Secret Entrances, Monogrammed Pillows, Bowtie Service: Inside Oscar's Most Exclusive Hotel
At the Peninsula Beverly Hills, nominated VIPs never hear "no."
This story first appeared in the March 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
The out-of-town Oscar contingent -- far-flung talent, media titans, red-carpet designers -- converge on a handful of top luxury hotels during the days leading up to the ceremony. Among them is the tucked-away 22-year-old Peninsula Beverly Hills (9882 S. Santa Monica Blvd.), whose 194 rooms and 16 villas are packed with nominees and their entourages each year. Anne Hathaway recently has been spotted there, Tribeca Film Festival head Jane Rosenthal calls it her home away from New York City, and Simon Cowell is among the regulars.
What makes the Oscar cycle different from a standard sold-out weekend is the sheer VIP volume (last year alone saw 20 nominees staying there), necessitating staffing levels to increase by 20 percent to handle the surge of everything from personal monograms on bedding to last-minute couture alterations. "Our guests are demanding," says Peninsula managing director Offer Nissenbaum. "Of course, they should be. We're charging very good rates." (Rooms start at $685 a night; a three-bedroom villa costs $10,200.) Rosenthal claims the hotel boasts "the best service in the world. They have amazing linens and pillows. Plus, their chili is most excellent!"
That service is made possible because of extensive preparation. Staffers study film credits and photos to familiarize themselves with guests. Oscar week check-ins begin Wednesday and Thursday, followed by dress fittings Friday, lounging and preparties Saturday and all-day getting-ready Sunday. "Still, a lot of the excitement of the Oscars, for us, is the wild cards," says James Overbaugh, vp food and wine operations, noting that solving crises -- ranging from weather-delayed arrivals and wardrobe malfunctions to lost ceremony tickets (check the washroom counter, everybody) -- is the key professional challenge. Hard-to-get afterparty tickets, such as those for the Vanity Fair soiree, are put in the hotel safe upon delivery so they can be handed over personally.
Noncelebrity Oscar attendees, such as producers and executives (who typically arrive without hand-holding entourages), tend to rely on the hotel much more to take care of things. "You always have to remember that it's not old-hat for everyone," says chief concierge James Little. "There are many first-timers who are nervous and don't know what to expect. It's comforting for us to have their backs."
Then again, it can be just as comforting for the biggest names. Earlier this year, one long-standing A-list guest returned to the Peninsula from an awards show with a statuette in hand. The telecast was tape-delayed, and a crowd had gathered with staffers to watch it in the lobby bar. "He'd just won onscreen a little earlier," says Nissenbaum, "and he came in high-fiving, hanging out at the bar to enjoy the moment, having everyone hold the award. He wanted to share it with the hotel family. Only during awards season, right?"
The Peninsula is known for its personally monogrammed pillowcases for each guest (and even dog towels for those who bring canines), handled by a $10,000 computerized machine. “We store them for when they come back,” says housekeeping head Tess Moreno of the thousands kept alphabetically in the basement. (The hotel has a 70 percent guest-return rate.)
Nominees receive Oscar desserts from executive pastry chef Romain Lenoir. “Last year I made 20,” he says of the pieces, created with a blowtorch and an “edible printer” that makes fondant paper covered in food-grade ink; the 3D confections involve filmstrips, movie cameras and other props. As soon as someone wins an award, Lenoir creates a customized dessert, which greets the winner in-room at the end of the night.
Leticia Arce has run the room-service switchboard for nearly 22 years. Before the telecast, she sees requests for stomach-liners like Chinese chicken salad. During the celebratory wee hours, the indulgences come: caviar, Dom Perignon. (Staffing doubles overnight to handle the volume.) Newly popular are elaborate juice requests, often involving esoteric ingredients like organic burdock root. “Luxury is your own recipe that someone makes only for you,” says Overbaugh. “Like a certain amount of ice and preferred protein powder.”
Emergency Bow-Tie Operations
The concierge desk is kept on its toes with all manner of requests, but most are sartorial. “It almost always comes down to some kind of wardrobe thing: ‘I need doublesided tape,’ ‘I tripped over my hem,’ ‘I can’t tie my bow tie,’ ” says Little, who even has had to hand over his very own tie at the last minute to forgetful attendees for two Golden Globes, two Grammys and one Academy Awards. He says of the tie, “It’s only won twice.”
The Sunday Afternoon Limo Pile-Up
On Oscar afternoon, the motor court is overseen by Jimmy Bardolf, the 6-foot-5 director of transportation. He traffics upward of 75 limos (more Escalades and fewer stretches during recent years) into the entrance area from double-parked waits along adjacent residential streets. The hotel gets permits from Beverly Hills City Hall, allowing it to post no-parking signs on four side streets, though a couple of absolute-top VIPs are given the OK to let their drivers park and wait in the pair of house spaces immediately to the right of the lobby entrance. Admits Bardolf, “There’s kind of a pecking order.”
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