Rock 'n' Roll Hotels for a New Generation
LAST summer, while on tour in San Francisco, a rock band called the Southland booked a room at the Phoenix Hotel. The Southland, who are from Los Angeles, spend a good part of the year in a sweaty tour van and live by a few rules when choosing a hotel: no chains, like Motel 6, and the shower must be strong and hot. The Phoenix met those requirements, and more. A two-story, 1950's motor lodge near the Tenderloin district, it has a restaurant-bar, an open-air courtyard and an endorsement from Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers as "the most sexually, intellectually and culturally stimulating hotel in San Francisco."
The Phoenix, in fact, is one of a number of places that are frequented by musicians and make up a kind of loose network of rock 'n' roll hotels. There is the Park East in Milwaukee (now the Comfort Inn and Suites Downtown Lakeshore) and the Hotel Congress in Tucson. Rock bands playing Austin, Tex., often stay at the funky Austin Motel. In London, the Portobello has been a home to Bono and others. New York has the Rihga Royal and the Paramount, but the capital of rock hotels may be Los Angeles, with the Park Plaza Lodge, the old Continental Hyatt House, the Grafton on Sunset and, before it was remade into a paparazzi hunting ground, the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.
Rock bands and hotels have a long and checkered history, one that has tended to involve property damage. There is the oft-told story about the members of Led Zeppelin riding motorcycles through the lobby of the Chateau Marmont. Keith Moon, drummer for the Who and the subject of many hotel stories, is said to have once nailed his room furniture to the ceiling. And there are numerous tales involving less creative hijinks, like smashing television sets and leaving rooms looking as if a band of Huns had passed through.
For example, the boozy, hard-touring 70's rock band the Faces were often so destructive they were banned from some hotels. In his book "All the Rage," the group's keyboard player, Ian McLagan, who is known as Mac, writes that the Faces stayed in Holiday Inns, which were "clean and dependable" but also "extremely boring and soul-destroying."
"It was not possible," he wrote, "to walk into the identical room in 20 different cities without wanting to hurt it, just a little," he writes, explaining the twisted psychology of a musician on the road. Rock bands and hotels have a codependent relationship; the band isn't always happy about living out of a hotel room, and the hotel isn't entirely thrilled about having them as guests, but they need each other.
Typically, a rock hotel has several things going for it that attract the up-all-night, sleep-all-day crowd. It's usually located near a music site or in a cool part of town. The Portobello became popular with bands because it was in the same neighborhood as several recording studios. Because musicians keep late hours, 24-hour room service or a hotel bar and restaurant are major draws. In the case of the Phoenix, which caters to musicians, the hotel allows early check-ins and can fit a small fleet of tour buses at a time in its parking lot. It also has the right mix of slightly seedy glamour and affordable rates to attract young bands like the Southland.
Musicians probably have the most idiosyncratic needs of any travelers short of, say, circus performers, and there are additional esoteric features to be found in a good rock hotel. Ron Mesh, a tour manager who has worked with the Old 97's and Maroon 5, is partial to the Fairmont Copley Plaza in Boston because, he said, "when the curtains are drawn the rooms get black," a plus when you keep vampiric hours.
The Faces favored Holiday Inns because they were usually near freeways and the sound of traffic tended to drown out the sounds of an after-show party. Sometimes it's what a hotel doesn't have that makes it appealing. Brian Klein, a Los Angeles-based manager, once worked for a certain hard-rock band that refused to stay in hotels where the doors had latches as opposed to knobs. "If the handle was a latch, I had to find another hotel because latches reminded the singer of a hospital," Mr. Klein said.
A hotel's reputation often grows and is circulated among musicians and tour managers until it becomes a kind of landmark. This was the case with Swingos, a legendary Cleveland hotel rife with touring bands in the 1970's. "It was a dump but it had a great restaurant and every room had a theme, like French Provincial," said Gene Vano, a former tour manager who now runs Showtime Travel, a Los Angeles travel agency that caters to musicians. Mr. Vano's first job in the music industry was driving Lowell George, singer for Little Feat, from gig to gig in a motor home Mr. George disliked flying but he spent many nights at Swingos. "I was there one time with Tower of Power and we had a confrontation with Elvis Costello," he said, sliding into a road story.
Another famed rock 'n' roll hotel is the Continental Hyatt House on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, which also had its heyday in the 70's when bands like Led Zeppelin stayed there. Nicknamed the Riot House, it was close to clubs like the Whiskey A Go-Go and the Roxy and blessed with a staff that took a lax attitude toward things like guests' hurling television sets from windows. These days, it's called the Hyatt West Hollywood and has recently received a makeover.
The remake is indicative of a small but noticeable trend: whereas heavy-touring groups like Little Feat and the Faces used to stay at chain hotels or dives like Swingos, these days bands often stay in pricey, even boutique hotels. "We generally have a three-star rule," said Mr. Vano, the travel agent. "Bands are making more money these days and can afford nicer hotels."
When the Canadian band Metric opened for the Rolling Stones at Madison Square Garden earlier this year they stayed not at the Chelsea, but at the Hotel on Rivington, a sleek tower of glass on the Lower East Side, where rooms are $400 a night. The Rivington's owners designed the hotel in part with musicians in mind. There is 24-hour room service and an after-hours lounge; a man was hired to program eclectic music for the lobby and elevators. "It's a bit of a cliché that if you're a rocker on the road, you should be living the grungy life style," Paul Stallings, the hotel's co-owner, said. "Musicians are people who have aspirations to do well."
The modern rock star appears to be more docile than his television-hurling predecessors. According to Mr. Mesh, the tour manager, the most asked-for hotel features are high-speed Internet and a workout room. "Fifteen years ago, having a hotel bar was very important," he said. "But it's changed. Fifteen years ago everybody was partying."
Some bands are still partying. At the Phoenix, the members of the Southland spent the night getting drunk and strumming guitars by the pool. But on the band's last tour they discovered a trick that might remove them from the rock hotel circuit altogether.
"Our new move is
WHERE TO GO ON TOUR
The Phoenix Hotel, 601 Eddy Street, San Francisco, (415) 776-1380; www.jdvhospitality.com/hotels/hotel/12. Double rooms start at $109.
Comfort Inn and Suites Downtown Lakeshore (formerly the Park East), 916 East State Street, Milwaukee, (414) 276-8800; www.parkeasthotel.com. Doubles start at $89.
Hotel Congress, 311 East Congress Street, Tucson, (520) 622-8848; www.hotelcongress.com. Doubles start at $79.
The Park Plaza Lodge, 6001 West Third Street, Los Angeles, (323) 931-1501, www.parkplazalodgehotel.com. Doubles start at $104.
The Austin Motel, 1220 South Congress Street, (512) 441-1157; www.austinmotel.com. Doubles from $95.
The Portobello Hotel, 22 Stanley Gardens, London, (44-020) 7727 2777; www.portobello-hotel.co.uk. Doubles start at £180 (about $334 at $1.86 to the pound).