Overview: The Los Angeles Athletic Club opened as the city’s first members-only club in 1880. The social and athletic organization moved several times before buying the 12-story building that it still occupies today in 1912. The club includes several floors of gym facilities and a glorious swimming pool on the sixth floor. But for most of its history, the club remained strictly for members only, with three levels of rooms set aside for visiting members or their guests who wished to stay overnight. In its early heyday, the club spawned the Riviera Country Club and the California Yacht Club, but they are no longer affiliated. In the early 2000s, the Athletic Club transformed its three floors of guest rooms into a 72-room boutique hotel, but it was awfully frumpy and dated. All that changed a few years ago, when the hotel completely renovated and upgraded everything.
The location: On the corner of Seventh and Olive streets, an area that has become a sort of restaurant row. The hotel entrance is on Seventh, while the club entrance is on Olive, but both doors get you to the same place.
Room: Beach Club Suite, room 1027. I reserved a Deluxe Queen, City View, but when I checked in, I was upgraded to a suite simply because it was available and the hotel occupancy was low that weekend. The living room has enough seating for six or eight. The separate bedroom comes with a king bed dressed in Frette linens and enough feather pillows to build a fort. Blackout blinds and heavy curtains make the city streets seem far away. Frette robes and slippers are a nice touch, too. The closet is oddly configured and difficult to access, but that’s not a deal-breaker.
Public spaces: The entire members-only club is open to hotel guests, and their guests. This includes the multilevel gym and the pool. Pay no attention to the the drab first-floor lobby and front desk. Once you get into the elevator and go up, everything changes. The real lobby and social scene are on the third floor, and it’s gorgeous, like a library in an old mansion. The decor throughout is classy, clubby and masculine. And if you’re watching the current season of “If You Think You Can Dance,” you’ll recognize the rooftop terrace as the place where Justin Bieber’s dance crews were filmed, surrounded by a spectacular wraparound view of the city.
Food/drink: The bar (great mixology program) and restaurant (basic American fare) are on the third floor as well. Like everything else, these areas are off-limits to the general public but open to members and hotel guests. An old jazz band plays and sings in the lounge. Complimentary buffet breakfast is included.
WiFi: Free and fast.
Service: The service is doting and humble, just as you might expect from a private club.
Cost: $214, plus taxes and fees. Parking, with in/out privileges, is only $20 a day; that’s half the price of other downtown hotels.
Bottom line: Don’t let the drab first-floor entrance scare you. This is a lovely little hotel and one of the best-kept secrets – and best values for the money – in downtown L.A.
This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register. To view more of my work for the Register, check out the archives. For more dining and travel inspiration, I invite you to follow me and join the conversation on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.