1697 Pacific Ave., Venice, Calif.; 310-452-1111; hotelerwin.com. 119 rooms from $160.
Located just steps from Venice Beach, this recently opened hotel occupies one of the best locations in Los Angeles for visitors more interested in surf, sun, and small boutiques than in the Hollywood experience. But it's not a place for those nervous about less glamorous aspects of a truly urban setting - sandwiched between the stylish shops and cafés of Abbot Kinney Boulevard and the seedy tattoo and discount streetwear booths along the beach, it's home to a wide spectrum of humanity. At any given moment, you're likely to encounter shaggy surfer dudes, bare-chested senior citizen skateboarders, and packs of panhandlers.
Design Hotel Erwin was a Best Western before it was recently taken over by the California boutique hotel chain Joie de Vivre, and its history hasn't been fully erased. A renovation has added street art graphics and bright patterned drapery and bedding to the rooms to give them more personality, reflecting the colourful, eclectic character of the neighbourhood. There's a commissioned graffiti mural splashed across the wall at the hotel's entrance, photos of classic rock stars in the halls, and a giant wall clock in one of the suites that uses Vans sneakers as hour markers. However, these cosmetic upgrades have largely been plastered on top of the previous nondescript interior, resulting in a slightly awkward design - an ordinary budget hotel that desperately wants to be hip.
The amenities Hotel Erwin covers the basics - there's a small gym and business centre, and it's possible to reserve in-room spa services. Slow Wi-Fi is free, and a speedier premium service is available for a fee. The bathrobes, however, go beyond the expected with a lime green cheetah-print fabric instead of the usual white terry cloth. (That's either a plus or a minus, depending on your opinion of L.A. hair bands.) Rooms are also stocked with local skateboarding and city magazines.
The rooms Guestrooms on the top level of the six-storey hotel are newer, because the previous hotel added them just a couple of years ago. While they have modern bathrooms, they received less attention during the latest renovation, resulting in a look that is somewhat institutional. Guestrooms on floors 5 and below are more desirable. Because these rooms are older, the designers appeared to have more of a free hand - while you'll still get an aged, mustard-colored bathtub, there are also new sinks and perforated metal screens painted bright yellow, as well as street-art-inspired graphics on the walls and doors. It's a young, slightly kitsch, retrofit. All of the rooms are spotlessly clean.
Service The front desk staff is friendly and the valet service (essential in L.A.) is efficient. However, things seem a little disorganized. About an hour after I checked in, the cleaning staff walked in without knocking on the door, unaware that anyone was in the room. They apologized, but it could have been an unhappy moment.
Food and drink The restaurant is named Hash, and the rooftop bar, which has a spectacular view out to the beach, is named High (get it?) Both names are a knowing nod to the drugs that can probably be purchased outside. Hash is a small café on the ground floor offering various interpretations of breakfast hash (the kind with chopped potatoes and vegetables) as well as fun dishes such as Cap'n Crunch-stuffed French toast. The restaurant also runs room service, which is a disaster. After ordering pastries and granola for delivery at 8:00 a.m., I received a phone call at the scheduled time informing me that they were substituting oatmeal for the granola. Twenty minutes later I received half the order: two unappetizing muffins in plastic wrap, coffee without milk or sugar, and a promise that the rest would arrrive within an hour. Such service might be acceptable to an extremely chilled-out beach bum, but won't cut it for most travellers. I had other places to go, so I cancelled the order and headed to the excellent Intelligentsia coffee shop that's a 10-minute walk away.
The Verdict Despite new ownership, branding, and renovations, it feels like a budget hotel that hasn't ironed out all of the kinks. However, the price and location in the heart of Venice may be reason enough to stay here.
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