Break out the bacon. Butter up the brioches. It's the Battle of the Hotel Breakfasts.
OK, so maybe there are no out-and-out fisticuffs between the two dining rooms. But danger is in the air. Warns Beverly Hills Hotel breakfast manager Bernice Philbin, who has presided at the Polo Lounge for 35 years: "I'm always threatening to go to breakfast at the Bel-Air just to see who's disloyal to me."
But her counterpart at the Hotel Bel-Air, David Pinkham, hopes she doesn't. After all, he has been on the job for a mere six months. "Luckily, my predecessor primed me," he said. "It amounted to a two-week crash course at the door."
In Los Angeles, where dawn meetings have become de rigueur, the true Power Breakfast is held at the two Power Hotels, the Beverly Hills and the Bel-Air.
Starting at 6 and continuing until the stragglers leave at 11, the city's best and brightest in the entertainment industry (or at least those with the best and brightest titles) are breaking bagels in the Polo Lounge or the Hotel Bel-Air Restaurant.
Somehow, Philbin and Pinkham manage to track everybody's career jumps and slumps--not just to greet them with the appropriate deference but to ensure that arch rivals aren't seated elbow to elbow. "It's kind of tough to follow at times," Philbin said. "But I try to keep up by reading all the newspapers, magazines and trades I can."
The Bel-Air's morning major-domo doesn't have to consult his black book to recognize celeb diners Mel Gibson, Sly Stallone, Tony Curtis or even Max Baer, who played Jethro in the television series "The Beverly Hillbillies."
But mover-and-shakers are trickier. Still, Pinkham knows he had better greet by name any Bel-Air regular. He mentally flips through the alphabet until he gets to T for TV honcho Bud Grant of CBS. Under S for studio heads: David Puttnam of Columbia, Michael Eisner of Disney, Barry Diller of 20th Century Fox and Anthony Thomopolous of MGM/UA. Under A for agents: Bill Haber, a partner at Creative Artists, or Nicole David of Triad.
New World Pictures co-chairmen Harry Sloan, Lawrence Kuppin and Robert Rehme use the Bel-Air breakfast room as their office away from the office. And they may have set a record one morning when they were working at three tables in the restaurant.
"It's the prettiest breakfast room in town," Sloan said. "And it's a nice time of the day to have a meeting because I always feel fresher in the morning."
Grant has dined there most mornings for more than two decades. Since he has to pass the hotel on the way to work, "the car just automatically pulls into the driveway," he said. And then he orders a diet breakfast of half a cantaloupe, dry rye toast and black decaf.
No one comes to a Power Breakfast to eat. They come to meet. That's why, these days, most eschew $14 Bel-Air Eggs Benedict, with Canadian bacon and char-grilled breast of chicken, in favor of the hotel's lower-in-calories-and-cholesterol $8 granola and berries. Harry Sloane acknowledged that his morning order is "pretty boring"--grapefruit juice, homemade wheat toast and bran muffins.
At the Beverly Hills, Bernie Brillstein, head of Lorimar Film Entertainment, eschews the famed caviar and sour cream omelete or Belgian waffles for a simple meal of hot water with lemon and oatmeal with bananas.
Though Brillstein dines at both hotels, he prefers the Polo Lounge because of its legendary status. "When I was a kid growing up in New York, I always used to hear about the Beverly Hills Hotel," he said, "and I love the fact that I know everyone there now."
In fact, Brillstein is a real trend-setter, Philbin said. While the loggia at the Polo Lounge is still the place to see and be seen, not to mention where Marvin Davis holds court, "ever since Mr. Brillstein moved out to the lounge, it's become more popular," the breakfast maitre d' said.
The hotel has the breakfast of choice for many bicoastals, like Motion Picture Assn. of America's Jack Valenti, Mobil's Herb Schmertz, Architectural Digest's Paige Rense and Broadway theater owners James Nederlander and Gerald Schoenfeld, or just plain locals like licensing mogul Bob Michaelson, attorney Ken Ziffren and David Milch, co-executive producer of "Hill Street Blues," and top HBO executives.
The Polo Lounge also is a "must" for the music crowd, including Motown A&R President Russ Regan, CBS Records Group head Walter Yetnikoff and record producer Milton Okun. Veteran music publisher Michael Stewart, who lives across from the street from the hotel, gets some special teasing. "I always ask whether he walked or drove over," Philbin said.
The Soft and the Loud