The worst hotels I’ve ever stayed in are different from the hotels that can be categorised as merely “bad”. To be awarded the accolade of “worst” there has to be an extra-special level of nonchalant awfulness that goes above and beyond your common-or-garden terrible.
It’s not simply a matter of sub-par service or fusty rooms or shower handles breaking off in your hand – any two-bit Fawlty Towers pretender can manage that. No, it’s something ineffably more pointed than that. A “worst” hotel has to be bad, yet simultaneously smug about its badness.
The worst hotels are the bad hotels that think they’re good. This misperception leads to an ingrained sense of self-satisfaction that seeps through the fabric of a place like out-of-date laundry detergent. You can smell it, but you can’t quite put your finger on it.
This brings me to The Standard, Hollywood, a hotel that has effortlessly put itself in the running for the worst hotel I’ve ever stayed in, with a near-faultless fulfilment of all the above criteria.
When it opened, in 1999, The Standard seemed not so much to have captured the zeitgeist as to have imprisoned it and kept it locked under 24-hour surveillance. There were overgrown succulent plants in the lobby, and ironic shag-pile carpets and those hanging Perspex egg-shaped chairs everyone lost their minds over. The original investors included Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz – and you don’t get more Nineties than that. There was even a Damien Hirst-inspired art installation called The Box, in which real-life models lounged in a glass cage just behind the reception desk reading books or writing poetry. The Box even featured in a Sex and the City episode.
But the problem with the zeitgeist is that it gets stale. The zeit gets old and the geist is left without anything to attach itself to, other than a polter, which is never going to work for a hotel. So when I check in on a humid August night 20 years after its opening, the atmosphere is curiously deadening for a hotel situated in one of Los Angeles’s most party-focused neighbourhoods.
The blank-eyed receptionist is bored and unsmiling. The Box is still in situ behind her head, featuring a man who looks to be in his 60s wearing underpants and flicking through the pages of a magazine. The man is also unsmiling.
It is a Saturday night and there is a DJ booth a few paces from reception, thumping out loud music. The DJ, too, is unsmiling. When I get to my room, I am unsmiling. The first thing I notice is the pungent smell of embedded cigarette smoke. The second is the overwhelming tiredness of the decor, which feels washed-out and slightly grubby.
The Standard was originally a motel situated right on the Sunset Strip, and then a retirement home, before André Balazs bought it and repurposed it into the hotel it now is. But it still hasn’t shaken the essence of either of its previous incarnations. The room is poky, the bed is an ode to foam, and there is the persistent sound of traffic outside, for which earplugs have been provided.
One of my pet hates is hotels that provide earplugs rather than decent soundproofing. To my mind, the only non-negotiable when staying in a hotel is a good night’s sleep. If you choose to open a hotel in an area that cannot provide the quiet necessary for this, then it’s up to you to invest in triple-glazing.
I order room-service guacamole, and it arrives courtesy of an unsmiling waiter bearing an overabundance of tortilla chips and a pot of mashed-up avocado so minuscule it is almost invisible to the naked eye. The guacamole disappears in about two bites. On their own, the tortilla chips taste of dust.
The bathroom is an oversized cupboard, with one shower wall taken up by a massive mirror, so I have the not entirely relaxing experience of showering while looking at myself in the nude. It’s a narcissism evident in other aspects of The Standard too: the pool area, which I explore the following morning, is almost as small as my guacamole pot. All the sunloungers are reserved, but an unsmiling pool-boy reluctantly offers me one when I explain that I am actually staying in this godforsaken excuse for a hotel. The pool is full of college students and LA wannabes drinking brunch-time mimosas and taking Instagram photographs of themselves in inflatable flamingo rings. No one comes to take my drink order. I attempt to sunbathe until I realise that the Instagrammers are hogging the only sunlight and I am encased in shadow. There isn’t enough space to move anywhere else.
Parched, I go to the hotel’s diner for breakfast. I sit in a booth and wait for an unsmiling server to come to take my order, which he does, several minutes after I arrive, despite there being only one other occupied table in the entire restaurant. It is hard to explain how the staff make you feel here, but I suppose if I had to choose a word it would be “substandard” which is ironic, given the hotel’s name. Every single interaction I have with a member of staff here seems designed to make me feel that I am somehow wearing the wrong thing or saying the wrong thing or am, in some indefinable way, just the wrong sort of person to be hanging out here. Everyone is looking at everyone else, as if assessing their coolness.
It’s the grown-up version of the popular clique at school freezing you out with rolling eyes and scornful lip curls. It is the precise opposite of how a good hotel should make you feel. A good hotel makes you feel welcome. The best hotels make you feel wanted. So, no, I didn’t much like this hotel. It might call itself The Standard, but I’m afraid it failed to meet any of mine.