What will likely go down as the group’s most all-consuming, expensive, and ambitious endeavor yet is beginning in earnest on Saturday, October 1 when CH Projects formally shuts down the Lafayette Hotel & Swim Club, which it purchased three years ago, in preparation for a $26 million top-to-bottom overhaul of the North Park property that is forecasted to be complete by Spring 2023. The project is so complex that the group’s co-founder, Arsalun Tafazoli, tells Eater that he’s planning on moving into the vacant hotel to better oversee its transformation.
Aligned with its new objective to preserve and restore classic San Diego establishments, including an upcoming refresh of Starlite, the hospitality group is hoping to return the Lafayette to its heyday of the late 40s and 50s when it hosted notable guests like Ava Gardner, Bob Hope, Lana Turner, and Bing Crosby and help to reestablish the historic hotel as a destination entertainment hub for visitors and locals alike.
For what will be the first of several hotel re-shapings it’s planning around town, CH Projects is working with the Brooklyn-based Post Company to remake existing venues and under-utilized meeting spaces into seven distinct food and drink outlets (as well as a lobby bar and cafe) spread across the two and half-acre site.
Here’s an early taste of what to look forward to:
Tafozoli says he loves classic diner culture, and enlisted consultation from Richard Gutman, a historian who’s authored several books on the subject, to advise and help source some original pieces for this recreation of a classic 40s lunch car (replacing Hope46) that will be open 24 hours a day. A place where people can eat pie and fries for breakfast or pancakes for dinner, its menu will have modernized takes on greasy spoon favorites.
This dinner-only restaurant and bar, whose dining room will be a courtyard with a glass roof overhead, will be the group’s attempt at bringing back the elegant hotel dining that distinguished the continental restaurants of the early 20th century. Tafazoli says he was particularly inspired by the partnership, memorialized in the book Ritz and Escoffier, between legendary French chef Auguste Escoffier, who invented throwback dishes like Peach Melba, and early hotelier Cesar Ritz. Think gleaming carts that’ll slice prime rib tableside and deliver cold martinis.
Slotting into the former Red Fox Room space, and inspired by how the original steakhouse was assembled from parts of an antique English inn, this new restaurant will be built with parts salvaged from a 110-year-old Mexican church, with stained glass and an agave bar fashioned from the old church altar. Serving Oaxacan cuisine, including various types of mole and memelas, or masa cakes, Mama Intento will also have a wood-fired hearth oven for roasting meats.
Taking cues from the climactic last scene of There Will Be Blood, set in a home bowling alley, this vintage bowling hall and game room will include two regulation bowling lanes, a custom-made gravity-fed ball return system, and a bar serving classic cocktails like Manhattans made with barrel-aged spirits.
Imagine glamourous jet-setters lounging poolside at the Lafayette’s new pool bar, which will have a food and drink menu that includes Italian-ish cocktails and aperitifs akin to J & Tony’s, the group’s East Village negroni bar. Day passes and Swim Club memberships will still be available to the public.
The scene in the first Top Gun movie where Tom Cruise serenaded a woman by singing “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” was shot at the Lafayette in this event space, which will now host live shows curated by the Casbah’s Tim Mays and feature a rum bar stocked with rare rums sourced by bar legend Paul McGee, who is also putting together the mini bar set-up for each of the hotel’s 141 rooms.
A portion of the hotel’s events kitchen will be designated for an intimate, 10-seat restaurant right on the expo line. Tafazoli said he’s planning to bring in a rotating lineup of guest chefs to showcase their menus for week-long stints.