Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Varden Blends In Historic Chic

Varden Hotel
Any time I stay overnight in Long Beach, Calif., I find myself equally split between to two very different hotels. Hyatt The Pike Long Beach is a 138-room hotel that now occupies the land once famous for Pike amusement park and The Varden is a 35-room urban boutique hotel originally built in 1929.

In deciding which to review, I chose the smaller one for its colorful history and the character of its namesake. Besides, it gives up a little in terms of location, spaciousness, and amenities in favor of comfort, attentiveness, and affordability, with room rates almost $100 less than many in the area. Sure, the rooms are tiny by any standard and there is no elevator, but the sparse European design creates the impression of clean, cozy, and urban chic.

A brief history of The Varden's namesake. 

Although the hotel has undergone some major renovations, except the original front desk installed in 1929, the name has not. It was originally called the Dolly Varden Hotel. Varden a.k.a. Mrs. Raymond O'Dell was a retired circus aerialist and equestrienne who once co-starred with Buffalo Bill Cody.

Dolly Varden
At the height of her career from approximately 1882 to 1912, she was one of the best known circus performers in the country (including an act with elephants) and had shoes and chocolates named after her. After retiring to do social work, she traveled and moved to San Jose but had an admirer in Los Angeles.

He bought the hotel, gave her the top floor, and named it after her. Later, presumably the couple moved to St. Louis. Varden would eventually die penniless a few months after her husband, except for a trunk of jewelry. Although estimated to be worth more than $100,000 at the time of her death, an appraiser later said the find wasn't worth anything as it consisted mostly of costume jewelry.

The Varden Hotel still sports the original historic sign, which even gives a hint at its luxurious past. It boasts a bath in every room, a little less common in the 1920s and 1930s. The sign itself was probably added in the 1930s, after an historic earthquake rocked the area.

The hotel itself is an alternative to standard fare. 

Varden LobbyAlthough small, the hotel does have 9-foot ceilings and compact custom shelves and desks. The baths are decorated in penny mosaic and cultured marble subway tiles. The beds are winners; Simmons sleepers with pillow top mattresses and 300-thread count sheets.

Like many Euro-style hotels popping up in Southern California, the Varden offers a wine reception in the late afternoon and evening. The entire hotel also makes the most of eco-friendliness, including mini-rain showers and hallway air shafts converted to become natural light sources in the hallways.

In the morning, they serve coffee, muffins and oatmeal. But if you want more options, The Birdcage Coffee House has great coffee and the Colonial Bakery (even closer) is known for its donuts (despite many vegan complaints). Likewise, while the Varden doesn't have a fitness center, there is a Gold's Gym located just a few feet away.

Long Beach continues to improves its offerings. 

The Pike At Rainbow Harbor
If I were born even a decade earlier, I might have experienced The Pike as it was meant to be when my parents used to scuttle down from Seattle for a few weeks of Los Angeles sunshine. The Pike amusement zone closed down in 1979. It took another 20 years before The Pike at Rainbow Harbor would be built between the convention center and Aquarium of the Pacific.

The aquarium is still a focal point and primary anchor for the area as is the Queen Mary, which is a "haunted" ocean liner that has since been converted into a hotel with three restaurants and several lounges. Long Beach is also one of the gateways to Catalina Island.

Although Long Beach has never captured the same amount of buzz it did in its heyday, it continues to improve despite not having one of those pristine Southern California beaches connected to it (although there are some close by). The city has been busy adding art and performing arts to Rainbow Harbor. Long Beach also is home to a 1920 Spillman carousel and Ferris wheel as nods to its past. At Rainbow Harbor, most of the restaurants are chains. The real upcoming draw will be in early November at Comic & Horror Con.

The Varden In Long Beach Squeezes In 7.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Although Hyatt The Pike Long Beach or Hyatt Regency might be preferred as full-service hotels in the area (there are several), neither capture the charm of The Varden as a boutique. While you will have to walk a little further to and from Long Beach offerings, there are other finds along the way that will make up for it. Even the parking, for example, is a fraction of what most hotels charge.

If you visit, try Fare Buzz to save up to 60 percent off or start with the top travel deals at Expedia.com. Long Beach still hasn't earned my top spot for places to stay around Los Angeles (and I live here), but every year it becomes a better place to visit (especially during events and concerts) and always makes for a great overnight getaway.
blog comments powered by Disqus