A week among the stars (and the Irish) in Los Angeles
Make sure your trip to LA includes great food, cool bars and a Dodgers game
Los Angeles’ magic is in its diversity but if ever a travel article was needed to help plan a trip to a major destination, it’s for the entertainment capital of Los Angeles.
Within the city itself there’s Downtown LA, Koreatown, Echo Park. The happening bordering neighbourhoods include Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Malibu and West Hollywood.
All iconic, but rather than spending the week behind the wheel, in an Uber, or booking a month off work, we decided to find the best base and discover the wonderful rest from there.
Staying in the plush Mondrian Hotel in West Hollywood, we were nestled between Beverly Hills, Hollywood and the city beyond. If the hotel’s outdoor pool didn’t quite satisfy our desire for sun and water, we were still close enough to explore the beach towns too. Home to one of LA’s most popular pool parties, the Skybar’s ivy-covered pavilion, with its flower walls, catchy tunes and panoramic views of the twinkling LA skyline, offers a quintessential Hollywood experience.
The pool, like the floor-to-ceiling windows throughout the hotel, looks down on the Hollywood hills. The 236-room hotel has just undergone a $20 million renovation, with an Alice in Wonderland theme where finesse meets quirkiness. Think white sheets, cream walls, wispy curtains, with gigantic spinning televisions and orange and blue accessories. It sounds bonkers, but it works.
Los Angeles is the entertainment capital of the world, and a short drive from the Mondrian is Universal Studios. I might be at least a decade older than the target audience, but that didn’t dim my excitement one iota as I rocked up the red carpet in front of the iconic universal globe. For me, the highlight inside the gates was exploring Hogwarts in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Two tips: don’t skip the Universal Studio tour or the amazing Waterworld live show, and buy the express tickets, about $70 (€62) on top of the general admission ticket price. The rides are as quick as they are exciting, but the queues are neither.
I might be at least a decade older than the target audience, but that didn’t dim my excitement one iota
Dinner that evening was at French restaurant Zinque in West Hollywood. This was a perfect mix of tasty and healthy to get the holiday eating off to a great start. In a cosy outdoor setting with string lights overhead, we enjoyed tuna tartare tartine, served with pesto, salt and vinegar crisps and parmigiano reggiano, and “le bowl”, a salad bowl with cauliflower rice and shrimps. They're their two most popular dishes, and I’d have happily kept coming back for them all week.
The following day we embarked on the famous Warner Bros Studio tour. I’m a big movie fan but, to be honest, I was coming for one thing – to sit on the real Central Perk couch from Friends. Once that Instagram post was ticked off, we got to stand under the Harry Potter sorting hat, and see the various Batmobiles that I had toy models of as a child. Our guide, Ali, was terrific too, teaching us the secrets of making “movie magic”.
Within walking distance of our hotel was Tortilla Republic, a Mexican restaurant recommended to me by Irish TV presenter and fashion guru Darren Kennedy. All the sauces are made by one of the owner’s (John Halter) mother, who comes into the kitchen herself to prepare them. As well as doing the traditional dishes uniquely, he grilled octopus and chicharrón, and the pork chop “Al Pastor 24”, served with caramelised pineapple, onions and grilled asparagus, were my standouts.
One of the great things about travelling abroad, and especially to the US, is seeing Irish people doing well for themselves. The Irish are thriving in LA. Sean Mulholland set up 40 Love last October to coincide with the McGregor v Khabib UFC fight. The Mullingar man, who lives in Hollywood with his childhood friend and One Direction singer Niall Horan, has since seen his breezy sports bar and lounge become a hit both with locals and celebrities alike. During our week-long stay, they hosted LeBron James for the NBA Finals, and the Irish actor Chris O’Dowd watched the Champions League final there. It’s also a regular hangout spot for pop rock band 5 Seconds of Summer. Sean’s giving the Hollywood highlife an Irish twist.
We’d spend two nights there over the week, but that particular evening we headed for downtown LA, and for dinner at Preux and Proper. Here I got to taste the most spectacular mix of dinner and dessert in one dish that I’ve ever had – their fried whole game hen. The meat was covered in buttermilk biscuits, serrano jelly, grated nutmeg, crushed pecans and honeycomb. The server complimented me for not licking the plate afterwards.
The following day we met another successful Irish person working stateside. Dubliner Nicola Parish started her company, Parish PR, in 2003 and now she organises film premieres, events and parties between LA and New York. We met her at one of her events, the Golden Trailer awards in the Theatre at the Ace Hotel – a restored 1920s movie palace – celebrating Hollywood’s best movie trailers, hosted by actor Marlon Wayans. Irish actor Jason O’Mara, who is the voice of Batman in the DC movies, also had a hosting role.
Dinner that evening was in Ace’s restaurant, Best Girl, named after the first film screened at the theatre in 1927. Michelin-star chef Michael Cimarusti’s menu lived up to its reputation in the city, especially the starter of chickpea panisse with spicy anchovy aioli and fried parsley. The pork Milanese with crispy creamed potatoes was also delicious, and all relatively healthy too. It’s easy to go for burgers and chips all week in the US, so to eat really memorable dishes without feeling terrible afterwards was a bonus.
The real magic was in the spectacle itself, from vendors selling hot dogs, to Mexican waves and beach balls in the crowd
Every Friday night the LA Dodgers have a fireworks display at Dodger Stadium. Fans can go onto the pitch and enjoy a fireworks show – synchronised with some classic hits – after the ball game. The match was a lot of fun, and the Dodgers managed nine home runs against the Mets, each one greeted by flashing lights, songs and chants. But the real magic was in the spectacle itself, from vendors selling hot dogs, to Mexican waves and beach balls in the crowd. The Americans really do know how to put on a show.
I went from gazing at the palm trees surrounding the Dodgers Stadium, to eating dinner at The Palm in downtown’s south park. This restaurant is pricey but well worth it. I tried lobster for the first time and it was fantastic, but steak is the main draw here. At 22 ounces (624g) the Prime Bone-In Rib Eye was huge, and straight out the best steak I’ve eaten. It was perfectly complimented by a side of creamed spinach, which had a tinge of cheese mixed in it. Despite being a side, it was one of best things I ate in LA.
Saturday night in Los Angeles – where to start? One of the things that separates LA nightlife from Miami’s, or even a large part of the New York scene, is the focus on really good bars over big nightclubs. No Vacancy was continually recommended to me and it didn’t disappoint when we finally made it at the end of the week. A speakeasy bar that takes the tag seriously, you enter through a hidden door within a large cupboard. “There’s only one rule, do not come out the way you came in.”
The next day was the last of the trip. A nod to British Airways, who are actually celebrating their centenary year in 2019. Back in 1919 when they launched the world’s first daily international scheduled flight from Paris, there was just a single passenger and cargo that included newspapers, Devonshire cream, jam and grouse.
These 12 plus hours of traveling were spent watching the latest movies, being spoiled with deserts and then, sleeping soundly.
Los Angeles: it’s the city of dreams alright.
Fly with British Airways, who are celebrating their centenary year in 2019, via a short stopover in London Heathrow. Flights from €367 return. britishairways.com
Where to stay
Ace Hotel: Medium room from €227 per night with advanced booking.
The Mondrian Los Angeles: Deluxe Studio Suite from €283 per night.
Where to eat
Zinque: Salad and bowls from €12/plates from €13
Best Girl: Starters from €7/mains from €14
The Palm Los Angeles: Appetisers from €9/steaks from €43
Preux and Proper: Southern fried dishes from €19
Tortilla Republic: Mains from €11/ Enchiladas from €15
What to do
LA Dodgers tickets for Friday night home matches from €24
Universal Studios Hollywood: One day admission from €95
Warner Bros. Studio Tour from €60