From The Magazine

The Celebrities Have Returned To Chateau Marmont

We follow the path of Hollywood’s most notorious to uncover the hotel’s enduring glamour.

by Naomi Fry

“Oh, it’s definitely back,” Bret Easton Ellis told me when I asked him about the Chateau Marmont. The novelist first started going to the Los Angeles hotel in the early eighties, when “it was really run-down.” (“I remember partying in one of the rooms and ordering liquor and pizza to be delivered.”) He lived there for a stretch in the mid-aughts, after coming back from a few years in New York while looking to buy an L.A. house. He even kept going during the pandemic, when the establishment was fairly abandoned. (“It was so eerie and magical.”) But now, he said, the Chateau was no longer a ghost town. In fact, it was “hopping.”

“It’s back, baby,” said the podcaster Chris Black, who, though he has a home in Los Angeles, occasionally stays at the Chateau for the weekend. “I was there on Thursday night a couple of months ago and it was, like, Pacino, DiCaprio. It’s the best place on earth.”

The author and filmmaker Kelly Oxford, who told me, only half-jokingly, that the only famous person she’s never seen at the Chateau is Nicole Kidman, agreed. “People were walking into the Golden Globes parties there, literally noting, ‘it’s back,’” she said. A few days before we spoke, the hotel held its annual Golden Eve party, to celebrate the awards, hosting everyone from Lenny Kravitz to Quinta Brunson; at an HBO afterparty for the ceremony, Jennifer Lawrence, Margot Robbie, and Billie Eilish were among the revelers; the latest Gucci high jewelry campaign, starring the supermodel Daria Werbowy, was recently shot at the hotel pool. And now there I was, checking in for a couple of nights.

“Welcome back,” the blonde woman at the desk told me when I arrived. While I’d been to the Chateau for a handful of dinners, I’d never stayed at the hotel in my life, and this greeting, though surely rote, still made me feel like Tom Ripley getting away with something. After a brief moment of inner confusion, however, I decided to embrace the vibe. Why not? “Thank you,” I said, accepting the tasseled key fob.

A French Gothic-style castle located on a hill just above the Sunset Strip, the Chateau’s scope is modest, consisting of only 63 rooms, including several stand-alone cottages and bungalows. And yet, its mythos looms larger than its architectural footprint would suggest. In the words of Shawn Levy, who wrote a history of the hotel, the Chateau has long been known as a place that is able to provide “restorative isolation” for its often-celebrated guests, who can “behave in ways they wouldn’t necessarily at home.” Montgomery Clift stayed there to recuperate from his disfiguring car accident in 1956; John Belushi checked into — and eventually overdosed in — Bungalow 3 in 1982, perhaps taking the isolation brief too far; Hunter Biden, the President’s errant son, famously held drug-fueled bacchanalia at the Chateau, making the spot a kind of bugaboo for scandalized right-wingers. They might not be totally wrong; Oxford, who has been going to the Chateau for years, told me, “I’ve watched a group of adults run through the halls naked with staff passing by, carrying room service, totally unmoved. The staff is too nice.”

Marilyn Monroe, photographed by Milton H. Greene in 1956, stayed at the Chateau while filming Bus Stop.Milton H. Greene © 2024 Joshua Greene •

There’s no more emblematic depiction of the combination of license and comfort sought by the Chateau’s clientele than Sofia Coppola’s 2010 movie, Somewhere, whose early moments show Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff), a youngish, if weathered, Hollywood heartthrob, as he trips drunkenly down the carpeted staircase at the hotel. The divorced Marco remains on the premises, shacking up in room 59 to nurse his injuries. While there, he hosts a pair of platinum blonde exotic-dancer twins, who perform a coordinated routine on portable stripper poles to the tune of the Foo Fighters’ “My Hero”; he gets a massage, parties in his quarters with a crowd of near-strangers, and passes out while eating out one of the guests; he plays Guitar Hero and ping-pong with his tween daughter (Elle Fanning) and floats in the hotel’s small oval pool, his dark Persol sunglasses on. But mostly, he hangs around his suite, on the couch or on the bed or at the dining table, smoking a cigarette or drinking a beer or popping an occasional pill, staring mutely into space, ensconced in his cocoon as the hours tick by.

And although it didn’t have a balcony, the suite I was given, number 45, looked not unlike Johnny Marco’s. One gag about the Chateau is that, while it’s expensive to stay there (accommodations start at around $600 a night), there is nothing particularly fancy about its rooms. The blue art deco tiles in the bathroom reminded me of those in a friend’s perfectly nice but certainly not luxurious one bedroom in East Hollywood, and the furniture was a crowded collection of serviceable if not especially high-end or stylish tables, chairs, and armoires.

“So many hotels are pervaded by this corporate feeling,” Ellis told me. “The Chateau still feels incredibly idiosyncratic.” And if there was something just a touch seedy about the room, it was also, somehow, glamorous. Right there outside the window was the Sunset Strip with its rushing traffic, and that very same small oval hotel pool, and the palm trees, and the enormous billboard for Bradley Cooper’s Maestro. Hollywood! (“I will say, every time I walk in there, I still get a bit of a thrill,” says Ellis.) On the desk were several sheafs of the hotel stationery, printed with an old-timey illustration of the Chateau castle and the words “Naomi Fry, in residence.” (As my friend Alexis said, “Costs them nothing, means the world.”) And there were a couple of glass ashtrays, too, placed strategically around the suite, complete with rust-colored Chateau matchbooks.

I thought of how, not long ago, I had been at a party held at a suite at the Carlyle in New York, when a cheeky Frenchwoman decided to open a window and light a cigarette. In less than five minutes, two hotel security guards burst into the room, demanding in no uncertain terms that she stub it out: a real bummer. But since I was now at the Chateau, and not at the Carlyle, I lit up.

“If I had to pass out, at least I passed out at the Chateau.”

Since its establishment in 1929, the hotel has been most famous for knowing how to insulate its mostly famous guests. There are few places that have been able to draw more of a distinction between inside and outside — between the dim, plush embrace that enfolds those lucky enough to find themselves within, and the harshly lit, more taxing world without. The novelist A. M. Homes, who lived in the Chateau for a spell, once called it “a castle on a floating island.” The writer Eve Babitz recalled spending the 1965 Watts riots at the hotel with the heir to an oil fortune. “We were drinking bourbon and eating potato chips delivered from the Liquor Locker right next to the Chateau,” she wrote in one essay. “It was nice spending the Riots in a penthouse.”

Kate Moss, photographed by Mert Alas & Marcus Piggott, at Chateau Marmont in 2009.Trunk Archive

The entrance to the Chateau and the steep road leading up to it have been a favorite perch for paparazzi awaiting their prey as they emerge, blinking and occasionally out of sorts, to face the outside world, the relative looseness experienced on the hotel’s hallowed grounds gone in an instant. (Lindsay Lohan, who was temporarily banned from the hotel in 2012 for owing the establishment $46,000, was often caught by photographers at just such moments.) Still, these days, celebrities are just as likely to art direct their own stay. “I’ve been living at the Chateau,” Miley Cyrus wrote on Instagram late last year, in a caption accompanying a mob-divorcée-style fashion shoot. In other posts, she shared clips from a cabaret-like, invitation-only concert.

“The best way to lose yourself is to feel safe,” André Balazs, who bought the establishment in 1990, told me when we met there. Wearing a white turtleneck sweater, a camel-colored coat, and tinted eyeglasses, the hotelier was on his way to London (“of all places” he added, somewhat enigmatically), and despite a sore back, his tan face glowed with good health.

He credited the discretion and expertise of the hotel’s staff for providing the emotional security that enables guests to let loose or plunge into creative work. “The head reservationist has been here 27 years,” he said. “So-and-so calls, and they know exactly which room they want, whether they’re drinking or not, whether they’re sulking or not.”

The intimate performance Cyrus posted on Instagram, he pointed out, was a repeat of an earlier, impromptu one. Cyrus was visiting her manager, who was staying at the hotel, and spontaneously joined the restaurant pianist in song. “She said she felt so nervous, that she’d never performed in anything smaller than a stadium. So how does that happen? I think it’s because of the safety.”

“As long as you’re not hurting anybody, there are no judgments at the Chateau,” he added. I had met him in the verdant and porticoed hotel restaurant, where smoking is not allowed. “But if you want to smoke in the room, smoke. Is it a pain in the ass for the hotel? Yes. There’s a machine that sometimes takes a day to de-smoke the room. But I’d rather allow people to do what they want to do as long as it doesn’t impinge on anyone else’s health and happiness.”

The Chateau is unlike anywhere else, Balazs went on, because, despite the subtle and ongoing remodeling he embarked on when he took over from its previous owners, it has never lost its old-world, slightly shabby charm. The photographer Helmut Newton, he told me, who for decades wintered at the Chateau with his wife, June, made him swear the hotel would remain untouched. (In 2004, Newton had a heart attack and crashed his Cadillac into the wall outside the hotel as he was pulling out of the driveway. Balazs accompanied him in the ambulance to Cedars-Sinai, where he died shortly after.) “The goal was to make Helmut believe we changed nothing while actually changing everything,” Balazs said, his voice low and melodious.

Change, however, is inevitable, and recent years have seen the Chateau wrestle with crises that challenged its habitual modus operandi. There were pandemic layoffs, as well as worker complaints. Since achieving a historic union contract at the end of 2022, the hotel is firmly in its comeback era, but Los Angeles’ social landscape is not the same as it once was. “Jane [Fonda] doesn’t come here anymore, Warren [Beatty] doesn’t come here anymore,” Balazs said, a little wistfully, as he recalled those onetime regulars.

Milla Jovovich, photographed by Dominique Issermann, in 2003. Jovovich was cast in The Fifth Element after director Luc Besson saw her recovering from a night of partying at the hotel.Dominique Isserman

Instead, later that night at dinner, I spotted the writer Jeremy O. Harris. Seated with Jonathan Glazer, the Academy Award-nominated director of The Zone of Interest, he told me that he was supposed to go to New York but decided to stay at the Chateau for an extra day or two. “F*ck it,” he said. Natasha Lyonne was at the table, too, and the actor Simon Rex was grabbing a drink at the bar area off the lobby. The lighting at the restaurant was insanely flattering, all flickering candles and suggestive shadows.

One of the friends I was dining with, who had stayed at the Chateau for several months after his divorce more than a decade ago, reminisced fondly about how Lindsay Lohan had blasted Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black” way too loudly in her suite, making for a very noisy dining experience at the restaurant. In a similar spirit of abandon, we headed back up to the room, where I added to my three-martini run with additional and likely inadvisable debauchery, finally waving good night to my friends at 2 a.m. from a prone position on the sofa before promptly passing out. I awakened with a start two hours later, disoriented and dry-mouthed, to my laptop playing the Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Sometimes Always” way too loudly in the empty room. Stumbling off to the bed, my head pounding, I had the vague thought: “If I had to pass out, at least I finally passed out at the Chateau.” There was something weirdly fitting about it.

“The best way to lose yourself is to feel safe.”

There’s also something to be said about experiencing the results of a hard night in a shame-free hangover zone. The next day, I swallowed two Advils, ordered room service (orange juice, coffee, a croissant), and tried to respond to edits on a piece, my brain dull and slow; I took a long shower (great water pressure); I smoked a couple of cigarettes, staring into space; I wandered down to the pool, which was mostly empty because of the chilly-for-L.A. weather, save for a young woman in a bathing suit with a gray fur coat over it. I walked through the thick foliage in the hilly path leading to the secluded cottages and bungalows on the Chateau property, all the way up to Belushi’s Bungalow 3. As I entered the narrow elevator to go back up to my room, I found myself in the presence of mega-producer Ryan Murphy, who was holding a fairly loud unselfconscious business call. I perked up a little. Hollywood!

I went to have dinner at the restaurant again, where I took it a little easier, in an attempt to recuperate. (Two martinis and that’s it, I told myself.) Justin Theroux was chatting with Julianne Moore; Natasha Lyonne was wearing slinky Givenchy; Ayo Edebiri was hanging out with the Zone of Interest crew. I saw Patrick Carney of the Black Keys and his wife, the singer Michelle Branch, who had reportedly had some marital troubles in recent years, heading toward the smoking section. (I was happy to see they seemed to be doing better.) Stepping out to the hotel’s entrance for a moment, I was approached by a platinum blonde guest in her early twenties. “I just picked some fruit from the lemon tree by the pool,” she said. “Do you want one?” I thanked her, and she handed me what was clearly an orange. As I tucked it into my purse, it struck me that even though I didn’t really want to, it was probably time to get back to the real world.