Just a few short years ago, you knew you were hitting downtown going east on the 10 freeway when the mysterious Hotel Figueroa loomed like a beacon on the right. Built in 1925 by the YWCA as a hotel for women, it struggled to survive in recent years with the building explosion downtown; it was dwarfed by Staples Center and other shiny new hotels.
The historic hotel closed for a remodel in 2015 and reopened in February after an almost three-year transformation. Staying true to the building’s Spanish Colonial architecture, Rockefeller Partners Architects and Studio Collective came in and breathed stunning new life into the building with a Western Mediterranean style that includes five restaurant and bar concepts.
Before the renovation, the hotel’s Moroccan-style lobby was cold and spooky and had more flies buzzing around it than actual customers, which may have been part of its creepy charm for a while. It became a funky oasis for foreign tourists and Grammy-winning artists who wanted to fly under the radar after the awards ceremony at L.A. Live across the street.
Some said it was haunted, with elevators stopping at random floors and lights flickering without explanation.
Now there is no room for ghosts — the lobby, bar and restaurant are buzzing with life on an evening when there are no games or events going on next door. The grand lobby with towering ceilings is warm and leads out to the pool area, which has been cleaned up but still has the original intimate vibe and a refreshed bar.
The jewel in the sparkly new crown is Breva, a Basque-inspired brasserie from chef Casey Lane. The menu is a seamless combination of Mediterranean and California cuisine with an atmosphere to match.
For gin lovers, the adjacent Bar Figueroa, helmed by Dushan Zaric, offers a program that features six different gin and tonics.The Gintonico is a fishbowl-sized creation with grapefruit, lemongrass, pink peppercorns, East Imperial Yuzu tonic and a giant dried grapefruit garnish to munch on. It's a deal at $15.
Dinner items are generous and reasonable by downtown standards. The roasted mushroom and foie gras toast ($15) and Patriot Bay grilled oysters ($18 for six, $32 for a dozen) are a great start. The ham and cheese croquettes ($12) are delicate spheres floating on garlic aioli; they pop with oozing cheese when you bite into them.
The small plates are big plates and perfect for sharing. The bone marrow with chimichurri and celery salad is plentiful, with the bone sliced lengthwise and enough toast to slather it on ($16). The yams with Serrano chili yogurt and chives are a popular item with the relaxed crowd ($12).
Signature dishes include the super crunchy fried chicken (three huge pieces) with Catalan greens, jamon and jalapeno potato salad ($29; I had to take most of it home and it tastes divine the next day). As for the flatiron steak served with pea tendrils, green garlic and fries, I have never experienced such an unbelievably tender piece of meat ($28). Sourced from Huntington Meats at the Original Farmers Market, it may as well have been Wagyu and was cooked to perfection.
The branzino with pole beans, almonds and brown butter beurre blanc is also a favorite with customers ($28).
The Hotel Figueroa’s thriving social scene and hospitable atmosphere in the grand lobby, managed in the 1920s by one of L.A.’s original feminists, Maude Bouldin, is back. I think she would approve.
Breva in the Hotel Figueroa, 939 S. Figueroa St., downtown; (213) 627-8971, hotelfigueroa.com.