a rooftop pool with panoramas of the coast and the Hollywood Hills. Unfortunately, in a design oversight, the two new residential towers blot the sun out for a huge portion of the day, and because the pool bar is not yet open, there were no attendants on duty to check on guests.
On the fitness front, there is an expansive gym with its own mini Peloton studio and plenty of Technogym machines one level below the lobby. Guests can book private classes and training sessions, too.
This is also where guests will find the subterranean spa, with a coed relaxation lounge with snacks and infusions, as well as separate lockers for men and women, each complete with a sauna, a steam room and a shower experience that features customizable scents and lighting. The treatments are among the most expensive in town and include a 90-minute Amazonian facial with camu camu and Kakadu plum for $385 (£288) and a 90-minute immunity massage incorporating a mix of ginger, lemon and oregano essential oils for $375 (£280).
As for overall service, due to low occupancy rates so soon after opening, it felt like there were at least two people helping us at any given time, including seven valet attendants and three reception agents at check-in, but this should change as rooms start to fill up. The one exception was up at the rooftop pool where we didn’t see any hotel employees all day.
Out and about
Apart from its massive mall, Century City is mostly a business-focused neighbourhood. Its gleaming towers are filled with law offices, accounting firms and talent agencies, including CAA, whose offices are just across the street from the hotel. That said, you can literally walk into Beverly Hills to shop the boutiques on Rodeo and Canon, or head slightly farther east for a night out at the restaurants on Robertson, La Cienega or Melrose and the clubs along the Sunset Strip. A quick drive west will get you to the beaches of Santa Monica and Venice. After a long day, though, you might just want to stroll across Avenue of the Stars for a gourmet but laidback meal at Tom Colicchio’s flagship restaurant, Craft.
The hotel has ADA rooms, and housekeeping can provide shower chairs and raised toilet seats upon request. Most of the hotel’s public areas appeared wheelchair accessible, and the pool had a lift to allow easy entry and exit.
While a welcome addition to the Los Angeles luxury hotel scene and a beautiful restoration of an iconic property, the Fairmont Century Plaza doesn’t feel quite sumptuous enough to justify its current room rates. The hotel is bound to regain its place as a favourite venue for lavish galas and entertainment industry events, though guests looking for a more personalized stay or a more happening pool scene might want to look elsewhere.
Featured image by Eric Rosen/The Points Guy
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