Sunday, May 18, 2014

California's Rock & Roll Hotels: You Can Check Out, But You Can Never Leave

Wanna live like a rock star? It's easier than you think. When traveling California, you can stay in the very same hotel rooms where your favorite music legends once stayed -- and even died. Yep, died. I know it sounds a little bizarre, but if you're a music fan like me, these are "trips" worth taking.

You can even stay in the legendary "Riot House!" In Almost Famous, Cameron Crowe's poignant account of his days working as a San Diego teen scribe for Rolling Stone magazine in the early 1970's, there are several raucous scenes set at the Continental Hyatt House, a Hollywood hotel that was dubbed the "Riot House" because it was party central for that era's biggest rock stars and their groupies. 

To give you some idea, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and other members of Led Zeppelin and other bands used to ride their motorcycles up and down the hotel's hallways. 

The Riot House... then
Of course, those "Riot House" days are long gone. Even the name of the hotel has been changed to the Andaz West Hollywood. It's a trendy, relatively quiet place now. But the rock & roll spirit remains. Staying at the Andaz still conjures up ghosts of California's glorious rock & roll past, especially if you stay in room #1015: that's where Rolling Stone guitarist Keith Richards once hurled a TV out the window.

The "Riot House" isn't the only California hotel with a storied rock legacy. There's also the Alta Cienega Motel in Hollywood --  room #32 to be precise. That's where The Doors' lead singer Jim Morrison actually lived from 1968-1970 during the band's heyday. Since Morrison's death in Paris in 1971 at age 27, his fans have flocked to room #32 from all over the world to write personal messages about the "Lizard King" on the walls. 

The place is still pretty much a dive... but an historic one.

Not far from the Alta Cienega is the more posh Beverly Hills Hotel, which has some formidable rock cred' of its own. While it's never been the kind of place where TV's or anything else are thrown out the window, rock stars do frequent the hotel, which was immortalized as the subject of the haunting photo on the cover of the Eagles' classic Hotel California album pictured above.

Of course, in the title song of that memorable album, when Don Henley sings "Welcome to the Hotel California" and insists that "you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave," it's allegorical; he's not singing about a real California hotel. Or is he? 

Anyway, contrary to popular belief, the album's haunting inside gatefold photo of the band standing in the hotel "lobby" was not taken at the Beverly Hills Hotel, or at a hotel at all. It was taken at the Lido Apartments on Yucca Street in Hollywood. You can visit those rooms, too, but please knock before entering. 

The very "cosmic" Joshua Tree Inn
Speaking of the Eagles, there's also a captivating if somber California hotel story involving the late Gram Parsons, who was considered by some to be the Eagles' mentor and the father of country-rock music. On Sept. 18, 1973, Parsons checked into Room #8 of the Joshua Tree Inn in the Southern California desert. He had just finished a national tour with duet partner Emmylou Harris and had returned to the inn, a charming, rustic desert getaway for which he had a special affection. 

Sadly, Gram died in the room that night after consuming too much tequila and morphine. He was just 26.

Appropriately, the folks at the Joshua Tree Inn, which is still open for business and still frequented by music stars, pay homage to Parsons, one of music's most underrated artists, in a guest journal kept on a bedside table in that very room #8 where he passed away. 

If it isn't too creepy for you, you can stay in that room, which looks identical to the way it looked in 1973, with the same mirror and picture still hanging on the peach-colored walls. The hotel also also has an Emmylou Harris room (#9). Thankfully, Emmylou is still alive and well.

Legendary singer Billie Holiday
Finally, if you head north to San Francisco's Hotel Mark Twain, room #203 to be exact, you'll discover where jazz and blues great Billie Holiday was falsely arrested for drug possession on January 22, 1949 (it was a Ramada Inn at the time). Holiday was eventually acquitted after her lawyers convinced the jury that she had been framed. 

More than 60 years later, you can still stay in room #203, which they proudly call the "Billie Holiday Room." It's the same price as other rooms. While you're there, check out the plaque and artwork in the lobby of the hotel in salute to Holiday, the lady who sang the blues.

* Andaz West Hollywood, 323-656-1234

* Alta Cienega Motel, 310-652-5797

* Beverly Hills Hotel, 310-276-2251

* Joshua Tree Inn, 760 366-1188

* Hotel Mark Twain, 877-854-4106