When most Angelenos think of “Los Feliz,” an old neighborhood east of Hollywood, they conjure images of beautiful homes and forested lawns. Or, at the very least, fancy old apartment buildings. It’s a region that includes the Los Feliz Hills, Los Feliz Estates and the Franklin Hills. It’s primarily thought of as the area between Franklin Boulevard and the Greek Theatre and Griffith Park. It’s where Angelina Jolie lives in the old Cecil B. DeMille estate. It’s where Jon Hamm, Zac Efron, Chris Pine, and Keifer Sutherland call home. It’s where Katie Perry resides and where she notoriously tried to buy a nearby nunnery that sits on eight and a half acres. What never comes to mind at the mention of Los Feliz is the gritty block of Western Avenue just above Hollywood Boulevard, which is where Cara is located.
However, if you look at the official realtor’s map, Cara does technically (just barely) sit within the southwestern-most boundary of Los Feliz. Realistically, though, this is smack-dab in the heart of Thai Town, defined by not-so-fancy rent-controlled apartment buildings, worn-down motels, an increasing number of homeless tents and some of the finest Thai food in America. This address is more aptly pinpointed as “Los Feliz adjacent,” a common parlance in LA realtor-speak. Across town, the Four Seasons hotel takes this same liberty, calling itself the Four Seasons at Beverly Hills, even though it’s not actually in Beverly Hills, but close enough.
That’s the first thing everyone should know about the Cara Hotel Los Feliz.
The second is this: The principle owners are Dean and Katie McKillen. Katie is the CEO of her family’s winery, Grassini Family Vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley north of Santa Barbara. Katie’s husband Dean (in addition to being involved with Laurel Hardware) is the real estate investor who developed a mansion in Bel Air a few years ago and sold it to Beyonce and Jay-Z for $88 million, according to widely published reports. Before that he sold a house to Calvin Klein in the Hollywood Hills for $25 million.
Incidentally (or perhaps quite relevantly), Dean’s father is Paddy McKillen, the billionaire Irishman who owns (along with the royal family of Qatar) the ultra-posh Maybourne Hotel Group, which includes Claridges, The Berkeley and The Connaught, three of the most prestigious hotels in London. And if the name Maybourne sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because the senior McKillen’s company recently bought the Montage Beverly Hills and renamed it The Maybourne Beverly Hills.
Incidentally (or perhaps quite relevantly), Dean’s father is Paddy McKillen, the billionaire Irishman who owns the ultra-posh Maybourne Hotel Group, which includes Claridges, The Berkeley and The Connaught, three of the most prestigious hotels in London.
While the 60-room Cara Hotel (motel) is not associated with the Maybourne Hotel Group, it is impossible to disassociate the family name and fortune and the luxury-hospitality pedigree that comes with it.
The younger McKillen clearly spent a tidy sum flipping the old Coral Sands, a two-story courtyard motel that never previously had any ambitions of architectural or aesthetic importance, which makes the transformation nothing less than remarkable. When you step across the threshold you are greeted with towering splays of freshly cut roses, and you think to yourself (or at least I do), “This is exactly what it smells like to step into The Berkeley or Claridges” or, say, the Four Seasons at Beverly Hills. And while there is no doorman, the service throughout is immediately warm, personal and attentive.
The old building’s drab facade was replaced with a grand, two-story, Venetian stucco foyer fortified with wrought-iron French doors — minimalist Mediterranean meets Arabian Desert chic. When you enter, after you’ve inhaled the roses, look up: Your jaw will drop when you see the exquisite crown moulding that was custom-made in France. Once the doors close behind you, the city’s chaos quickly fades, giving way to a relaxing soundtrack of smooth electronic pop, sultry R&B and vintage jazz that oozes throughout the property as outdoor curtains flutter in the breeze.
The McKillens completely gutted all the rooms and started from scratch, laying beautiful hardwood floors and hanging interesting photos of LA on the walls. (The art throughout is understatedly stunning.) Most impressively, they moved all of the second floor entrances to a new walkway on the backside of the building and transformed the original interior walkway into private balconies overlooking the courtyard.
The rooms are small but posh, outfitted with queen-size beds instead of kings because the larger beds would have been too big to allow two cream-colored slipper chairs to flank either side of the bed. The mattresses are extremely comfortable, though, with excellent pillows and luxurious linens. The mini bar comes stocked with a dozen different canned cocktails, plus a bottle of Amass gin and an elderflower tonic from England. The closet is stocked with Frette bathrobes and slippers. Balconies off the second-floor rooms are furnished with a pair of cushioned, low-slung teak loungers. (Ground-floor rooms are still under construction and not yet bookable.)
The entire courtyard has been paved with sand-colored bricks. The old swimming pool was replaced with a shallow reflection pond, which is surrounded by lounge chairs and dining tables, all of which are shaded with hundred-year-old olive trees and multiple sets of king palms. They also excavated the front yard and built twin patios behind a 15-foot-tall privacy hedge.
The restaurant, also called Cara, is almost entirely outdoors, including part of the kitchen, which includes a couple of Big Green Egg charcoal grills set up in a corner of the parking lot. There is a small indoor bar just off the lobby, but that’s off-limits to all but staff for now because of the pandemic. (Note: COVID safety protocols are stringently enforced.) Socially distanced dining takes place throughout the courtyard, around the pool and on the two front patios. This is outdoor living at its best. When you’re inside these walls, you feel like you really could be in Los Feliz. Or somewhere even more glamorous and distant.
The chef is Michael Patria, who spent six years with Four Seasons, most recently in Santa Barbara and before that Atlanta (where he’s from). His menu draws a line from Italy to California by way of Mexico, all with an eye toward simplicity. Most dishes involve no more than a few ingredients — a skill that should never be underestimated.
Fettuccine is absolutely sublime, for example, when the recipe calls for nothing more than really good lemons, butter and top-quality Parmesan cheese. And there’s a wonderful branzino pan-roasted with merely a splash of olive oil and stuffed with a salad of crispy wax beans.
There’s also a Yucatán ceviche that is pitch-perfect. If you were to order only one thing while enjoying a glass of French rosé by the pool, make it this. It’s a fairly small portion of snapper from the coast of Santa Barbara marinated gently in citrus and tomatillo with thinly sliced serrano chiles and avocados. Apparently Patria encountered a ceviche just like this in Cozumel and loved it so much he came home and spent weeks reverse engineering it.
The food’s not cheap. That gloriously simple fettuccine costs $21. The ceviche, $26. And that branzino (for one), $45. These are Four Seasons prices in Thai Town, which might be shocking for some, but I think it’s probably worth it.
Bottom line: While the neighborhood is inarguably unglamorous, the Cara Hotel is a genuinely charming oasis that feels a million miles away.
Rates from $350; 1730 N. Western Ave., Los Angeles, 323-672-8990, carahotel.com