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Absolutely Reagan Heaven: Westlake Village Inn

In the land of the Gipper: Scenes from the Reagan Library
Courtesy Reagan Library

The Westlake Village Inn does brisk business with the traveling corporate contingent and is the epitome of the modestly sized, classily appointed boutique hotels that popped up in the late 1980s, a place you’d book for a minibreak with that sexy, pencil-skirted pharmaceutical rep you traded business cards with at the last heart-drug conference. Several years ago, the Reagan Library asked the Westlake Village Inn if it would turn one of its rooms into a Ronald Reagan Suite, a kind of home away from home for visiting dignitaries. As such, it’s just about the only place I can imagine conservative GOP warriors, Viagra salesmen and liberal hipsters with an overdeveloped sense of irony mixing happily.

The hotel opened with humble beginnings in the late ’60s as the Westlake Motor Lodge. Now there are swanky, oversized lamps in the lobby, a crackling fireplace, scented candles, settees and armchairs luxurious enough to give even the most illicit affair a whiff of class. You’ve seen this décor before, luxury hotel Nondescript Chic, a classic faux-European traditional of the kind that nods to every bygone time period and locale at once — medieval, Renaissance, Tuscan, Mediterranean, modern — with curlicues, dark wood and fabrics the color of a Velázquez painting.

Wedding parties abound here. Brides and bridesmaids stride purposefully around the lobby, being attended to by concierges and desk staff with military promptness. When the Filipino concierge says “absolutely” after being asked if there is a complimentary continental breakfast, the word is uttered as if his soul depended on it.

“It was exciting when the library chose us,” says Westlake Inn sales manager James Boldizar. “In fact, we thought they were going to choose the Villa,” he adds, referring to the Inn’s largest suite with a sweeping Dynasty-style staircase. “But they wanted one of the smaller master suites so Secret Service could stay in the adjoining room. And Nancy liked the two-sided fireplace.”

When Vice President Dick Cheney stayed in the suite in 2005, for a speech at the Reagan Library, the Secret Service commandeered one entire wing. German shepherds sniffed for bombs. Condoleezza Rice has stayed here. Nancy is a regular.

“Absolutely,” Boldizar says, when asked if the people who rent the room are into Reagan. (Westlakeans have made an art form out of saying “absolutely.”) “Most of the time it’s Reagan enthusiasts. Perhaps the wife surprises the husband with it for his birthday.”

“So, what is there to do around here?” I ask the 19-year-old bellhop who hauls up my luggage.

“Absolutely nothing,” he says. “It’s mostly Genentech people.”

Which is just the way some folks like it. Westlake Village sometimes seems a place on the brink of enchantment. Napa without the grapes. Santa Barbara without the seashore. The Hamptons without the irritating billionaires. The landscape is all rolling knolls, hillsides, equestrian trails and country clubs, a year-round summer colony. A place that gives new meaning to the term “get away from it all.”

The bar scene in Westlake is late-night cocktails at Bogie’s. Period. At happy hour, the groovy wailing of a live blues band spills out into the parking lot. Pharma reps, tipsy on martinis, their rolling drug carts abandoned, shimmy on the dance floor. Bogie’s, the Inn’s on-premises lounge bar, is 10 steps down the cobblestone path from Mediterraneo, the Inn’s on-premises restaurant, and 10 more steps down from the Inn’s wine cellar. The Inn is its own little enclave. The affluent, golf-course-obsessed entirety of Westlake Village, in fact, is made up of little enclaves. Together with Thousand Oaks, Agoura Hills and Oak Park, Westlake Village is sometimes called “the bubble.” It feels less alive than impeccably preserved.

It’s quiet inside the bubble at night. Quiet enough to be comforted by the giggle of an overnight guest as she click-clacks on high heels to her bungalow. When Tiger Woods stays at the Inn, I’m certain he awakens well-rested.

Inside the suite, you tell yourself, “I am sleeping where Condi slept” and “I am brushing my teeth where Nancy brushed” and “I am sitting on a toilet previously investigated by a Secret Service agent.” You won’t be able to help it, really. Which is basically the point of staying at these places that pay homage to a political figure. To soak up their ambiance. To witness the mundaneness of their lives in contrast with the larger-than-life stuff. It will feel differently, of course, depending on your particular views of Reaganomics, the Cold War and Iran-Contra, etc. Maybe, fortified with the chocolate-chip cookies and cold glass of milk delivered to your door by the guy with the tray, you will sleep the sleep of babies protected by a patriarch. Or maybe the whole business will give you nuclear-themed nightmares. Is it weird? Sort of. But the rooms are clean and pleasant, the towels thirstier than the Sahara.

At core, the Reagan suite is perfect for somebody who has important business — a commemorative speech, a pitch meeting, a round of golf — to attend to the next day at 7 a.m. sharp. Or for someone who doesn’t much have to be anywhere at all.

 

The room itself is an immaculate little Reagan shrine: An “It Can Be Done” plaque. An official White House china plate. A portrait of Reagan and Nancy on a dock, snuggling. Reagan and Nancy with the Pope. Reagan in riding boots with his horse. Tasteful groupings of Reagan photos are on each wall — except in the bedroom and bathroom, two places an omnipresent Reagan is counterindicated. And if you’ve bought the hotel’s Reagan Package special, you’ll get a souvenir jar of presidential jellybeans.

Beads of perspiration condense on a bottle of French lemonade chilling on the coffee table. Next to it is a picture book (alas, not a pop-up), Air Force One: The Final Mission. Never a stranger to the on-flight practical joke, President Reagan liked punking cabinet members. He’d stand over them while they slept on Air Force One, take pictures, then post the shots on a White House bulletin board.

The suite is a good place to cozy up on the couch next to the double-sided fireplace and read with delight or horror, however long your tolerance allows, from The Reagan Diaries. A copy comes with the Reagan Package. It’s a thick tome of a book, easily doubling as a doorstop or a weapon.

“Intelligence reports say Castro is very worried about me,” Reagan writes, “I’m very worried that we can’t come up with something to justify his worrying.”

It’s a beautiful area, someone says to the guard, gazing out over the scrub-brush expanse the next day at the nearby Reagan Library.

“Absolutely,” barks the guard.

Museum docent Gerrie O’Meara, who knows more about Reagan than probably Reagan did, makes swift work of the presidents in the Portrait Gallery. Andrew Jackson, the first president for the people. Van Buren, clearly having “a bad hair day.” Polk, who believed in sea to shining sea Manifest Destiny. Buchanan, the only one who never married — his niece became first lady. Which presidents were assassinated, which were “stinkers,” which died of infections, which had Clintonesque “active social lives.”

The “just the highlights” VIP tour, skipping the miscellaneous Reagan videos, skipping the new Discovery Center, where sixth-graders role-play the Grenada scenario, clocks in at three hours.

The replica of the Oval Office is exact in detail down to the privacy panel Teddy Roosevelt installed in the president’s Resolute desk. Reagan’s body is interred here at the museum. They opened up the granite tomb and rolled him in, with his feet facing the ocean.

The library’s crown jewel, however, is the fuselage of Reagan’s old Air Force One. You can walk around in it and touch stuff that would otherwise get you thrown into a federal gulag should you even look at it funny — the chair on the plane, for instance, where the dude with the nuclear-codes briefcase (a.k.a. “the football”) would sit. They trucked the airplane over in pieces just before midnight, startling motorists on the 118. Stranger things have been spotted on California freeways, but not much.

“This is not political,” O’Meara says, who bristled when asked about the 40th president’s predilection for naps. “It’s historical. Even if you disapprove of Reagan, that’s eight years of your history. You can’t deny that.”

Absolutely, I think, as I start to crave a nap of my own back in the luxury of the Reagan suite.

 
Westlake Village Inn, 31943 Agoura Rd., Westlake Village; (818) 889-0230 or westlakevillageinn.com.


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