Updated: Feb 15
In collaboration with LEFAIR Magazine
In the elevator of Hotel Erwin, a 6-story surf-side hotel, is Mark the security guard. On the way to my top-floor Venice Beach-facing room, Mark strikes up a conversation (without knowing I'm there to write).
Mark has worked at Hotel Erwin for over 20 years. While I can only guess what has kept him there so long, I could postulate that it’s the friendly clientele (families, lovebirds, tech tycoons, loners on spiritual journeys) and relaxed atmosphere. As a general rule, when the staff at a hotel are devoted and happy, so too are the hotel’s guests. Naturally, the hotel has loyal guests from every continent who visit Los Angeles every year and stay at Erwin for a week at a time. Over the years, children of families who stayed in the hotel in the 70s have later gotten married on the roof. Hotel Erwin has seen couples who visited the hotel restaurant on their first date and later celebrated their 50th anniversaries at the hotel.
The hotel was originally opened in 1975 as the Marina Pacific Hotel and Suites. In order to drive business to Venice Beach, it became a Best Western franchise. It was the first of the call-centers for international travel and kept the lights on. Later it came to be rightfully renamed, and rebranded in 2009 as “Hotel Erwin,” after its owner Erwin Sokol.
Mr. Sokol doesn’t just love his hotel property- it’s part of who he is. At age 84, he still comes to work from his fourth floor office. Guests used to mistake Mr. Sokol as part of the maintenance or hospitality staff because he essentially did all- cut keys, checked in guests, parked cars, and everything in between. His son Mark who now co-owns and operates the hotel, once flipped burgers in the lobby restaurant. He raised his family in the hotel, and the hotel staff were equally his family. He treats everyone the same as he did on day 1. With gratitude and humbleness. Before work-chat he’ll always ask, “how is the family?” and he genuinely wants to know.
Wanna get high?
We’re not talking about the second hand smoke high you will inevitably experience from the Venice Beach air thanks to its many cannabis dispensaries. We’re talking about the rooftop bar and restaurant atop Hotel Erwin. High Rooftop Lounge is the only Venice Beach rooftop location and boasts breathtaking views that span all of LA between the Hollywood and Venice Signs and continue to Catalina and the Santa Monica Mountains where the sun dips into the Pacific Ocean.
Whether it’s a brunch or a late-night dinner or snack, you’ll find an eclectic and diverse crowd on this rooftop. Note that this is not your typical Los Angeles rooftop experience- it’s not snobbish or discriminatory, pretentious or affected. So if you’re looking for bouncers and gatekeepers who get off on playing God, early 2000s “mean girls,” or bros working on their “hot or not” rating system, look elsewhere. Of course, you’ll always have your groups that enjoy the company of their phone over their party, but this is still Los Angeles after all.
High Rooftop Lounge accepts reservations, but walk-ins are also welcome. To book a table, simply call the restaurant during operating hours 424-433-8900 or book using Resy. The property is planning an upcoming upgrade and re-style of the rooftop including changes to the flooring and fabrics, and offering a more curated music program, which I hope will include some playlists featuring independent Los Angeles artists and perhaps more live music! The restaurant and bar recently launched a seasonal cocktail program and offer weekly specials and brunch.
As a proud sun worshipper, I highly (ha) recommend visiting High Rooftop Lounge during sunset. While I recommend this rooftop year-round, if you’re looking for heart-melting hues of pinks, periwinkle, oranges, and reds, note that winter is actually prime sunset season. Sunsets become more vivid in the winter because of low humidity and cleaner air.
This means fewer particles to obscure or wash out colors. Further, the Earth spins closer to the sun during the winter, and the angle of the sun at sunset allows the colors to last a bit longer.
At night, cuddle up in a colorful Mexican Falsa Blanket under a heat lamp and listen to the early twenty-somethings at the next table clink their drinks and say, “I can’t believe we finally made it to Los Angeles.”
Over the years, this famous rooftop has proven to be a popular and poppin’ party venue. Just some of its past events include:
Vans Black Rainbows Kick off Party
Red Bull 3×3 Afterparty
DIOR featuring ERL fall fashion launch
DirecTV’s SuperBowl DragBowl with the Housewives
Live Streaming DJs by AT&T
Practically every tech company, VC, start up, and NFT has had events from twenty to 250 people on the roof and Hotel Erwin has been featured as a ‘date night’ venue on nearly every reality show on TV. Think of any Los Angeles sports team and they’ve likely celebrated something at this hotspot.
During our stay, one of our favorite fashion companies, The RealReal (The Real Catwalk), hosted a fashion show in collaboration with Pacifica Beauty and ACLU on the street behind the hotel and threw an after party on roof. The event celebrated body positivity, diversity and inclusion, and outrageously fabulous fashion.
In My Room
Picture this: you’re salty and sandy and back from the beach.
Maybe you’re still a little wet, but you have the perfect natural beach waves from the wind and salt water and the halls of Hotel Erwin are now your personal runway.
Instead of returning to the nightmare of a carpeted hotel room that you worry you’ll damage from your grubby (but still totally sexy) beach body, you return to beach-messy-friendly tiled floors, a steamy shower with luxurious California-made, sun, salt and surf-inspired BYRD products, and a cozy waffle robe to wrap yourself in. Step out on your private balcony and soak up some sun while you air dry.
I recommend requesting a room with a view of Venice Beach. Note to people watching hobbyists: Venice Beach offers sights of human behavior unlike anywhere in the world. However, like everywhere in Los Angeles, the wealth gap is on full display: rich white men drive their Teslas past encampments and teenagers waiting for the bus dressed in their bargain duds from Ross Dress for Less. Pedestrians clutch their Gucci bags a little tighter as they walk past the rail thin homeless who dance to the music only they can hear in their heads, unconcerned with and unaware of any designer bags or their contents. But Venice scenes don’t solely cause capitalism rejection and existential dread.
Pick up basketball games, skateboarding, wacky and weird fashions, surfing and sunsets provoke an inescapable appreciation for the fucked up paradise that is the greater Los Angeles area. It is the people in Venice, California who are often so uniquely and unabashedly themselves that make the area one of the most beautiful and captivating destinations.
Hotel Erwin continually demonstrates an exceptional ability and commitment to adapt, change with the times, and experiment. This is evidenced by their opening of Venice Way Pizza on Friday March 13th, 2020 (oh, the timing…) and quickly morphing into a take-away slice shop during the pandemic that served over 1,000 whole pies to local charities including all Venice Family Clinics, The Boys & Girls Club of Venice, Safe Place for Youth and other businesses where there was a need to feed.
The property’s resourcefulness was further exemplified during the pandemic through opening a “general store” of sorts that served the Venice community. It has since closed since hotel business is back and booming.
During our stay, we delighted in trying a number of menu items including the avocado toast and French toast for brunch.
The portions are healthy, so there is no need to over-indulge. The French Toast is decadent and almost more of bread pudding. This appeared to be a popular menu item based on the number of people ordering it. The compound butter and pure maple syrup are heavenly.
I will abstain from providing more foodie details since, moving forward, we expect huge changes to the hotel’s food and beverage approach and concept. We do hope the avocado hummus and veggie plate will remain on the menu, as it is a delicious light snack to enjoy on the rooftop. The property will launch a concept in the lobby bar called the OtheRside – an homage to being on the other side of the Venice sign on Windward Circle. The bar will feature a menu that’s half vegetarian and vegan focused and half eclectic, early hang-over/late night bites for the Venice palate. “Knock and drop” room service is coming back post-pandemic and a major menu overhaul is also underway.
In the Area
The staff makes a point to make sure you not only experience the all that the hotel has to offer, but also the very special location in which it lives. Need towels for the beach? Bicycles? Just ask the front desk. Want to go surfing for the first time? The staff can recommend one of their surf instruction partners. I chose “BADASS SURF SCHOOL” and was thrilled to receive a private, in-depth beginner class from its owner, Jake McNulty III.
Jake’s effective teaching methods ensure that you feel safe and leave with a better understanding of tides, currents, proper surf body positioning, and likely the experience of getting up and riding a wave at least once. I confidently recommend BADASS SURF
SCHOOL to any beginner surfers as well as novices and those looking for curated programs such as their “Therapeutic Experience.” This $800 all-inclusive, 6-hour surf, yin yoga, and massage wellness journey is designed to provide an energy healing and restoring adventure.
After the surfing calories are burned, it’s time to carb it up! Venice Beach boardwalk and Westminster avenue is home to my favorite fish and chips counter-serve joint outside of the UK, “The Wee Chippy.” Founded in Venice in 2013 by Scottish native Joe Gorrie, the takeaway spot boasts the highest quality Atlantic cod which can be seasoned in unlimited ways with their line of specialty gourmet salts. I'll bet you've never experience black truffle fish and chips before and I can safely tell you that you're missing out.
If you suffer from fried food phobia like most of LA, we recommend that you head elsewhere, such as Gran Blanco, located around the corner from Hotel Erwin on Windward and Pacific Avenue. Gran Blanco’s mediterranean menu includes garlic and lemon marinated olives, wild arugula, ceviche, and many light bite choices as well as heavier options like the double smashed patty burger and the crispy octopus.
Whatever you decide to dine on, rest-assured they have a creative cocktail or natural wine that pairs perfectly. At night, the screenwriter bartender explained, the restaurant transforms into more of a club scene with DJs and dancing. Gran Blanco’s sister restaurant, Great White, is slightly more casual and focused on local cuisine and American classic. It is also located on Pacific avenue and a mere one minute walk from the hotel.
The hotel’s staff and their capacity to continually reinvent and upgrade this special place make the property almost feel alive. You don’t need to go to the rooftop to get high on the good vibes and energy that Hotel Erwin emanates. I congratulate this boutique hotel haven on remaining fun, vibrant, relevant, and comfortable throughout its many years of business. I look forward to experiencing all of Hotel Erwin’s upcoming improvements!