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 Do Not Disturb

michael FORTY-EIGHT HOURS
IN A PINK PALACE


By Michael Matthews

November 18, 2004 -- I've been off the air for a few weeks on my honeymoon. I will spare you the details except to write about a hotel that I cannot fault--the first stop on our honeymoon journey that, I hope, will reflect the years to come.

The hostelry in question is on Sunset Boulevard in Beverly Hills. By no means will I be the first to sing its praises for The Beverly Hills Hotel, the Pink Palace, has few equals.

But why Beverly Hills in the first place? A good question. Guaranteed perfect weather, perhaps. A land that this hotelier can never afford to live in. Great food, museums, art galleries and a new symphony hall that the acoustical experts say sounds "too good." But it wasn't so much the location as wanting to stay in a great hotel that would be a great start to a great life together.

Pulling up in front of the Pink Palace in our Avis Mustang convertible, top down, Suzanne and I must have just shrieked "tourist." But the young parking attendant--a UCLA medical student, no doubt--somehow knew our names and never batted an eye as he steered our rental amongst the Lamborghinis and Bentleys.

And there, at the top of the stairs, again greeting us by our names, was Ron Howard. Yes, this is Hollywood, but it was not the Ron Howard, but the under-factotum whose presence for 30 years at the Regent Beverly Wilshire made him an institution. Now he's become a new institution at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

Ron escorted us to our accommodations, no check-in or horrible credit-card identification required. A corner suite awaited us with a roaring fire, a bottle of Dom Perignon on ice and a pile--and I mean a pile--of chocolate-dipped strawberries. Simply magnificent. The furnishings, the bed, a bath for two in a bathroom bigger than our living room at home. And the whole shebang with a wraparound balcony.

After a couple of glasses of Dom on our balcony, looking down Rodeo Drive, we had to eat. Weddings, particularly your own, give you little time for sustenance. And the nervousness of speech-giving definitely dampens the appetite. Thus, to the hotel's world-famous Polo Lounge. Again, a greeting by name and a "star's banquette" in the middle of the bar with a view of everything and everybody. More champagne and an exquisite meal. Asian fusion, I think they call it--but, whatever, it was marvelous although what we ate has been forgotten in the fog of champagne. The new She Who Must Be Obeyed has a similar blankness although she fondly remembers the truffles served at the end. We both just remember that the whole evening was wonderful.

Stars, of course. Ivana with a much younger man, tiny Yoko with a much younger woman. Russell Crowe and Geena Davis, and others as famous, all in residence.

The next morning? Back to the Polo Lounge for breakfast after a night in the most comfortable bed with Frette linens that we both agreed put to shame anything that Westin may say about their supposedly Heavenly Beds. Playtime in the bathroom, with its separate shower and large bottles of amenities (replenished every day and happily stolen by us), added to the enjoyment.

After an afternoon at the Getty, one of the modern world's most spectacular museums and gardens, it was back to the Pink Palace and our new favorite hangout, the Polo Lounge. Another perfect dinner of Asian fusion, but damned if either of us can remember what. The wine, however, we remember. It was Groves Street, a small Californian winery. Another unique thing that we had never seen before was the unique and mammoth wine list: It has star ratings for each wine so that one did not judge by the price but by the stars.

So why is the Beverly Hills Hotel one of the world's best? It is certainly not over the top in its décor, furniture or fittings. It's not the guest list, which ranges from Hollywood's A-list to the titans of the corporate world. Nor is it its tennis courts, spa, and world-famous pool--all of which are incomparable. (Where else is there an espresso machine pool-side?). It's not even the Fountain Coffee Shop, reminiscent of a 1950's diner, which is said to be an "in" spot, with waffles and bacon that melt in the mouth. (Sorry, no jukebox.)

What it is, I think, is the service and the people who give that service. The housekeeping, for example, is beyond reproach. Not a speck of dust, even above the picture frames. The housekeeping staff is friendly and efficient and it all takes place under the watchful eye of Anita Gillis, the head housekeeper. There's Ali in the Polo Lounge, whose smile makes up for a long wait for a table. There are more than 500 other staff members and they all work together as a team and it is you, the guest, that they think of 24/7. It's all overseen by Tim Lee, the resident manager, whose presence in the lobby ensures that it all runs to perfection.

No business or hotel works without a leader, of course. The Beverly Hills Hotel's leader--World Hotelier of ohe Year in 2000, the recipient of more diamonds and stars than Tommy Franks has medals--is Alberto Del Hoyo. He's a quiet, reserved, totally unassuming man whose only pretensions of grandeur are his Hermes ties. Perhaps invisible to his guests, his presence is felt throughout the hotel. He is simply "there." Were you to visit his office, there is not a paper on his desk. He doesn't even have E-mail so it is unlikely that he will read this. He has opened hotels in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur and run some of the best, including the Beverly Wilshire when it was the hotel in Beverly Hills. He commands the loyal and impeccably trained staff in a building that is faultless and he even manages to make a huge profit for his owners.

(Incidentally, Alberto, Ron, Anita, Tim, Ali and a host of the other Beverly Hills Hotel employees were all trained at Regent and many have worked in Asia. Maybe there is something there.)

So, Alberto, to you and your complete team, Suzanne and I say "Thank you!" for something that was truly memorable: a 48-hour honeymoon in a faultless Pink Palace.

This column originally appeared at joesentme.com.

Copyright © 1993-2004 by Michael Matthews. All rights reserved.