Originally opened in 1926 as a safe haven for solo female travelers looking for a place to crash, LA’s historic Hotel Figueroa has managed a feat few other properties have: nearly 100 years and a few redesigns later, the hotel continues to celebrate the city’s entrepreneurial, creative, and tenacious spirit through its unwavering commitment to the arts—while also becoming one of the most-sought after dining and nightlife destinations in downtown LA.
The hotel’s recent comprehensive redesign pays tribute to its rich history, melding original 1920’s Spanish Colonial splendor with contemporary touches across its 268 guest rooms and suites, a lushly-landscaped pool and recreation area (with its distinctive, coffin-shaped pool) and the addition of three new on-site restaurants this year, created by Noble 33: Sparrow, an Italian fine-dining restaurant; La Casita, an al-fresco poolside eatery under the shade of a lush cactus grove; and Café Fig, an all-day modern café & dining destination with Mediterranean, southwest, and continental influences. (Noble 33 took over as the Fig’s new F&B operator in 2021, and added numerous new design touches and aesthetic to the existing Spanish Colonial restoration efforts of Studio Collective.)
La Casita is best for a poolside brunch or lunch, with its light, organic coastal treats inspired by Baja Mexico (try the poke bowl or the west coast oysters) and a hand-crafted cocktail program with an expansive agave list. Sparrow, on the other hand, deserves a three or four-hour commitment to do justice to both its interior design—a sumptuous dining room that envelops guests in the rich, velvety textures of southern Europe and the Mediterranean. With cathedral-like arched entryways and an original 1920’s limestone fireplace, the restaurant features velvet draped arches and modern light fixtures mixed with traditional Coastal Italian and Mediterranean elements, a neutral color scheme with touches of blue accents, as well as the use of marble, tile insets, and wood. A forgotten skylight excavated during the hotel’s recent renovation spills natural light into the sprawling room, while doors can be opened to the pool deck and outdoor dining space for a stunning backdrop of the DTLA skyline. And don’t forget its meticulously crafted food and cocktail menu, whose all-stars include the A5 carpaccio, bone marrow agnolotti, and a melt-in-your-mouth wagyu ribeye that will make you question your life choices (in a good way).
We spoke with Hotel Figueroa’s Managing Director, Connie Wang, about the hotel’s history, its recent culinary additions, and what makes the Fig a true LA gem.
Hotel Figueroa has such a long and storied history of arts patronage. How did it feel for you personally inheriting such a cultural gem?
I am honored to be a steward of Hotel Figueroa, and I take the responsibility very seriously. As a steward of “the Fig,” my goal is firstly to honor the original purpose of the hotel’s female founders and bring their mission to the modern day with relevant arts and cultural programming that brings hotel guests together with local Angelenos—to create dialogue about our shared experiences. Even during the pandemic, we continued to do this with our drive-in film showings and concerts, in partnership with Women Under the Influence.
The hotel is unique in this way; a lot of times, hotels struggle to tell a rich, emotional story since there is none to speak of. How does managing the Fig compare to some of your past experiences, and what, in your eyes, makes the Fig special?
Thank you for bringing this up. The story of the Fig, starting from the hotel’s first managing director Maude Boudin, who famously preferred a motorcycle as her method of transportation (when she wasn’t flying hobby airplanes), is so special because for nearly a century, its purpose has remained stubbornly in tact. Hotel Figueroa was originally built in 1926 with the purpose of being a hotel, gathering place, and haven for women to thrive in business and the arts. Through all the social and economic upheavals of the last century, it has served as a place for travelers and locals to engage with art and downtown LA.
Let’s chat about the art program and the hotel’s ongoing support of women in the arts. What are the overarching aims of the program, and how do you seek to work with local artists to make this happen? How is the collection curated and rotated?
Our goal with the featured artist program is to support female artists in California by providing both a physical exhibition space (that’s open 24 hours), and a platform and audience to share their work. We also want to engage our hotel guests in a dialogue, visually and via conversation, through this programming. Each year, we partner with artists to create exhibitions that have a unique point of view (for example, Shayma Golden’s The Portal explores our connection and disconnection from nature) but the artist themselves have freedom of expression in curating the individual pieces.
How did the idea for the featured artists series and suite come about, and what was the curation process for that? Did you have artists in mind that you approached, or was there a long discovery process?
Artist selection has happened in the past very organically, with a number of artists involved with the DTLA art community or Hotel Fig community. We’ve both approached artists that we admire, and artists have approached us.
What is your personal favorite piece of the current Fig art collection—and why?
From our currently featured artist exhibition, How to survive is my favorite print—the theme of isolation and connection with nature while at home is so familiar. I also love the almost wallpaper-like flatness and vivid colors. Catsquatch is my favorite oil painting because its both beautiful and hilarious.
What are your personal favorite design elements of each of the three new on-site restaurants (Sparrow, La Casita, and Cafe Fig)? What about each menu? Do you have go-to or must-have things you always order?
I always order the ceviche at La Casita: no matter how many times I’ve had it, I can’t get enough of the sauce and the balance of the acidity with avocado is perfect. Café Fig has the feel of a European brasserie—I love the ceiling height combined with the low banquettes. The fresh salads are perfect for a quick lunch, and I highly recommend the strawberry basil lemonade. Sparrow is an experience you’ll want to dedicate some time to fully explore, especially with Carla Lorenzo’s ambitious cocktail program. Chef Jan’s branzino is a showstopper.
Can you talk to us about any exciting new plans, projects, or initiatives still in the works for the Fig, from an art and design perspective?
In 2022, we are looking to launch Casablanca Club, a space for downtown LA-based artists and professionals. Can’t say any more than that!