Jeff Klein is starting to get nervous. The amiable owner and frequent unofficial lobby host of the Sunset Tower Hotel is trying to figure out the logistics of another night of service at the Tower Bar, his iconic see-and-be-seen restaurant and bar along the Sunset Strip. Nearly every night is a dance of headlining stars, old-money regulars, and big business types, but lately Klein has been forced into a new rhythm thanks to a series of institutional changes to the property itself, ones meant to bring the Tower Bar into a whole new phase.
First, Klein rather famously hired Gabé Doppelt, a longtime former Condé Nast editor, earlier this year to take over as maitre d’ of the Tower Bar in place of Dimitri Dimitrov, one of the industry’s most famous gatekeepers. Dimitrov’s job on any given night was to know everyone in the room, to anticipate their needs, and to act, in many ways, as the human embodiment of the style and substance behind the Sunset Tower. He’s now moving on to a separate project with Klein, a members-only club nearby called the San Vicente Bungalows.
Doppelt now has the gig and one clear directive: ensure a smooth transition to the Tower Bar’s next phase, including a just-finished light remodel and expansion of a separate bar and dining area, called the Terrace, off the lobby toward the pool. Construction crews are still covering the bar with dust and tools and tinkering with final touches as Klein eyes his watch and worries over a couple of chairs. Table 11 is squeezed in tightly for an incoming group dinner, and there is concern about using an armless chair pushed up against the edge of the round table.
“I could never sit here like this,” Klein says. To his left stands Doppelt in a flowing dress. The two confer on new plating arrangements or another table altogether, though that would throw the hush-hush guests of table six into a new setup. And the table six group really prefers to sit, well, at table six.
With the new interior and the ascension of Doppelt, all is still as it ever should be at the Tower Bar: The pre-show fluttering here is all part of the larger dance of the Sunset Tower, a nearly 100-year-old former Art Deco apartment complex for the well-heeled and wealthy that was converted into a hotel over 30 years ago. The building changed hands and design styles several times before Klein bought the property in 2005, pushing the Tower Bar even further as an upscale den of Hollywood handshakes and insider talk.
Even today, alongside nearby bespoke hotel competitors like the Chateau Marmont, the Sunset Tower Hotel has become well known in certain circles as a place to dine a deal into completion, and getting (or not getting) a seat on a prime night can be a lesson in who you know. Doppelt and Klein understand just how important their clientele can be, and they focus each service on finding the right rhythm and style to match.
“The Tower Bar is the pulse of the hotel,” says Doppelt. “You get it right away from just walking into the place.”
In the age of loud restaurant rap, cavernous industrial dining spaces, Instagram bathrooms, and backless-stool seating for dinner, the Tower Bar represents a vision of what Hollywood has always had to offer, pulled from the black-and-white days and laid out in the open just west of the Walk of Fame. It’s an aspirational place for first-timers who have heard the legends about former tenants, like Truman Capote, Clark Gable, Errol Flynn, Marilyn Monroe, and John Wayne.
But it’s also a picture of Hollywood now, with a clientele that is increasingly diverse (both culturally and in age) and spread across multiple modalities. Actors still flirt across the bar with musicians and artists and old-money family members here — all while the piano player scans the room, keying out a well-worn tune.
Over in the new Terrace area, leafy green palms graze heavy drapes as a hillside breeze blows in from the veranda. The detailed couches and low-slung seats still play at the same pale pink tones as the original Tower Bar on the other side of the building, but the gold finishes, overhead sunshine, and leather trimmings could be at home in the brand-new Simone in the Arts District, or Curtis Stone’s upscale steakhouse Gwen, not far away.
Occasionally a tourist slips in from the street to check out the Tower Bar and remark loudly that they’ve heard the sunny room used to be part of an old apartment owned by the gangster Bugsy Siegel, before he was thrown out for using the home as a gambling den. But on the Terrace side there’s a feeling of something new, of the usual comfortable trappings of luxury mixed with the desires of a hungry new dining and drinking clientele.
That’s not to say the food will change much at the Tower Bar; the classics here simply can’t come off the menu for fear of a revolt from the corner booths. There’s the tableside chili or the pigs in a blanket to start, the salads and french fries to nibble on with a cocktail, or the $34 chicken pot pie as an entree with a glass of wine. Every white napkin and sparkling plate will still carry the hotel’s sweeping logo, and the menus themselves still hold a stern “NO PHOTOGRAPHS, NO PHONE CALLS” reminder at the bottom.
But just like Doppelt quietly removing herself from a conversation to pitch the music down a notch, so too are Klein and the entire Sunset Tower team keen to keep an ear out for the subtleties that matter, and to adjust on the fly, ever so slightly. To the average listener, the tone may not seem to shift at all, but to Klein and Doppelt the armless chairs matter as much as the music. The only things that matter more are the customers, the staff, and the space itself.
“At the end of the day, I’m the Sunset Tower whisperer,” says Klein. “That’s my job. I try to just listen, and give this place what it needs.”
The Tower Bar at the Sunset Tower Hotel. 8358 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, CA.