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New lounge inspired by eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes

HJU:Z at the Westin Bayshore pays homage to the time Hughes arrived at the hotel unexpectedly in 1972 and stayed for six months

It was 45 years ago this past March when front-end staff at the Bayshore Hotel near Stanley Park received a phone call that would mark the beginning of one of the most intriguing tales in Vancouver history.

The call was placed by elusive billionaire Howard Hughes from his plane and his request was to immediately book the top four floors of the waterfront hotel. As the story goes, when Hughes was told the rooms were full he refused to take no for an answer and responded with, “If I don't get the rooms, I'm buying the hotel.”

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Eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes was known for his love of aviation.

The threat was no taken lightly. Hughes had previously purchased the Las Vegas-based Desert Inn when management there tried to evict him.

According to a former employee of the hotel, Hughes used the housekeeping elevator to move around the hotel, while the guest elevators to the top four floors were closed off. Security cameras were also installed to ensure no one could get near the bathrobe-clad, 66-year-old eccentric, but that didn’t stop the paparazzi parked outside the hotel from attempting to catch a glimpse of the famous aviator.

Hughes was famous, and more than a little notorious, for his work as a movie producer, for dating Hollywood starlets, including Marilyn Monroe, his skills as a pilot in the golden age of aviation, his iconic plane the Spruce Goose and, today, as the inspiration for a new lounge at the Westin Bayshore dubbed HJU:Z (pronounced Hughes), named after the call sign from one of his planes.

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HJU:Z Lounge decor finds inspiration from aviation and the art deco era. Photo Sandra Thomas

HJU:Z general manager and concept developer Philippe Grandbois said it’s thought Hughes chose the Bayshore for its Canadian location in hopes he could avoid tax trouble in the United States.

“What he didn’t know is that he’d have to pay his taxes anyway,” said Grandbois during a media tour days before HJU:Z official opening Nov. 18.

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The chandelier at HJU:Z was created out of pieces of imported bohemian glass created to mimic spinning propellers. Photo Sandra Thomas

Grandbois, formerly of Chambar and Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, said the concept was one of 12 ideas management considered for the space. The end result is an art deco-inspired room anchored by a custom-built bar, a show-stopping chandelier created out of spiralling pieces of imported bohemian glass created to mimic spinning propellers, and seating for 155, much of which is upholstered in the pastel blues and pinks so popular at the time of Hughes’ stay.

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Metal work at HJU:Z Lounge was inspired by plane propellers. Photo Sandra Thomas

The aviation theme continues throughout the lounge in everything from the propeller-inspired metal work to the design on the cloth coasters to the “Rules Don’t Apply” motto etched into the top of the bar.

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A complex cocktail menu at HJU:Z is inspired by Howard Hughes' flight around the world. Photo Sandra Thomas

The complex food and drink menu was also inspired by Hughes and his 91-hour trip around the world in 1938 to destinations including New York, Paris, Russia and the West Coast, including Alaska.

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Howard Hughes landing in Alaska during his flight around the world in 1938.

Examples of the creative attention to detail in the cocktails include a miniature iceberg and sliver of gold leaf in the Alaska Cocktail No. 2, and the House of Faberge made up of toasted hazelnut and lactic acid served in a breakable egg inspired by Yakutsk, Russia. Patrons who make their way through the seven cocktails on the menu, and are still standing, can unlock a final, secret drink.

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Scrambled duck egg with Canadian sturgeon caviar, citrus whipped cream, scrambled egg and frisée salad at HJU:Z. Photo Sandra Thomas

Meanwhile highlights of the luxurious food menu include classic beluga caviar, foie gras terrine and 28-day aged Angus beef. Live entertainment will fill HJU:Z with music five nights a week.

“HJU:Z Lounge was created as homage to Mr. Howard Hughes and the extraordinary life he led,” said Granbois. “HJU:Z Lounge was built around this incredible entrepreneur who thrived off of his thirst for aviation, film, travel and classic Hollywood glamour.”

HJU:Z Lounge is open seven days a week from 5 p.m. until late. Visit hjuzlounge.com.

sthomas@vancourier.com

@sthomas10