Business Traveller experiences a hard-hat tour of the Dorchester Collection’s property ahead of its opening on October 14
With just weeks to go until the unveiling of this iconic LA hotel, it’s immediately clear that everyone on-site is hard at work – from the laying of turf, planting of ficus trees and setting of brick pathways to the installation of furniture in the bedrooms, the filling of swimming pools with water and stocking of bars – but will it all be done in time?
A spokeswoman for the Bel-Air is adamant that it will be, saying: “There won’t be a soft opening so it will be trial by fire. You’d be surprised how quickly things come together though. We are working around the clock to get it all done.” She adds that there will be a number of opening parties with celebrity neighbours being among those invited, and bookings for stays are already being accepted.
The hotel, which is owned by the Sultan of Brunei and is located on Stone Canyon Road, originally opened in 1946 but closed for a complete redesign in September 2009. Although it could not be disclosed how much has been invested in the project, it is obvious that it must have been many millions of dollars, and the overall look is both luxurious and tasteful.
The 103 bedooms, which include a 650 sqm presidential suite starting from US$15,000 a night, occupy a number of low-rise terracotta-roofed villas spread across five hectares of land, dotted with palm trees. Of the 15 new rooms that have been added, 12 have been built into the hillside and offer sweeping views of the valley – suite 269 is particularly impressive as it has a wider outdoor terrace than most and a broad vista.
The other three rooms are in the new spa wing, which is complete with a modestly sized 24-hour fitness centre fitted out with Technogym equipment, a salon, and a 384 sqm wellness area (open 9am-7pm) with seven treatment rooms, La Prairie products and slick modern interiors with plenty of white contrasted with elements of olive green, black and Japanese-style floral details.
Standard bedrooms with no fireplace or patio will start from US$595 – so what will you get for your money? From a Spanish Colonial property previously decked out in chintzy traditional furnishings to a minimalist contemporary look by interior designer Alexandra Champalimaud, rooms incorporate limestone, marble, pale wood and high-quality upholstery (such as 310-thread-count Fili D’Oro Egyptian cotton linens), and offer from 42 sqm of space.
Even the lowest category rooms have state-of-the-art technology so you can expect Bang and Olufsen high-definition flatscreen televisions, iPads that can be used to order room service and control the lighting and air conditioning, Neorest bidet toilets, Alcatel-Lucent touchscreen phones, media hubs with USB ports that connect gadgets to the TV, and integrated televisions in the bathrooms. Wifi and wired internet access with likely be charged at US$10 for 24 hours, and a Mercedes S-400 Hybrid will be on call for transfers within an 8km radius of the hotel, free of charge.
Bathrooms all have power-showers and rainshowers, and Swiss La Prairie toiletries – I am told only a four other hotels worldwide feature these products in guestrooms. The décor can vary slightly between room categories (of which there are more than 20) but is generally light with stylish grey-green satin curtains, black and white rugs, bedside tables and lamps, and cappuccino or grey and cream marble. Other in-room facilities include safes, workdesks, minibars, and fluffy towels and robes.
The property has seen a new lick of its trademark “Bel-Air” pink paint, but I am told that it subtly differs to the hue chosen for the nearby Beverly Hills hotel, which is also known as “the Pink Palace”. (The sister hotel is also part of the Dorchester Collection.) The Polish Mute swans – Athena, Hercules and Choe, which are considered symbols of the Bel-Air, are also still in residence, although the “lake” they call home is more of a pond.
So what kinds of people is the revamped Bel-Air hoping to attract? A spokeswoman says: “We are aiming for a new generation of guests – as you can see it’s much more modern so will appeal to a younger audience. But in LA there is no other hotel like the Bel-Air, where you can get away from it all. We are expecting a good percentage of business travellers, CEOs and corporate retreats but also those looking for exclusivity and privacy, unlike the Beverly Hills, where it is all about being seen.”
In terms of business facilities, there is one dedicated meeting space (the Palm room for up to 14 delegates in a boardroom layout), as well as the Palm room patio for 15 people cocktail-style, the 300-capacity Garden ballroom, the Garden reception and foyer for 60 people standing in each, and the front lawn, which is surrounded by sycamore trees and can host up to 300 guests for drinks. For relaxation, guests will be able to avail of the oval-shaped pool, which is open 6am-9pm, will have underwater music piped in and about 50 loungers placed around it for sunbathing.
On arrival to the hotel, guests will be welcomed into a calm lobby lounge with a reception area, colonial arched windows and a central glass-walled cube-shaped gas fireplace. The space will seat about 30 people and drinks will be on offer for those who want them. Opposite, will be the open-plan restaurant, which has seating for about 200 people both inside and out, under-floor heating for chilly evenings, and will be overseen by Austrian-American chef Wolfgang Puck (He recently opened his first European eatery, a branch of is famous steakhouse Cut, at 45 Park Lane on September 1.) The cuisine will be Californian Mediterranean and will also be available as room service.
A nearby bar with sit-up stools, a leather-topped counter, antique mirrors, dark, masculine décor and a black grand piano, was still seeing the finishing touches put to it when I visited, but promises to be a desirable pace to sink a nightcap. Note, though, that although the bar and restaurant will be open to guests from October 14, they will not be open to the public until November 1 at the earliest.
There are eight other properties in the Dorchester Collection including a second in LA – the Beverly Hills hotel, which will be competing with the Bel-Air – as well as 45 Park Lane and the Dorchester in London, Coworth Park in Ascot, Hôtel Plaza Athénée and Le Meurice in Paris, Le Richemond in Geneva and Hotel Principe di Savoia in Milan.
Report by Jenny Southan