The Circus Begins
Life is a circus. Sometimes you’re jumping through rings of fire and sometimes you’re flying high on a trapeze in bedazzled sequins. Everyone is welcome at the circus, but not everyone dares to go. Some people choose to color within the lines, confined to the confines of what society deems is a normal life. Those people, have yet to be exposed to the wondrous world of Petit Ermitage.
Enclosed in a lush wall of greenery on an otherwise quiet street in Los Angeles, Petit Ermitage is a place where the outcasts, trendsetters, freaks, and fancies converge to create somewhere that we all eventually aspire to go. The moment I walked past the alligator statues that guard the entrance, checked-in next to a jar that read ‘Quaaludes’, and got lost in the carefully curated objects d’art, I felt like I was finally in the ‘La La Land’ I had always imagined. It felt lawless. Somewhere between Alice in Wonderland, a Tsar’s boudoir, and the real world.
As trendy guests and well-dressed staff moved around me, I was ready to write my brief page in the life of this storied hotel. Like it’s namesake, the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia, the Petit Ermitage abounds with treasures to uncover. Not to mention the hotel was born by Ashkenazy family, who have a rich history themselves in the world of luxury hotels. But more on that later. It was time to start my not-so-petit adventure at Petit Ermitage.
The Toledo Show
If you’ve been to LA, know someone who has been to LA, or know someone who knows someone who has been to LA, you have probably heard of a little something that goes down on Friday nights on the 4th floor at Petit Ermitage. Yes, I’m talking about the infamous Toledo Show. And yes, I got to sit down with none other than Toledo himself.
Amidst the flurry of fabulous people I had already seen by the hotel’s Private Rooftop pool, Toledo wasn’t easy to forget. His eye-catching attire is best described as something that could be from the 1940s or the 4440s. Somewhere between an old fireman and futuristic pachuco. I’d heard that his unique style had taken him from music-video choreographer for the stars to one of the most renowned party-throwers in town. Here’s what happened when we sat down to get the lowdown on all things Toledo.
First, he indulged me as I asked about his weekly show. “It’s right here in the Masters Lounge. It’s always been an off-the-cuff show. I don’t think too much about it, sometimes I don’t even know who the musicians are going to be. It’s not calculated. You’re getting your own experience. If I tell you exactly what the experience will be you’ll miss out on your own. I like that ambiguous quality. It’s got its own magic. It’s sweaty. It’s a wild time. People come to feel that euphoria.” Not just anybody can waltz into the Toledo Show. According to the man himself, “They have to be a guest of the hotel or my guest. Even with that being said it’s not stuffy. Stefan Ashkenazy, the owner of Petit Ermitage, has a great nack for people. He is a curator of people that fit.”
There was something mysteriously alluring about Toledo. He was vague and extremely distinct at the same time. But there was something in the breeze the afternoon we spoke, and it wasn’t too long before he peeled back the curtain to reveal more. “Stefan used to come to my show when I first started at this place on Sunset called The Union. It was this crazy little speakeasy, very unassuming. The show happened every Monday night at midnight. At 11 o’clock it would be crickets—but all of a sudden at midnight around 600 people would appear in this tight little bar. Stefan told me that one day he was going to build a hotel inspired by it. And years later he called me up and was like, I got the hotel. He’s a visionary with an artist’s soul.”
Before Toledo’s parties, and long before his days enchanting guests at Petit, he lived yet another life. He shares that he “started off as a street dancer. I knew this woman, Dallas Winkler, and I just admired everything about her. One day she told me she wanted to introduce me to David Winners. Next thing you know I’m in the middle of the street just dancing and flipping all over for him. Long story short, David Winners was in the original cast of West Side Story. He was directing a Diana Ross special which I joined. That was my first break.”
I knew if Toledo could toss in Ross so casually, there must’ve been a slew of famous names in his portfolio. I was right. He continued, “After that, I was introduced to a company called Propaganda Films through Paula Abdul. I’ve known Paula since she was 18 and a Lakers’ dancer. She called me and wanted me to choreograph her first video which was by David Fincher. We made up all the choreography on the spot. It changed the way videos were shot and made. Straight up. It’s weird when you just show up anything is possible. I got to work with a lot of really cool people from Joffrey Ballet and Michael Jackson to Gene Simmons.”
From video honeys to hotels, there’s no doubt in my mind that Toledo has always done what he does out of pure love. “I love working with Petit Ermitage. It’s different than other hotels. I’ve never had and I mean this, a bad experience here. Each Friday is completely different. It’s mind-boggling, new people come in and they bring a certain energy and it’s never the same. This one night I was asked to start the show earlier because some people had apparently flown in to see me. I walk in the room and it’s Mick Jagger and 12 of his friends. So I do my thing and he comes up and kisses me, and I’m standing here with someone who I admired as a child. My mom loved the fucking Stones. There was a mutual respect there. It was just, it was cool.”
After all the memories he’s had at Petit Ermitage, Toledo shared what he thinks makes it so magical, “Other hotels are trying to give you an experience and tell you what the experience is. Look around the Rooftop. It’s a perfect setting to have strangers just start talking. It doesn’t have an air of hoity-toity. Everyone chit chats and you meet the most interesting minds. No one is wearing their job or their career or their money on their sleeve. It’s just you and me. With what I do, I do what makes me feel good. If I don’t feel it, fuck it. There is not enough money on the planet, seriously, to make me do what I don’t want to do. And I want to do it here.”
The Private Rooftop
Feeling inspired, I went back to room 409 to soak-in my surroundings for the evening. The Demi Suite is perfectly bohemian and abounds with whimsical touches. This includes, but is not limited to, a bespoke bedtime story left on the pillow each and every night and a welcome bottle of wine. I enjoyed both of them in tandem, but it wasn’t long before I had a knock on my door.
As soon as I arrived at Petit Ermitage, I knew I wanted someone to witness the magic with. You know, so I could know it was all real? Lucky for me, my brother Alex lives just a 10-minute drive away and was able to join. We made the few steps from my room to the rooftop and sprawled ourselves across one of the pool-front beds. We spent the afternoon dipping in and out of the heated saltwater pool, which was set at the perfect temperature and has a tops-optional policy. Between dips, the rooftop was a prime place to do one of our favorite sibling activities, people watching. To our left, was an Italian couple sharing sweet somethings in each other’s ears. To our right, a silver fox enjoying an afternoon of leisure. In front of us, two blondes and a brunette tanned topless, all of them of course, had seemingly perfect sculpted bodies.
Everywhere we looked, there were gorgeously uninhibited humans. They weren’t on their phones or checking their makeup or judging anyone around them. I was in the land of no rules. Everyone was free to be themselves. None of them pretentious, all of them beautiful. It was then and there that us two siblings decided to settle in and let ourselves get carried away by the carefree energy. A few moments later, we had our first cocktail.
Unpreoccupied with the state of our unsculpted bodies, my brother and I decided to go for an indulgent lunch at The Garden. Adjacent to the pool, The Garden is considered one of the most magical spaces at Petit Ermitage. And I could immediately see why. Moroccan-tiled floors, archways covered in lush plants, cute-as-ever café style tables. This made all the more enchanting by the hummingbirds and butterflies that flirt and float by each table. In fact, The Garden at Petit Ermitage is actually recognized as a sanctuary for both hummingbirds and butterflies by the National Wildlife Federation.
The best part, however, was still the food. As we enjoyed beef tartare toast with truffle aioli and burrata Panzanella, a new character came by our table to say a brief hello. Her name was Nancy Riese, the hotel’s beautiful and witty GM. She welcomed us to her “circus for grownups” and even though I could tell she had far more important matters to attend to, I had to ask her for a quick snap of what she would do if like us, she had one night at Petit. “I would want to sleep in suite 405, have dinner in the garden, attend the Toledo Show, have way too many drinks, late-night room service, a hangover the next morning, a dip in the pool and a delicious breakfast next to hummingbirds right here in The Garden,” she shared.
And she would know, Nancy has been at Petit Ermitage since 2012, and the GM since 2018. Before she had to jet off she left us with one more morsel of her love for this place, “Petit Ermitage is definitely the most unique hotel I have ever worked for. What happens at Petit Ermitage, stays at Petit Ermitage. But my most favorite memory here…was definitely my own wedding.” Little did I know, my very next appointment would be with none other than the groom.
The h2Oh My God
Have you ever met a Water Sommelier? I’d venture to guess that the answer is probably no. They are currently far and few. A rare custodian. Changing the way we consume water one drop at a time. And while most people would say that being a Water Sommelier is well—not quite the norm—that’s exactly why Martin Riese is so good at it. Before I get to how Riese rose to water fame through encounters with the likes of 2 Chainz and Bill Nye, you should know how he ended up curating his incredible 42-page water menu at Petit Ermitage.
As a young traveler, German-born Riese and his family would often journey through different cities in Europe. Riese laughs as he recounts, “My parents thought there was something wrong with me as a kid, I was fascinated by the taste of tap water in each city. But they had new things to worry about as I got older. I took a detour and became a DJ.” In a turn of events, Martin disclosed his foray into the world of DJing. His style was apparently, “Aggressive, progressive trans. 160 BPMs. The 90s were very fast in Germany, it was almost like running to music. But because I organized all these parties, I realized hospitality was what I liked to do. I got my degree in the restaurant business after that.”
Destiny, if you believe in such things, seemed to come back knocking for Riese. “In 2005 I moved to Berlin to work for a Michelin-starred restaurant. One day, a guest complained that the restaurant had hundreds of wines on the menu, but only one brand of water. They didn’t like the taste of that particular brand. It reminded me of my childhood. It’s all about options in the restaurant business, but when it comes to water they’ll tell you what you want: sparkling, still, or tap? They don’t even tell you which brand. I thought I needed to change that,” he shared.
And change that he did. Riese became a certified Water Sommelier from the German Water Trade Association in 2010 and has been creating water menus ever since. So how did he end up in LA? “I was here on vacation with my now wife Nancy who is the GM at Petit Ermitage! We met at the Hotel Palace in Berlin. She was the Director of Rooms and I was the GM of the restaurant. We hated each other! I always thought she was very beautiful, but I also thought she was a bitch. We lived in the same neighborhood and we’d run into each other at the grocery store and look the other way, but we had to be in the same work meetings. One day I ended up asking her out for dinner and somehow it clicked.”
Their journey to LA didn’t end there. Riese explained that “When we came back to Germany after our vacation, I somehow felt drawn back to LA. The thing is it was not easy to get a Visa. The lawyer suggested that what I was doing with water might be my way in because of this O1 Visa—the extraordinary ability visa. I Googled the requirements and it was like if you’re an actor, you need to be a nominee or winner of an Oscar. If you’re in science, you need a Nobel Prize. But magically six months later I received the O1 Visa because I can drink water.”
Riese and I sat and tasted seven different types of water with the same seriousness and intent as we would wine. Don’t worry reader, I was initially as skeptical as you’re probably being right now, but it didn’t take long for me to come around. I could tell Riese was full of passion when he said that, “Mother nature creates many different types of waters with different mineral levels. It’s like giving three artists the same three colors. They will come back with different pictures. That’s what mother nature does. Springwater won’t taste the same as glacier water. The taste profile tells the story of the environment it came from. And I think that’s pretty cool.”
Riese would go on for days talking about the science behind the taste of water, but I just couldn’t wait to hear about his $100,000 bottle and tasting with 2 Chainz. “I have a water brand called 9Oh2O. It comes from the San Diego area. We sell regular plastic bottles for $1.50, but we also have a $100,000 limited edition bottle. It has 450 white and black diamonds on it. At first, it was not meant for selling. GQ approached me to do this water tasting for 2 Chainz’s ‘Most Expensivest’ series. So we found the most luxurious diamond producer in Beverly Hills, they work with all of the superstars and helped us craft this incredible bottle. It’s funny because inside is the regular water you buy for $1.50. It just comes in a package with four baccarat glasses engraved with 90h20, a whole year of refills, and the bonus of me flying wherever you want to do a water tasting. We sold several of them. I can’t tell you to who,” Riese said coyly.
This wouldn’t be his first time in the spotlight. Riese has already been a guest on Bill Nye, on an upcoming Netflix documentary starring Zac Efron, and on The Simpsons. “The Simpsons opportunity came through Male Magazine who followed me around China for a documentary. They once asked me what success was, and I said I’ll feel successful when I’ve been on The Simpsons. And they pulled that off. In the episode, they have a sign behind me saying ‘Fart Water.’ I love to call out the purified water brands like Dasani and Smart Water for being a scam. They are just bottled tap water.” Well, then what water does the sommelier himself recommend? “Mountain Valley Springs from Arkansas, Tourmaline Spring is very good water from Maine. This water we’re trying now, Hildon, is the official water of Buckingham Palace from England. The queen herself will drink this today. And we will drink it now as well. Let’s be royal.”
Riese left me with one last sip for thought, “When I’m going out to a restaurant I don’t want to eat highly processed foods, I want to eat at places that source their produce from a farmer’s market. It is the same with water. I don’t want to drink a highly processed beverage. There are so many benefits to drinking water from natural sources. Natural mineral water brands buy and conserve the nature around their springs because they want to make sure nothing harms their water. By buying real spring water you’re actually conserving mother nature. Here at Petit Ermitage we take water from the city and filter it down so we don’t have to use any chemicals. We are trying to eliminate our footprint here to as small as possible. It’s very important to us.”
Don’t be afraid to follow what’s important to you, even if it isn’t considered the norm. Actually, just don’t be afraid of being weird, be afraid of being the same as everyone else. Weird is good. We’re all freaks. There have been so many times in my life when I’ve been afraid to do something out of embarrassment or judgment. Singing in public. Dressing up for Halloween. Asking a guy out. I have never regretted doing them. I have always regretted when I haven’t.
It’s 2019, and in today’s climate, we tend to take everything well, very seriously. And don’t get me wrong, there are definitely things we need to take seriously and act upon. But I think we all need to give ourselves permission to let loose every once in a while and celebrate our individual self-expression. If we’re not ‘woke’ internally, we can’t be ‘woke’ externally. So look inside, let it out, and be the weird you want to see in the world.