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In bed with the stars
It takes a certain breed of hotel to be hip enough, discreet enough and luxurious enough to cater to the whims of Hollywood's A-list

By CHRISTOPHER HEARD, Special to The Globe and Mail
August 31, 2002

When early September rolls around in Toronto, the one thing that is more valuable than gold in this town is hotel rooms, good hotel rooms. With the Toronto International Film Festival set to launch Thursday, stars and filmmakers from all over the world have been pouring into town placing eccentric demands on the city's concierges and hotel managers.

One guest once asked the Windsor Arms Hotel to have a bathtub filled with strawberry Jello upon his arrival. Another group tried to rent every room in the same hotel. For festival star-gazing, you need only stroll the avenues between Yorkville's Windsor Arms Hotel, the Park Hyatt and the Four Seasons. But while Toronto does have some luxury digs, we've got nothing on the panache of some of the continent's most famous hotels to the stars.

I have always had this fantasy of actually living in a hotel. Warren Beatty did it for years, as did Howard Hughes. Elizabeth Taylor kept a suite reserved at Toronto's Windsor Arms year-round.

Celebrities of today use hotels as their own playgrounds - little homes away from home. Often, stars will keep suites in their favourite hotels, or at least the hotels of the moment, even when they maintain grander residences in the same town.

In the 10 years that I have been flying around the world interviewing celebrities for the television shows On the Arts, Reel to Real and Admit One, I have had the good fortune of staying in several of the very cool, very hip hotels that cater to the very specific needs of the modern-day celebrity - the need to have a guarantee of privacy and the need to have the leeway to do whatever they want with impunity.

Young celebrities today are not flocking to big established hotels in tall towers complete with Las Vegas-style accoutrements. Instead, they are gravitating to smaller boutique hotels they can claim for their own. Here are four of North America's most intimate, comfortable and very cool celeb hotel hangouts.

  • Raffles L'Ermitage
    Over the past 10 years, Raffles L'Ermitage Beverly Hills has grown into the cool hotel to hang out in for Hollywood hipsters. Walk into the minimalist lobby and you are immediately taken aback by light and space and a stylishly hushed atmosphere.

    Depicted as the place to meet and the place to party in Steven Soderbergh's film Full Frontal, the hotel was featured in the film almost as a character unto itself.

    Its reputation has also grown because of the hotel's willingness to put up with almost anything. General manager Jack Naderkhani maintains that the hotel has never refused a request from a guest, no matter how seemingly outrageous. One well-known guest demanded that a large sandbox be built adjoining the rooftop pool so his children could play while he swam laps. And high-profile music stars have been known to leave their guns and their dope at the front desk for safekeeping.

    L'Ermitage is beautifully designed in pale, sandy colours. The rooms are spacious, with large beds low to the ground, and a telephone on each end table. Sliding latticework panels separate the living areas from the oversized bathrooms, which are done up in marble and filled with Aveda products. In addition to cordless phones, huge television sets, CD players, DVD players, and personalized business cards and stationery, the hotel offers discretion, above all else discretion.

    When Julia Roberts rented the rooftop for a private post-Oscar party to celebrate her victory for Erin Brockovich in 2000, the entire A-list showed up, but not a photographer or gossip columnist made it near the place.

    Only four storeys high, Raffles L'Ermitage is nestled in Beverly Hills, between the Beverly Center and the diamond-studded Rodeo Drive. In the huge comfortable lounge, it's not uncommon to see Sandra Bullock smooching her new beau, young Canadian actor Ryan Gossling, or rappers JayZ or Ja Rule loudly holding court.

    Actress Amanda Peet told me while we were both staying at Raffles L'Ermitage that she found the hotel "an excellent place to kick back." If you want to witness Hollywood's schmoozing, wheeling and dealing, just head to the hotel's Writer's Bar - where young power Hollywood meets. Bottles of champagne dot the tables when the news is good. Scotch adorns the tables where negotiations are rougher.

  • The Standard
    Not far from Raffles L'Ermitage on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood is another very trendy hotel serving younger Hollywood with a different flavour of décor and atmosphere. The two-year-old Standard is owned by Andre Balazs, who is also behind the venerable, legendary Hollywood hotel across the street, the Chateau Marmont. This May, Mr. Balazs opened a second location, the Standard Downtown L.A., transforming a dull downtown building with his sleek touch of modern style.

    The Standard has retro early seventies written all over it: Rooms are furnished in bright reds and oranges, with beanbag chairs, inflatable couches and tables made out of surfboards. Cool and simply elegant, the lobby has an understated look of a 1970s office building - except for the huge aquarium behind the front desk filled not with tropical fish but with model-esque human beings frolicking in the blue water. Bright blue astro-turf rings the swimming pool enclosed in the V-shape of the building.

    I sat with young Australian actor Heath Ledger in the bar at the Stan-dard (which is open 24 hours and offers cuisine from the sophisticated to the greasy spoon). He was wearing worn-out jeans, an expensive T-shirt and a suede jacket lined with fluffy lamb's wool.

    I asked Mr. Ledger why he liked the Standard and he responded laconically, "I like it because it isn't the kind of place that is for everyone, know what I mean? It is a kind of place that you have to have a particular taste for - you don't run into a lot of executives and agents and that lot here."

    Speaking with filmmaker Ted Demme at the Standard only a few weeks before his untimely death last year at 38, Mr. Demme described the hotel as "pure California, pure L.A. It is light, it is airy and it is totally fucking cool without trying too hard to be that."

  • The Delano
    In Miami's ultratrendy South Beach area, there are many very cool hotels, but among the coolest is the Delano. Owned by the flamboyant Ian Schrager (who is also responsible for St. Martins Lane in London, the Mondrian in L.A. and New York's Paramount and Hudson hotels, and who has almost single-handedly defined what is hip in hotels in the past decade), the Delano takes guests from the blinding Miami sunshine and envelops them in cool, dark wood.

    There are high ceilings and gauzy curtains gently blowing in the breeze in the minimalist reception area, while near the pool at the rear of the hotel is a giant chess set on the lawn that that guests are encouraged to play, Alice in Wonderland-style. Very surreal and decadent. Around the pool are scantily clad, basting females and their older benefactors and often the latest Latina star.

    Drinks or lunch can be served at tables set up in a shallow area of the Infiniti pool to guests floating languidly around in their bikinis. It is not uncommon to see Sylvester Stallone strutting around the pool and private beach area. Madonna is also a regular guest and was once part-owner of the top floor restaurant/club known as the Blue Door. Baz Lurhmann explained to me that he wrote the entire screen-play for his Romeo + Juliet at the Delano and wanted very much to shoot his film in and around the hotel. He opted instead for Mexico City when he realized just how much it would cost in Miami.

    This is a hotel where the movie stars play. This is not L.A. This is South Beach, so whatever slight inhibitions celebrities might harbour are certainly lowered here. This is where guys such as Mickey Rourke and Laurence Fishburne can be seen in full biker regalia hanging around the bar with their motorcycle enthusiast pals, and where Leonardo DiCaprio and his posse can be loud and wildly self-indulgent without anyone batting an eye in their direction. George Clooney likes the privacy and the "other worldliness" of the place and the singer turned global political activist Bono of U2 finds the Delano a "most comfortable place to relax and play."

    In the rooms, everything is white: white sheets, white walls, white television set, white clock radio, white bathroom with white towels. Blinding at first, the monochromatic colour soon becomes soothing and comfortable. And each day, the staff places a green apple on a wall hanging by the door.

  • Hotel Nelligan
    Montreal, which has experienced a boutique hotel explosion in the past two years, also has properties that qualify as hip enough to be sought out by the stars. Old Montreal's Hotel Nelligan is a new property from the owners of the chic Hotel Place d'Armes and l'Auberge du Vieux Port.

    Each of the hotel's 63 suites is fabulous: Think loft-style exposed brick walls, fireplaces, Jacuzzis, high ceilings and huge, lushly comfortable beds.

    Guests are treated to complimentary nightly wine and cheese gatherings and the hotel bar and restaurant, Verses, has a beautiful inner courtyard.

    Actor Edward Norton is a big fan of Montreal and said over lunch at the elegant Verses that staying at the Nelligan was "like being in Paris and San Francisco and New York all at the same time. It was as comfortable as if it were a private home I had rented for my stay."

    The more time I spend chasing down movie stars from Maui to Miami, following the film festival circuit from Cannes to Montreal to Toronto, staying in rooms glamorous enough to attract the world's celebrities, the more profound my desire becomes to live in a hotel - if only to feel like a star for a moment.

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