ralph lauren women polos Redesigning the Polo Lounge
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif.
THE interior designer Adam D. Tihany, a cappuccino in hand, sat in one of the Polo Lounge’s fluted banquettes here the other morning and pointed out warts.
“The lighting is awful we’ll change all that,” he said, gesturing to the low ceiling. New carpeting is on the way, he said, along with updated upholstery for the booths, perhaps in a slightly different shade. What color are they now? He peered at the fabric and wrinkled his nose. “Moss,” he said, “like grows in a cave.”
Despite Mr. Tihany’s promise to “maintain the shabby glamorous feel” of the famed Polo Lounge, which is being “refreshed” as part of a two and a half year renovation of the Beverly Hills Hotel, Hollywood power players are a little traumatized.
“When I first heard about the redesign, I was seized up with anxiety and a sense of protectiveness,” said Stacey Snider, a partner with Steven Spielberg in DreamWorks Studios and its chief executive. “It’s one of the only bridges from Old Hollywood to whatever it is that we now have.”
As Ms. The super agent Ari Emanuel strode into the dining room, where Denzel Washington would have lunch the next day.
The Beverly Hills Hotel, which just turned 100, remains the heart of moviedom’s schmoozing scene in part because of its history. Elizabeth Taylor honeymooned with six of her eight husbands in the bungalows. The pool alone is as close to sacred ground as it gets in show business. It’s where Raquel Welch was discovered, where Esther Williams swam every morning (a permanent guest pass was written into her MGM contract) and where the Beatles once took an after hours dip.
The Polo Lounge got its name because celebrities like Will Rogers toasted polo victories there in the 1930s (they played in nearby lima bean fields). The dimly lighted room was popular with Marlene Dietrich, who sat on a bar stool with her fur coat. Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin engaged in prodigious drinking sessions there. Charlie Chaplin liked Booth No. 1, while Marilyn Monroe preferred a less prominent corner.
To Ms. Snider’s point, the Polo Lounge has also outlasted most of its competitors. The Brown Derby is long gone, as are Chasen’s and Le Dome.
Twenty years of Orso power lunches ended in 2009. Spago, the Grill on the Alley and Mr. Chow’s are still chugging along, albeit with an aging clientele, but their influence sharply faded a few years ago, when Creative Artists Agency and International Creative Management decamped to new offices in Century City.
The entertainment industry’s devotion to the Beverly Hills Hotel also exposes deeper parts of its psyche. The movie capital is a place that routinely razes and rebuilds, but many of its top executives have roots in New York and hunger for hangouts with a timeworn patina.
Because film is so ephemeral, there is a tendency to overcompensate and clutch at anything permanent. How else to explain Nate ‘n Al, a dumpy diner that draws an industry crowd for breakfast, or the Chateau Marmont’s garden restaurant, popular with TV people despite its out to lunch servers and ho hum menu.
It’s not exactly that Hollywood thinks the Beverly Hills Hotel and the Polo Lounge can’t be touched. After the Sultan of Brunei bought the property in 1987, the “pink palace” closed in 1992 for a two and a half year transformation.
Parts of the dramatic new design, like the lobby slathered in gold leaf, were hard for movie moguls to accept, but they eventually did. Recently, when the Polo Lounge’s patio, strewed with white wrought iron tables, lost its partial shade a huge Brazilian pepper tree had to be removed it barely prompted a murmur. (True, the power tables are inside.)
Rather, Hollywood’s fear specifically reflects the bad plastic surgery that befell two of its cherished haunts, Le Dome and the Hotel Bel Air.
Newsletter Sign Up
Continue reading the main story
Le Dome, a Sunset Boulevard watering hole popular with music heavyweights, in 2004 underwent an ill advised renovation, complete with “ziggurat motifs, Gothic windows trussed in metal and flames erupting” from a flat screen TV fireplace,
according to a review in The Los Angeles Times. “It’s so edgy, it’s almost pervy,” the newspaper added. Patrons recoiled and Le Dome closed.
The newly redesigned Hotel Bel Air also came as a shock when it was unveiled last October. Trying to woo younger guests, it overcorrected in the eyes of many entertainment industry regulars, who complain about its newly blah color scheme, modern lobby and indoor outdoor Wolfgang Puck restaurant. The concern: the London based Dorchester Collection, which operates the Bel Air, also manages the Beverly Hills Hotel. What if the tweaks planned for the Polo Lounge (work has yet to start) are equally startling?
Mr. Tihany, perhaps most famous for updating New York’s somber Palace Hotel in the late 1990s by installing an enormous neon sculpture and a silk circus tent (as part of the now defunct Le Cirque 2000), said that “everyone should relax and take a step back.” Taking a sip of cappuccino, he added, “It’s not like we’re going to add rhinestones to the piano and put down white shag carpeting. My job is to enhance without ruffling too many feathers.”
The City of Beverly Hills recently made the hotel its first official landmark, so some features cannot be touched even if Mr. Tihany wanted to change them, which he says he does not.
The banana leaf wallpaper (all five miles of it), added in the 1940s by the designer Don Loper, will be left intact. The signature white and green stripes, which appear on the porte cochere, are protected, as are the Polo Lounge’s hunter green walls. The Fountain Coffee Room will keep its curving counter, and the pool will have only a few tweaks, like new landscaping.
“A property gets tired and you need to re energize it,” said Christopher Cowdray, Dorchester’s chief executive. “To be competitive you have to stay ahead. At the same time, you must retain the DNA.”
As for the Hotel Bel Air, where some tweaks have been made at Mr. Puck’s restaurant, Mr. Cowdray said, “Some elderly guests don’t like change, but it had gone past the point of no repair.”
He added, “We needed to make that hotel more internationally relevant to today’s luxury traveler.”
Edward Mady, Dorchester’s West Coast regional director, noted that a lot is going right at the Beverly Hills Hotel, with Virtuoso, a network of more than 330 upscale travel agencies, in August naming it the year’s No. 1 luxury property. “We are very aware of what’s working, and change for change’s sake is out of the question,” he said. Mr. Mady pointed to Mr. Tihany’s completed redesign of the lobby as a signal of what’s to come.
“So far, we have had overwhelmingly positive feedback,” said Mr. Mady, who is also the hotel’s general manager. The new entrance, the only completed part of the restoration, has new Art Deco inspired furnishings, paintings by California artists and a substantially less showy chandelier. The green and pink carpeting has been replaced in the center of the lobby with a limestone “medallion” with an abstract banana leaf design.
“I love the new lobby,” said Robert S. “I will say, however, that I was very wary at first. They wanted to slate the whole lobby, and I said, ‘Oh, no,
absolutely not.’ I do still have some influence.”