Chateau Marmont


Chateau Marmont: this LA hotel, the setting for new flick Somewhere is where celebrities go to misbehave. By Christian Koch

Metro, 21 January 2011


For all its Guns N’ Roses-spawning, Mötley Crüe-hell-raising past, for many visitors, Los Angeles can be a curiously sterile, non-rock’n’roll kind of place. Its clean-living denizens venerate bulgur wheat instead of Bukowski, AA cards are thrust into revellers’ hands before their fourth drink while any city where parking valets outnumber bars is bound to arouse suspicions.

But Metro is determined to wring some showbiz hedonism from the City of Angels, kicking off our rockular weekend as any sane rock star would, jetting there via Virgin’s Upper Class service. After guzzling endless champagne refills and watching one of Loose Women hog the onboard bar, we head straight to one of LA’s seminal gig venues –Whisky a Go Go.

The Whisky once helped launch the careers of The Doors, Love and Van Halen. Now, you’re more likely (as Metro did) to join a seven-strong audience (including three kids wearing deely-boppers) watching an greying metal band, while a huge bouncer repeatedly booms, “KEEP THE GANGWAY CLEAR!” Across the road at the Viper Room, where River Phoenix croaked his last in 1993, it’s no better. In fact, the most debauched thing Metro observes on Sunset Strip is a vagrant slowly wetting himself.

With our Attila-esque LA plans fading fast, we have one last resort: checking into the Chateau Marmont, just like the stars. 

The locale for new Sofia Coppola film Somewhere, this celebrity crash-pad is entrenched in Hollywood legend, having been privy to all manner of A-list bacchanal, whether it’s Easy Rider star Dennis Hopper staging 50 girl-strong orgies or comedian John Belushi overdosing on speedballs in bungalow number 3.

In Somewhere, Stephen Dorff plays a Hollywood badboy living a semi-depraved existence at the hotel. The reality isn’t too far off. Since being built as LA’s first earthquake-proof hotel in 1927, the Marmont has been synonymous with the puckish proclivities of its celebrity guests. Jim Morrison used up the “eighth of nine lives” after attempting to swing into his room from the roof, Heath Ledger was videoed allegedly snorting cocaine in the Chateau shortly before his death and Johnny Depp boasted of making love to ex-squeeze Kate Moss in every room. Long-term residents have included Greta Garbo, Robert de Niro, Keanu Reeves and Lindsay Lohan, who reputedly ran up a bill of nearly £500,000 after being ensconced there for a year. Even the Chateau’s staff are minor celluloid stars. Get chatting to the garage valet or waiter, and they’ll casually inform you about their Somewhere speaking cameo.   

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Pulling up the driveway, the Marmont looms above Sunset Boulevard like a Disney-fied Transylvanian castle, all turrets and stalker-evading high eucalyptus hedges. Having been ferried up in a matchbox-sized wooden elevator (where Scarlett Johansson once allegedly had sex), Metro staggers into the Gothic lobby and is led to our cottage (there are rooms inside the hotel as well as bungalows) through tranquil jasmine gardens, past a Hockney-esque swimming pool. It’s eerily quiet and you feel as if you’re being watched, Gatsby-style from one of the turrets (in the 1950s Howard Hughes lived in the penthouse, leering through binoculars at girls sunbathing by the pool).

The cottages themselves are decorated with retro 1930s’ furniture – quirky old lamps, floral print curtains and rugs without a fag burn in sight. The bathroom looks like it hasn’t changed since Vivien Leigh’s day and there’s a kitchen featuring a General Electric fridge (no minibar here) that you could fit three children (and possibly a Gibson guitar) into. The ambience is as soft as a duvet; somewhere rockers are more likely to install their mum rather than supergluing furniture to the ceiling and ordering 30 condoms on room service.

But there is a 24-hour shoe shine. Metro makes a mental note to have its Adidas buffered at 3am before heading out.

Dining in Bar Marmont (the chef is Carolynn Spence, poached from New York’s Spotted Pig), Metro wolfs down the Damn Good Burger and sits next to a bald, Martini-supping Belgian at the bar. But a quick celeb count comes to the square root of nothing, so we retreat to the garden restaurant – the very place where Britney Spears was reputedly banned after guests complained about her smearing food over her face. However, other than the drone of some woman blathering loudly about “auditions”, tonight, star wattage is dim.

But even if there were celebrities here, it’s so dark you wouldn’t be able to see them. Wherein lies the Marmont’s possible allure to famous folk. The motto here is discretion. At the Marmont, celebrities can relax and have a drink for once, away from paparazzi, grubby journalists and pathetic plebeians gawking at them during lunch. After all, owner Andre Balazs once said he might throw somebody out for asking for an autograph. If any gossipworthy titillation does happen, even the staff won’t know what’s going on. 

Metro’s rock weekend ends a few hours later. Fumbling around with our keys (booze may have played a part in this uncharacteristic butterfingered-ness), a Marmont apparatchik pops up, discreetly escorting us back to our cottage.

The following morning, furniture remains unbroken, champagne is still in the fridge and the TV is still resolutely fastened to the floor. John Belushi would have been appalled.