Mary Gostelow visits two iconic Los Angeles hotels
Yes, it is possible to have sibling hotels close to each other. In Chicago, Four Seasons for years ran a pair that are geographically only a block apart. In the sprawling metropolis that is LA, Dorchester Collection has two splendid luxury hotels, both run superbly by stylish hotelier Ed Mady, the kind of gentleman who secures his welcome note with sealing wax (gold, with an imprint of one of the property’s coat-of-arms). Hotel Bel-Air is a mere 15-minute drive from The Beverly Hills Hotel, but there is a noticeable geographic difference. Hotel Bel-Air is in Los Angeles while Beverly Hills Hotel is in, well, Beverly Hills.
First, it was a visit to the exquisite Hotel Bel-Air. It all started thanks to Alphonzo Bell (1875-1947): oil multi-millionaire, real estate developer, philanthropist and champion tennis player. He bought 600 acres [242 hectares] of land here to develop the Riviera Country Club, which somehow grew from its 1922 beginnings into what is now one of the world’s pre-eminent luxury hotels. Each of its 103 rooms is unique: some may be up 30 outside steps, others – like suite 169 where I stayed – open off corridors formed of frosted glass.
Suite 169 is like entering another world. It is designed (like the whole hotel) by Alexandra Champalimaud, with an absolutely private terrace with a hot tub that is both deep enough and hot enough to be a big asset. Dare to leave your home, whichever one you are in, and you are in paradise: a garden of twisting narrow paths winding around and flanked by immaculate bushes, trees with intertwined trunks, and what seems like hectares of sweetest-smelling jasmine. At Bel-Air, nature and humans mingle the whole time. Even as you arrive, taking a wide bridge from the car park, you look down at a lake with stately swans swimming by.
Head for the spa, or the 24/7 Technogym, and you literally walk through the open courtyard of the restaurant, by Wolfgang Puck – on your way, you pass the famous oval pool, beloved of so many big names from the past (the last photograph of Marilyn Monroe was taken here). I met a friend for a pre-dinner drink in the indoor bar, its walls lined with black and white photos of stars of the just-not-silent screen. Dinner was at one of the restaurant’s more-outdoor tables, but there were plenty of Bordeaux burners for warmth: Puck’s garden salad includes what he calls ‘blooming flowers’ and artichokes, and my main course that night was a giant veal chop, from the Pennsylvania farm started by Wayne Marcho back in 1969, with caramelised garlic, and lutein-rich Bloomsdale spinach, that apparently helps eye health.
Wolfgang Puck is currently taking a business management course at Harvard. He has, of course, already learned so much during his decades of devising and managing restaurants, and I find it interesting that here he goes American at dinner and French at breakfast. Let me explain. Butter is Echiré, and preserves are Alain Milliat, china is Bernardaud, cutlery is Alain Saint-Joanis and salt and pepper mills are, as you have already guessed, Peugeot. One special dish listed is Puck’s French-style omelette, which comes filled with wild mushrooms – and Gruyère, which of course is Swiss.
I left this luxury hotel via a pause for a photograph in its wedding pagoda (GM Denise Flanders, who started out as a psychologist, says they do about 40 weddings a year) but the swans stayed awake. Last memories will also include, by the way, help-yourself wake-up coffee in the lobby lounge, with its 360-degree electronic fire pit, and the sensational stationery, printed in Day-Glo metallic blue.
During the 15-minute drive to The Beverly Hills Hotel, my driver told me how, after running a successful bricks-and-mortar shoe shop for 28 years he had been beaten by online retail and now chauffeuring was much more fun. I was actually travelling from one fun place to another. The Beverly Hills Hotel is also a hotel with a history. It dates back to founding in 1912 by Burton Green, president of Rodeo Land & Water Company, but by 1920 ownership passed to Margaret Anderson, who put her son Stanley in as GM (her grandson Robbie Anderson is still, today, the hotel’s archive consultant).
Menus in those days, as displayed outside the Polo Lounge, ran from consommé to sole, beef fillet, broiled squab, savoury salad, fruit salad, dessert, cake, cheese and finally coffee. Today’s menus are backed by historical photos. I sat with the hotel’s manager, Christoph Moje, and it was tempting to have the McCarthy salad, invented by a 1940s polo captain Neil McCarthy, but no, I went for two other specials, ahi tuna tartare with avocado and dukkah, and Snake River Farms New York strip. Around us the full-capacity restaurant was mostly filled with locals, who eat here three times a day as if it their canteen – there are no staff name labels as the locals know them all, especially Pepe who has clocked up over four decades.
There is, indeed, a Quarter Century club for team members – there must be informal guest networks for those who stay here, again and again. Howard Hughes once lived here, as did Walter Annenberg. Marilyn Monroe always had banquette table three when dining. The powers that be campaigning to get the 2024 Olympics to return to this lovely city are apparently here a lot, as are the red carpet crowd.
This is a luxury hotel for opulence, without the bling. It is also where you instantly turn a spacious, retro-but-latest technology room into your temporary home, especially when the sun shines on your terrace garden. I was in ground-floor room 121, which had an easy-work log-look fire, and a sizeable private garden. I breakfasted out there, the sun exactly matching egg yolks, flower in a bud vase, and old-fashioned butter balls. And colour pervades the stay continuously. Corridors have outrageously unique lifesize palm leaf wall paper, Martinique A (the same wallpaper also adorns one wall of the 24/7 Technogym, which has three fruit types, all in perfect condition), maids wear pale pink, the pool, with 11 private cabanas and a strict no-photo policy, is a giant blue rectangle. As I left, via a so-Hollywood red carpet, I had a souvenir photograph taken in front of a display board deliberately set for selfies.
Mary Gostelow travels over 300 days a year, doing one-night stands in top hotels around the world. Read her daily travelogue, www.girlahead.com