Q&A With Hotel Shangrila Owner Tamie Adaya

A few months ago, our friend & contributor Aban Sonia relocated from Miami to L.A. and landed in Santa Monica at the Hotel Shangrila. Tamie Adaya, whose late father purchased the hotel in the early 1980’s, re-imagined and single handedly redesigned this historical Los Angeles landmark “for young-minded sophisticates of any age, who wear many different hats in their life and who – because they manage a variety of demands in their life – value a place that effortlessly allows them to reconcile their lifestyles.” Adaya is an avid traveler, art curator, writer and muse and we are thrilled to feature her as part of our interview series.


LF: Where do you pull inspiration?

TA: I like to pull inspiration from the cities I visit, I also document them for either Huffington Post or my personal blog. My references span almost every part of history (for example my salons are based on Madame de Pompadour’s court of Louis XV); however, given the deco-modern architecture of the Shangrila, the 20’s and the 30’s are particularly pertinent.

I am also in love with the Edwardian and Victorian eras… Fashion-wise, Vivienne Westwood is a personal hero, Child of the Jago is a probably the most subversive and sophisticated clothing brand in the world at the moment, headed up by Joe Corre and Barnzley. Classic Italian Cinema, Italian Neo-Realism, and the French New Wave are deeply inspirational to me, and of course, French Romantic Literature!

LF: How does that reflect on the decor / aesthetic of the Shangrila?

TA: The Shangrila was built 1939, the tail end of Art-Deco. Strictly speaking the style is Streamline-Moderne, and in fact, it is one of the finest examples of this kind of architecture in the world. It was a beautiful time for architecture and the arts and I wanted to pull from that era when creating the decor, but of course adding a modern and contemporary twist. I knew I didn’t want to pursue retro and make the hotel period specific to when it was built; after all, no one wants to spend the night in a museum.

Likewise, it has never been my vision to turn the Shangrila into a ‘modern’ hotel either. For me, those kind of properties tend to date within 5-10 years. It has always been extremely important to me that, while Shangrila is contemporary and vibrant, it is, at its essence, timeless. Hotel Shangrila is a personality driven brand, meaning its culture and aesthetic is a reflection of a unique and particular point of view, not a trendy designer or whatever happens to be in Vogue.

I feel the Shangrila is imbued with the excitement of the inter-war years during which it was built, a time in which, Western society and culture was embarking on an adventure into modernity against of backdrop of prohibition and the roaring twenties.

As well as encapsulating Art Deco’s dynamism and excitement I also wanted to express it’s sense of luxury, optimism and aspiration. It’s crucial to me that the Shangrila brand feels elevating, but without being overly formal or stuffy. People want to feel good when they stay at a hotel, but they also want to relax. People want escape, but they also want vibrancy, and so on… Shangrila is where all these things are perfectly reconciled. A good example of this reconciliation that is central to the Shangrila brand is our penthouse Rock n Roll suite, which could be described as Deco meets Sex Pistols meets Zen ocean view.

LF: We’ve noticed you’re always having the best parties, events, etc at the Shangrila – what’ gives?

TA: Shangrila is a nexus of culture in the tradition of the Cliveden Set, Picasso’s Tertulias in the early 30’s during his final visits to Spain, the Bloomsbury Set and other cultural cliques and coteries throughout the ages that, although are not mainstream themselves, inform, influence, and impact wider society.

The formula is quite simple, I enjoy playing host to interesting people whom I inspire, and who inspire me. I like to keep things natural and just bring people together who are like-minded, even though they may come from different backgrounds be it film, fashion, art, jewelry, design, literature, and so on.

My invite-only salons tend to be about 6-8 people and are held in the dining room over dinner and drinks, I like Horace’s salon definition, “either to please or to educate,” because to me socializing can either be about just having fun, or learning from people, and both are extremely gratifying for me.

I hold at least one of my ONYX pool parties every summer in the courtyard at Shangrila, which is in many ways is the antidote to the Hollywood pool parties of recent years. OYNX is sleek, sophisticated, and mysterious, like a night sea voyage. An arena for luxury, refinement, fashion, culture, relaxation, eating, drinking, and having a high-quality social experience.

Shangrila’s social activities tend to be more hush-hush mainly because part of our identity is that of a hideaway. Our guests enjoy the vibrancy and relevancy that compares to any hotel in the world, but without the ‘zoo’ element that I feel most sophisticates find to be a turn-off…I won’t say too much, but this should give you an idea of the cultural identity behind events at Shangrila.

LF: What kind of music do you listen to?

TA: My friend, and recent Shangrila guest, Barnzley exposed me to dozens of obscure late 50’s / early 60’s rock n roll classics when he stayed at the hotel recently, including an amazing track by Aaron Neville called ‘Over You’. As way of thank you I bought him the original 1960 pressing on 7 inch vinyl for his birthday. I’m listening to a lot french 60’s pop music like Serge Gainsborough and Francious Hardy, which gets played at the hotel. Shangrila is a cultural crucible, I expose my guests to whatever I’m inspired by at a particular time, and they introduce new things to me… I guess you could call it a cultural exchange of sorts.

I’ve just added La Vie En Rose as my ringtone, although I have trouble deciding whether I prefer – the Edith Piaf or the Grace Jones version.

I also have a great deal of respect for the current generation of producers (anyone who follows electronic music will know who the pioneers are right now) as well as earlier pioneers like Kraftwerk, Space, Jean-Michel Jarre, Jean Jacque Perrey, Gary Numan and Pet Shop Boys.

Actually, I just bought the Pet Shop Boys career visual retrospective called ‘Catalogue’ for our guests to read. You can clearly tell that Chris Lowe is a trained architect. Pet Shop Boys’ use of visual language is so consistent, and I love how their aesthetic conveys style, wit, art-world sensibility, and pop-culture savvy.

The most powerful alternative or street culture is usually either intellectual, literate, or sophisticated in some way and that tends to drive my playlist choices.

LF: What’s your favorite room at the Shangrila and why?

TA: I actually have two… Suite 607 & Suite 500.

607 is a spacious 1 bedroom suite with a full extensive kitchen. All the 6th floor suites have an al fresco terrace with breathtaking views overlooking the Pacific, but 607, at the back edge of the hotel, is unique as it has a stunning view of downtown Santa Monica, the 3rd Street Promenade, and even the Hollywood Hills.

500, is a huge 2 bedroom suite with 2 bathrooms, a full kitchen, and actually feels more like a penthouse apartment due to its spaciousness. Suite 500 sits at the apex of the hotel overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Palisades Park, and Malibu. All of the furniture is custom designed; warm grays, blacks, whites, and reds so as to compliment, not distract, the eye from the seductive blues of the ocean.

Both these suites have large soak tubs with jets, many of which overlook the ocean. I invested in a luxury bathing experience for our guests because this something that I myself have always looked for in a hotel.

LF: Speaking of favorites, my personal favorite spot is the cozy dining room! The food, delicious and the drinks, divine… Tells us about some “must-haves” including the infamous “Tamie-tini”…

TA: The Tamie-tini was inspired by my all time favorite, passion fruit, and as the mixologist described it, the Tamie-tini “is sweet and sassy, just like the owner.” Other favorites are the Pink Punk, and PG Tipsy (a PG Tips infused vodka) which has become very popular not just because of its witty name, but its surprisingly refreshing taste. Signature dishes are the Truffled Egg Toast, it speaks for itself, and of course the Sticky Toffee Pudding, a quintessential British comfort desert.

I love the Dining Room and actually have family dinners quite often there. I wanted it to be reminiscent of an old gentlemen’s club and have the feel of an ocean-liner. We are one of the only restaurants in Santa Monica that has elevated ocean-views and overlooks Palisades Park.

LF: What’s new for you and Shangrila? Any events lined up through the fall?

TA: I don’t really think of the word ‘new’ when it comes to the Shangrila, we exist in more of a continuum. In many ways Shangrila hasn’t changed since it opened in 1939. I think it’s Shangrila’s sense of continuity that resonates so deeply with people; without wanting to be too pretentious, they feel the continuity of the building in their soul.

Most of our guests are repeat guests and one of things that draws them in is the experience of something timeless. We have one guest who has stayed 50 times in the past 2 years and on the other end of the spectrum we have guests who have been staying here since the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, first arriving with their parents as children. There is nothing I enjoy more that sitting in the dining room with guests hearing their stories of Shangrila in years gone by. I want our guests to have a personal experience where they feel they are being warmly invited into someone’s home. We are just about small enough to achieve that sense of intimacy and welcome I’m looking for.

By popular demand we’re bringing back our Speakeasy Sundays, in Santa Monica’s only open-air rooftop bar, Suite 700. Featuring silver-screen stars Laurel & Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, and Harold Lloyd flickering in the background, complemented by bootleg blues and classic cocktails of the era; dress up in Coco-Chanel chic with the weekly password and receive a discreetly served complimentary cocktail.

I’m already planning Shangrila’s Diamond Jubilee (75th anniversary) in 2014. We’ll be making highly useful and desirable custom, unique, original, limited edition, commemorative products of the highest quality that will be gifted to our guests…but the details of those products are under wraps for now as they are still in development.

We’re perched in the center of the 20 mile wide Santa Monica bay overlooking the Pacific Ocean so I’m looking at installing a high-powered telescope on the roof of the hotel. I can’t help feeling seduced by the romance of rooftop star-gazing from our unique vantage point.

One of my greatest joys is devising ways to improve the Shangrila as a guest experience. I love the continuous, never-ending process of finding new ways to improve the property, express the Shangrila vision, enhance the atmosphere, and enrich the hotel’s culture.

Shangrila tends to be low-key so obviously some of what we do is private or invite-only, but a good portion of our cultural happenings are announced on Twitter @TamieAdaya and @HotelShangrila.

L’Agent Goodies…