‘X’ Marks LA’s New Hot Spot

Gensler transforms a hotel bar into a must-see and be-seen destination.

“Fire pits,” say both of the designers, in unison.

When Lisa Kong and Mark Whitenack started work on the interiors of the Hyatt Regency Century City’s new bar/lounge, the hotel asked for something that would read as the “ultimate California space” to the business travelers that make up most of its clientele. In the 1990s, water elements were all important, but now, apparently, the number one thing that says sunny California? Flame. Here, at the recently-opened X Bar, designed by Gensler’s Santa Monica office, a large pit surrounded by breezy striped ottoman loungers dominates a patio overlooking what some may see as another quintessential LA marker: a mall.

I’m sitting in a cabana-style indoor booth with the designers, watching a trio of women in tiny black dresses as they in turn watch bartenders mix brightly colored drinks at a bar where the liquor shelves are set in a giant window. Beyond the glass, organic pod loungers that look like they could set sail on the Indian Ocean sit under a pale sky. Inside, a giant steel X-shaped cross brace, installed three years ago to comply with new seismic regulations, divides the bar from the lounge and gives the bar its name. Besides the fire pits, Gensler also identified flagstone floors, indoor/outdoor rattan, eucalyptus paneling, palm trees and bamboo as obligatory California design cues.

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It might have come off like a Crate and Barrel version of happy outdoor living if it wasn’t for the elegant lighting elements in the indoor booths and the smart flow of space throughout. Above each of the booths that line an entire wall, there is a hanging lamp that at first glance looks like a cylinder of Styrofoam popcorn strung together with metal wire. Actually made of recycled silk, the hollowed-olive shape evokes silkworm cocoons. In addition to these, color changing LEDs designed by John Decker of Lighting Design Studio dial up a very welcome futuristic element; they cast a shifting, prismatic glow across the tables and can be adjusted several ways. For example, a cool white light gives a daytime feel, as if there were skylights in the room. The designers also paid attention to all the different ways that people play, with bar height tables for drinking, the fire pit enclaves for lounging, and, says Whitenack, the “bird’s nest pods, perfect for snuggling.”

Century City does not generally evoke images of fashionable people gathered around fire pits, drinking cocktails in the shadow of palm trees. You’re more likely to see people in suits, drinking Starbucks in the shadow of corporate towers. Built in the 1960s as a “Westside downtown,” a development influenced by 20th Century Fox whose headquarters are adjacent, it is an anomaly in LA—a preternaturally spotless enclave of high rises. Though power agency CAA recently moved in across the street from the hotel, and ICM was already in the neighborhood, an ultra-hip bar would be out of place here. David Horowitz, the hotel’s general manager, slides into the cabana with us and explains, “We needed a vibe that was not too hotel, but also not trendy. It’s a place for a drink with friends, not a pick up joint.” That might be news to the women in black—but if they wait long enough, they can probably at least score a sighting of another California archetype: a talent agent.

The Gensler team :
Anna Marie Howell – project principal
Arpy Hatzikian – code specialist, permit strategy
Lisa Kong – project manager
Mark Whitenack – project designer
Yuka Mizutani – project designer
Chris Crolle – project architect
U. Andrea Hewitt – project architect

Consultants :
Lighting Design – Lighting Design Studio – John Decker
Mechanical, Electrical & Plumbing Engineers – Dalan, Gausman & Moore – Paul Haslach, Mike Modugno and JP Grado
Kitchen Consultant – Global Restaurant Design – Jerry Stein
Landscape Architect – SWA Group – Gerdo Aquino, Patrick Curran, Mio Watanabe & Tim Palcic
Structural Engineers – Saiful/Bouquet – YK Low
Graphics & Branding – EGG Office – Christian Daniels & Jonathan Mark

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