The Lowdown on Mama Shelter Los Angeles

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Prior to this year, the Mama Shelter brand already had five hugely popular hotels in Europe, all but one in France. They’d proven their model there: The draw of staying in a reasonably priced hotel with a ton of personality in a neighborhood in the early stages of buzzworthiness is strong, it turns out (and, by the way, not just among millennials). The Mama Shelter Los Angeles brings the concept for the first time to the US. Located a block off Hollywood Boulevard and the Walk of Fame, it exploits the fact that off the main strips, Hollywood changes fast. It’s less peopled, more local, less cheesy, more interesting. It’s a great location from which to base a visit to Los Angeles.

Until now, though, there have been few attractive hotel options in Hollywood that don’t cost more per night than most people make in a week. A few are now on the way, but Mama Shelter got there first. When all is said in done, it’s got a good shot at being the most fun, with an ethos that’s hip without succumbing to snobbery.

The downsides are few but notable. In one unfortunate way, the 70-room Mama Shelter seems to have taken cues from the contemporary airline industry: economical base fares coupled with charges for every conceivable comfort or convenience on top of the transport, or in this case bed, itself. To wit: The $10 extra charge for a “city view;” the free hour of late checkout followed by increasingly exorbitant charges for each additional hour; the lack of a welcome bottle of water in the room—it’s only available at the restaurant, when it’s open, for $3; the lack of even snacks anywhere but in the restaurant; the $25 per day for valet parking, which within reason is the only option; the $19 for a baby cot. The free perks are the ones most guests don’t need: porn, for example, which lends the hotel a certain irreverence, but in practical terms I’d much rather a free bottle of water. The complimentary wifi, an exception to that rule, worked great.

The open space of the ground floor incorporates front desk, restaurant and bar into one happily cacophonous hub. Black Spanish tile floors and white brick walls bring a touch of elegance to, and provide a fine backdrop for, the quirky design that makes Mama Shelter such an engaging place to while away a few hours. (I would know, since I was hit with strep throat the day of my check-in, and had no energy for sightseeing.)

Slide Show:

A retro foosball table and surprisingly welcome fireplace anchor the room. The vast bar occupies the space to the left of the entrance, with stools wrapping around three sides and nearby circular booths that would have made Mia Wallace happy. Across reception, the restaurant serves meals at both central communal picnic tables and at smaller tables to the sides, all under a chalkboard ceiling on which local artists have been commissioned to create tributes to their moms. Open kitchens only sometimes work out, but this one does so beautifully, adding a sense of action to the space without overwhelming it. Dishes I can personally recommend: the acai bowl, the mac n’ cheese, and the multigrain bowl. All were outstanding, and along with the atmosphere drew in hotel guests and locals alike.

As for the rooms: I booked a “Medium Mama City View.” (There are three room sizes at this Mama Shelter: Medium, Large and XXL, making mine, even at medium, the smallest.) Even though I’d paid extra for that city view, all I could see out my third-floor window was the post office across the street, which hardly seemed fair. Inside, there was no closet, just a small rack with a few hangers on it. I could never tell if the air conditioning was working or not. An iMac stood in for the conventional television. Allowing guests to access their own Netflix accounts on the room’s TV is such a good idea, if only it worked—mine never would load.

Now for the good: Although small, the room’s space was used well, with unique design elements and not at all formal or impersonal. If a hotel room has to have carpet, the two-toned one here was close to ideal. A big domed lamp provided some drama. The yellow walls of the entryway provided some fun. Screenplays for The Big Lebowski and Swingers and Keith Richards’ autobiography sitting atop a Bible provided some reading material. The king bed was comfortable, with fantastic pillows. The desk was easy to work at. The black ceiling offered a nice visual contrast.

I found another example of this hotel making great use of unexpected paint colors in the bathroom, which above its subway tiles was painted pink, and somehow that worked. Like the bedroom, the bathroom was small but perfectly functional. As every hotel bathroom should, but many don’t, this one had two towel hooks. Less essential but still fun was the rain shower showerhead. The very cool sink produced water out of a horizontal tube; the water then found its way to a drain somewhere behind the faucet.

The single misstep in the bathroom involved the toiletries from French skincare line Absolution, which, although adorably packaged, left a bit to be desired, especially the all-in-one body and hair wash. My hair did not feel, or appear, clean after using it.

During my stay in mid-September, with the rooftop unfinished, guests had to deal with the near constant noise of construction during the daytime hours. When the roof is done, it will house an outdoor gym, a restaurant and bar, and a movie screening area. I’d have expected the inconvenience—the combo of noise and not-yet-there amenities—to result in discounts on the rooms. No dice. Ultimately, though, the rate is reasonable for what it buys: a hotel with some soul that you actually want to hang out in.

Rooms at Mama Shelter Los Angeles start at $159 per night.

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The foosball table in the lobby.
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Sarah is the founder and editor of Flung, the author of Process: The Writing Lives of Great Authors, and a widely published travel and culture writer. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram.

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