Thirty-one years ago, during his first week at the Sunset Marquis Hotel in West Hollywood, Rod Gruendyke did something every hotel general manager does: He spoke with a concerned hotel guest. In this case, however, that guest was Bono.
“He came into my office and told me how special the hotel was to him, and how special the employees were,” says Gruendyke. “He made me promise not to have any of the employees depart during my tenure here—and if I did, that he would also leave the property.”
On the latest episode of the California Now Podcast, host Soterios Johnson welcomes three denizens of West Hollywood to talk about this unique spot in Los Angeles County. The home of the Sunset Strip, the West Hollywood Design District, and a thriving LGBTQ+ community, WeHo is also brimming with Hollywood culture, with an emphasis on rock ’n roll.
A prime example is the Sunset Marquis, hidden in plain sight on a cul-de-sac just below Sunset Boulevard. When it first opened in 1963, according to Gruendyke, the hotel was the first all-suites hotel in the U.S.—an $18-a-night-stay that was popular with touring comedians. But over the years it was discovered by rockers and movie stars who enjoyed its sense of privacy—found in the villas scattered across three-plus acres of gardens and the hotel’s strict no-paparazzi policy. As a result, the hotel has become a haven for musicians resting up between tour legs or actors in town for film shoots.
“People are shocked when they come to the hotel,” Gruendyke says. “They're thinking, ‘Oh, this is an older motel or apartment building.’ As they walk in and get further into the hotel, it just opens up and it's like, ‘Oh my God, I didn't know this was here—this is beautiful!’ We have 400 trees and 2,000 plants, and people are just blown away.” The hotel also has two pools, a spa, and a new fitness center; villas often come equipped with kitchens, fireplaces, and sometimes even a baby grand for composing a new Top 40 hit.
During the podcast episode, Gruendyke shares colorful anecdotes about such stars as Paul Newman, Keith Richards, and Billy Bob Thornton, who have all made themselves at home at the hotel in different ways, sometimes staying for months—or even years—at a time.
Some repeat guests have shown their loyalty in unique ways, too. The members of Green Day, Gruendyke says, were fined and banned from the hotel numerous times during their early days, due to classic rock-star antics such as throwing furniture out the windows or moving all of the property’s potted plants inside. But the pop-punk rockers kept returning when the bans expired. After one three-month ban, Gruendyke says, “they came back three months and one day later and filled up the jacuzzi with bubble bath. The next morning you couldn't see the whole back garden—it was full of bubbles.” While Gruendyke admits that this stunt was funny, “I made them go away for a month. They came back one month and one day later, and they've been guests ever since. And they've become good friends.”
Today, staying at the hotel offers a near guarantee of seeing celebrities. For starters, there’s a gallery of photos of famous guests on the walls, featuring luminaries from Steven Tyler to Whoopi Goldberg. There’s also a good chance of seeing artists taking meetings, kicking back, or even getting creative, especially while having lunch, dinner, or drinks at the hotel’s Cavatina restaurant.
Collaborations often occur spontaneously, Gruendyke says. The hotel has a state-of-the-art recording studio in the basement, which has hosted the likes of U2, Aerosmith, Cardi B, and Rihanna, and has been associated with 200 Grammys and 14 different movie scores.
Artists may be sitting at a restaurant table, Gruendyke says, and “all of a sudden, they'll see somebody arrive at the hotel and they'll stand up, introduce themselves and they'll sit down and start talking about another venture. The synergy is amazing.” As an example, he says, “Jamie Foxx comes in here for one thing, and next thing you know he sees an artist and he's downstairs recording. You never know what's going to happen.”
While live music at the hotel was put on hold during the pandemic, Gruendyke hopes that live shows will return to the hotel’s public areas sometime in 2023.
Meanwhile, there are plenty of ways to hear live music and experience SoCal culture throughout West Hollywood. This episode of the podcast also features David Cooley—the owner and founder of beloved gay bar The Abbey—who shares his answers to the California Questionnaire, weighing in on his favorite things to do around the Golden State. Then, Tommy Black, general manager of the legendary Viper Room, talks a little about the best shows he’s witnessed at the venue and along Sunset Boulevard. He even shares an original song, “Summer Took Me,” which channels plenty of that Sunset Strip energy. “The vibe of that street in West Hollywood,” Black says, “you can feel the energy—you can just feel it.”