I have, in a series of columns, let my mind and keyboard wander across some of the destinations in which I’d experienced some situational sweetness.
I fall in love, at least a little, even after just a short stay, with almost every place to which I travel. This is the story of how two bellmen touched my heart and put a tear in my eye upon my recent departure from a historic hotel that feels like home. Stick with me here until the last reel.
My infatuation with the Beverly Hilton Hotel began as a child – long before I’d ever been to California, much less Beverly Hills. For some reason I recall a voice over and graphic among the closing credits of television shows, for instance: “Guests of the Merv Griffin Show stay at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.”
That example makes sense to me now since as an adult I learned that talk show host Merv Griffin, who also produced “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy,” bought Barron Hilton’s Beverly Hilton flagship hotel (est. 1955) for a spell beginning in 1987.
“Mr. Griffin wasn’t really a hotelier,” whispered one of the Beverly Hilton staffers who worked under both owners. (One of many I’ve met, by the way, who’ve toiled loyally at the property for decades.)
It is just this kind of accidental intrigue that makes the Beverly Hilton, a functional, practical luxury hotel so deliciously dated. It is my home away from home. It’s become a very significant, sentimental place in my life. I met the hotel” for the first time during its quiet, seemingly empty pandemic days, when its restaurants and services were closed but its heart still beat.
I vividly recall, on Thanksgiving Day in 2020 when Covid caused California restaurants to close indoor dining, being in the fresh air on my fifth-floor balcony with a bag of Mexican take-away and a split of champagne. (The Beverly Hilton has great, big balconies with lounge furniture and a table.) Though I was alone that afternoon, I was soaking in the sun – warm and happy.
I’ve since hosted my syndicated morning radio talk show a number of times from that room. On the air I have channeled and extrapolated that showbiz magic I’d heard so long ago, ala announcer Johnny Olson, to say: “When in Beverly Hills, ‘Michigan’s Big Show starring Michael Patrick Shiels’ Broadcasts from the Beverly Hilton Hotel.”
My syndicated radio broadcast is performed happily in the shadow of the superstar events the Beverly Hilton serves as home to including the Hollywood Foreign Press’s annual Golden Globe Awards and corporate CEO confabs such as the 2022 Milken Institute Global Conference. The speaker list included New York City Mayor Eric Adams; Steve Ballmer; GM CEO Mary Barra; Maria Bartiromo from Fox Business; Deepak Chopra; Jamie Lee Curtis; U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin; Meet the Press’s Chuck Todd to name a pitiful fraction of the huge number of business, media and political heavyweights.
During the pandemic pop star Justin Bieber performed a New Year’s concert not on the International Ballroom Stage, but instead on the ballroom’s roof playing to socially distanced hotel guests watching from the hotel’s 566 rooms and balconies plus a worldwide live-stream audience.
President John F. Kennedy made the Beverly Hilton his “Western White House,” footsteps President Barack Obama followed in when he took the top two floors in 2009 and 2010.
I could go on, but you get the picture. And when you stay at the Beverly Hilton, you feel like you’re “in the pictures,” especially when a photographic mural of camera-flashing paparazzi greets you at the parking deck.
Stars Homes and at Home with Stars
Every hotel of distinction with any longevity has had its share of celebrity guests (and ghosts), but the Beverly Hilton, at Wilshire and Santa Monica Boulevard in the crossroads of Beverly Hills, adds to its legacy every day.
“On the evening of the Golden Globes, for instance, or a really high-end event, you’re going to have the who’s who of Hollywood and the world walking through our doors,” said Ryan Patterson, Beverly Hilton’s director of sales and marketing. “For the guests it can feel spectacularly abnormal to see some of the faces who pass through here. For the staff it has come to feel quite normal. We’re all just people. So, there are interesting experiences where people you know out in the world are suddenly standing in the same room with you. But you can come and have a comfortable, approachable stay.”
Making a Splash
The Hilton’s Aqua Star pool, opened by Esther Williams, is an enclosed enclave for fresh air meetings and lunch meetings protected from the paparazzi. On my most recent visit, while swimming, I may have seen Kristen Schaal, from “30 Rock,” “Flight of the Conchords” and “Bob’s Burgers,” being photographed poolside. Later that same day, in the Lobby Lounge, I had a brief chat and photo with Fox News anchor Brian Kilmeade.
“We try to be discreet but, in some cases, you see the ‘who’s who’ of the world. We host major conferences, heads of state, CEO’s, actors, celebrities and musicians. Culture, television, fashion…you feel the history when you walk through the doors,” said Patterson, a Golden State native who recently returned to Southern California for the position during his 18th year with Hilton.
During his time away taking assignments across America Patterson said he was always aware of the Beverly Hilton’s historical significance within the company and its culture. He admitted he now occasionally takes a moment to listen for the history and appreciate the scene.
“Sometimes I walk out to the Aqua Star pool in the morning and get a coffee and just look over the space before my day starts. It’s an iconic California experience at 7-in-the-morning when the weather is already comfortable. I look out over that pool where I know so many moments have happened. And depending on what hour you go, instead of coffee there might be people having a cocktail. Or in the middle of the day there might be families out there. It’s the biggest swimming pool in Beverly Hills and a big part of our experience…while being a small part of our overall experience.”
A canyon of guestrooms, lounge chairs, cabanas, lemon trees, classic standard tunes, surf scenes projected onto the big white wall beside and over the pool, colored lights at night, and the Circa 55 indoor and al fresco dining (Frank Sinatra liked the corner table) make the bright Aqua Star Pool setting an old Hollywood glam experience. At the pool’s edge Mercato makes casual confabs and conversations in sunglasses seem so intriguing. (Michigan’s Governor Gretchen Whitmer, touted to have presidential potential, lunched there last winter before an attending an event in the one of the hotel’s conference spaces.)
While its newer, adjacent, sister hotel the Waldorf Astoria and some of the neighborhood’s competing, brand name properties are plusher and posher (sometimes I find ‘uber-luxe’ to be suffocating), they are a different style of hotel product. The Beverly Hilton, if a bit streamlined, simple and institutionally corporate is not dated per-se, because it’s a historic timepiece: user-friendly, modern, functionable and approachable. The Beverly Hilton’s role and its familiar, playful place in Hollywood is undeniable.
“Our hotel is part of the community. Beverly Hills is very luxurious – very classy – but it can be many different things to different people. It’s a place for everyone. A family can vacation here in the summer or a musician or actor that’s very recognizable to the whole world will feel very comfortable here as well. It’s just that kind of special place,” said Patterson.
“There is a historic element from the timeless architecture and the type of success the residents must have had to land them in Beverly Hills. But I’ve also been pleased at the ‘down-to-earthiness.’ I know that sounds counterintuitive. But I go on walks in the neighborhood. I encounter friendly faces and local business owners. There is a homey feel.”
Walk of Fame
Like Patterson, who described the hotel as “right at the gateway of Beverly Hills,” I’ve walked out the door and every direction from the Beverly Hilton day and night.
The shopping, dining and drinking, people-watching and neighborhood strolls are entertaining. The Beverly Hills sign in Beverly Gardens Park may be the second-most photographed to the Hollywood sign, and a further stretch of the legs through the neighborhood will get you to the placid fountains of Will Rogers Park.
In the fashion of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Beverly Hills offers Rodeo Drive’s Walk of Style, a series of bronze plaques honoring the likes of Tom Ford, Giorgio Armani, Salvatore Ferragamo; and Gianni and Donatella Versace, all styles you can take home with you at the boutiques throughout downtown and in the Golden Triangle of stores across from green-fronted, gilded Gucci.
“We’re right at the gateway of Beverly Hills. If you’re going shopping, I suggest you walk to Rodeo Drive and Uber back with all your purchases,” Patterson laughed.
The window shopping is museum-quality and there are “Instagrammable” pieces of public art and Beverly Canon Gardens is, day or night, a scenic spot to chill – especially when its decorative lights are ablaze. Speaking of ablaze, while walking on Crescent Drive you’re likely to encounter the most dazzling 76 service station you’ve ever seen with its old-school deco design and neon lighting.
You’ll deserve a bite or a drink along the way. Mornings I may stop at Nate-N-Al’s Delicatessen to have breakfast where the late radio and television talk star Larry King did. Celebrity Chef Wolfgang Puck’s Spago is world famous. The Polo Lounge in the Beverly Hills Hotel (across from Will Rogers Park) is undeniably old-school-cool. And the chicken parmesan at Dan Tana’s has been enjoyed by every actor from George Clooney to Jack Nicholson. (You’ll need the walk back to burn any percentage of it off!)
Sliding Into Home
Maybe you’ll save your calories until the end of your walk to enjoy the Beverly Hilton’s rooftop Sant’olina Israeli/Mediterranean cuisine with a view. Stroll through the bar with the iconic circular windows you’ve seen from the street and slip out onto an open-air roof full of twinkle lights and charm. You can survey all of Beverly Hills and the mountain scenery and toast yourself with cocktails named for Merv Griffin and one dubbed the “Peter Lawford Suite.”
The Beverly Hilton has a small 24-hour fitness center if you prefer to exercise on property, too. The lower-floor gym and pool are accessible by elevator so you can sneak back and forth. Guestrooms are stocked with white robes or there is a changing room at the back of the pool if you don’t ever want to be caught even the slightest bit disheveled. (Especially when you see the glamorous, black and white, golden age movie star photos lining the hallway.) The Bellezza Salon and an Upgrade Lab for holistic spa treatments are down there, too, for further, “backstage primping.”
“You can have a staycation here at this urban resort destination or explore Southern California,” Patterson said, mentioning specifically the beaches and Getty Center. He’s right – if you’re driving, sightseeing or going to business appointments, the Beverly Hilton’s physical location is quite convenient to anywhere from Pasadena to Downtown L.A. It’s an easy spot to get in and out of traffic wise, unlike, say Hollywood or Santa Monica.
Leaving Los Angeles
Parting, for me, especially after my most recent broadcast visit, was sweet sorrow.
I thought about what Patterson had told me:
“Our general manager Sandy Murphy has created a place where we lead with hospitality. We treat people as if they are in their home away from home.”
He was right. When it was time to check out, I felt as if I was locking up my home for a trip while knowing I’d be back!
So, from my modern, bright, clean, white room I took one last long look off my balcony over the Aqua Star Pool and across Beverly Hills – all the way to the Los Angeles skyline – and then headed for the lobby.
Patterson had also told me that it’s the loyal, vibrant hotel staff that sets the Beverly Hilton apart. “We have classic photos on the walls, but the staff members here have actually seen so much happen,” he said. “Renee, for instance, one of our bellmen has been here 40 years. He is a mainstay of the Beverly Hilton and is even featured in Hilton television commercial.”
The amiable Renee was near the front desk when I checked out along with his friendly colleague Frank. Chatting with them they, in their Hilton uniforms, chirped back and forth like Abbott and Costello about which of them has worked the Beverly Hilton longest.
“I have been here 44 years,” said Frank, in his accent.
Renee smiled when I told Frank his 44 years may edge out Renee by four, but it was Renee who was seen in the television commercial.
“There is no business, like show business,” the modest Renee teased.
Luckily it was a quiet morning so they had time to tell me tales of how they would facilitate letting Sean Connery in through the back door. “Like a sneaky 007 secret agent?” I joked.
Conversely, they spoke about the elegant Fred Astaire waltzing right through the main lobby.
And unless I misheard his accent, Frank told me a story about a now very well-known movie star, a single, struggling actor decades ago, at the time showed unsuccessful interest in Frank’s then girlfriend. Frank chased the actor off, and the woman eventually became Frank’s wife. The actor became a megastar with a very successful high-profile, long-running marriage of his own (who shall remain nameless.)
“What happens when he comes into the hotel here all these years later and sees you?” I asked Frank.
Frank pantomimed a threatening, menacing face. Then he grinned. “No, no, just kidding. When I see him, he remembers, and he asks about my wife. We both have a big laugh about it,” he revealed with a smile and a twinkle.
“Now who is the one in show business?” I joked to Renee, who nodded and was always smiling.
Since I couldn’t get enough of their tales, and there were no other customers waiting, Frank gave me an encore story. The fake angry face Frank teased the actor with, in his youth, must have been a real one. (After all, it scared the actor away from his girlfriend the first time.) But Frank was frank when he told me in his early days working at the hotel he would walk the aging, legendary actor Jimmy Stewart’s dogs for him.
“And sometimes, when Mr. Stewart visited the hotel, I would walk him home to make sure he got there safely. He lived right over here,” Frank explained. Frank figured he was 18 or 20-years old when on one occasion, while they were walking and talking, the white-haired Jimmy Stewart, who’d inspired millions by playing George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” stopped walking. The man who played George Bailey in the film that inspired millions, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” turned to look Frank in the eye and ask him a question.
“Why are you such an angry young man?”
The halting question from such a gentle man embarrassed Frank and caused him to reconsider his attitude. Stewart then counseled him with one piece of advice.
“Be patient. Just be patient,” Stewart told him.
“To this day I remember that advice because it changed my life…right on the spot,” Frank told me.
At the beginning of this column, I referred to first hearing the name of the Beverly Hilton in the closing credits of television shows. One of the other common catch phrases in the credits of those TV shows mentioned that guests or losing contestants had received “parting gifts.”
When we’d finished chatting, before Renee and Frank let me depart the lobby, Renee stopped me to give me a “parting gift.”
“Mr. Shiels, I can tell how much you love this hotel. You care about it. So, I think you should have this,” he said, handing me a small item. “I only have a few left and I think you are someone who would value it.”
I looked into my hand to find a small, delicate keychain with a dangling charm shaped and painted in the image of an iconic white hotel with the red words “the Beverly Hilton Hotel” across the top, just as they emblazon the top of the building.
I don’t know if they noticed the tear in my eye. Choked up, I was speechless. But Renee wasn’t.
“You are like family,” he insisted.
Then Frank handed me some “take-away.” It was, by coincidence, a split of champagne. Which I took with me out into the sun, holding the bottle proudly and treasuring it as if it were an Academy Award.
Read more on Michael Patrick Shiels’ travel blog, The Travel Tattler. Contact Travel Writer Michael Patrick Shiels at [email protected]