L.A. Live brings rebirth of urban chic to a boil

For a good five years now, developers, restaurateurs, promoters and event producers have been hyping the rebirth of downtown Los Angeles, hoping visitors would see beyond Skid Row to the thriving culture and nightlife humming along the historic streets.

And now, with this spring’s opening of the Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott hotels at L.A. Live — itself coming up on a two-year anniversary — the transformation of downtown seems near complete.

Downtown pioneers like MOCA, Disney Hall and Staples Center have made the area a destination for over a decade, as have chic, stylish clubs and restaurants like the Edison, Church and State and Bottega Louie more recently, but the area hit a milestone when the Independent Spirit Awards moved from its seaside tent in Santa Monica this year in favor of L.A. Live’s rooftop Event Deck.

A few months later, the L.A. Film Festival shifted from Westwood to downtown, turning the Event Deck into its Festival Village. During the fest, “The Kids Are All Right” made its L.A. bow at Regal Cinemas, and “Twilight: Eclipse” — a Hollywood event if ever there was one — had its premiere at the Nokia Theater.

“If you’re pulling that away from Hollywood, that’s pretty significant,” says Deirdre McCready, SBE’s director of special events. Anticipating the shift, SBE brought its Hollywood property Hyde Lounge to the Staples Center late last year, creating an opulent nightclub and viewing suite from which guests can watch concerts and Lakers games and then continue the party in style. Private rooms like the SBE VIP Suite — which has a gold mosaic ceiling and luxurious leather couches — hold 40-50; the entire venue (which Spike TV recently bought out for its Video Game Awards afterparty) holds 300.

Staples Center has also been home to the Grammy Awards since 2000, but the opening of the Grammy Museum at L.A. Live in December 2008 brought a new level of music industry cachet — and a new event venue. Last year, Christina Aguilera rented out the entire four-floor museum for her post-Grammy party, giving her 500 guests the freedom to roam this interactive music Mecca and enjoy Wolfgang Puck’s food on the roof deck.

The pedestrian-friendly nature of L.A. Live is certainly crucial to the success of the venture and downtown in general. “It’s very nice to have that luxury of walking to a few different venues and really enjoying the evening without having to drive to three different locations,” notes Allison Williams, general manager of WP24, Puck’s modern Asian cuisine-meets-high design spot on the 24th floor of the Ritz-Carlton.

With its floor-to-ceiling views of the downtown skyline, WP24 holds 120 for a seated dinner; it also has private dining rooms for up to 26. Alice Cooper recently hosted a series of intimate dinners there after he performed on the “American Idol” finale at the Nokia.

And if your idea of “intimate” is cocktails for 500, there’s Exchange L.A., a 25,000-square-foot, multilevel event space on Spring Street in downtown’s historic core. Open since June for private events, this former site of the Los Angeles Stock Exchange, boasting the original bronze doors and handpainted ceiling from 1931, already has holiday parties slated for Google and Time Warner.

For Gyna Cantagallo, L.A. Live’s manager of special events, the dramatic nature of the recent shift is illustrated by one simple fact: Westsiders are now willing to make the trip downtown.

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