Chateau MarmontOld Hollywood Glamour
Things are a bit tattered, with a few stains on the brown carpet from parties past, sure, but still unmistakably Old Hollywood glam. Hotelier Andre Balaz bought the joint in the 1980s, and sacrificed none of the charisma in the renovation. If you crinkle your nose, you can smell the cigarettes, long since smoked, squint and you swear you can see the drugs, long since ingested, on the mirrored surfaces of the powder rooms. It’s precisely this mix of both high and low, of European tea salons and skid row that makes this place work.
“Who’s your favourite author?” the young British woman on the stool next to me asks. She offers me a bowl of cold French fries, and pokes her straw into what used to be a Negroni, but is now only melting, pink cubes. All around us the tinkling of piano music.
“Ah, I don’t know. Lately Denis Johnson.” I tell her. And her eyes light up. “Stop it!” she proclaims, and proceeds to quote the final stanza from Johnson’s story Beverly Home from Jesus’ Son. “All these weirdos,” she says. “… I had never known, never even imagined for a heartbeat, that there might be a place for people like us.” She dunks a cold fry in ketchup.
A place for people like us. Johnson had been talking about a hospital for the elderly, the mentally ill, but he could have been talking about the place we’re sitting – The Chateau Marmont – a hotel where disappearing in plain sight is encouraged, where the weight of engagements past practically beckons you to create a little history of your own, a hotel where quoting Denis Johnson’s degenerate, vaguely mystic prose seems more than appropriate. The Chateau is a place of stories, after all. And yes, also of debauchery. I won’t bore you with the yarns you’ve heard through the years – of Dennis Hopper’s orgies, of John Belushi’s overdose, Lindsay Lohan’s tab, Helmut Newton’s car crash, or Jim Morrison’s attempt to fly. Everyone of a certain persuasion, famous or not, seems to have a story here. And that’s the point. Director Matt Tyrnauer called the Chateau “… a no-tell motel with high thread count sheets.” What is unclear to me is whether The Castle on the Hill, as it is sometimes referred to, is a case of chicken, or egg – whether the crazy shit happens because everyone knows other crazy shit has happened, and feels they have to contribute, or if the crazy shit came first. Either way, the energy is undeniable here. To steal a lyric from Atlanta Rhythm Section: there is Voodoo in the valves.
I’m up with the sun the next morning. Half awake. In the bathroom of sprawling Room 44, I swing open the big steel windows over the tub, and shower looking east down Sunset Boulevard. I am, in fact, so close to the windows that my left elbow hangs out of doors as I scrub my head with shampoo. The hot water cascades pleasantly over the sill and down onto the stone walkway below. Drip. Drop. The day is still grey and cool. Later, the trickle of passing cars on the street below will become a deluge, and the breeze will pick up, and the Los Angeles sun will shine. But for now, it is quiet nestled in these hills. For now, it feels like my castle.
Last night, before I was on the barstool, I’d taken a long walk down the Boulevard in the fading Los Angeles light. The evening was warm and full of promise. I walked up the curved, cobbled pathway, past the valets, through the maze of carpeted stairways and up into the lobby of the Chateau. A bowl of bright red apples greeted me in the dim light. The term ‘guest’ is thrown around loosely in hotels, but it seems to hold more weight here. The former apartment complex has a broken in feel – like the crash pad of a hip uncle who likes velvet, and listens to Lou Reed B-sides. Things are a bit tattered, with a few stains on the brown carpet from parties past, sure, but still unmistakably Old Hollywood glam. Hotelier Andre Balaz bought the joint in the 1980s, and sacrificed none of the charisma in the renovation. If you crinkle your nose, you can smell the cigarettes, long since smoked, squint and you swear you can see the drugs, long since ingested, on the mirrored surfaces of the powder rooms. It’s precisely this mix of both high and low, of European tea salons and skid row that makes this place work. A writer pal of mine told me he likes to make a pit stop at the old liquor store on the corner of Sunset before each visit to the Chateau. The bottle of French Champagne he procures there is enjoyed with his In-N-Out burger and fries. High. Low.
The derelict brand of decadence works. People don’t just stay here. They camp out here for stretches. It’s become a bit of a dream for a certain subsection of Hollywood to shack up at the Chateau. Returning patrons request their favourite rooms, arrange trysts, lock in deals, play ping pong by the pool, piano in the lobby, pen notes on the personalised stationery. Do people even live in hotels anymore? Well, not really! But they live here. Fictionally, like Stephen Dorff as Johnny Marko in Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere – required LA viewing if you haven’t seen it – and in real life, too. Emile Haynie’s We Fall, one of my favourite albums of 2015, was made here. Producer Haynie was recovering from a particularly vicious breakup, living in one of the Chateau’s bungalows. Musicians who just happened to be here playing, staying, or partying – Florence Welch or Father John Misty, say – would swing by the room and record. As I said before, things just seem to happen serendipitously here. Even art.
However, there are many different Chateau Marmonts. The Chateau of the visiting businessman who takes his espresso and eggs early in a sunken lobby nook, and of the whispering elder European couple with their army of suitcases. And yes, the actors, writers, models, directors, rockers, and young Hollywood scions that put this place on the map. There is also my Chateau, and yours. All these weirdos. Strangers passing in the night like ships. And whatever you do here, however you arrive or leave, whether you stay for a night or a month, you’re only a small part of the story, a sprinkling of improvisation on top of an already classic track. One played so loud and so long the grooves begin to hiss under the weight of the stylus.