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Hotel Bel-Air, Beverly Hills

Gordon Mott
From the Print Edition:
Jimmy Smits, May/June 2005

Walk through the lobbies or the bars at the Four Seasons, the Peninsula, the Beverly Wilshire, the Marmont or the Beverly Hills Hotel, and chances are good you will lay eyes on some A-list celebrity holding court. Beverly Hills is well stocked with high-profile, star-studded, five-star hotels in which to see and be seen. But if you want to enter another world, a place suffused with luxury as you pass under a vine-laden arch, then over a footbridge crossing a stream on your way to the reception desk, there is one option: the Hotel Bel-Air.

Detractors argue it's not convenient, stashed as it is in one of the canyons that run into the foothills above Beverly Hills. But if the serenity proffered by this unique setting isn't worth a 15-minute drive to the heart of Rodeo Drive, then you've got your priorities wrong. For the trouble, you are about as far removed from the idea of a modern, high-rise establishment as you can get without going to thatched-roof huts on a beach. Each room and suite seems located in its own space, either a small bungalow or low Spanish mission—style building, hidden in winding walks and behind stands of vegetation, with guests' privacy insured.

Affiliated with the Leading Small Hotels of the World, the 91-room hotel was refurbished in 2003 to the tune of $20 million. Many of the rooms ($395—$575) have private patios and fireplaces, and the larger suites ( $775—$3,500) have up to two bedrooms with living rooms and patios. There is also a full fitness center.

Dining options include The Restaurant, an elegant white-tablecloth establishment. Weather permitting, which it is most of the time, the restaurant's outdoor Terrace provides a meal among flowering vines; at the rear are private banquettes with views of the hotel's Swan Lake. The hotel bar has an Old World ambience, with wood paneling and a fireplace. Managing Director Carlos Lopes is creating a small dining room and al fresco patio, reserved for wine-tasting events, to open in June.

But no amenity, or new service, will overshadow the hotel's setting. Walk across that footbridge and you'll know immediately.

Visit www.hotelbelair.com or call 310-472-1211.

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