A legend reborn in the Hollywood hills
ROOM AT THE INN
THIS is what I call a power breakfast. All around are tables of Hollywood movers sealing deals, shuffling papers, spooning up seven-grain granola and Greek yoghurt parfaits and slurping tumblers of bloody marias — a twist on the original, with jalapenos and basil.
A few faces almost look familiar but most would be screenwriters, directors and producers. The women among them are glistening, perhaps freshly popped from the mansion-sized Spa by La Prairie (where a White Caviar Illuminating Facial costs an unearthly $US1000).
The menu declares my table napkin is officially ‘‘lintfree’’ and I am asked for my ‘‘water preference’’ as I slouch at a semi-circular booth beside terracotta pots of bougainvillea, pert lavender and little lemon trees on the terrace of California chef Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant and bar at Hotel Bel-Air in the hills of Los Angeles.
It reopened 12 months ago and was touted as ‘‘a legend reborn’’. It took two years to make over this 103-room landmark hotel in Stone Canyon with substantial rebuilding plus fresh interiors by Alexandra Champalimaud; a favourite of the owner company, the Sultan of Brunei’s Dorchester Collection, she redesigned the eponymous London flagship property.
The original Hotel Bel-Air opened in 1946, incorporating a residential estate and stables, and it still has a vintage Hollywood feel, as if at any tick Marilyn Monroe could surface in the swimming pool (where she was a regular; her last portraits were shot here by Bert Stern for Vogue in 1962, just a few weeks before she died) or Joan Crawford could appear to kick someone’s ass.
Champalimaud has used a classic palette of black and white against wooden ceilings and stone floors (a touch of Spanish mission), and occasional accents of fuchsia and cherry in cushions and throws. There are new Canyon View Suites with plunge pools, seven specialty suites (one named for the effortlessly elegant Grace Kelly) and at least 10 design themes (including lofts and pink-painted cottages); regular guests request specific rooms, I am told, with Oprah Winfrey happiest in the Chalon Suite, with its handpainted wallpaper and private garden.
But no matter which room category you choose, all have the latest technology, free WiFi, whoosh-bang Japanese toilets with heated seats, and La Prairie toiletries. And you’ll feel enfolded within this 5ha estate of grand old oaks, redwoods and sycamores, of loggias and bridges wrapped with creepers, of tiled fountains and meandering pathways. Unexpectedly, there are fruit trees (oranges and guavas, apricots and peaches) and white swans Chloe and Athena gliding like showgirls (on the hotel’s so-called Swan Lake, of course) and haughtily ignoring lone male Hercules Jr.
Even if not staying here, book for Sunday brunch. It’s a generous three-course menu based on seasonal ingredients from local farmers markets (go for the Maryland crab cakes with pesto and tomato relish and the macadamia waffles with coconut syrup) and includes a bellini or glass of champagne ($US68).
At the end of the day, most guests head to the bar for classics and cocktails (a Monroe’s Passion, perchance). Order a Bespoke Negroni and it’ll come over a solid chunk of ice in a Riedel tumbler. Could that be Tom Cruise on the next stool? Too cool.
above left Hotel Bel-Air reopened last year after a refurbishment above right Terrace at Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant