What would Beverly Hills be without a fabulous French hotel?
At the reception desk I'm told, "The computers have been down since Friday, so we're going to do this the old-fashioned way." The woman speaking has a welcoming smile as she presents paper and pen. "It won't take long." And indeed, when one is greeted with such natural honesty who cares about computers?
Later, Director of Operations Kurt Wiksten says, "At least you'll get an honest, truthful response from us. We're not perfect, but we'll do what we can to make your stay comfortable."
Le Meridien at Beverly Hills, where, according to the literature, "European luxury meets L.A. style" has 197 oversized guestrooms, including 54 suites, all designed for a wide variety of personal and business needs.
Other amenities found in all rooms include tea and coffee making items, hairdryer, iron and ironing board, minibar, satellite television, and international direct dial telephone. You can have a free nightly shoe shine and in the morning the LA Times is outside your door. There are rooms with handicapped capabilities and telephone for use by the deaf. Voicemail you check easily yourself is standard on your telephone.
Oui, this is a class hotel, but without any pretense or arrogance. Oui, the décor is first-class, the amenities abundant, the food exquisite and the ambiance relaxing, but it's the people who make Le Meridien Beverly Hills such a special hotel.
The concierge desk is rarely idle. Here guests can take advantage of a variety of services. From 7 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., besides driving instructions and car rental, the concierge on duty often arranges limo service, gift baskets and flowers, airline and show tickets. Concierge Michelle, originally from London, points to an award on the wall and says in her lilting accent, "This is an international award that we're very proud of."
The plaque reads "Resort & Great Hotels Connoisseur's Choice 2002 AWARD to Le Meridien at Beverly Hills."
What was her most unusual request? Michelle pauses, then relates an event that happened during a video conference at the LA Convention Center. "A man in the Presidential Suite wanted an Xman 2000 game installed in his room." When she found a company to complete it in three hours, he rented it.
I ask about the vases and art work displayed. "The majority of art is French," says Michelle. "Most of the antiques were shipped over from France."
The hallway that leads to Le Meridien's restaurant is another story. Large black and white photos of the Cannes Film Festival, taken between 1970 and 2000 line the walls.
This exhibit alone is worth a visit to Le Meridien at Beverly Hills. Entitled "Le Festival," it's a photographic retrospective "celebrating the glory days of cinema in Cannes, Sister City of Beverly Hills." Cannes, of course, is the Côte d'azur hotspot home of the film festival of the same name. All of the photos are by Traverso, actually four generations of family members who have spent their lives capturing life in Cannes with an unbiased, candid style that has become the family trademark.
The restaurant is also called Le Festival! and I can see why as I wander through this bright, airy dining spot perusing more black and white eight-by-tens displayed on walls and posts.
Le Festival!'s hostess is Marta, who as I am seated offers a black napkin "to avoid the white lint on the clothes." Marta has sparkling dark eyes and a beautiful Spanish smile. She has been with the hotel for six years, first introduced to the hospitality industry by Nikko. "It's a pleasure to come to work every day," she says. "We have guests from so many different nationalities. I enjoy working with the public."
Regular breakfast menu items include hearty griddle buttermilk pancakes, crispy Belgian waffles, a cinnamon-dipped raisin brioche French toast, eggs Benedict, Florentine or Ranchero, omelettes, cured ham and smoked salmon.
For lunch Le Festival! serves international cuisine with Mediterranean entrées and daily chef specials. A private dining room for groups up to sixteen may also be reserved.
Le Festival! is like a modern garden setting, with slate floors, upholstered purple chairs, white cotton café curtains, and a bank of windows facing tree-lined La Cienega. Background music is easy listening and vocal ballads. And when you see employees smiling when no one's looking, it can't help but add an extra warmth to your dining experience.
Wiksten says, "We're a family. You're coming to an environment. If we surround ourselves with great associates, the bottom line is the guests will have a better experience."
Of the twelve people voted employee of the month this past year, all averaged eight years of employment with the hotel. Wiksten says not one has been here less than five years. And all were nominated by fellow "associates."
Wiksten notes that the biggest challenge in the hospitality industry today is keeping good people.
"We're not reinventing the wheel," he says. "People want to be acknowledged for a job well done."
Besides movie studios, other places Le Meridien at Beverly Hills calls neighbors are Beverly Center and The Grove, the new shopping and dining complex built around the Farmers Market. Morton's of Chicago is next door and P.F. Chang's is within walking distance, just up the street.
A health club and exercise facility is complimentary to hotel guests, with registered key access. Inside are free weights, isometric and universal equipment, StairMaster, treadmills, and sauna.
After chatting with Michelle, Marta, and Kurt Wiksten, I feel you can ask anything of the staff at Le Meridien and they will go out of their way to make sure your stay is memorable, your children are treated with respect, and that your business goes smoothly.
For me, the pièce de resistance is the late check out time1 p.m., so civilized for one who didn't want to leave this garden of friendliness. I felt like even the valet who brought round my rental car was sad to see me go.
If you don't feel like a star when you arrive, you sure will when you leave.
Feature and photographs by Carolyn Proctor, Las Vegas Jetsetters Magazine Correspondent. (Editor's note: Le Meridien's corporate offices are in London, England. There are over 130 Le Meridien hotels and resorts worldwide, The company also enjoys a strategic alliance with Japan Airline-owned Nikko Hotels, providing loyal guests access to an additional 44 properties around the world.)