Hotel Wars: Where the Oscars Nominees Sleep, Drink and Celebrate

2012-07 STY Beverly Hills Hotel H

The swimming pool at the Beverly Hills Hotel, whose main building was constructed in 1912. "I like the bungalows," says fan McG, "and you think about the people who have walked around in there before I was alive, and it's an extraordinary history."

It's a pampering arms race as the poshest L.A. inns compete to host as many nominees as possible.

This story originally appeared in the Feb. 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter.

At L.A.'s top hotels, Academy Awards weekend is easily the most frenetic 48 hours of the year. Even for properties that are used to the most famous names in the biz, pampering reaches its zenith, logistics resemble military maneuvers and room rates can rise by 50 percent (though almost none are now available). Around town, extra seamstresses are hired, facialists work double shifts and pastry chefs dream up desserts to congratulate Oscar-winning guests upon their return (the Peninsula Beverly Hills has an employee texting the kitchen with show updates).

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Flower arrangements and goodie bags deluge front desks -- so much so that at the Four Seasons Beverly Hills, an entire room is set aside to hold them until they can be delivered. Ceremony tickets, meanwhile, are put under lock and key after they are dropped off. "Even the Vanity Fair [afterparty] tickets we put in the safe; we don't take any chances," says Peninsula managing director Offer Nissenbaum. While every hotel has loyal customers, by most accounts the one that nets the greatest number of nominees is the Four Seasons, thanks in large part to longtime director of entertainment sales Carol Watkins, who has built the city's most robust junket business. Rooms are so in demand Oscar weekend that the hotel doesn't take reservations for most until noms are announced -- at which point it books based on a wait list. With just days to go, the race is on to give guests all they expect -- and beyond.

One of the masters of such service is Sunset Tower's famed Tower Bar maitre d', Dimitri Dimitrov, who counts New York-based Moneyball producer nominee Rachael Horovitz as a devoted fan. "I'm bringing my whole family for Oscar weekend," she says, "and he has promised to watch the awards with my children! I already know they won't want to come home."

Beverly Hills Hotel

The pink hotel with the red-carpet entrance celebrates its 100th birthday this year. In 2011, Harvey Weinstein and crew celebrated here the day after their Oscar win for The King's Speech, and in 1970, Richard Burton consoled himself with Elizabeth Taylor and friends after losing to John Wayne for best actor. ("You son of a bitch. You should have this, not me," a drunk Duke said apologetically when he swung by the couple's bungalow later that night.) On Feb. 25, the Motion Picture & Television Fund's Night Before the Oscars fund-raiser takes place here.

  • Indulgence: Two new $15,000-a-night presidential suites opened in the summer, each with a private pool.
  • Who Stays: HBO's Richard Plepler, McG. From $520

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Hotel Bel-Air

Opened in 1946, the property with the iconic swans recently emerged from a two-year, $100 million renovation that added a Wolfgang Puck restaurant, a La Prairie spa and 12 canyon-view suites with modernist interiors. Count on its tucked-in-the-hills location to continue to woo power players. Oprah Winfrey celebrated her 50th birthday here in 2004, and Bette Davis once said to a studio chauffeur who tried to drive her to a competing hotel: "Take me to the Bel-Air. That's my home, even if I have to sleep in the lobby. They'll find me a bed."

  • Indulgence: The tasting menu of three sirloin steaks served with braised wagyu cheeks ($185).
  • Who Stays: Hilary Swank, Russell Crowe. From $590

Sunset Tower

The Art Deco 1929 landmark hotel with a great Hollywood history -- once home to Elizabeth Taylor, Howard Hughes and Diana Ross -- is now the swank canteen to Jennifer Aniston, Ryan Murphy, Emma Stone and Brian Grazer at its Tower Bar restaurant. In 2010, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt broke bread here with David Fincher the night before the Academy Awards, and this is where Michael Fassbender hit the dance floor with Channing Tatum at the CAA post-Globes party in January that ran past 3 a.m. Vanity Fair holds its annual Oscar A-list post-telecast fest at the hotel. "Every aspect of the hotel feels warm and intimate," says NBC-Universal's Lauren Zalaznick.

  • Indulgence: An in-room 50-minute four-handed massage ($240) while staying in one of the two penthouse suites ($2,500), which come with wraparound terraces.
  • Who Stays: Andy Samberg, Tom Ford, Sean Penn. From $375

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Chateau Marmont

Artsy types of all ages call this boho temple home, including mascot Sofia Coppola, who set her film Somewhere here. Without a nod from owner Andre Balazs and his team, getting in for a drink -- which means getting past parka- and evening-gown-wearing doorwoman Anya Varda -- will be impossible. Awards-season partying is especially lively here: After the 2011 Golden Globes, the Mad Men cast had an impromptu pool party, forcing the staff to find 40 extra robes at 2?a.m.; the year before, Mary J. Blige sang her song from Precious in the lobby at a soiree hosted by Oprah Winfrey and director Lee Daniels.

  • Indulgence: The two-story Bungalow One ($2,200) overlooking the pool.
  • Who Stays: Wim Wenders, Naomi Watts. From $435

Four Seasons Beverly Hills

The 285-room duchess of Doheny is celebrating its 25th anniversary by emerging from a $35 million renovation that included the opening of the modern-Italian restaurant Culina and a sharp redo of Windows Lounge (where Jamie Foxx played piano the night before picking up his best actor Oscar for 2004's Ray). The Four Seasons hosts the annual BAFTA tea party, and for several years the Today show has broadcast post-Oscars from the property beginning at 4 a.m. Monday. So far this season, the hotel has netted 23 Globes nominees and 43 SAG nominees.

  • Indulgence: The 90-minute, $305 regenerating facial with ultrasonic vibrations and microcurrent and LED therapies.
  • Who Stays: NBCUniversal execs, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy. From $455

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Beverly Wilshire

Built in 1928, the 258-room hotel, a Four Seasons since 1992, claims it has the largest concierge staff in Southern California (13), including one dedicated to keeping track of the hundreds of items delivered to the hotel Oscar weekend. On Feb. 24, Jeffrey Katzenberg hosts his annual Motion Picture & Television Fund benefit pre-dinner at the property's Cut steakhouse.

  • Indulgence: At the new Nail Bar, enjoy a coconut pearl deluxe pedicure ($120), which includes a coconut-milk foot soak, crushed-pearl exfoliation and polish.
  • Who Stays: Octavia Spencer, Steve Bing (a rumored longtime resident of one of the suites). From $475

Peninsula Beverly Hills

To alleviate limousine gridlock during Oscar weekend, the hotel pays for permits from the city of Beverly Hills allowing it to post no-parking signs on four surrounding side streets. The extra curb space lets limos line up and be ushered into the driveway one at a time. Just weeks ago, the Peninsula completed a $20 million refresh of its 193 guest?rooms, villas and suites. One special touch: Repeat guests get their own monogrammed sheets. In the living room, look for live music from former Hotel Bel-Air piano player Antonio Castillo de la Gala (who has had impromptu duets with the likes of Billy Joel); he decamped here when the Bel-Air recently was closed for two years of renovations.

  • Indulgence: The hotel will deliver room service course by course.
  • Who Stays: Kate Winslet, Glenn Close, Cate Blanchett, Michael Caine. From $625

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Sunset Marquis

The five-acre property, which underwent a $30 million renovation and expansion in 2010 (adding 40 new villas), is a mecca for music industry players. During Grammy weekend, 32 nominees checked in at the hotel, whose garage can fit two tour buses. It's also a draw for European directors (Danny Boyle, Pedro Almodovar), and Michael Fassbender rented out one of its villas for four nights during his Golden Globes visit. Those staying in the Presidential Villa ($5,000) can avoid the lobby via a dedicated staircase to the underground lot.

  • Indulgence: Booking time in the hotel's world-class Nightbird recording studio, where Drake recorded his latest album and Ocean's Eleven was sound-edited.
  • Who Stays: The Artist director Michel Hazanavicius, George Clooney, Usher. From $330

Montage Beverly Hills

There are only three Montage Hotels (the others are in Laguna Beach and Deer Valley), and they are privately owned and maintained like polished gems. While the 201-room Beverly Hills location, modeled after the area's Spanish Colonial Revival great estates, has hosted junkets recently for Underworld: Awakening and the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean, it's more likely to attract New York society and European royalty. Word is, when Oprah Winfrey stays in L.A., it's always here.

  • Indulgence: For an exclusive get-together with friends, spend $2,000 to $5,000 to rent out the private bar Ten Pound (located above Scarpetta restaurant), which pours some of Macallan's rarest whiskies.
  • Who Stays: Meryl Streep, Robert De Niro, Harvey Weinstein. From $500

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The pixar team stays at the four Seasons Beverly Hills so regularly that in 2011 the bartender at the hotel's Windows Lounge whipped up a special Spanish Buzz jalapeno margarita for the group in celebration of Toy Story 3. To celebrate this year's Academy Awards, check out these fresh ideas for cocktails, including a vodka, mint and lemon concoction from the Beverly Hills Hotel named in honor of The Artist.

  • Sferra Truffle Cocktail: Four Seasons Beverly Hills: Belvedere vodka, lemon, truffle-infused acacia honey, $18.
  • Pomegranate Mojito: Peninsula Beverly Hills: Bacardi rum, mint, pomegranate and citrus juice, $16.
  • Forbidden Kiss: Hotel Bel-Air: Tanqueray "10" gin, fresh raspberries, rose elixir, lemon juice and grenadine syrup, $16.
  • The Artist – Silence is Golden: Beverly Hills Hotel: Karlsson's Gold vodka, lemon juice, mint syrup and club soda, $17.
  • Marquis Berry Blush: Sunset Marquis: Bushmills Black Bush whiskey, mixed berries and lime juice, $16.