Lost in LA: Chronicles from SUNSET TOWER

Sunset Tower Hotel’s restaurant is like a hallucination. The rules of time do not measure here, or perhaps they do at a rate we do not yet recognize. These are the physics of a cliché come to life, Hollywood imagined the way it looked in your dreams – where the light is always dim and you can order Oysters Rockefeller in an Art Deco building that looks like a multi-layered cake. This is where Frank Sinatra proposed to Ava Gardner, Bugsy Siegel ran his gambling ring, and Iggy Pop dove into the pool from his balcony. This is where the magic happens.

The man overseeing this domain is Dmitri Dmitrov. Discreetly and sedulously, the Macedonian maître d’ maneuvers starlets past screens of lilies to their favorite dining niches and places competing agents at opposite ends of the space. Small in stature, he glides through the restaurant, his thick glasses magnifying his alert eyes. He often seems to know what his guests need before they themselves do: “The people are seeing just the tip of the iceberg of what I do. Everything has to be impeccable, clean. It’s hard work what I’m known for. It’s not just fluff.”

After Tom Ford recommended him to Jeff Klein, the owner of Sunset Tower, Dmitrov set about enforcing the old ways: no first names, no casual hello’s, no bluetooth earpieces. Dmitrov’s anachronistic style sets the Tower Bar apart from the surrounding celebrity hangouts on Sunset Boulevard. “We obey the rules of Lausanne,” he says, “If you like to be extraordinary, to be a special place, then you have to do things which are beyond normal service, whatever that is.”

In a Hollywood milieu known for fast fame and epic flame-outs, Dmitrov’s omnipresence at Tower Bar is a comforting measure of consistency: “I haven’t had a vacation in maybe four, five years. The last one was just a week. A proper vacation, I haven’t had in ten, 15 years. With what I do, you have to be hands on. Sunday it was really quiet, and then Lionel Richie was here and he was asking for me. I have to be physically present.”

Dare one even ask for a recommendation other than Dmitrov’s territory? He politely proposes: “Lucques, which has amazing food. LACMA is amazing with what they are doing lately. Soho House has the views. But we have the emotion. Can you feel it?”

Dmitri Dmitrov, Hollywood’s all-knowing maître d’, clutches 032c while preparing for dinner service at Tower Bar.

Dmitri Dmitrov, Hollywood’s all-knowing maître d’, clutches 032c while preparing for dinner service at Tower Bar.

In an attempt to get a backstage whisper of what makes Sunset Tower so magical, Thom Bettridge reached out to 032c’s fashion director Mel Ottenberg:

Thom Bettridge: Mel!

Mel Ottenberg: Thom, I’m on the treadmill right now – it’s sad, rainy, and cold in New York. You can really feel the fury after the march, after the executive orders of the week, the general horror of the new order. I wonder if it’s the same in LA. I’m going there tomorrow.

Tell me about Sunset Tower. Why do you always stay there when you’re in town? 

I love Sunset Tower. Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name. It helps when you’re on the road, and Jeff, Tim, and Dmitri are so good to me. I’ve spent a shocking amount of nights there over the years. I’ve lived and worked out of there. It just became my spot. Maybe it was the cookies? They give you cookies. But no more cookies for Mr. Ottenberg. I got real firm about it.

What about Dmitri, the legendary maitre d’. 

Dmitri is the man and the Tower Bar is one of my favorite LA haunts. One time I stayed at Sunset Tower for like 40 days. Alone! It was a weird time in my life. And I would just eat at the bar and talk to Dmitri. It got to the point where I would work on my laptop at the bar behind the piano player. Dmitri said, “Don’t worry, you’re at home here.” It was my adult, gay Eloise moment.

Does Dmitri have stories, or is he closed-lipped?

He is the most discreet. He’s not gonna blab about the Sunset Strip gossip and shade. It’s understated there. Less cheese. No paparazzi. Very good famous legendary people though. You could always be gagging if you were into that kind of thing. In a Sharon Stone, Candy Spelling, Tom Ford, Sean Penn kind of way. I might have gagged for Candy Spelling. Legend. She had a giant room in her house just for wrapping paper. I love her. But what I love most about the Tower Bar is that it all flows. It’s mega, but also cozy. It’s Jennifer Aniston, but it’s also a hot fudge sundae.

What’s it like staying in a hotel for 40 days straight?

Both times I’ve done a super extended hotel stint, it was a huge work moment with insane obstacles and circumstances going on in every direction. But your bed gets made. And your packages are handled. When I’m working insane jobs, I like the comfort of a breakfast buffet, room service, and cookies. 40 days is really overkill, though. But at the time, I was in my LA groove with running, my vitamin shots from Earth Bar around the corner, attempting my extreme fitness and diet lifestyle.

How has LA inspired your work?

I love working there. The costume houses are the best. Rooms and rooms and rooms of the best clothes. From stripper to astronaut to zombie apocalypse. People watching re-runs of Maury in living rooms while you’re inside this big, stuffed-to-the-brim room of vintage women’s lingerie. It’s hard to explain, but it’s sick. LA is all about driving for secret treasures. I love the valley. So many secrets there. That’s my next frontier.

I love driving.

Have you seen La La Land? It’s disgusting. It opens with this gross opener about traffic in LA. It was horrible! I’m sure Tiffany and Ivanka love that movie.

What was the worst part?

The worst part is realizing in the first 30 seconds that you’ve been duped into watching it for two hours. No shade on Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, though. I have major respect for them, but not this movie.

What’s your ultimate LA driving soundtrack?

Giorgio Morder’s American Gigolo soundtrack. I love listening to to “Lady Lady Lady” by Moroder full blast in a mustang rental with the top down On highway 1 in Malibu. You have to try that. That’s some good shit. I really do fetishize Los Angeles and California. I don’t do the same with New York. New York I live in, but I don’t gag over the glory of New York – the mystique has worn off … Maybe one day I will move there. But, in the meantime, Sunset Tower is my second home.

Text: EVA KELLEY

Interview: THOMAS BETTRIDGE

Photography: JONAS LINDSTROEM

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