Hotel has restoration of its glory Beverly Hills: Renovation of the legendary playground for Hollywood types makes luxury even more abundant than it was before.

January 21, 1996|By Brian McGrory | Brian McGrory,BOSTON GLOBE

Perhaps the nicest touch at the pool and cabana club at the Beverly Hills Hotel isn't the luxurious chaises or the plush Ralph Lauren towels that cover them, or even the waitresses who ferry bottles of imported water and glasses full of chocolate shakes.

No, it's the telephones, dozens of them, sprinkled around the edge of the perfect turquoise pool, sitting on tables waiting to be snapped up by movie stars, screenwriters and Hollywood moguls sealing multimillion-dollar entertainment deals.

OK, so my phone didn't actually ring in the two days I spent waiting in the perfect southern California sunshine, but it could have, and that's really the point. The Beverly Hills Hotel is a place where even if dreams don't become reality, the possibilities all seem so endless.

And now the legendary hotel is back, in all its pink grandeur, the very symbol of Hollywood excess, Hollywood being more an adjective than a proper noun. For 2 1/2 years, the world-famous hotel on Sunset Boulevard at the mouth of Rodeo Drive was shuttered by its owner, the sultan of Brunei, for a $100 million renovation. Last year, it reopened to rave reviews.

Much of what made the 83-year-old hotel famous was left intact, primarily the 22 bungalows tucked among the California palms, jacarandas and gardenias on the property's 12 flowering acres.

In the old days, Howard Hughes hired four of the bungalows for his private residence -- one for him, another for his wife and two more for decoys -- and lived there on and off for 30 years. Marilyn Monroe had a noted affair with Yves Montand in bungalows 21 and 22. Elizabeth Taylor slept in the bungalows with all but one of her seven husbands -- hotelier Nicky Hilton.

One of the bungalows, which once boasted Walter Annenberg as a regular visitor, even comes with its own lap pool.

My second-floor accommodations featured French doors that opened to a sprawling veranda overlooking Sunset Boulevard, along with a VCR, CD player, facsimile machine and copier, telephone with a private, direct-dial number, a marble bath roughly the size of my apartment back home and a plate of luscious macaroons with the evening turndown service -- a true step up from the typical chain hotel.

In the renovation, guest rooms were enlarged, with the total count falling to 194 from its pre-closing 253. About one third have outdoor space, whether a patio or deck. Some 35 rooms and bungalows have fireplaces. And for those who always seem to need more, the Presidential Suite offers 2,500 square feet of living space, a private entrance, a commercially-equipped kitchen, chef and butler, two shower stalls and a treadmill.

All of this comes at no small cost. My own room was $295, plus a tax that could pay for an overnight stay at virtually any Red Roof Inn in America. Other rooms and bungalows range up to $3,000 a night.

For this, guests can go where outsiders cannot: past the guarded gate and down the steep stairs to the famous pool, with all its telephones and cabanas for hire. Here, starlets swam laps and smoked clove cigarettes at the pool's edge. Others fussed about with expensive sun lotions. The pool valets occasionally strolled by my chair, asking politely, "Can we rotate you with the sun?" I didn't quite know what they meant, but let them move my chair anyway. My chocolate shake from the waterside restaurant, cost nearly $10, which made it seem even more Hollywood.

Elsewhere, a beautifully equipped gymnasium, featuring a bank of television sets, overlooks the gardens. Two lighted tennis courts are tucked into a crevice of the property, and a professional is always on hand to offer lessons.

The food, criticized in an early review column in the Los Angeles Times, appears nothing to sneeze at. The legendary Polo Grill has been returned to its precise, pre-renovation condition, with telephones spread about near the leather banquettes and a small bar tucked away in a corner.

Indeed, Sunday brunch on the outdoor patio featured a mere bread basket that would rival the best continental breakfast at any other hotel, served amid chirping birds and flowering trees by a staff that makes everyone feel like a star.

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