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The Plushest Toys of All

Ty Warner buys up Montecito; can Beanie Babies as barter be far behind?

September 17, 2000|ED LEIBOWITZ

It was with intense delight that we learned that Ty Warner, CEO of Ty Inc. and founder of the Beanie Baby empire, had purchased Montecito's Four Seasons Biltmore Hotel this May, reportedly for more than $100 million. (He had already bought Manhattan's Four Seasons last year for $275 million.) Warner's accepted offer for another venerable local hostelry, the San Ysidro Ranch--where JFK and Jackie honeymooned--is still in escrow.

Despite his well-guarded privacy, Warner won't be playing the absentee landlord. This summer, the entrepreneur was dragged into some controversy when a disgruntled real estate agent obliquely accused him of partially demolishing his "potentially historic" Montecito estate. But his plum hotel acquisitions have tripped no such alarms--yet. "No one's really talked to Ty," says Susan Goggin, PR rep for the San Ysidro Ranch. "We haven't heard anything yet." Jim Buckley, editor and publisher of the Montecito Journal, poses the rhetorical question: "Who cares who owns the Biltmore? My guess is that he'll want to preserve it."

We are hoping for one felicitous change. Now that the Biltmore is Ty's realm, surely it's only a matter of time before the luxury hotel will begin accepting our retired Beanie Baby collectibles as good as cash or credit cards. Relying on Randy's Beanie Baby Price Guide, one of the more comprehensive and conservative on the Internet, our next Biltmore vacation begins to take happy shape.

Accommodations: On our last stay, we could only spring for a $435 superior room, but now that we're flush with Beanies, we splurge. I was going to book the peerless $2,100 Odell cottage, but that would mean giving up Nana the Monkey--she with adorable tan tail and black-and-white tush tag--valued between $2,000 and $2,300. Too painful an extravagance, too sorrowful a parting. So we settle on the $1,500 San Miguel Suite. To reserve this room with the purebred rancho dignity it deserves, I notify the desk clerk that I'll be using not Amex but Derby the Fine Mane Horse. Estimated at $1,400 to $1,600, this rare Beanie steed should foot the bill--and the ambience--just fine.

Dinner: In the hotel's exquisite La Marina, we begin with napoleon of smoked salmon and osetra caviar ($14.50), parsnip and shaved black winter truffle soup with creme fra'che froth ($8.25) and a $145 bottle of Burgundy. For entrees, steamed 1 1/2-pound Maine lobster with artichoke ravioli ($35) and seared ahi ($25.75). Requesting the check, I reach into my pocket and pull out a mint Punchers the Lobster, an exhibit of poor taste, perhaps, exchanging a stuffed Beanie crustacean for the real boiled (and already eaten) one. Even with generous tip, we owe only $275, and Punchers' worth has been assessed at as much as $2,100. We end up leaving Lucky the Ladybug, 21-dots version, at $285. Sure, it's a little generous, but then we're glad that lucky Lucky is going straight back to papa Ty.

Departure: Redeeming our $200,000 Beanie collection from the hotel safe, I entrust the precious cargo to the bellhop, who nestles it gently in the hatchback. Not until I return home do I discover the error that has ruined my vacation. Curse the Santa Barbara sun that plays such tricks on your eyes! I thought I tipped the good bellman Happy the Lavender Hippo, or $20, when I'd really handed over Happy the Grey Hippo, a $700 rarity. With catastrophic financial blunders like these, we'll never be able to take the Biltmore off Ty Warner's hands.

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