Looking for Oscar

This piece appeared in the Irish Daily Mail on Saturday, February 25, 2017.

Looking for Oscar, or scouring West Hollywood for the most elusive ticket in town.

Sunday is Oscars night, and Los Angeles is getting ready to show its stars the love for the 89th time. I know I’ve virtually no chance of snaring an invite, so the next best thing is to show up a few days early and soak up some of the atmosphere.

My LA home is the Grafton, a boutique hotel on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood. It has tidy rooms with plantation shutters and a rock ‘n’ roll motif. On the first morning, fighting jet lag with an early morning cup of coffee, I see rapper Ja Rule drinking champagne in the bar telling his companions about a possibly teaming up with Kris Jenner. You heard it here first, folks.* 

My bedroom at the Grafton

My bedroom at the Grafton

Welcome to West Hollywood, home to dark-edged tequila bars, raw food kitchens and a thick slice of Hollywood lore.

Across the street is the Comedy Store, which spawned generations of comic talent from Billy Crystal to Amy Schumer. Just down the street is the Chateau Marmont, where decadence and discretion made for some of Hollywood’s most lurid tales.

This is where Howard Hughes perved over sunbathing beauties with a pair of binoculars and, in Bungalow 2, John Belushi shot his last speedball in 1982. James Dean jumped through one of the windows because he thought it would impress director Nicholas Ray. He was right, because Ray cast the as-yet unknown actor in his upcoming teen melodrama, Rebel Without a Cause.

The 1929 Art Deco Sunset Tower, once home to John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra

The 1929 Art Deco Sunset Tower, once home to John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra

Howard Hughes didn’t have far to go to spy on girls in bikinis, as for a time he lived in the nearby Sunset Tower, an Art Deco classic from 1929 that at different times was also home to John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra. It’s now a classy hotel with a restaurant dressed in panelled wood (for that perfect 1930s club vibe) and lined with autographed photos of a century’s worth of Hollywood stars.

The food is classic American (Cobb salads, New York striploin) served with efficient speed to a darkly lit room of chatty industry types: at the table next to me, three scriptwriters exchanged work tips and war stories. I’m sure I spot Mark Ruffalo in the shadows on the far side of the room.

The Red Carpet Facial at Kinara; I've never felt so pampered. 

The Red Carpet Facial at Kinara; I've never felt so pampered. 

I need to get ‘Oscars ready.’ In a town where botox is as commonplace as green juice, I pick a less extreme option and treat myself to the Red Carpet Facial ($180) at Kinara, whose cult-following clientele include Halle Berry and Jessica Biel. My therapist Mirjana tells me I have amazing skin and feigns huge surprise when I tell her how old I am. I’m thrilled at the compliment and leave a big tip: I know how things work in Tinseltown.

I’m just disappointed that neither Halle or Jessica aren’t sitting in the high-ceilinged, boho-chic waiting room.

I venture down onto Hollywood Boulevard in the heart of Hollywood, once ground zero for the global entertainment business. Time hasn’t been overly kind and today, despite an intense cleanup effort, the birthplace of modern entertainment is a commercial monstrosity of bad tour hawkers, bored wannabe actors in superhero costumes and, oddly, the occasional snake handler.

These days the only stars are embedded in the pavement, but Hollywood Boulevard still has the hand- and footprints in the forecourt of Grauman’s (now TCL) Chinese Theatre, a movie house that debuted in 1927 with Cecil B DeMille’s The King of Kings, and, next door, the Dolby Theatre – the home of the Oscars.

I watch a crew redirect the crowds of snap-happy tourists away from the temporary stands being erected outside. On Sunday night they’ll be full of VIPs, although they’re not VIP enough to get a seat inside, close to the action. I ask someone when the red carpet will be laid down, and he looks at me like I’m crazy. ‘Sunday afternoon, of course. When else?’

I’m standing in front of the theatre, but I’m a million miles away from getting anywhere near the ceremony.

Instead, I opt for a 90-minute history lesson, courtesy of the Felix in Hollywood Tour. My guide Philip weaves historical magic over an unassuming half-mile section of Sunset Boulevard, transporting me back and forth across time, to when it was the birthplace of the film industry and, later, a key player in the history of recorded music. Philip has a flair for the dramatic and is a terrific storyteller: I’ll never look at Hollywood the same way again.

Bedrooms at Laguna Beach are all decorated in an elegant California coastal rustic style

Bedrooms at Laguna Beach are all decorated in an elegant California coastal rustic style

The Oscars are still days away, so I head south about 50 miles to beautiful Laguna Beach. This is one of Southern California’s loveliest spots, a town packed with independent shops, art galleries, surfable waves, great hiking and an easy-going atmosphere. My retreat is the exquisite Ranch at Laguna Beach, a laid-back luxury resort tucked up against a couple of canyons just south of town. The rooms are elegant, the pool heated to a constant 26 degrees and the nine-hole golf course as scenic a track as I’ve seen. I may not have an Oscars ticket but I’m living like an A-lister.

Laguna Beach, where the rich come to be idle in the lap of California coastal luxury. 

Laguna Beach, where the rich come to be idle in the lap of California coastal luxury. 

I head back to LA because I’m still hopeful and Hollywood is built on dreams. I’ll hang around West Hollywood and see what happens. Hey, Ja Rule was a guest in the same hotel as me and Mark Ruffalo and I ate in the same restaurant! Well, it was a guy that looked a lot like Mark Ruffalo. Actually, the room was pretty dark and maybe all I saw was an unshaven man with unruly curly hair.

I think I’ll just watch the Oscars on TV.

*I only found out later that the conversation I overheard Ja Rule having was about the ill-fated Fyre Festival, which ended in cancellation and the arrest of co-organiser Billy McFarland, who was then charged with wire fraud. 

Stay

Grafton On Sunset (8462 W Sunset Blvd; graftononsunset.com; rooms from $209/€198)

Ranch at Laguna Beach (S, 31106 Coast Hwy, Laguna Beach; theranchlb.com; rooms from $349/€330)

Eat

Tower Bar @ Sunset Tower Hotel (8358 W Sunset Blvd; sunsettowerhotel.com; mains $32-52)

Do

Kinara Skin Care Clinic and Spa (656 N Robertson Blvd; olgalorencinskincare.com; treatment $180)

Felix in Hollywood Tour (felixinhollywoodtours.com; $40)

Getting There

Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) flies direct to Los Angeles from Dublin daily from €237 each way

For More Info

Check out visitcalifornia.co.uk and visitwesthollywood.com