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Hotel and bistro signal shift in visitors’ tastes with makeover

A landmark La Jolla hotel is getting a facelift and its signature restaurant is getting a name change shortly after the busy summer tourist season.

The famed, multi-story Hotel La Jolla on La Jolla Shores Drive, known for years as the home of Elario’s bistro on its 11th floor, will be getting a total overhaul to reposition itself in the competitive local hotel market.

“Right now, we look like a bank building, an eyesore,” said General Manager Marcello Baca. “We’re trying to go for a more chic and presentable look on the outside as well as the inside. We want to give it a more elegant feel, change the demographics of the hotel where, instead of going downtown for a martini after work, people will want to come here.”

Architect Graham Downes, who designed Nine-Ten Restaurant at The Grande Colonial La Jolla in the Village and Tower 23 in Pacific Beach, has accepted the challenge of transforming Hotel La Jolla into a cosmopolitan beach property.

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Clay Bordan, executive chef and food and beverage manager for Hotel La Jolla, said it was time to put a new face on Elario’s restaurant, which has for years been a favorite evening watering hole. Hotel management realizes that whatever is being done to alter Elario’s, people will always remember it the way it was.

“No matter what kind of entertainment I bring in here,” said Bordan, “people are always going to say, ‘Elario’s used to be this way.’ So, we have to kind of reinvent ourselves, become bigger and better than Elario’s. But we know it can never be the same.”

The name of the new eatery will be Clay’s La Jolla.

Redesign of the 108-room hotel, originally built in 1972, is in progress. The hotel will remain open and functioning during the refit, the duration of which is uncertain. All guest rooms will be renovated. The goal is to provide panoramic views from each room, including from the bathrooms.

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The lobby will be a vast space with minimal decor. Even the outdoor pool is being reconfigured with the addition of a bar, outdoor barbecue and reflection pool.

The building’s exterior is to be reworked, with cinder blocks smoothed out and balcony railings replaced with glass.

The hotel owner is American Property Management Corp., which manages 42 hotels nationwide.

Hotel general manager Baca said the owner felt the charm of the hotel and Elario’s had run their course, and it was time for a change of format. He said alterations are also being made to give it more widespread appeal.

“We don’t want to just appeal to our hotel guests,” he said. “We want to appeal to locals. There’s a great view on the 11th floor. Having dinner with the sun setting ... it takes on a whole different meaning.”

Chef Bordan has been with Elario’s since January 2005. He said the restaurant’s menu is being revamped, along with its decor.

“We’re ready for the next stage,” he said, “which is to be a little more intricate, a little more specialized.”