The best of the best.
These pieces generally run annually in time for Hanukkah and Christmas.
The only way to live and work in Los Angeles is to avoid the freeways, for they are a living hell. No matter the time of day or night, you can be sure of wasting horrible amounts of your dwindling life span in your car, parked on a way that is anything but free.
When I lived in Los Angeles (1987-93) I was lucky to have a home high in the hills of the San Fernando Valley in Encino and a job in Century City, the other side of the transverse spine that is Mulholland Drive. Mulholland, named after the DWP engineer who literally made Los Angeles possible (it’s called water) just happens to be one of the most dramatic of roads in that thrilling city. The beauty of this location was that I could zip up to Mulholland from home, turn down Roscomare into Bel Air then wind my way though the labyrinthine paths of this haven which is a very small part of Los Angeles, exiting at Sunset Boulevard with but one city block to my office on Century Park East. Traffic? Nowhere in sight.
The small firm I called home made for great friendships and as often as not we would gather monthly after work for camaraderie at the haven which is the Hotel Bel Air. I had stayed there on business from New York back in 1985 in one of the bungalows in the lush grounds and it was a memorable experience.
When a resident of LA, on one occasion while conducting arcane tests on my Mercedes diesel to determine the exact fuel consumption (don’t ask – it’s the Engineer’s Curse) I crossed Sunset into Bel Air on the way home only to feel that superb five cylinder turbodiesel motor stumble. Barely making it across I stopped on Carcassonne in Bel Air, out of fuel. I had miscomputed the size of the tank, smaller in the diesels than in the gas models …. bloody Germans. No sense of humor.
Flashers lit and making my way on Shanks’s Pony to the Bel Air I headed for the tea room whence I called AAA, alerting the valet that he was to direct my driver there upon arrival. Sure enough, the mechanic was unquestioningly ushered into the rarefied confines of the watering hole a while later and we exited magnificently – I in suit, he in overalls – to get the beast fueled and started. (Diesels need bleeding. Pumping is involved. Again, don’t ask). My love affair with the Hotel Bel Air and with Bel Air itself has proceeded apace since.
You see, unlike most places which boast wealth, the Hotel Bel Air specializes in those costliest attributes – discretion and silence. Not only is it hellishly hard to find, it’s buried deep within Bel Air on 12 acres of heaven remote from busy streets, and if there is a more perfect place on earth to relax I do not know of it. Thus on this, my son’s first visit to Los Angeles at age 13, I determined only the best would do and one night last week found us at the Bel Air in – yes, you guessed it – one of the bungalows in the grounds.
Our room. The bed was magically split into two as we dined.
Exquisite landscaping against Southern California pink.
Winnie checks out the pool. Notice the large crowds in attendance.
While my obligatory tea arrived poolside (you can take the boy out of England, but you cannot take England out of the boy) I obeyed Winston’s dictate to think not about work but to merely gaze into the distance and think peaceful thoughts. Much harder than it sounds for one who considers vacations a leading cause of stress, but the boy was clearly onto something. He is wise beyond his years.
These thoughts were interrupted by two young girls to my left discussing education, the one a UCLA junior trying to convince the other, a USC sophomore, to transfer, the better to enjoy their friendship. Half way though this dissertation the one decided they needed a late lunch served to them on the chaise longues surrounding the pool, but things proceeded to get sticky when it came to payment. The young woman dashed back to her room in search of a credit card, returning breathlessly to admit to the pool waiter that she could find neither hide nor hair of it. After some embarrassing back and forth she called her mum only to be reminded that she has an account at the place – this at the age of 17 – and a quick “Charge it!” resolved the issue. High class problems.
I contented myself with mindless thoughts (sort of like ‘military intelligence’ or ‘stock market predictions’ when it comes to grammatical logic, I suppose) and gazing at Winnie doing his thing was a subtle and sublime joy. My boy’s first visit to the City of Angels really had started at the top, and my joy was but sublimation of my hopes for him. He rejoiced in the heated pool and I rejoiced that he was there.
A lovely fountain in the large yet discreet grounds.
Winston at Swan Lake in the grounds. Back in the 1990 the swans used to be black.
Maybe this is more PC at work?
The Hotel Bel Air takes its tea very seriously.
Winston’s first ever cup of coffee at the Wolfgang Puck over breakfast.
You can read all about his Unfair Advantage here in a piece that remains 100% correct.
There’s no need to drive anywhere for dinner for the Wolfgang Puck Restaurant in the hotel would be hard to improve on. Dress code dictates a jacket and long trousers for dinner and tattoos are nowhere to be seen. White trash need not apply and the prices see to it that they do not – this is a feature, not an issue. The women’s dresses over dinner have to be seen be believed. And they are wonderful to behold – the women and the frocks. Breakfast dress code is relaxed as the above shows, and the staff is so professional you leave regarding them as friends. Jeans are notable by their absence and let’s all be grateful for that.
Money is quiet here and waistlines are slim. The bungalows are the preferred places to stay and many have been the location of choice for discreet assignations among the Hollywood set, from Frank Sinatra to Elizabeth Taylor who enjoyed most of her numerous honeymoons in one. Or was that in seven? They came here to not be seen. Ask nicely and the hostess who walks you to your room will point out the bungalow in which Howard Hughes lived, right around the time he crashed his experimental single wing plane at the LA Country Club next door, barely surviving. It’s an episode which is perfectly recreated in Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator, a favorite with both Winnie and I. Hughes was an American with a capital ‘A’, and Hollywood history is writ large at the Bel Air.
This is a haven for the visitor. If you crave isolation, hate crowds and desire peace and quiet with the most charming friends to look after you, a stay here is de riguer.
All snaps on the iPhone 6.