The Man Behind The Coolest Hotel In LA
Inside No 850. Photograph courtesy of JK Hotel Group
Meet hotelier Mr Jeff Klein as he opens his newest venture, No 850.
Photograph by Mr Kendrick Brinson/The New York Times
It is cocktail hour on the terrace of Mr Klein’s Sunset Tower Hotel in Los Angeles, a time of relative calm between the spritzy languor of an afternoon around the pool and before the buzzy air-kissing evenings at the Tower Bar inside. This is the time of day when Hercule Poirot might take his tisane and take stock of his fellow travellers, and Mr Klein is getting into a similar spirit. “It’s so fun to be a voyeur in hotels,” he says. “Is that his wife? Is that his mistress? His daughter? You are always looking at people and trying to figure out their stories. And you kind of make it what you want it to be.”
We are here, as the Los Angeles sky turns from washed denim to cotton candy, because, 17 years after making his debut with the City Club hotel in Midtown Manhattan and about 13 since setting the high bar for glamour in LA with his renovation of the 1929 Mr Leland Bryant-designed Tower on the Sunset Strip, Mr Klein is launching a new hotel. No 850 opens this month, just a few blocks down from the Strip, in an overhauled California bungalow on North San Vicente Boulevard. The new venture is a dramatic departure from the iconic Art Deco institution that is the Sunset Tower. Whereas the Tower is the very epicentre of see-and-be-seen LA (it’s the venue for Vanity Fair’s Oscar party), No 850, in a 1918 cottage built for railway workers and extensively remodelled by architect Mr Marc Appleton (of San Ysidro Ranch fame) and designer Ms Rita Konig, feels like an auberge in a sleepy Napa Valley town. In fact, with its honesty bar and mezze-and-wine hour on the roof, No 850 seems to have more in common with old-world pensiones than high-wattage Hollywood hotels. And this is intentional, says Mr Klein.
“Every year, my husband John [Goldwyn, a producer] and I try to explore a new area,” says Mr Klein. “Three summers ago, we went to Sicily. There was this little hotel that I fell in love with. The funny thing is, when we were booking it, they were like, ‘There’s really only one hotel for you to stay in this town and it has 14 rooms and it used to belong to the prince of Noto or whatever.’ We got there and I really didn’t want to like it, but I just fell in love with it, with how intimate it was, how sincere. To me, hotels are like people and I really try to get to know them. That’s why owning a hotel is like having a baby. And you bring that baby up. Sunset Tower, when I first opened it, was not what it is today. You’re constantly figuring out how to be better.”
“The thing I’m probably most proud of is that, 12 years later, people are really interested in us,” says Mr Klein. “People are very connected to the place. Mitch Glazer and Kelly Lynch have been an unbelievable help in making it successful. First of all, they introduced me to the great maître d’, Dimitri Dimitrov. They brought all their friends and really endorsed it. Tom Ford’s another one. [Agent] Kevin Huvane. They were huge to me because it did take a little bit of work to make it what it is. I feel I had to educate LA a little bit. They did not want this. Their gut reaction was, ‘Oh, it’ll never work.’ They were right to a point, but, like Steve Jobs used to say, the customer doesn’t know what they want until you tell them what they want. And when I did, I think Los Angelenos realised they are sophisticated. Not that the Sunset Tower made LA more sophisticated, but it gave them a place where they could enjoy it.”
PRIVACY, THE ULTIMATE LUXURY
“No 850 will probably be less of a scene and more about the privacy,” says Mr Klein. “Privacy has become such a luxury these days. Our guest is going to be a sophisticated traveller who craves the intimacy of that property. It might be somebody who’s here from London writing a movie and just wants to be able to write. He needs that space and this place will give it to him.”
INSTAGRAM IS NOT IT
“You go to meetings with hotel owners now and they all talk about the Instagrammable moment,” says Mr Klein. “A lot of people want that, really want it. Well, I’m a bit of a contrarian, so we don’t even allow photographs here. To me, that’s not that interesting. What’s interesting is what you are thinking about when you are home, six months later, remembering all these experiences from the property. That’s what I’m trying to capture, those memorable moments. That may not be what people think they’re looking for, but if we can deliver something deeper, I think they’ll come. I think Sunset Tower’s proven that. There’s nothing to Instagram here and we’re one of the busiest hotels in LA.”