For those of you who know me through these stories, you know the metropolitan, always-a-cocktail-in-hand version of myself. And don’t worry, this story will have plenty of that. But first, you’ll have to excuse this introduction, because you’re about to see my sappy side.
To understand how One Night came to be, and why this particular story means so much, you’d have to know about our connection with The Standard. Over three years ago, a little thing called One Night Standard, which served up last-minute bookings at only The Standard hotels, transformed into One Night. The driving force behind it, Jimmy Suh (please follow the ‘finsta’ I created for him, @jimmysajuul), has since turned it into a fully-fledged business serving over 200 hotels in 19 cities, standing on its own two perfectly manicured—yet slightly worn—feet.
The Standard was and will always be our parent, One Night was just its baby that finally graduated, went to college, and moved into its own apartment. The Standard has been one quirky, strange, absurd—yet absolutely wonderful—family to be a part of. Those who at some point have ended up in it, I’m sure, had no idea they what would be getting themselves into. There are simply people who were destined to be there, bred to gravitate to the alluring world of hospitality and inevitably meet the best ones to do it, The Standard.
I figured what better way to tell The Standard’s story than with the first-of-its-kind, the true OG, the ‘we did it before it was cool’ boutique hotel, The Standard, Hollywood.
The Big Brother
I spent my first day in LA sitting in the lobby at The Standard, Hollywood minding my own business. A mere observer. However, within moments from the corner of my eye (pretty much better than any celebrity sighting I could’ve anticipated), came the infamous Jon D. Now, how to describe Jon D? Three words: larger-than-life. Thai and fabulous, Jon D is synonymous with The Standard. For over 18 years, he has played matchmaker, vibe curator and real-life influencer as the hotel’s first-ever GEM (Guest Experience Manager).
He sits down with me in the Cactus Lounge, and first order of business (more like pleasure) on this sunny LA Monday was rosé. We sip and chat like could-be-Parisians at a café, and Jon D reveals what life is like as a GEM. “It’s really detective work. The most important thing for a guest, in my opinion, is ease. That’s the new luxury. I do everything I can to make their stay easy for them.”
Like a conductor, each guest forms an integral role in creating Jon D’s Standard symphony. He explains, “Everyone plays a part in the social fabric of this hotel. I will connect guests with others who are in the same industry or have the same interests. I’ll meet with a guest, have a glass of wine with them, learn more about them and what they do and if I see a fit, I’ll connect them. For example, the dresser for Zac Posen, Valentino, and Dior USA all stay here and I’ve connected them all.”
But Jon D’s expertise goes far beyond making connections, apparently, he’s also a world-class gifter. “A really famous fashion editor who shall remain nameless stayed here, and I was freaked out because we wanted to live up to her expectations. Against everyone’s suggestions, I kept it simple because she can afford anything she wants. I’m like screw it, you know what, I’m going to get her one perfect peach. I went to the market that day and found it. If you can imagine what a peach looks like in a drawing that was it. It was a perfect peach in a perfect box wrapped up in one perfect bow. That’s all I had. And she loved it,” he shares.
I had to wonder, how does someone go from Bangkok to becoming a connected hotel guru in Hollywood? Jon D takes me on his journey here, “My family moved to California from Thailand in ‘84. I think it’s the best thing my parents did for us.” But beyond his immediate family, I had heard utterings of Jon D’s equally infamous grandfather. So of course, I pried…
“My grandfather is unofficially the father of Thai Airways. He was a poor child in Bangkok who broke the cycle, he got a Fulbright Scholarship to Boston University back in the 1920s and studied civil engineering. He noticed that in the US there was a flag carrier concept for airlines. In Thailand, which at the time was called Siam, there were four rich families who owned the only four airlines. When he graduated, he wanted to marry this girl back in Bangkok but wasn’t good enough for her family. She got married off. He decided to focus on himself and said, ‘if I wasn’t good enough to marry the love of my life I’m going to do something about it.’“
Me, who loves a good love story, begged him to continue, “My grandfather wrote a business plan and presented it to the Ministry of Transportation. I don’t know how he got that meeting. He devised a plan to force a merger, and the government ended up ceasing the four airlines to make one. In 1932 they had their first flight. Later my dad started working for them, and my mom became a PanAm hostess in their first Asian class in 1961. She wore the classic outfit, the blue with the white gloves. They were the first class that wore that.”
The Little Brother
Just as we’d finished our first glass, a casually cool gentleman walks up to us with a big smile. His name is Aldo Garcia, the family’s operational support system that makes the rest of the chaos look beautiful to each and every guest. Jon D and Aldo have a unique, bromance type chemistry and before he can even utter a word, Jon D is singing his praises. “Aldo is the one who supports all of us. He is the one who makes us shine and makes sure everything looks good, all the details people take for granted but without which we can’t sell rooms or impress the VIPs.”
Aldo sits down, and we order another round and a light snack. A ‘light’ snack being guacamole and chips, truffle fries, crudite, and to-die-for chocolate cookies from Croft Alley. Jon D prompts Aldo to share the road that led him here, “I was born in Mexico City. My dad fell into hotels and we started moving every 1-2 years. We went through all the resort towns in Mexico. He used to work for Camino Real. They had the most amazing developments back in the 60s and 70s. My first hotel job was when I was in second grade, I was a PBX operator answering phones.”
Aldo, unbeknownst to him, would end up spending decades in the hotel industry before ending up at The Standard, Hollywood. As he looks out at the pool deck with admiration he shares, “This property is so beautiful, it has aged, but the wrinkles make it special. We’re not shying away from who we are, we’re just really committed to showcasing what we do have. We know it’s an old building, but we love it and it’s about how we embrace it.”
Jon D adds, “We respect the building. It’s home to us. The guests who stayed with us when they were in their 20s are now they’re staying with us in their 40s. Some are twice divorced now. I’ve seen people who start off staying here as an intern for a magazine and now they’re Editor in Chief. The latter are my successes.”
And boy, they have had their share of successes. We talk about their many fabulous pool parties and events, and inevitably the infamous Giorgio’s weekly party at their secret—enter through the kitchen only—nightclub, mmhmmm. Jon D jumps right in, “Giorgio’s happens every Saturday, it’s named after the godfather of disco Giorgio Moroder and has been going on for six years. The guest list is very well curated and invitation-only by its producer Bryan Rabin. And by well-curated, I mean Prince used to attend.”
Back in my Standard days, I had heard one particularly infamous tale about Lenny Kravitz from said club. Jon D giggles, “Lenny came and saw the space and liked it so much he hired a set designer to make everything purple for Zoe Kravitz’s 10th birthday. Andre liked the look so he had it turned into The Purple Lounge for a while. It actually stayed like that for years.”
We’re happily interrupted when the man behind Croft Alley himself, Michael, came to introduce us to the head chef, Phuong Tran. We gush over his food and he humbly accepted our compliments. Aldo shares, “Chef Phuong Tran doesn’t like social media or the limelight. He’s very modest, first and foremost he is a cook. But actually, he does so much, he even does catering for some very A-list celebrities. Stunned, I blurt out, “Wait, so I’m eating celeb-approved guac?” Aldo smiles, “You sure are!”
Let’s pause. I simply can’t go any further without telling you about Melissa Volpert. Before there was a Standard, Melissa was there building it. As the brand’s first-ever employee, she started working at The Standard two years before it even opened. Today, the insatiably strong-willed and quick-witted Director of Sales & Marketing holds the keys to some of the best stories in the brand’s 20-year history. In short, walking over to Jon D, Aldo and I, was a true legend, and I simply couldn’t wait to talk to the hotel’s very own mother-figure.
We start from the very beginning, and with two new glasses of rosé. In her words, “I already knew AB (Andre Balazs, founder of The Standard), and he invited me one day to come to have a drink with him at Chateau Marmont. We sat and he told me about this idea he had. He basically said there’s a retirement home across the street, which took vision to appreciate at the time, and revealed his plan for turning it into the first-ever Standard.”
Of course, it wasn’t all that simple. She describes the early days, “We started this hotel with no computers, no cell phone, not even a phone that worked. I didn’t have an email for like four years. I was just sitting at a desk with a Rolodex and a notepad, that’s how this hotel opened. It was bizarre days.” All of which, it turns out, had an unlikely silver lining. She continues, “AB and I had a great Rolodex, it started as a family of friends. Someone actually said to me ‘you guys are so cool you don’t even have email.’ But it wasn’t intentional. I’ll never forget this IT guru guy came in one day back in ‘97, and explained WiFi to me. He was like, ‘there’s this thing that’s coming, it’s called Wifi. No hotels have it, if you get it you would be setting the stage.’ And of course we didn’t do it, we weren’t about that, we were about relationships and that’s what made us cool.”
Keeping a brand ‘cool’ for over 20-years is no easy feat. The secret? “Not selling out is our survival,” Melissa explains, “We attract people with our culture. Celebrities don’t come because we have the best amenities, they come for the people and culture.” The Standard is no stranger to stars, but it is in fact most famous for being the place celebrities go before they’re ‘too cool to be seen in public.’ Melissa lets me in on some of her favorite celebrity moments, “Have you seen Avengers: Endgame? One of the stars was one of our first guests, he lived here for two months. Robert Downey Jr. Apparently, he’s the highest paid actor in that movie and guess what, when he stayed here he was completely broke. Room 320. That’s where he lived for a long time.”
As a platform for the up-and-coming creative class, from your indie photographers to the people behind the scenes in music and fashion, you’d be hard pressed to find a celebrity or socialite who doesn’t have a Standard story from their early days. Melissa shares, “If we can do something to support the arts we will. That’s how I met Michael Della Femina the now founder Croft Alley back in the ‘80s. He was this fresh-faced actor out in New York and he was making a little film. I thought he was cute and I liked his idea, he needed somewhere to shoot it and we helped him out. Michael and I became lifelong friends which continued into getting Croft Alley to be our restaurant here.”
She pauses and smiles as she remembers, “One of our favorite guests was the head of security for Johnny Depp, his name was Jerry. Depp lives across the street and when he was in residence in LA his team stayed with us. If you look at our top producing people they are all Depp’s people. Jerry stayed here 586 nights over 10-15 years. He was so sweet, he would always sit in the diner waiting for phone calls from Depp. He just passed away, but we’re going to have a plaque put on his chair at the diner for him. I think it’ll just say Jerry, but we’ll all know what it means.”
Probably an entire bottle of rosé deep (mostly my doing), Melissa and I were non-stop chatter. She shares one last memory with me before she has well, more important things to attend to. “Did you see that Cimafunk was here last night? They are a Cuban band getting ready to hit international superstardom. It was one of the great nights ever in this building. They’d never been off the island of Cuba before six weeks ago. I have a friend that knows their manager and put us in touch. She said these guys are the hottest thing in all of Havana, the lead is known as the James Brown of Cuba. He’s quite the man. They don’t have any money, of course, no one has any money in the beginning, so we subsidized their LA tour. The staff was dancing, the kitchen was dancing, the housekeepers were dancing. It was wonderful. And to think in a few months they’re going to be all over.”
The Dysfunctional Family
By sunset, I’d had more rosé than any human should on a Monday, and I decided to perch myself on a poolside lounger and soak in the last bits of LA sunshine. I had spent the day getting to know more about my Standard family, and now I was getting ready to meet my immediate family, my brother Alex. Something you should know about my brother, he is quite literally always living his best life, and this is simply because he has an unparalleled, entirely infectious energy. He would be here in thirty minutes, and I had to prepare myself for more rosé.
As I waited, gorgeous men frolicked around me in speedos with cocktails-in-hand as all the best disco classics played in the background. I pretended not to listen as I aggressively eavesdropped. One guy was talking about how his boyfriend left the party to go sleep with his friend, another really wants to eat Subway but won’t have time to go shopping before dancing tonight at Wisdome, another is talking about Bernie Sanders, and the last goes on about how he used to work in sports medicine in Boston but now is a bartender in LA.
Just as I was beginning to drop my life plans and join their posse, I caught a glance of the newest member of the One Night team, Michael. Funny enough, I met Michael Zaldivar in an equally fabulous and carefree fashion, at a roller-disco party in January back in New York. After being allured by his happy-go-lucky-nature and smarts to match, I knew we had to hire him. A few months later, he’s managing hotel partnerships for us all over the world. As we caught up and reveled in golden hour, I convinced Michael to come with as my brother picked us up in an Uber with Maggie, his new girlfriend who I would be meeting for the very first time.
Our destination? Dan Tanas. Outside waiting for us in his usual sophisticated get-up and charming smile is my brother’s best friend Matt Neman. The first thing I’ll say about Dan Tanas, well, it’s certainly a funny place to go with your brother, his new girlfriend, a coworker, and your brother’s best friend. We step inside just as day turned to night, and the crowd quite literally looked like the came out of an episode of The Sopranos. The place had all of your classic red and white old-school Italian restaurant decor, Christmas lights all over, and my favorite part, a sassy waiter low-key flirting with everyone. There are several weed vapes being passed around, martinis are ordered, and to say the least, we were prepared for one wild Italian meal.
A few tokes and sips later, the waiter had become unbearably funny with always-wrong impressions of old-time movies, the martinis seemed to get stronger and bigger, and I’m pretty sure we played Weezer’s Teenage Dirtbag on-loud from a phone at the table because soon, we started a sing-along as everyone around us gave evil glares. I’m not sure we’ll ever be allowed back at Dan Tanas, and I’m not sure we’ll even want to go back, but there we were, new friends, old friends, siblings, coworkers, sat together consuming way too many carbs like one dysfunctional yet amazingly loving family.
The funny thing about LA is, the hangovers here are far more demure than the ones I have in New York City. Perhaps it was my room’s king-sized-bed or the luxurious shower with Davines products, or maybe it’s just the fact that it’s always sunny, but for some reason, it’s just harder to feel bad. So surprisingly fresh-faced, I made my way downstairs to start the day with The Standard, Hollywood’s very own GM, Carl Hubbard.
Carl is like that family member who instantly makes you feel at home even when you’re not. He’s just back from a vacation in Big Sur over the weekend, and while he’s far too important to be spending his time talking shop with me, he lets me in on a little of his life story. “I’ve been here for just over a year, but I’ve been part of the family for a while. I worked for Chateau Marmont for 16 years when Andre was still involved here. I started there in 2001, I had just graduated from school and moved my way up. The last three years that I was working for Andre I ran Sunset Beach out in The Hamptons,” Carl shares.
You think you know what to expect from Carl when you meet him, but he ends up constantly surprising you with wild stories. Sure, he grew up in Chapel Hill and went to a classy university in Connecticut, but he also took a year off to take a bus down to Mexico and make his way through Central America. He explains he “never planned on being in hotels. I think that’s one of the great things about The Standard, so many of us came here organically. We’re more sincere because of that. You don’t need white glove hotel school, you just have to care.”
As the man in charge of taking The Standard, Hollywood’s 20-year-history into the future (no pressure), I had to hear his take on what those years have meant. “It’s crazy. One of the first tenants here was Nylon magazine before they became anything, one of the rooms was their office. And now this year we’re opening a Standard in London. The Maldives opening is just around the corner. It’s growing tremendously.”
What he’s most excited for in 2019, however? “The biggest thing is getting Lord Jones (the LA-based cannabis company) in here. We’re going to be the first ever hotel with a dispensary inside of it. The owners of the company, Rob and Cindy are the coolest people. Aside from that, I’m really proud of what we do in activism. We have Ring Your Rep which provides guests with a direct line to Congress and a clear script that lets them voice their opinions on the issues that matter to them most. We’ve also been partnering with a lot of different organizations. Aldo got us an amazing partnership Surfrider, who protect the ocean and clean water, and we switched our mini bar bottles from plastic to glass. We’re always thinking about what we can do.”
As my short-but-sweet time with Carl came to an end, I felt I had finally pieced together the family tree. I’d met the mother who essentially birthed The Standard, got tipsy with the two brothers who make the place all the more interesting, and had a slightly more serious chat with the father who makes sure things stay afloat.
Life will bring you all types of families. Some that you choose, some that you don’t, and some that make you feel like you’re always exactly where you should be. And when you find that kind of family, the kind who accepts your type of weird and loves you all the more for it, you never forget it.
To my Standard family, I will be forever grateful to all of you who bothered to read this (and to those of you who didn’t, too). Over the last three years, you’ve accepted me for the strange, extra, ridiculous, chatterbox that I am, and like a family, you made me better for it. Thank you from the bottom of my jaded heart.