Manhattan Beach: Westdrift Story
by Mark McDermott
The hospitality industry is rapidly changing. A thousand rooms were added in the general Los Angeles area last year, and very few of those rooms bore much resemblance to hotel rooms of the past. Gone are the standard issue, interchangeable, comfortably bland rooms that were mainly designed for sleep, with maybe a decent restaurant and a place for stiff drink thrown into the mix. These days, hotels are meant to be more than a mere stopover.
“People want an experience,” said Stephanie Bauer, the general manager of the newly opened westdrift hotel in Manhattan Beach. “Not just somewhere to go stay.”
Bauer has been a rising star in the industry for the past decade. Her experience includes overseeing 10 hotels and 120 managers for a large hotel chain, as well as managing the Sofitel in Redwood City. Of late, she’s become accustomed to the sound of jackhammers. Two of her last career stops involved overseeing large renovations, first at The Lodge at Tiburon, and then the Marriott San Mateo in San Francisco — the company’s flagship property, where she managed an $11 million overhaul.
But nothing quite prepared her for the reinvention of the Manhattan Beach Marriott. Bauer was brought in last year as part of a team tasked with a total makeover of the city’s largest hotel, but in this case, the renovation occurred while the hotel stayed open for business.
“It’s been intense,” Bauer said at a sneak peek preview of the new hotel late last year. “I drank more wine in the last five months than I had in my entire career.”
The hotel was sold for $78 million to a new ownership group in 2016. It remained in the Marriott family, but as part of its newer, more creative, boutique-style hotels known as the Autograph Collection. The idea of this division is that each hotel, like an autograph, is utterly unique, but as a collection there is a common thread — for example, all 130 hotels in the Autograph Collection are part of an unusual partnership with IFC and the Black List called the Independent Film Project.
“It’s all about storytelling,” said Maureen Leary, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing. “So they have whole stories on YouTube where they take notable writers, actors and directors and they interview each other and tell stories about their process. We support them though events, and also an in-residence program for writers who are doing screenplays in which they give them 30 days in-residence at the Autograph Hotel of their choice so they can get away and work on their craft.”
In Manhattan Beach, Bauer, Leary, and their team were likewise asked to come up with a story: the story of an old hotel made very new and yet somehow more specific to the place itself.
“It’s a very rare and special occasion for us to be able to create a hotel brand from scratch, but still with the powerful backing of the Marriott brand,” said Leary. “We have been looking at how to position this property for a few years. So it changed ownership, and they came in and said, ‘We have to make this into something special.’ This community has really been really wanting a gem of a hotel that had space and that unique personality that Manhattan Beach has.”
Any good story begins with a name. The hotel’s creative team spent months researching, consulting with the Manhattan Beach Historical Society to better understand the deeper nature of the town. Thus westdrift was born.
“It comes from a mash up the westerly winds and the sand drifts which were so prevalent in the history of Manhattan Beach,” Leary said. “When they were first starting the city, it was just all sand dunes, and sand was getting everywhere — it was sugary, fine sand, that’s great on a beach but terrible if you are trying to build or develop a community. The westerly winds that would come in off the ocean that would create this huge sand drifts. So we took a little bit of the west, and a little bit of the drift and created our name.”
The new hotel opened this spring. It features 393 coastal-infused luxury guest rooms and suites, 112 featuring private balconies. The lobby features a custom Argentine driftwood check-in desk framed by striking wooden columns with metal accents inspired by the Manhattan Beach pier. Artwork by Sausalito photorealist Eric Zener, known for his water paintings, is featured in each room and throughout the property. The hotel also features a 9-hole, par-3 golf course, an outdoor pool flanked by cabanas and a CrossFit-inspired fitness center, and more than 35,000 square feet of indoor-outdoor event space, including 18 meeting rooms, and a traditional ballroom and garden level event space, ShoreAcre.
The architecture throughout borrows from a residential, indoor/outdoor modern California aesthetic.
“That is what people are craving now — they want it to feel like a home away from home, a cozy space,” Leary said.
The hotel’s signature restaurant, Jute, is located at the lowest level, with an extensive mixology “lab” featuring a rotating collection of 16 handcrafted drinks (many featuring herbs grown on the property), beers from local breweries, and garage doors that open to an outdoor hangout space called “the backyard.” Westdrift lured a top shelf culinary talent, Octavio Sabado, who formerly worked beside famed chef Jose Andres at the SLS Hotel, to serve as executive chef. But Bauer says the idea is “small f, large b” — that is, the focus is on beverages, with really good, artisanally-sourced culinary offerings as an accompaniment.
“We want people to say, ‘Let’s go have a drink at westdrift tonight,’” said Bauer. “Like at W., or XYZ, that vibe, that experience.”
“The city of Manhattan Beach deserves a hotel like this — the size, yes, and the vibe,” Bauer said. “It feels more beachy, more of a clubhouse feel. It just fits the community.”