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Hip design, great food and only a whiff of poseur: The Ace in L.A.

The neon ‘Jesus Saves’ sign on the back of the Ace Hotel dates from its time as the home of Los Angeles University Cathedral.

Spencer Lowell/Ace Hotel

Ace Hotel Downtown Los Angeles

929 South Broadway St.,; 180 rooms from $199 (U.S.).

The myth that Los Angeles, the land of the automobile and the suburbs, does not have a downtown or at least not one worth visiting, has been turned on its head by a revival now under way and anchored by the Ace Hotel, the latest addition to the Portland-based boutique hotel chain. Opened in January, the Ace is set in the historic United Artists building, an ornate 14-storey office tower built in 1927 in Spanish Gothic style. A throwback to the L.A. of that era – Mary Pickford once trod these floors – but now updated as a centre of modern taste: Guests enter through a lobby with original black and white tile floors to a minimalist check-in desk with old wooden filing cabinets directly across from the lobby restaurant.

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Set in the old theatre district, the Ace is located among office buildings built in the 1920s and 1930s that are now more often than not converted condo lofts. At street level there is an active restaurant, bar and retail scene that proves that downtown L.A. is now a destination in itself rather than a side visit from Hollywood or Beverly Hills. Walking distance from the hotel are the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Arts District, the fashion district, gallery row, Chinatown, Little Tokyo and the historic downtown. Another bonus is easy access to the city's clean and comfortable subway system – who knew? – that will take you all the way up to Hollywood, if you haven't seen it already.


In-room reading material leans toward the (very) eclectic and (very) niche, such as Tom Tom Magazine (dedicated to interviews and information about female percussionists from around the world). Some rooms include an acoustic C.F. Martin guitar, the placement of which has a whiff of poseur.


Rooms with bare poured concrete walls (an innovation when the hotel was built in 1927 when steel girder construction was still new) set the tone for the Ace's sparse design sense. Restoration is otherwise impressive for this architectural gem that includes a lit-up rooftop cupola and the neon "Jesus Saves" sign on the back of the building, which dates from its time as the home of Los Angeles University Cathedral. Rooms are comfortable but compact; do not expect space for yoga exercises or vigorous movement. The steel balcony that comes with some medium rooms owes more to a Manhattan tenement than a lounge-friendly deck. The vertigo inclined are advised to stay indoors.


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The Ace and the downtown core are hipster central, so expect locals as often as out of towners. While staying here there was a big fat gay wedding in the second floor events room and a splashy pre-Grammy party next door in the ornate theatre originally built as a United Artists movie studio and now available for private events.


A great restaurant scene is within easy walking distance of the hotel. Otherwise, LA Chapter, the Ace's light and lively brasserie located off the lobby and with an outdoor sidewalk café area, serves Euro-American fare with an emphasis on fresh and thoughtful ingredients. A dinner menu created by Jud Mongell and Ken Addington (behind celebrated Brooklyn restaurants Five Leaves, and Nights and Weekends) offers everything from lemongrass rabbit ragu with semolina and borlotti beans to a hamburger with harissa mayo. Service is snappy, but expect to wait for a table for lunch and breakfast on weekends.


The Ace's rooftop lounge and pool is in high demand – it's only the second such setup in the whole downtown. Expect nightclub type crowds on weekends. However, the poolside view on a sunny afternoon with the Hollywood hills in the distance more than makes up for this.

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