Saturday, December 29, 2012

Afternoon Tea for the Millennium Biltmore Hotel

View from the tea room!
Maybe one of your New Year’s resolutions is to try to slooooow things down a bit in your life. You know, take time to stop and smell the roses and actually talk to people—without having to use a keyboard. Or, maybe you want to meet friends for tea and munch on cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off.  We figured out how to do the latter option. The answer: Afternoon Tea at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles.

The Biltmore, a Historic Cultural Landmark, is located on Grand Avenue, right across the street from the Central Library, making it a perfect place to plop down after a fun afternoon of hunting down Harlow biographies and Deco fashion tomes.

The Biltmore has retained its classic glamour for nearly 90 years, and it is one of my (Lara) go-to places when friends come to town and want to go somewhere that captures an Old Hollywood vibe. This hotel is also a great local escape if you live in Southern California and need to get out of your toy-strewn house for a few hours of toddler-free calm. But enough about me!

Look at that glorious ceiling!
Striding into the Biltmore’s grand entrance (those columns! that archway!) by day might make you wish that you were decked out in a fitted suit with a smart hat, and by night a 1930s, Gowns by Adrian-style, clingy number.
If it is later in the day when you visit, you could stop into Gallery Bar for a drink and admire all the bronze and exquisite lighting. And make sure you look up as you walk through the Galleria to see the hand-painted, frescoed mural ceiling done by Italian artist Giovanni Smeraldi (one of the restaurants in the hotel was named after him).
It is tough to pin the d├ęcor down to one style; is it Mediterranean? Beaux Arts? Spanish? Yes, yes, yes, and more. We did not see any classic Art Deco details, but we proclaim the Biltmore Deco because it definitely captures the exuberance and unabashed glamour that we associate with the Art Deco era.

It opened in 1923, just two years before the start of what many experts consider the Art Deco period of 1925-1939, and it was the largest hotel west of Chicago. And even now, surrounded by skyscrapers, it still looks and feels imposing with a solid eleven stories.
The Biltmore has always had a strong Hollywood connection, from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences being founded here, to the rumor that MGM Art Director Cedric Gibbons sketched a drawing on a napkin that was the basis for the Oscar statue, to hosting eight Academy Awards ceremonies in the 1930s and 1940s.
Where tea is served!
There are four restaurants and bars in the Biltmore, but afternoon tea happens Wednesday through Sunday from 2-5p in the Rendezvous Court (once the hotel’s lobby), beside a gently gurgling fountain, under Italian chandeliers, and at the foot of an impressive Spanish Baroque staircase that you may have seen on the TV show Entourage.
With so much grandeur, you might think that you need to show up in a twinset and pearls, sit with your back straight, and stick a pinky out as you sip your tea, but the space and the atmosphere is remarkably warm and friendly, a perfect place to relax with girlfriends or your daughter.
Reservations are recommended, but thankfully we were able to slide in last-minute on a Saturday afternoon. Cori and I opted for the traditional Victorian Tea ($45 per person, excluding tax and gratuity), but you can also go with the Princess Tea ($22), which includes a pot of tea, a freshly baked scone with cream and preserves, and a selection of freshly baked cakes.
Our Victorian Tea came with more than enough food (served on a traditional three-tiered stand) and drink to fill us up!

There is a wonderful variety of teas to soothe away stress and help you forget that you are surrounded by the busy downtown streets of a major city, including Ceylon and India, Black Tea Blended, English Royal Breakfast, Masala Chai (my favorite—nice and warming), Lemon Echinacea (good for a cold), and Apricot Cinnamon. 

And did we mention that the tables are covered in white tablecloths and set with china featuring a sweet rose pattern? It is exactly the kind of china that I am always looking for at the Santa Monica Airport Flea Market. 
Our selection of tea sandwiches, which were cut into these cute tiny diamond shapes (crusts off, of course!), featured egg salad and asparagus, smoked salmon and dill butter, cucumber and cream cheese, and ham and cheese on pumpernickel. And the mini pastries are almost too pretty to eat…but, of course, we did. 
It is tough to choose a favorite among the fruit tarts, chocolate truffles, and the freshly baked scones with homemade Devonshire cream and strawberry preserves, but suffice it to say that we were practically licking the heavenly clotted cream off of our fingers, and Cori was wondering if her husband (a talented vegan chef) could make a dairy-free version of this. Stay tuned ;) 
We took a few leftovers home for our husbands, who had spent the afternoon watching the kids, although, I must confess, I continued eating the gold-dusted blueberry lemon tart in the car. J

Tea for two, please!
Contact Info:
Millennium Biltmore Hotel
506 South Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90071

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Wiltern Theatre: A Glam Experience, Even From The Last Row

The Famous Sign!
Before I (Lara) was bitten by the Art Deco bug almost five years ago, I thought that the Wiltern Theatre was aesthetically pretty and an ideal place to see a show, but it was not until recently when I truly saw it for the stunning Art Deco masterpiece and historical venue it truly is.
Let me take you back a few years to my experience at the Wiltern. Instead of gazing at the luxe entrance (Terrazzo flooring!) in wonder, I could be found pounding on the locked front doors as I stood outside with twenty winners from my radio station’s contest. My goal was simple, but it was oh-so-profound: to enable my station's contest winners to enjoy an acoustic performance at the Wiltern with the band Train.
Of course, someone eventually heard all the commotion out front and let us in, and we enjoyed some lovely renditions of “Meet Virginia” and “Drops of Jupiter” and even engaged in light banter with the band.
Now, a few years later and even more in love with Art Deco, I approach those same front doors with a sense of reverence and awe, almost as if I am entering a church. Can I get an Amen?
The Glorious Entrance! Look at the ceiling!
The Wiltern is located in the big, blue-green Pellissier Building in Koreatown at the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue. A poster located at the entrance gives you a Reader’s Digest version of the theatre’s history: The Wiltern opened its doors in 1931 with the premiere of the film Alexander Hamilton, starring George Arliss.

Design on the side of the building!
The theatre showed movies for over 50 years, and it was almost torn down in the 1970s until an awesome group of Angelenos (with help from the equally awesome Los Angeles Conservancy) saved it. In the book Theatres in Los Angeles (p.43), Anthony B. Heinsbergen, whose company created much of the Wiltern’s artwork, writes (when told about the plan to tear the Wiltern down) that what really killed all the grand movie palaces was the fact that there was no parking.
In fact, folks started going to films in suburban areas simply because they had room to park. Thankfully, there is now ample parking in the form of street parking, lots, and structures, and since the 1980s the Wiltern has flourished as a venue for live music.
The best way to see the Wiltern is to attend a show. Cori and I stopped in recently to see A Fine Frenzy and Joshua Radin in concert, and even though our seats were in the very LAST row, it was still a great view. (And no, our noses didn’t bleed…much.) And the seats are comfy! And even if they weren’t, you would notice for long because you would be blissfully drowning in the acoustic sounds. Seriously, the theater’s acoustics are almost heavenly.
The auditorium part of the Wiltern is reminiscent of the Egyptian or Pantages, with a sunburst and gold (so much GOLD) everywhere, and an overall feel of luxury. You might want to get a pic of yourselves (as we did) in the lovely rotunda, which is all about waves and sun and leaves and nature. We asked a nice gentleman who worked at the Wiltern to snap our pic, which he did, while also secretly turning Cori’s iPhone camera around and photographing his charming mug. (We sooo want to publish it!)  

Beautiful terrazzo flooring out front!
Contact Info:
The Wiltern Theatre
3790 Wilshire Boulevard  Los Angeles, CA 90010
(213) 388-1400