Respecting the Classics

Beverly Hills
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Raffles Singapore was built over 125 years ago on acres of lush foliage.
Raffles Singapore was built over 125 years ago on acres of lush foliage.

Who isn’t attracted to the word “new?” Images dance before you of the shiniest, the freshest, the hottest, and, on a rare chance, the best.

It is always the job for sellers of travel to know the newest, particularly as existing brands continue to expand rapidly and individually operated hotels pop up at an astonishing rate. In this whirlwind of activity accompanied by aggressive marketing it is easy to be seduced by the newest and latest, forgetting to remember those that already exist and why some of the most venerable older hotels still enjoy world recognition.

If a city is fortunate enough to boast the presence of a “Grande Dame,” it still may be the perfect choice for travelers who love to absorb the character, culture and history of a destination.

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These are places in the world where hotels were constructed to reflect a time or period but have continued to endure and thrive because of its architectural relevance or the role it has played in the history of the destination. Along with this, there has been caring devotion to protecting its character while also maintaining the property to meet the tastes and demands of today’s discriminating travelers. These hotels are national treasures.

I recently had the pleasure of staying once again at Raffles while visiting Singapore, one of those cities that never seem to tire of attracting newer and bigger hotels, including every known five-star brand. It is like a party where everyone is invited and shockingly, they all come attired in their finest. The only problem is they all seem to be dressed the same, further highlighting the refreshing individuality of the iconic Raffles. Built over 125 years ago on acres of lush foliage, this formidable beauty sits majestically and calmly in the heart of Singapore, unfazed by the bustling activity of one of Asia’s busiest centers.

Walking into the white-columned lobby facing the double wide carved teak staircase topped by a gorgeous domed glass ceiling and surrounded by wing chairs, potted palms and starchly uniformed attendants, you step back into another time, half expecting W. Somerset Maugham to walk out of the Tiffin Room. The outside world fades away as you’re escorted to one of the 103 spacious suites (only suites here — please) by your butler. Here, a set of rooms await you with high ceilings, private verandas and spacious living rooms with vintage decor. The very large bathrooms have everything you’d find in a modern one, except that they are decorated with beautiful marbles and original brass fixtures that must take housekeeping forever to polish. In a city that today builds in only one direction — up, it is a pleasant surprise to see that this landmark with acres of land and few floors has been preserved to celebrate the era of Colonial Singapore. It was a time when the elegance of Europe and the mystery of the East met to make Singapore a place of glamour, riches and intrigue. Be a guest to still feel that energy as you wine and dine in its multiple venues. Here’s a chance to have a “Singapore Sling” where it originated in the Long Bar.

Hotel Bel Air has retained its old-moneyed Hollywood style.
Hotel Bel Air has retained its old-moneyed Hollywood style.

For sure, there are other hotels around the world that have that same magic. When I walk up the broad red-carpeted steps into the Beverly Hills Hotel for just a moment, I start to believe I am a movie star about to meet the likes of Louis B. Mayer in the Polo Lounge. Stunningly maintained and true to its roots, the Beverly Hills Hotel got its name even before the town became known as Beverly Hills. It has survived stiff competition from other great hotels in the Los Angeles area because none have the atmosphere and glamour of this original Pink Palace. The dramatic setting of the Beverly Hills is one of its most striking assets. Even after refurbishment, many of its classic features were preserved, including the familiar banana leaves adorning the hallway walls. The totally redesigned bungalows remain hidden in a jungle; something that could only be imagined in Beverly Hills. The ’50s soda fountain looks exactly the same and the Polo Lounge still has the McCarthy Salad on menu. Too bad Elizabeth Taylor is no longer around. No doubt she would have been ready to have another honeymoon on property, having celebrated eight others there, or was it nine?

Much can also be said about the Beverly Hills Hotel’s sister property, Hotel Bel-Air, minutes away and hidden in another Garden of Eden on a residential street in Bel Air. No, you cannot gain entrance to the gated homes in this storied town, but a warm welcome awaits you as you alight from your vehicle into the enchanting environs of this historical hotel, which has completely been brought into the 21st century without losing the style and taste of old-moneyed Hollywood. These two hotels have walls that must have made a pact to never reveal what goes on behind them. Every room has a story.

Some of the most famous photos of Marilyn Monroe were shot by Bert Stern in Room No. 177 five weeks before she passed away. It was one of her three momentary permanent addresses on the property. Well known for being consistently tardy, it is rumored that the hotel supplied three iced bottles of Dom Perignon to attract her to come early. I have heard many tales about the idyllic Swan Suite from famous honeymoons to less-than-hidden affairs. Even Richard Nixon holed up here for a while to do some writing.

The story that tickles me most is to learn that Robert Wagner (the actor), as a teenager, helped around the unique pool famous for its circular shape, which was constructed where the original riding rink was situated. He was there because he had the pleasure of staying with his mother who resided in the Swan Suite for 10 years. That is what I call one terrific Mama.

These hotels I have singled out have one thing in common. They are not just a residence; they aptly capture the destination to enhance the experience of the visit. Their originality and history distinguish them from what has been referred to as a sea of sameness you can’t help finding in so many properties today. They are majestic but warmly inviting, world renowned but meticulously devoted to service, historically important but dedicated to maintaining a spirit of fun hospitality.

Where or when did I read the line ... “When at Raffles, be sure to visit Singapore!” 

Beverly Hills Hotel is a known hideaway for movie stars.
Beverly Hills Hotel is a known hideaway for movie stars.


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