Even if you’re not usually susceptible to the January blues, I fear this January may prove the exception.
But I’m not here to talk politics, nor even hint at it. What I am here to do is to suggest where you might take your next vacation and the fact that I’m going to suggest California, pretty much as far as you can get from New York or D.C. in the contiguous United States, is merely coincidental.
Plus, of course, this is the Wealth Issue and Beverly Hills — the focus of this month’s Wanders — is no slouch in the wealth department. No siree, primped and manicured, BH is fairly brimming over with it, although I’m often struck with the refinement of our Californian cousins, who usually have the good taste to hide their (often immense) wealth behind elegantly trimmed privet hedges rather than flaunting it for all the world to see.
And speaking of discretion, can you imagine anywhere more discreet than The Beverly Hills Hotel, that candy-striped Eden of loveliness, where the covers are starting to come off their 23 historic bungalow suites, remodeled by the gifted New York-based designer Alexandra Champalimaud? This is where I would happily spend the rest of my life, moolah permitting, if only my wife would let me — I am married to a very grounded woman — but even that would not be without it stresses. You see, I’d never be able to make up my mind which particular bungalow to stay in, as they are all strikingly distinct but almost equally alluring. Would it be Bungalow 22, for instance, inspired by Frank Sinatra’s wood-accented Palm Springs house, with its grand piano, vast gray marble bathroom and dressing room the size of New Jersey? It very well could. With its “Ultimate Sinatra” LP — there’s a word you don’t hear often these days — playing on a proper, old-fashioned turntable and a bottle of Jack Daniels sitting invitingly on the living room table, along with a couple of tumblers, I felt this was the bungalow for me before I’d barely seen around the door.
But, as I said, there are alternatives, and as someone who is confidently in touch with his feminine side, I’d hardly turn my nose up at Bungalow 5 either, inspired by Elizabeth Taylor, who honeymooned there with six of her eight husbands. This bungalow has a color palette of pink and gold and I’d fairly ache to hang my manly suits in that bespoke armoire, etched with Taylor’s famous Cleopatra headdress. (Not, of course, that anyone wears a suit in California.) Throw in a heavenly bougainvillea-filled patio complete with full-size swimming pool — all hidden from public view, of course, because The Beverly Hills Hotel is nothing if not decorous and supremely tasteful — and I’m an unholy mess of indecision.
Its sister property too, Hotel Bel-Air, is so self-effacing that the uninitiated, driving too fast in their rented Porsches, often go careening past the entrance along Stone Canyon Road (much to the amusement of the valets), only to turn around a mile later when they realize their mistake, seconds before they go headlong into Stone Canyon Reservoir. Take it from me, no one makes that mistake twice.
At Hotel Bel-Air, the guest suites nestle among luxurious gardens of hibiscus, jasmine and tuberose, so completely tucked away that you practically need a ball of string to find your way back to the front desk. Not that the front desk is actually a front desk, more like a very cozy study where the vulgar business of money — quite a lot of, actually, because the Bel-Air isn’t exactly given away — is taken care of with a nonchalant swipe of a platinum credit card and then never referred to again, just as an embarrassing relative might be finally expunged from the family for life simply by never being mentioned again. And in Wolfgang Puck’s brilliant onsite restaurant at the Bel-Air, the gorgeous booths around the central patio are so private you could plot a military coup and no one, not even the all-seeing headwaiter, would know what you were up to.
The Peninsula Beverly Hills is another hotel that would never dream of drawing attention to its celebrity guests, although it’s not uncommon to find two or three Hollywood A-listers in its paneled bar on any given evening. A cabana at The Peninsula’s rooftop pool, meanwhile, is the way to go if you want to sunbathe without the neighbors gawking. I mean, you can peek, of course, but people don’t. The Peninsula is that sort of place. Good manners, after all, breed, well… good manners.
Diagonally across from The Peninsula, the new-build Waldorf Astoria will be launching later this year, just as the flagship Waldorf Astoria on Park Avenue closes for the biggest overhaul in its long and illustrious history. Luxurious it will doubtless be, but if I know those clever people at Waldorf Astoria, it won’t be showy or sprauncy, because the thing about real wealth is that it doesn’t need to flaunt itself. Gold faucets? A bit last century, frankly. And I can’t see faux Roccoco making a comeback any time soon.
So there you have it. Four great, or soon-to-be-great, hotels and four good reasons to get to Beverly Hills soon. But if you still feel that California is not quite far west enough for you this inauguration season, all I can say is, there is always Hawaii. Not far enough? Try Wake Island. Happy January and remember the old maxim: If you have to ask the price….