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Grown-up cool

The action's restrained but charmingly classy at three hotel bars in Beverly Hills.

November 28, 2002|Leslee Komaiko | Special to The Times

Beverly Hills night life: Although not quite an oxymoron, it isn't exactly a term we throw around every day. The sister city to Cannes is known for many things, but a vibrant late-night scene isn't one of them. Perhaps it's time to reconsider. After all, the city's swanky hotel bars got it going on.

Although few of us can afford to plunk down the big bucks required to overnight at one of these spots, an overpriced cocktail is within most of our budgets.

And it isn't like you don't get certain extras with that cocktail: gratis snacks that put pretzels to shame, nicely appointed women's rooms (without a wait), and a chance, perhaps, to bask in celebrity.

On a recent Friday night, the spacious Windows Lounge at the Four Seasons on Doheny was jamming, in a most refined Beverly Hills way. In the rear room, a trio of musicians backed a soulful lounge singer. Men in navy blazers or black leather worked the smartly dressed women at the bar. The bright, unmistakable sound of ice on metal -- another martini being made -- could be heard over the din. And there, in the front room, in a white T-shirt and white hat, was LL Cool J, eating salmon filet with a friend.

The two middle-aged men drinking tea nearby knew something was up when a giddy female patron went up to Mr. Cool J to comment on his abs. (She had seen him, and them, earlier in the day in a music video.)

"I like this," said Anne Reid, who, at 22, might have been the youngest person in the room. "You get dressed up and have a good-quality time. It's a classic goodness, but trendy at the same time."

Reid, who works in promotions at Paramount, also gave high marks to the sour apple martini. As for the price tag? "Honestly," she confided, "I don't have $14 to spend on drinks. My date has good taste in places to go. I could never come here on my own. But it makes a girl feel good."

Indeed, there's something almost cinematic about the scene here. Real, day-to-day life doesn't exist. Welcome to the charmed life. Not bad for $14.

The feeling is equally luxurious, if a bit more restrained, at the Regent Beverly Wilshire's handsome wood-paneled bar. (Women: If you own pearls, here's your chance to put them to good use. Although not required, they are definitely at home.) On most weekend nights, Tony Cobb, a theatrical singer and pianist and a fixture at the hotel, serves up everything from Frank Sinatra to Billy Joel. Small groups of friends gather around the cocktail tables to catch up. There are also two semiprivate alcoves, perfect for that discreet tete-a-tete. Each one features a fabulous-looking, silky gold, oversized tufted couch.

Unlike at the typical Sunset Strip bar, there is a wide age range. An older woman sitting quietly with her husband sips a blue creme de menthe cocktail. A few feet away, a young couple, perhaps hotel guests, settle in. Granted, most of us have no interest in partying with our parents. But it's a welcome change to go somewhere where not everyone is 25, or on the make.

While the Regent's bar has a regal, manly feel -- cognac seems more right here than a cosmo -- the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel, a.k.a. the Pink Palace, has a palpable feminine side. This, despite the mainly dark-green interior and the image of polo ponies behind the bar. There are pale, rose-colored lamps on each table and lots of greenery. The picture windows look out at the rear garden patio illuminated by twinkle lights.

Because the bar itself here is much smaller than, say, the one at the Four Seasons -- there are only seven stools -- there is less interaction between patrons. The booths are deep and outfitted with phones. Most people arrive in pairs or parties -- not that you couldn't come solo.

Hotel bars lend themselves to parties of one. They feel safe. And because each of these hotels attracts travelers from around the world, you gain a certain anonymity. You could be anyone.

Unless, of course, you're LL Cool J.


Bar hopping, Beverly Hills style

Polo Lounge, Beverly Hills Hotel: 9641 Sunset Blvd. (310) 276-2251. Daily 7 a.m. to 1:30 a.m.

Windows Lounge, the Four Seasons Beverly Hills: 300 S. Doheny Drive. (310) 273-2222. Mondays-Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 1:30 a.m.; Sundays, 11 a.m. to 12:30 a.m.

The Bar, Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel: 9500 Wilshire Blvd. (310) 275-5200. Sundays-Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.; Fridays-Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.

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