The beauty and stunning serenity of the fabulous Hotel Bel-Air, Los Angeles
LOS ANGELES - I pullup to one of the most exclusive hotels in North America in my sister’s Jeep. The guy parking cars asks my name, and by the time I get out of the car and go back to open the trunk I’ve had three people address me as Mr. Byers.
I wind past the small pond with brilliant white swans and make my way to the front desk in the stark but beautiful reception area.
“Good day, Mr. Byers, how was your drive?"
But it got better. The woman at the registration desk walks me to my room to perform the check-in function, because one shouldn’t hand over one’s credit card and discuss payment issues in public. She shows me the in-room computer monitor with the telephone built in and the button to push for room service, should I suddenly feel the need for a bottle of Veuve Clicquotm or for the front desk. I glance down at it and it says, “Hello Mr. Byers.” The in-room iPad sitting next to it has a display that reads “Welcome Jim Byers” and has my room number in the upper corner, in case I drink all the Veuve Clicquot by myself and pass out and can’t remember what room I’m in when I order the caviar to go with it.
They did a huge, multi-million dollar renovation of the Hotel Bel-Air just recently, only re-opening in October, 2011. And it shows, with a sleek, marble lobby with a gas fireplace and plenty of glam.
I didn’t like all of the high-tech gizmos in my room, to be honest. I had a helluva time getting the lights to go on when I wanted them owing to a confusing set of buttons. And I didn’t see a clock radio near the bed so I couldn’t see what time it was in the middle of the night.
But the Bang and Olufsen TV was a giant affair with a great picture for watching football on Sunday. Even the telephone in the bathroom was Bang and Olufsen.
Some hotels have rain showers that deliver a trickle, but this one was closer to Niagara Falls, with a thundering cascade of water that was just fabulous. They even have two large lights mounted in the wall so you can find all your bits that need soap. Very thoughtful.
The room I had was lovely, with crème-coloured furnishings and a crème-and-black patterned carpet and marble floors and a patterned, wood ceiling that was quite different from any hotel room I’ve seen. I wouldn’t have minded some sense of Los Angeles or California in the room, but the black and white curtains were pretty as was the Asian design on the pillows on the sofa.
There was a wood-burning fireplace, which many of the units have. Plus a fabulous, deep bathtub that filled quickly and La Prairie bath products. La-de-dah.
The Bel Air appeals to a very exclusive clientele, and there’s a real sense of serenity and quiet and getting away from it all. The hotel is a quarter mile or so off Sunset Blvd. in Stone Canyon and is surrounded by steep hills. You don’t get a ton of sun, at least not at this time of year, but they make up for it with the surroundings. The buildings are mostly one or two-storeys and painted pale pink with white trim. There are enormous bougainvillea trees with a profusion of deep pink flowers, plus white impatiens and lime and lemon trees and towering ferns as tall as Chris Bosh and wide around as a pickup truck and gurgling fountains that look like something out of a Tuscan villa.
There’s a pretty, oval-shaped pool that’s a great spot for morning or mid-day sun. Marilyn Monroe did a photo shoot at the pool six weeks before she died; apparently her last such shoot (see photo below).
They also have a La Prairie Spa, one of only four in the U.S. Another is at the Bel Air’s sister property, The Beverly Hills Hotel (more on that on Friday!).
I had dinner at the Wolfgang Puck restaurant at the Bel Air, which has heated floors and a vast array of space heaters because it get surprisingly cool in the dry air of Los Angeles on a fall or winter night. I had a fabulous Asian duck with huckleberries and also tasted a fine roast chicken and some lovely vegetable soup. They treated me to a fabulous spoonful of black caviar with a dash of Meyer Lemon between courses and I had some great sorbet for dessert.
In the morning they make a great brioche French toast with a huckleberry (must’ve been on sale at Ralph’s) compote.
The bar is a slick, beautiful affair with huge, black and white prints of Ray Charles, John Belushi, Mick Jagger and Tina Turner. There’s a pretty section outside under the trees and they serve some beautiful drinks, including one with vodka, lemoncello, thyme and lavender honey, lemon and lemon bitters that’s one of the best tipples I’ve had anywhere. And they’ll bring you home-made potato chips, huge black and green olives and a killer snack mix with spicy cashews, macadamia nuts, almonds, Chinese crackers, wasabi peas and cranberries. If you do nothing else, come here for a drink and just soak up the ambience.
I could go on and on about this place. It’s not cheap. Dinner likely will cost you $200 for two if you indulge in a glass or two of wine. But they recently advertised a deluxe room with a patio for one night for $595 and it included a $115 breakfast credit. Pricey, but not outrageous if you want to splurge and live like the reclusive star you’ve always dreamed of being.