Hobnobbing in L.A.

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I attended the recent National Business Travel Association's annual meeting in Los Angeles, my first NBTA in many a year.

I found a much bigger, more professional event than I had seen before. The trade show was impressive, not just because of its healthy size, but because of the buzz.

Besides, I don't often walk a trade show where a significant portion of the exhibitors are agents. I made a bee line for their big, well-populated booths, but I still did not manage to visit them all.

NBTA was played out in the same convention center where ASTA held its congress in 1998.

And, as was the case at ASTA, I came away with the sense that Los Angeles is a place apart as the setting for a convention.

Surreal might be the word, and I refer not to the convention center -- a fine facility comparable to many others -- but to the settings for after-business-hours events.

Yes, I live in the city with Fifth Avenue and the Plaza Hotel and Tiffany and the Jean Georges and Vong restaurants and Sardi's, the landmark theatrical restaurant.

So, of course, I take them for granted -- and got a few kicks a continent away visiting spots in Beverly Hills, West Hollywood and Santa Monica. (I also had a sense I was eating my way across Southern California, much like a mouse through cheese, and I was only there two days.)

  • In Beverly Hills it was the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel for drinks with a friend.
  • A gorgeous historic property, it is the kind of place I love no matter where it is. Its site on Wilshire Boulevard and Rodeo Drive, names that resonate with outsiders, is just a bonus.

  • I went to the Mondrian Hotel on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood for dinner and a look at the great view from the property's hilltop -- and mostly al fresco -- Skybar.
  • This is a chi-chi spot where the food is good and the decor so avant-garde/stark I have not caught up with that trend. Translation: The look is not for every taste.

  • My favorite was the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel. A hosted event featured a gourmet dinner in its fine dining restaurant, Lavande.
  • Public areas in this 11-year-old Art Deco property were recently refurbished, producing a dramatic vision of 45-foot palm trees and slim white curtains that stretch to the top of the lobby atrium.

    Next up is guest room upgrades, to begin in the fall and conclude by the end of first quarter 2001. So, as a responsible travel journalist, I wanted to view model rooms; I also correctly reasoned this would be fun.

    I saw two units, the kind of smartly done rooms that offer decorating ideas for home. When hotel rooms can be related in a positive way with home, that's a compliment.

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