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San Laurel
Photograph: Courtesy Conrad Los AngelesSan Laurel

Conrad Los Angeles and the Grand LA are bringing Bunker Hill closer to its pedestrian-friendly potential

The Downtown L.A. hotel is the first part of a Frank Gehry-designed complex to open, with plenty of restaurants and bars in tow.

Michael Juliano
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Michael Juliano
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Making plans atop Bunker Hill almost always involves an “…and then what?” You’ve scored reservations for the Broad… but then where can you walk to afterwards that doesn’t involve hoofing it all the way downhill toward Pershing Square? You have tickets to a show at the Walt Disney Concert… but then where can you grab a drink?

The newly opened Conrad Los Angeles has arrived with an answer, even if you have no intentions of spending the night at the Downtown L.A. hotel. Positioned between the ultra-luxe Waldorf Astoria and the more familiar Hilton label, the Conrad has brought 305 guest rooms as well as a spa and a host of José Andrés-helmed restaurants and bars to one of two Frank Gehry-designed towers across the street from Disney Hall.

It’s the first finished piece of what was once known as Parcel Q, the most quintessentially-L.A. story of a piece of prime property on Grand Avenue: As Victorian mansions made way for civic campuses and postmodern skyscrapers, a block-sized hillside parking lot was built in the late 1960s to try to meet the increased demand for cars. It was apparently ugly then, and it was still ugly when the supposed-to-be-temporary lot persisted a half century later as a pedestrian dead zone right in the center of what was supposed to be DTLA’s cultural heart. But in 2018 the lot was finally demolished, and after a number of delays the resulting mixed-use complex has opened its doors—well, the hotel part of it, at least.

Conrad Los Angeles
Photograph: Courtesy Conrad Los AngelesThe Grand L.A.

There’s a trio of major components to the Grand LA: a three-level shopping and dining plaza that won’t be ready until next year; a 45-story tower split into two tiers of residences; and Conrad Los Angeles, a 25-floor hotel that we toured earlier this summer as it neared completion. 

When you enter the 10th-floor lobby, you’ll find yourself in an indoor-outdoor space at eye level with the grand auditoriums of the Music Center—certainly an aesthetic upgrade over a parking deck. It’s the kind of space you’ll want to linger in, so it’s no surprise that it’s dominated by José Andrés’s dining concepts: San Laurel, a Spain-meets-California menu served in a dining room that extends onto the patio; Sed, a curved cocktail bar that specializes in the sort of drinks that’ll have you swiping open your camera app; and the Beaudry Room, a stylish take on a casual lobby bar.

“The way I’ve envisioned it,” explains Adam Heffron, the hotel’s general manager, “you’ll say ‘let’s meet at the Beaudry Room, we’ll talk about where we’re going tonight.’ Next thing you know, I’m two bottles of wine in and I’ve had a steak and I’m sitting outside by the fireplace.”

The Beaudry Room
Photograph: Courtesy Conrad Los AngelesThe Beaudry Room
Sed
Photograph: Courtesy Conrad Los AngelesSed

Though we were particularly enamored with the lobby’s panoramic vista of Grand Avenue, the go-to pre-and-post-show reservation will surely be outside on the terrace at Agua Viva. Its southeast-facing perch means its views are mostly of government buildings, but you’ll be far more focused on the thicket of wood pergolas, woven fibers and lush greenery. As for the food, you’ll find Japanese and Latin American cuisine in parallel, but not necessarily fused together (so, say, ceviche and a hand roll, but not a collision of the two). It also sits right next to the pool deck—easily the biggest outdoor one in DTLA, with only the JW Marriott coming close—which includes even more Andrés bites at Airlight.

Agua Viva
Photograph: Courtesy Conrad Los AngelesAgua Viva

Back in the lobby, the industrial edges of a Gehry structure have been softened by designer Tara Bernerd’s interior touches, which pair smooth, mid-century–inspired lines with warm wood finishes and pops of color. There are local elements all over, from the floor tiles handcrafted in Inglewood to the curation of artwork entirely from L.A. artists, including Ben Medansky, Casper Brindle, Mimi Young and Brian Wills.

The aesthetic carries over into the surprisingly spacious guest rooms (made even airier with some clever sliding barn doors that open up the vanity area in the bathroom). Unlike most towering hotels, you may find yourself wanting to stay lower down; like the lobby, the lower floors feature postcard-worthy views of Grand Avenue, but move about the 18th floor and you’ll start to see more of the utilities that clutter the rooftops of the Broad and Disney Hall. 

Conrad Los Angeles
Photograph: Courtesy Conrad Los AngelesGuest room

Even the spa turns its attention to the cityscape. There are also three recovery cabins, nooks reservable for a half hour or an hour, that overlook the Grand LA’s central plaza while filtering out basically all outside noise. As for more formal services, the focus is on “intuitive massages,” a sort of buffet of relaxation that spa director Alina Medyanikova says avoids some of the typical shortcomings of a massage. “Instead of being like, ‘oh, but I want deeper pressure’ and then the therapist says ‘okay, but that’s a deep tissue massage—you have to pay more for that,’ it’s pretty much a custom massage,” she says.

The spa is a pretty intimate space, but that seemingly wasn’t always the plan for all of the wellness areas within the hotel. On the eighth floor, a tall, cavernous, gorgeously-positioned room along Grand Avenue currently sits unfinished. It was originally set to be a gym when Equinox was the original hotel operator, but the tenant quietly changed last year and Conrad quickly swooped in early on in the fall; they’ve yet to announce plans for the space.

There are still some missing pieces that need to fall in place at the larger Grand LA development, specifically the retail-centric plaza, which includes another José Andrés dining concept. And Metro’s Regional Connector project will bring a subway station only a block away later this year (fingers crossed). But with the opening of Conrad Los Angeles and its many culinary spaces (and even the recent arrival of Ray Garcia’s Asterid across the street), this stretch of Grand Avenue finally feels like its pedestrian-friendly realization is within reach. The late philanthropist Eli Broad, who bankrolled many of the earlier developments on the block including his namesake museum, once envisioned Grand Avenue as the Champs-Élysées of Los Angeles. Maybe the avenue will never achieve quite that level of foot traffic (a fact that Broad himself admitted) but its mid-2022 status already sure beats a parking deck.

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