Posh polling place in Brentwood: valet parking, smoked salmon
Turn into the winding driveway hidden by foliage and a man in a suit greets you before offering complimentary valet parking. Staff members in lavender polo shirts guide you to a hallway where smoked salmon sandwiches garnished with olives and cucumbers await. Ceramic platters of cookies are plentiful and salads are served in Asian takeout boxes paired with chopsticks. Tiny jars of honey are available to accompany your tea.
This is voting, Brentwood style.
"It just makes it an experience," said Erla Perez as she noshed on a salad at the Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel located in one of Los Angeles' most affluent neighborhoods.
The 18-year-old nursing student lives in the dorms at Mount St. Mary's College and arrived Tuesday with her two roommates after class, all of them still in their white scrubs and tennis shoes.
One of them, 19-year-old Yanira Olague, had requested an absentee ballot but was glad she decided to turn it in by hand, even if it meant feeling self-conscious about her 1992 Honda Civic among the luxury cars.
"This was way more exciting than if I had mailed it in," Olague said.
The first time at the polls for all three, the young women laughed that their future voting experiences were likely ruined.
"Probably next time we'll be like, 'Where are the cookies and sandwiches?'" said Diana Zuniga, 19.
Things appeared to be going smoothly at the hotel Tuesday afternoon with no lines and many voters enjoying the refreshments and shaded patio area where the background noise was made up of soft elevator music and the rush of water fountains.
Guests were encouraged to use the free Wi-Fi and watch TV. Many lingered at tables covered in white linen. Employees were quick to answer questions and encourage voters to help themselves to the food. "This is great marketing," remarked one man.
The only problems were "too much sun, too many croissants for the day," joked Charles Harris, Luxe Hotels vice president of marketing.
Harris said the hotel simply aimed to "present ourselves in a professional manner" on what is the Luxe's third time serving as a polling place in a presidential election.
The perks were open to not just voters but hotel guests and members of the community, said general manager Amy Commans. This year they added bundles of red, white and blue balloons to the decor and gave flag lapel pins to all the staff.
"It's overall just a patriotic glow," Commans said.
Next to the coffee, soft drinks and bottled water wrapped in the hotel's logo were cards that read "Thank you for voting today!" along with an offer for a hotel room at the discounted rate of $185. The average rate for a room at the hotel is about $250 while a suite can cost up to $1,200, Commans said.
Some voters appreciated the hotel's effort but admitted they felt a little guilty when hearing about long waits at other places that likely also lacked hors d'oeuvres.
"This place is like, 'Come vote!''' said Greg Ferkel. "We're a little spoiled I guess."
But the 38-year-old attorney said that although the setup was nice, he was more excited about the day itself, one that had even inspired his 4-year-old daughter. (She is firmly in support of President Obama.)
"It's a day where everybody's doing the same thing and I think it brings us together as a city," Ferkel said. "There's kind of a nice mood to the day, everyone's checking the same stories, everybody's invested."
-- Corina Knoll
Photo: Voters at the polling station at the Luxe Hotel are well-fed. Credit: Corina Knoll / Los Angeles Times