Monday, September 10, 2012

Above it all

For all photos - click to "embiggen"
There is something special about viewing the world from on high. Familiar places look different - toy-like, maybe. Or you suddenly see a pattern in the streets and roads that you can't take in when you're down there.

A top-floor restaurant with a magnificent view is a great attraction for a hotel - so many cities have them it's become a cliche. Some are attractions due to superlatives - the bar at the top of Chicago's Sears Tower, for example. Others are attractions for their show-biz trendiness - Los Angeles has enough of these to fill a travel book. Other smaller cities have them too - one in Indianapolis rotates as you dine.

Fashions come and go - but even when dated and drear, like a sad, deserted joint at the top of a frumpy hotel I once visited in Raleigh, NC, there's always something special about a place with a view.

Santa Monica's Huntley Penthouse bar is just such a story. Once a Radisson Hotel, its top floor bar was a frumpy joint called Toppers that featured margaritas and nachos, but for some folks, it was the best kept secret in town. That all changed when it was updated in 2005, with a new look by designer Thomas Schoos.

Schoos's design lightened and brightened the place, adding white leather lounges, exotic enameled drum-tables, cabana-like enclosures, white-painted hunks of driftwood, and whimsically post-modern touches like white murano chandeliers and classic Queen Anne wing chairs. The Penthouse became the place to be seen for the young and trendy. We went there once and felt old among the high-heeled and size 0 denizens of the cocktail hour.

Metal-tone vase with driftwood and moss
But that was 2005. We recently returned to the Huntley Penthouse, on a whim. It was a beautiful weekend day, we were in the neighborhood, and it seemed to be the right place to go for a view of the ocean.

We ascended the exclusive Penthouse elevator. We emerged before a free-form screen of twisted wire branches studded with votive candles. We told the young, sleekly dressed hostess that we would like a drink in the lounge, and were directed to an area with low, pale leather couches.

In the bright afternoon sun, the upholstery where so many trim and salon-tanned butts had perched was somewhat grey and soiled. The white enamel wicker-look drum shaped cocktail tables were scuffed around the edges, and a dried splash of coffee marred the finish.

The place was nearly empty -  a handful of guests occupied the Danish-style white leather barstools, the bar glinting with cobalt Skyy vodka bottles clustered around a constellation of amber-colored pillar candles. The cabana table closest to us was occupied by a couple finishing their brunch. 

Smoked glass. Driftwood stools. There's that Queen Anne chair!
It all looked tired and out of date - white patent ottoman-cubes? Beaded curtains? Abalone shell wallpaper?  Who really cares for that '70s retro thing anymore? That's so seven years ago!  I can hardly believe I felt intimidated in here at one time.

Cocktails based on kiwi fruit and blueberries - another tired trend.
We ordered a drink and looked out at the view. Our cocktails contained more than five ingredients each, one of which was muddled fruit - kiwi fruit in mine, blueberry in his. Another tired trend, that, I suspect, will soon go the way of the Cosmopolitan (remember those?).

The ocean stretches far, far away to a blurred horizon. If you look to the east, you can see the Getty Museum, high up on the hill over the Sepulveda Pass. Straight below, the rooftops and street trees of the neighborhood.

It never fails to fascinate. The contrived decor just melts away behind you without consequence, and there's that view.

And - girls - the other treat is the ladies' room, so don't forget to go powder your nose.

Marble floors, frosted glass stalls. And a view
The wheelchair-friendly last stall has a view of the ocean.

You can never get tired of that.

 So - After only seven years since its remodeling, it seems the Huntley Penthouse is on the verge of reverting back to a tacky backwater. In ten or so years, it will probably get another makeover - who knows what the decorating fashion will be then? But, funnily enough, right now it's the perfect place to go - no waiting list, no intimidating fashionistas, just a comfy place, with lots of space, a great ladies' room, and fantastic views. There's something to be said about being out of date.


Susan B said...

Oh, this looks like a great spot for a relaxing afternoon drink. Bookmarking to try soon!

Anonymous said...

Wow, I haven't been there in such a long time and it is exactly as I remember it!

M. Bouffant said...

I remember Toppers from their adverts on local cable tee vee. And now you tell me Toppers is no more & the trendy replacement is out of fashion as well. Where will it all end?

Glennis said...

Ah, M. Bouffant. Life goes on...!

cactus petunia said...

I would go just to hang out in the ladies' room!

Gilly said...

Its great fun looking down on places - dwellings and gardens, you can see all sorts of interesting things!! ;)

Anonymous said...

Yes, all things change. Sometimes it is better to not try to be trendy as trends come and go so fast. The view is the only constant in a restaurant/bar like that.

Oh, by the way, the Sears Tower in Chicago even changed, it's now the Willis Tower as Sears no longer owns the building.


Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

I think I'd be happy just to park myself in that last stall! What a view!