Credit: Haley Hill Photography

First Look: The Lafayette Hotel Reopens in San Diego, Harkening Back to Hollywood’s Golden Era

Come for a Sazerac in the Lobby Bar, Stay for the Poolside Suze Suites at this Landmark Property

A haven for young Hollywood when it opened in 1946, University Heights’ historic Lafayette Hotel hosted stars like Ava Gardner, Lana Turner and Frank Sinatra while gold medal-winning Olympic swimmer and actor Johnny Weissmuller designed the centerpiece pool. After several ownership changes over the decades, it feels only fitting that San Diego’s inimitable hospitality group, CH Projects, would purchase and reimagine the beloved grand Colonial-style hotel and deliver its most conversation-worthy immersive experience to date. From maximalist guest rooms and suites to the see-and-be-seen Lobby Bar and a 24-hour diner inspired by David Lynch, plus a toe-tappingly good soundtrack curated by music producer Swizz Beatz, prepare to go down the ”more is more” rabbit hole with a whimsical escape at The Lafayette Hotel and Club.


What’s the Buzz? 

New Hotels in San Diego
Credit: Haley Hill Photography

Famous for creating award-winning bars and restaurants (Morning Glory, Youngblood, Born and Raised and more), for their first foray into the hotel space, CH Projects tapped Brooklyn-based Post Company to spearhead design on The LaFayette’s $31 million transformation, and their “city within a city” concept knocks it out of the park. Spanning 2.5 acres on El Cajon Blvd, they have added an impressive eight food and beverage outlets and a game room with a two-lane bowling alley, shuffleboard and pool tables.

The now even-more photogenic signature pool remains a focal point and its restaurants an obvious draw card, but CH Projects founder Arsalun Tafazoli shares that The Lafayette is the culmination of every project the collective has undertaken since its inception over 17 years ago. “We are obsessive about creating experiences for the community that celebrate our weird, wonderful pockets of subculture and provide elements of escapism. A hotel is the pinnacle of hospitality—the most complex canvas for people to socialize and connect, and we hope this new incarnation of The Lafayette reflects our mission to honor tradition while making something new and surreal to discover.”


Checking In

New Hotels in San Diego
Credit: Kimberly Motos

Crystal chandeliers, leopard-print chairs and potted palms set the scene in the lavish reception lounge and lobby area—don’t mind the DJ booth on the left because you’ll check in at the Lobby Café, which doubles as a front desk. You can also pop down here for pastries and a Heartwork Coffee in the morning. Traditional Victorian, Tudor and Gothic details feature across maximalist guest rooms, poolside suites and Spanish Mission-style townhouses—each decked out with fabric-draped canopy beds, custom wallpaper, ornate lighting and a mirrored bar cart featuring a comprehensive spirit and cocktail set-up by Tiki expert Paul McGee.

Smeg electric kettles and Marshall speakers are nice modern touches, but the bathrooms are Old World affairs with decorative tile, deep basin sinks and aged brass fixtures. You won’t be able to bring them home, but full-size bath amenities by Diptyque in the brand’s delicate signature Lait Frais fragrance (fresh citrusy petitgrain with notes of orange blossom) are a lovely elevated touch.


Picture Yourself Poolside

Italian Riviera vibes come to life at The Lafayette’s pool—think 1980s Amalfi Coast with a dash of Old Hollywood. If leopard-print chaise lounges shaded by striped sun umbrellas are your jam, chances are you will fall helplessly in love with the pool and no doubt take a dozen photos beside it. Open from 10 a.m. until dusk, hotel guests receive complimentary access to the coveted swimming sanctuary. Non-guests shouldn’t fret, however, as Lounge Chair and Swim Passes can be purchased and cost $46 and $88, respectively. Food isn’t available poolside (more in a moment on those dining options), but you can order a petite selection of refreshing drinks and cocktails from The Pool Bar: amaros and spritzes, plus a tiki-inspired Painkiller.


What About the Food?

New Hotels in San Diego
Credit: Arlene Ibarra

Noted for redefining San Diego’s food scene with its lineup of multiple award-winning cocktail-driven bars and eateries, CH Projects has expanded its dining empire exponentially at The Lafayette. Since first impressions always count, let’s start with The Lobby Bar. It’s where you’ll want to come for a New Orleans-style throwback cocktail (perhaps a Sazerac or Vieux Carre) post-arrival, before dinner or to meet friends in the neighborhood. Surrounded by banquettes, the circular bar sits beneath a lofty glass atrium—look up and admire the hand-painted ceiling by Brazilian-based artist Joāo Incerti.

Next, we have the 24-hour Beginner’s Diner—yes, you can come here for De-luxe sandwiches between 6 a.m. and midnight, but please order the Disco Fries too; they’re crinkle-cut, covered with veal gravy and delicious. You can also enjoy boozy milkshakes and Jewish deli classics in this ode to traditional diners from the 1940s. Show-stopping Oaxacan restaurant Quixote was built with a decommissioned Catholic church from Mexico—complete with a pulpit-inspired bar, stained-glass windows and baroque pews. Cocktails spotlight mezcal and Mexican distillates, while the menu includes a moreish crab corn doughnut and tetelas filled with duck carnitas. The above-mentioned Pool Bar also has a sun-drenched patio that lends itself equally well to a morning coffee as it does an evening cocktail. Finally, game room The Gutter (inspired by the Frick Bowling Alley in New York), is open until 2 a.m. and serves classic cocktails.



There’s a Phase II (and It’s Coming in Fall 2023)

Credit: Kimberly Motos

Fact: The Officer’s Club bar scene in “Top Gun” (when Maverick and his fellow flyboys serenade Charlie with “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”) was filmed in The Lafayette’s original Mississippi Room. Also fact: the iconic Mississippi Room, complete with its famous clamshell stage, is being rebooted as a jazz supper club and live-music venue along with new rum-centric bar Lulu’s Jungle Room. Expect more fabulously clashing leopard-print patterns, feathers, fronds, decorative columns and patterned carpets throughout. Also slated to open in October is European-inspired fine-dining restaurant Le Horse, which will pay homage to legendary French chef and the father of modern haute cuisine, Auguste Escoffier. Wellness enthusiasts have a spa with Russian, Roman and Turkish baths to look forward to while lobby boutique Maison Lafayette is the place to be to shop branded Lafayette Hotel goodies that catch your eye.



Room rates start at $299, but if you can’t make it for an overnight just yet, recreate The Lafayette vibes at home with the hotel’s Spotify playlists curated by CH Projects Chief Experience Officer Brian Eastman.

The Lafayette Hotel
2223 El Cajon Blvd
San Diego, 92104



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Keri Bridgwater is a freelance writer covering travel and lifestyle. Her work has been featured in Fodor’s Travel, Marie Claire, Matador Network and InsideHook, among other outlets and publications.




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