9:30am PT by Chris Gardner
Sunset Tower's New Library Showcase in High Demand
Sunset Tower is known for many things: an iconic history, an A-list-favored restaurant and, of course, the town's most famous maitre d', Dimitri Dimitrov. But it might be time to add another, if unlikely, item to that list … books.
Sunset Tower owner Jeff Klein has converted prime real estate in the hotel's entryway into a makeshift bookstore. Glass cases on both sides of the walkway at the entrance — in front of the valet and before the steps leading to guest check-in — now showcase a selection of books that changes monthly. The tomes are not typical fare either; many are first-edition, rare, sometimes signed or suddenly timely books that are available for purchase.
But money was never the goal for Klein, who oversees the operation with hotel consultant Gabé Doppelt (she came up with the concept), in partnership with bookseller Nick Harvill. Klein tells The Hollywood Reporter that he turned down offers from luxury retailers that wanted to use the space to sell clothes and accessories. "I was nervous about that, because part of the secret sauce of the Sunset Tower, and maybe this is my fantasy, is that I hope people feel like they are walking into their second home and it wouldn't be great to have commerce in your face," Klein explains. "That's why this is so brilliant — it's cool for the soul of the property. And I don't need to make money [on it]."
Surprisingly, books are flying off the shelves, and Klein expects awards season to continue the brisk business as famous out-of-towners set up shop there for weeks at a time. Asked to pick his favorite, Klein blushes. "I love them all so much," he smiles. "Our guests have such rich social lives when they stay here, and anybody can give a bottle of wine for a dinner party. These make great gifts."
January's selections are separated into two categories: the Oscars and RIP 2016. Oscars picks include Mason Wiley's Inside Oscar ($75), Richard Sale's The Oscar ($175) and John Bryson's signed The Private World of Katharine Hepburn ($750). The in memoriam section features two books by Zsa Zsa Gabor including How to Catch a Man ($650), Debbie Reynolds' If I knew Then ($150), Carrie Fisher's Postcards from the Edge ($225), and Harry Benson's The President & Mrs. Reagan ($600).
"Anything Hollywood sells like crazy, with fashion and humor a close second. I thought price would matter but it makes no difference apparently," Doppelt explains, adding that they sold a book, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, signed by Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine for $1,750. (Doppelt herself collects rare books, with her favorite being Andy Warhol's cookbook Wild Raspberries.)
The bookshop at the entrance is a nice complement to the hotel's other literary feature in the lobby, just around the corner and directly across from check-in. Located there are several glass cases showing off books that guests can borrow during their stay. Klein called in favors to stock this case, relying on friends like Andy Cohen, David Spade and Maureen Dowd to donate signed copies of their books.
Klein admits this curated space has been less popular but he still enjoys having the option for his guests. "It's ambitious," he notes. "In fairness to guests, most people are very busy while they are here and they don't have time to read. If they were on a lake somewhere, they might have time to borrow and return a book."
That doesn't mean that the books have gone completely unnoticed. Nestled next to the hotel's "gift shop" case — featuring typical hotel toiletries, popular Sunset Tower-emblazoned pajamas and Donald Robertson-designed boxes filled with tampons and condoms — the books for borrow get attention, mostly for their signatures. Cohen wrote, "I want my next book to be entirely about Dimitri."
No doubt that book is one that would make its way to the front case.
A version of this story first appeared in the Jan. 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.