Lifestyle

Check Into Hotel Who for an Immersive Mystery Experience

This roving murder mystery party invites guests to uncover the killer among them.

Photo courtesy of Hotel Who
Photo courtesy of Hotel Who
Photo courtesy of Hotel Who

Last fall, Instagram ads started appearing for a mysterious experience in Los Angeles called Hotel Who. There have been many immersive experiences, from art shows to themed bars to haunted houses, but Hotel Who promised something new.

Launched in time for Halloween, Hotel Who was LA’s first overnight murder mystery experience at the historic Hotel Normandie over five weekends. The backdrop of that immersive experience was a wedding in the 1920s of the hotel owner doubling as a celebration of the hotel’s opening (fun fact: The Hotel Normandie was indeed built in 1926). Guests came dressed in roaring twenties costumes, and interactions with cast members flowed along with drinks during the one-hour open bar. After the murder event at dinner, guests spent the next two hours searching the designated hotel rooms for motives and the murder weapon before retiring to bed. The murder was then solved during brunch the next morning, with the cast impressively staying in character the entire time.

Photo courtesy of Hotel Who
Photo courtesy of Hotel Who
Photo courtesy of Hotel Who

Long-time friends Monica Sharon and Angela Fegers, who are both from dance and performance backgrounds and have been doing interactive performances together since college, started Hotel Who. Sharon moved to Los Angeles for work but found herself missing the performance art. When the two began discussing doing a show together, they decided they needed to make one that would be viable as a business instead of simply a space to share art.

It was then that Fegers brought up the idea of doing the show at a hotel. “That’s actually brilliant because there’s so much that we can use at a hotel. It’s a sustainable model since you don’t have to build a set and break it down each time,” said Sharon, “We can make different shows inspired by different hotels.”

Everything fell into place for their first show last October with Hotel Normandie. “It was a new thing so it was hard for us to explain what we wanted to do, because we haven’t done it yet. We got really lucky with the Normandie, they were really open and interested in what we wanted to do,” said Sharon.

Despite the slow start in marketing last year, the show gained traction, and Hotel Who is returning for an entirely new immersive experience in April. This time the event will take place at the historic and opulent Millennium Biltmore. While all guests had to stay overnight during the first iteration at Hotel Normandie, awaiting the murderer reveal at brunch, because an overnight stay may be prohibitive to some, Sharon and Fegers decided to offer three different ticket types this time around, so more people can join part of the experience.

The VIP ticket offers an overnight experience and includes a suite stay at the Biltmore, costing $485 per room for single occupancy and $770 per room for double occupancy. The mid-tier admission for $150 includes access to activities on the first night, while the general admission ticket is $50 for the 1950s ball.

Photo courtesy of Hotel Who
Photo courtesy of Hotel Who
Photo courtesy of Hotel Who

The new show is a love story in four acts, and similar to the first one, it centres on an engagement party. The engagement party is set in 1955 between two characters named John Sunflower and Judy Rose from two rivalling families, à la Romeo and Juliet. There will also be supernatural components to the storyline, with fairies and magical elixirs making an appearance.

While there won’t be a murder in this particular show, there will still be a mystery that needs solving, and the show will have a heavy interactive component. The night will start with a cocktail hour and passed hors d’oeuvres in the hotel’s ornate Gallery Bar, where guests will meet some of the characters. During this cocktail hour, the VIP and mid-tier ticket holders will receive two drinks, and additional drinks will be available for purchase. Guests will then move to the penthouse for a more intimate, interactive part, where the mystery will be introduced. VIP ticket holders, however, will have the opportunity to become one of the characters in the story themselves. They will be assigned a character complete with their own background story and instructions on how to act. These characters will be tied to a second mystery that other guests cannot access.

The night’s finale will be a 1950s ball with treasure hunt-style puzzles, performative moments, and a live band. This ball is the only act included in the general admission, with drinks available for purchase. The first mystery will be solved at the night’s end, and those staying overnight will reconvene for brunch the following day to solve the second mystery, which is tied to their assigned characters from the night before.

The first Hotel Who show attracted people who love hands-on puzzle solving, immersive events, and, most of all, dressing up according to the theme. With the new show, Sharon and Fegers made sure they incorporated those elements the guests loved, with hands-on tasks required to solve the mystery and a ball to dress up to the nines for.

Photo courtesy of Hotel Who
Photo courtesy of Hotel Who
Photo courtesy of Hotel Who

Each of Hotel Who’s new shows will be performed at a different historic hotel because one of its central concepts is that the performance and the space depend on each other, and each show is tailored to the hotel’s history. Fegers loves history and digging into newspaper archives to find as much information about the hotel’s past as possible. The two create characters based on real-life figures. Hotel Normandie was originally a residential hotel, so most of the characters were based on intriguing locals from the past. The Millennium Biltmore, on the other hand, has a much more storied history.

“For example, we know that Al Capone used to frequent the Biltmore, so we have a character that’s inspired by [him]. The Biltmore has a very interesting array of people that used to hang out there throughout the decades just because in the 20s and 30s it was the epicentre of the Academy Awards and there were a lot of celebrities and people that we know about,” Sharon explained. “It would be interesting to see how that changes things from the audience experience,” said Fegers. Only cast members and guests will know how a love story, the mob, and fairies come together in one storyline.

Sharon and Fegers are also looking to expand Hotel Who beyond Los Angeles. They’re in the process of finding hotels on the East Coast for a summer show or two before returning to LA for another Halloween murder mystery. Hotel Who at the Millennium Biltmore will start on April 15 and run through July 15. Ticket information will be available on thehotelwho.com.

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Fiona Chandra is an Indonesian-born freelance food and travel writer but she now calls Los Angeles home. When not eating and travelling, she’s probably watching crime shows.

Lifestyle

The Best New Bookstores in LA are Curated, Specific, and Personal

Discover a new favorite book, join a book club, and maybe even do some karaoke at the new wave of LA bookshops.

Photo by Innis Casey Photography, courtesy of Zibby's Bookshop
Photo by Innis Casey Photography, courtesy of Zibby’s Bookshop
Photo by Innis Casey Photography, courtesy of Zibby’s Bookshop

A couple of years ago, the legendary Powell’s Books in Portland released a perfume designed to evoke the smell of a bookstore. The scent has notes of wood, violet, and the lovely and unusually precise word biblichor, the particular aroma of old books. The reality of the scent is what it is-mostly sweet and floral-but more important is the imagery it conjures. The best bookstores are both cozy and mysterious, familiar and surprising, with endless potential for discovery.

Los Angeles has a wealth of independent book sellers, including beloved legacy shops like The Last Bookstore, The Iliad, and Chevalier’s. But a new wave of bookstores has been growing over the last few years, shops that eschew the traditional one-of-everything mindset to focus on specificity, curation, and point of view. There are bookstores with themes, bookstores that double as event spaces, bookstores that reflect their neighbourhoods, bookstores that take inspiration from a specific person-whether that’s the shop owner, a historical figure, or a little bit of both-and so many more.

Like the niche-ification of the internet and the culture at large, these new and new-ish bookstores provide a space to discover books, ideas, and perspectives led by an expert, the kind of things that you may never have found on your own. They can also be a safe harbour for pure nerdiness, a place to dive deep into your favourite category or cause. To help you on your way, we’ve put together a list of some of the best new bookstores in LA, with a focus on curated shops with their own specific perspectives.

Photo courtesy of Octavia's Bookshelf
Photo courtesy of Octavia’s Bookshelf
Photo courtesy of Octavia’s Bookshelf

Octavia’s Bookshelf

Pasadena
Pasadena is a famously book-friendly city, with bookstore royalty in the form of legendary Vroman’s and its own literary alliance. Now it has one of the most exciting new bookstores too. Octavia’s Bookshelf is owner Nikki High’s tribute to the science fiction master Octavia E. Butler, who was a Pasadena native herself. The name of the shop provides a clue into High’s inspiration, titles she imagines Butler would have had on her shelves, with a focus on BIPOC authors. The storefront is small, but the collection is impeccably curated and the space is cozy and welcoming for readers of all backgrounds.

Photo by Mads Gobbo, courtesy of North Figueroa Bookshop
Photo by Mads Gobbo, courtesy of North Figueroa Bookshop
Photo by Mads Gobbo, courtesy of North Figueroa Bookshop

North Figueroa Bookshop

Highland Park
Vertical integration can be a beautiful thing, especially when it allows independent creators more control over their products. The new North Figueroa Bookshop is a shining example of the concept, a storefront built on a collaboration between two publishers, Rare Bird and Unnamed Press. North Fig features titles from those presses, of course, including lots of striking literary fiction and memoir, but it also features a curated collection of other books. They’ve made it a point of emphasis to serve the needs of the local Highland Park, Glassell Park, Cypress Park, and Eagle Rock community-there’s lots of fiction from fellow independent publishers, other general interest titles with a focus on California history and literature, and plenty of Spanish-language books.

Photo by Karen Cohen Photography, courtesy of Zibby's Bookshop
Photo by Karen Cohen Photography, courtesy of Zibby’s Bookshop
Photo by Karen Cohen Photography, courtesy of Zibby’s Bookshop

Zibby’s Bookshop

Santa Monica
Speaking of vertical integration, there’s another new combined publisher and bookstore on the other side of town. Zibby’s Bookshop is the brainchild of Zibby Owens, Sherri Puzey, and Diana Tramontano, and it’s the physical home of Zibby Books, a literary press that releases one featured book a month. That system is designed so that each book gets the full attention and resources of the press. Owens is an author, podcaster, and book-fluencer, and she has become something of a lit-world mogul with a magazine, podcast network, event business, and an education platform too. The shop has a unique sorting system, built around a feeling for each book-in store many of the shelves are labelled by interest or personality type, like “For the foodie,” or “For the pop culture lover.” On their webshop, you can browse for books that make you cry, escape, laugh, lust, or tremble. There are recommendations from Owens and the staff, sections for local authors, family dramas, and books that have just been optioned. If this all seems a little overwhelming, you should probably avoid the section dedicated to books that make you anxious.

The Salt Eaters Bookshop

Inglewood
Inglewood native Asha Grant opened The Salt Eaters Bookshop in 2021 with a mission in mind-to centre stories with protagonists who are Black girls, women, femme, and/or gender-nonconforming people. Over the last year and change that it’s been open, it has also become a community hub, a place for Inglewood locals and people from across town to drop in, to see what’s new and to discover incredible works in the Black feminist tradition. They also host regular events like readings, discussions, and parties.

Lost Books

Montrose
Thankfully, legendary downtown bookshop The Last Bookstore’s name is hyperbole, and owners Josh and Jenna Spencer have even gone so far as to open a second shop, Lost Books in Montrose. Instead of the technicolour whimsy of the book tunnel at The Last Bookstore, Lost Books has a tunnel of plants that welcomes you into the shop, which opened in the summer of 2021. They sell those plants in addition to books, and coffee and vinyl too, which makes Lost Books a lovely destination and a fun little surprise in the quaint foothill town just off the 2 freeway.

Photo by Claudia Colodro, courtesy of Stories Books & Cafe
Photo by Claudia Colodro, courtesy of Stories Books & Cafe
Photo by Claudia Colodro, courtesy of Stories Books & Cafe

Stories Books & Cafe

Echo Park
Ok, this one is fudging the criteria a little-Stories has been open for almost 15 years. But over those years the shop has become a pillar of Echo Park community life, hosting readings, discussions, and events, and their cafe tables function as a de facto office for about half of the neighbourhood on any given afternoon. After the tragic recent passing of co-owner and Echo Park fixture Alex Maslansky it seemed like the shop’s future was in doubt, but thankfully after a brief hiatus co-owner and co-founder Claudia Colodro and the staff were able to band together to reopen and keep the beloved cafe and bookstore going strong.

Page Against the Machine

Long Beach
The name alone makes it clear what you’re getting at Page Against the Machine-revolutionary progressive books, with a collection centred on activist literature, socially conscious writing, and a whole lot of political history. The shop itself is small but the ideas are grand, with fiction by writers like Richard Wright, Colson Whitehead, and Albert Camus next to zines about gentrification and compendia of mushroom varieties. They also host regular readings and discussions.

Photo by Viva Padilla, courtesy of Re/Arte
Photo by Viva Padilla, courtesy of Re/Arte
Photo by Viva Padilla, courtesy of Re/Arte

Re/Arte Centro Literario

Boyle Heights
Boyle Heights has its own small but mighty combined bookstore, art gallery, gathering space, and small press in Viva Padilla’s Re/Arte. Padilla is a poet, translator, editor, and curator, and as a South Central LA native and the child of Mexican immigrants, she’s focused on Chicanx and Latinx art, literature, and social criticism. Re/Arte’s collection has a wide range of books, from classic Latin American literature to modern essays and everything in between. Re/Arte is also now the headquarters for sin cesar, a literary journal that publishes poetry, fiction, and essays from Black and Brown writers. There are always community-focused events happening too, from regular open mics and zine workshops to film screenings and more.

The Book Jewel

Westchester
Most bookshops host events, but few host them with the regularity of The Book Jewel, the two- year-old independent bookstore in Westchester. Their calendar is so full with readings, several different book clubs, signings, and meet and greets that there are sometimes multiple events on the same day. The shop also hosts a ton of family-focused readings, with regular storytime on Sunday mornings often followed by a talk with the author. It’s a great fit for the relatively low-key (but not exactly quiet) suburban neighbourhood, and it’s no coincidence that storytime lines up with the Westchester Farmers Market, which takes place right out front.

Reparations Club

West Adams
Most bookstores lean into coziness, aiming to be a hideaway for some quiet contemplation or maybe a quick sotto voce chat-not so at Reparations Club, the exuberant and stylish concept bookshop and art space on Jefferson. Owner and founder Jazzi McGilbert and her staff have built a beautiful and vibrant shop full of art from Black artists, including books but also records, candles, incense, clothing, and all sorts of fun things to discover. There’s a perfect seating area to sit and hang out for a while, and they host a range of wild and fun events from readings to happy hours, panel discussions to karaoke nights and more.

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Ben Mesirow is a Staff Writer at Thrillist.

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