KoreatownFor a time, Los Angeles' Koreatown was defined in the minds of many out-of-towners by less-than-flattering events such as the 1968 assassination of Robert F. Kennedy at the Ambassador Hotel or the vigilantism of shotgun-toting Korean shop owners protecting their stores from looting during the 1992 Rodney King riots.

Today, Koreatown, with its swelling number of restaurants, nightclubs and visitors, is growing so fast that, geographically, the district can't even define itself. And that's not a bad thing.

One of L.A.'s most densely populated areas, the district sits about three miles west of downtown and four miles southeast of central Hollywood. As of 2009, it packed about 125,000 residents in its 2.7 square miles, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Since then, the area's boundaries, at least in some circles, have grown closer to five square miles, with a population of more than 300,000. And while Los Angeles tourism officials don't track Koreatown visitor numbers, L.A. did attract a record 42.2 million visitors last year.

Now, some hoteliers are betting that a growing slice of those visitors are coming to K-town, whose population is actually about half Latino. (Read more about L.A.'s hotel scene in the related article, "L.A.'s nightlife hotels.")  

Parks BBQIn Koreatown's geographic center, at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Normandie Avenue (and two blocks west of the old Ambassador Hotel site that's since been converted into a campus of a half-dozen schools), the 388-room Line Hotel was opened last month by New York-based hotelier Sydell Group in a 50-year-old building that was originally a Hyatt and more recently the Wilshire Hotel.

So far, the property, which will feature a restaurant helmed by popular L.A.-based Korean-American chef Roy Choi, has "exceeded occupancy expectations" for January and is getting "a healthy percentage of under-35s," according to the company. Sydell Group is targeting rates in the $250-per-night range once the hotel is better established.

"A lot of nightlife centered along that corridor, but the neighborhood declined after a lot of the community moved west," said Sydell Group Founder and CEO Andrew Zobler, who cited one-time Hollywood hangouts such as the Ambassador Hotel's Cocoanut Grove and the original Brown Derby. "There are a lot of young folks and energy, and there's a real shift from west to east in L.A."

Meanwhile, one block north, the 88-year-old Hotel Normandie is undergoing a $7 million renovation to its 94 rooms. Boutique hotelier and Hotel Normandie operator Broughton Hotels is targeting nightly rates in the $200 range as a growing contingent of both younger and overseas travelers discover the area.

And those visitors are attracted to everything from the district's late hours and 24-hour atmosphere to its karaoke bars to its ethnic cuisine that features Korean dishes such as bossam (boiled pork belly), short ribs and soondubu (tofu soup). In fact, celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain featured Koreatown in an episode of CNN's "Parts Unknown" last April.

"Five years ago, people would look down their nose if you were doing something here," said Broughton Hotels Founder and CEO Larry Broughton. "This rebirth is very exciting, and it's inspiring."

Follow Danny King on Twitter @dktravelweekly.


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