Beverly Hills, My Way

February 22, 2008

Jed Clampett of the Beverly Hillbillies (another fish out of water)With the snow piling up outside my office window and the ice and slush taking over midtown’s sidewalks 23 stories below, can you fault me for having California on my mind?

It’s not just a weather thing. I love California. If not for some immovable practicalities, I’d pack up and head up there tomorrow – earthquakes, fires, and landslides be damned. For now, I’ll just have to resign myself to visitor status.

Beverly Hills is just one of the many places I like to visit there. Don’t get me wrong – without question, I’m totally a fish out of water there. I’m not a posh guy, I have no clue what’s “hot” or trendy at any given time, I don’t shop in exclusive boutiques, and I don’t get dazzled by celebrities. Hmm…maybe that’s the appeal – the people and lifestyle there are so foreign, I’m drawn to it like a tourist from a small town in Arkansas is drawn to the top of the Empire State Building (And no, I’ve never been. Seriously).

Outsider or not, I’ve been there enough times to get a feel for places to go and places to avoid. Here’s a quick peek at some of my faves:

Where (and Where Not) to Stay

I typically avoid pretentious, trendy hotels. The rooms are often small, the service snotty and often unprofessional, and too often the bar or restaurant is closed because of a private party. I usually go with a Westin property, except when I’m staying in the Los Angeles area.

The Avalon

The Avalon Boutique Hotel, Beverly HillsMy favorite hotel is called The Avalon, a retro-style boutique just minutes from the heart of Beverly Hills. The place is indeed fashionable (and, for the record, the bar was closed for a private party one night during my last visit), but the service at the front desk and the restaurant is incredibly friendly and efficient. Think East Coast polish without the accompanying snide attitude. It boasts a romantic outdoor pool and a highly endorsable restaurant called the blue and blue. While the menu is somewhat limited, the food is creative, delicious, and artfully presented. Even their burger is amazing.

Sadly, The Avalon was fully booked one of the nights I was in town (darn those Grammys!), so I checked into Maison 140, which is owned by the same company. Let’s just say you wouldn’t know it to stay there.

Maison 140

The Maison 140 Intimate Hotel, Beverly HillsMaison 140 bills itself as an “intimate” hotel, which I’ve learned is the hospitality industry’s precious little euphemism for ridiculously small rooms that are badly in need of a major renovation [note to reader: photo to right is actual size]. The hotel staff is a tad snooty, save for this charming woman from Fiji who works the graveyard shift at the front desk. Admittedly, Maison 140 is better situated than the Avalon (it’s located right in the heart of Beverly Hills, around the corner from the famed Peninsula Hotel) and the easy-access self-parking is a big plus, but it’s still a far cry from The Avalon. If you can’t get into The Avalon, I’d recommend the renovated Residence Inn about a mile down the road instead.

Where to Refuel

Peet’s Coffee

Peet’s Coffee and Tea, Beverly HillsAs I’ve noted before, I’m a big fan of Peet’s Coffee, a chain of coffee shops mostly located on the West Coast (count your blessings, Starbucks).

The Peet’s on Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills is filled with customers from the moment the doors open at 6 a.m. I couldn’t help but notice that the Starbucks down the street was nearly empty when I passed by. The same is true in San Francisco and Boston: at the Peet’s I visited in those cities, the closest Starbucks were invariably empty.

If I was in executive management at Starbucks, I’d be worried about Peet’s potential expansion plans. If I was a shareholder, well, I would have bailed out of the company a long time ago.

Urth Caffé

If you are hankering for a healthy breakfast and are willing to pay a premium to eat organic, I highly recommend Urth Caffé, which is right across the street from Peet’s. If you are looking for a comfortable perch to watch the beautiful people of Southern California and their dogs, this is the place.

Massimo Ristorante

Massimo Ristorante, Rodeo Drive, Beverly HillsNew York is widely regarded as having the best restaurants, but I got to tell you, the Los Angeles area is definitely a close second. One of the best meals I’ve had in recent memory was at Massimo Ristorante located right off Rodeo Drive. Despite its upscale location, the place welcomes us mere mortals. In fact, my cousin and I were seated at one of the best tables in the house. Everything at Massimo was perfect: the perfectly chilled martini, the atmosphere, the décor, the service, and of course, the food. I can’t wait to go back!

Where to Walk … Or Rather How Not to Walk

Jaywalking is a fact of life in New York. If there’s a break in traffic, you go for it. One of Beverly Hills’ finest was kind enough to remind me last week that it is a big no-no everywhere else. I believe the term he used was “illegal”.

It was a glorious sunny day and I was in the heart of Beverly Hills’ shopping district. Spotting an interesting clothing store across the street, I stepped to the curb and looked left, looked right, looked left again (my mom taught me well) and then trotted across to the other side.

You don’t do that in Beverly Hills. Just ask Johnny Depp.

A motorcycle officer witnessed my civil disobedience and pulled me over… near the dress shirts in the clothing store. He was quite angry. Apparently, he had called to me to stop and wasn’t pleased that I ignored him. The truth is, I honestly didn’t hear him. He demanded my driver’s license, asked me a battery of questions, including the purpose of my visit and what I did for a living. I apologized profusely for my transgression and begged him not to write me a ticket. Alas, he spared me the ticket, for which I am very grateful.

Imagine getting a ticket for jaywalking while inside some snooty store. Oh, the indignity…