Kid Hit Menu Items: You know how when you go to birthday parties or a gathering when there’s much crazy merriment and playing and such involved, you hear those “I’m hungry!” complaints at bedtime? The same thing is likely to happen when there’s a restaurant that comes with an amazing view and a host of other distractions. So I’ll do whatever it takes to get my kids to eat. Or better yet, just go for a snack or drink. But I’m not gonna lie. Going to Encounter at LAX and the rotating BonaVista Lounge at the top of the landmark (though not technically yet) Bonaventure Hotel means overpriced burgers and chicken fingers. The rest of the food isn’t quite worth foisting on your kids, neither from a culinary nor an economic standpoint. Encounter doesn’t even have a relatively fairly priced kids’ burger, which is one of its many Crimes Against Customers in a Cornered Market.
Adult Perks: Because both of these historic establishments are also lounges that maintain a residue of the glamorous era of travel and hotel culture beneath their respective unfortunate contemporary re-dos, booze is definitely involved. The BonaVista Lounge used to have light-up LED plastic martini glasses; for our son’s sixth birthday (this was where he wanted to have the Official Birthday Dinner) his ginger ale came in a different celebratory vessel: a ceramic tiki cup, literally the size of a flower vase. And as for the food, the Bonaventure tries a little harder and there’s the corporate steakhouse upstairs to order your ballroom gala dinner from. I’m grateful to eat an heirloom tomato burrata salad 34 stories high.
Pros: No matter what price gouging happens within these concrete and glass masterpieces, I will always love an iconoclastic yet now-iconic mid-century (or in the case of the Bonaventure, the mid-1970s) building with a commanding view. The kids have gone, well, ape shit every time they’ve been in either place. It’s a joy to watch.
Cons: You know what’s not so awesome? Experiencing the fun and highs of these restaurants by having to cringe when the check arrives (and in some cases, the food itself). A $12 bowl of mac n’ cheese made from a crappy boxed mix? Come ON. When Encounter reopened sometime in the 90s, it was billed as LAX’s attempt to bring some upscale food to the airport. Proteins were stacked with towering garnishes and vegetables, and maybe my memory is totally faulty, but it wasn’t terrible. Now it’s yet another menu sticking people with nowhere else to go with the highest prices possible. And as the parent of young children, I’ve laid my eyes on a LOT of Comic Sans font in recent years, but one place I don’t want to see it is on a (bad) beer and wine list. In essence, Encounter’s approach to hospitality and food isn’t much different than the Gladstone’s or the Chili’s in the terminals across the way. It’s also bizarrely stuck in a dated time warp not of its own authentic devising, but rather from when the lounge trend (lava lamps, Jetsons-esque soundtracks, “You’re so money!,” etc) were big in the 90s, when the last renovation took place.
Changing Station: No. Although all those bathrooms tucked throughout the Bonaventure have gotta have one, somewhere.
High Chairs: Yes
Parking and Access: Sometimes there’s valet at Encounter. Otherwise I just parked across the way. For free! An airport miracle! Parking at the Bonaventure even with validation is not cheap. To save a few bucks, park across the street at the Central Library, check out some books in the kids’ section, and get validated there. You’ll feel virtuous for having gone to the library, too.
Other Tidbits: I can rant until I’m blue in the face, but I know we’ll be back to both Encounter and the BonaVista. Because in all sincerity, I have mad love for both of these places and they’re important to L.A. history and culture. The Bonaventure complex is a living example of what NOT to do to create livable downtowns or viable cities in general, and reminds us of the time when people were TERRIFIED of late 19th/early 20th century density and what it hath wrought. That doesn’t mean this structure isn’t significant OR isn’t one of the coolest Portman Associates buildings the firm ever designed. And oh my god, do the kids LOVE it. Soaring glass elevators! Stacked cylinder towers! The drama, sigh…I mean, what a testament to American ingenuity that during a certain point in history, cities decided that adding at least one rotating restaurant was essential to staying competitive in the urban marketplace.
Even if I don’t cared for fossilizing experiences, both Encounter and the BonaVista Lounge would be better served if they’d been treated with a lighter touch, save for the occasional paint spruce-ups, reupholstering jobs, plumbing upgrades, and carpet replacements. Especially because trends always come around, and there might even be, say, a popular show that takes place in the in the early 1960s, and suddenly everyone realizes how aesthetically awesome (definitely not politically) that time was and wants to eat, dress, and play as if conical bras and three-martini lunches had come roaring back into fashion. Encounter could have been all dressed up and ready to go in perfect shape for when the Mad Men craze hit. Hindsight and all that. Meanwhile, BonaVista Lounge still has a functioning revolving bar. No need to monkey with that. Ever. Just keep it working.
ENCOUNTER AT LAX
209 World Way, Westchester
BONAVISTA LOUNGE AT THE BONAVENTURE HOTEL
404 S. Figueroa Street, Downtown
Hours: 7 days, Encounter, BonaVista