The hotel, a grande dame of Hollywood glamour, beckoned to us from its perch near Sunset Boulevard. As our car pulled into the long driveway, the area was eerily deserted. The dozen or so attendants usually on guard to turn away undesirables were nowhere to be seen. The couches sat empty where celebrities routinely lounged while waiting for their cars. My husband and I looked at each other in silent confusion.
The COVID-19 pandemic had ruined long-standing plans for a 50th birthday celebration in Paris. Despite our newly vaccinated status, France was battling a virus surge and remained closed to Americans. Undaunted and filled with new antibodies, we considered our options carefully. An idea both absurd and fabulous bubbled to the surface–spend a night at one of the most privileged and expensive hotels in Hollywood, California. We had splurged on lunches and dinners at the hotel several times over the years. It is one of my favorite places to pretend that eating truffled french fries next to a major celebrity is a normal part of my day.
In reviewing the room choices, a standard room popped up for $500 per night. However, I’d been sequestered against the virus for over a year. The idea of a narrow hotel corridor gave me the creeps. In the strange math of the newly vaccinated, I now was willing to stay at a hotel; eat at a restaurant; ride in elevators; and generally rejoin society. BUT, I wanted my hotel room door to open onto the outdoors. Result: I paid $930 for one night in a “courtyard cottage.” (My dad once asked me if I was the Queen of England, because I paid extra for a water heater in my home that allowed me to use the dishwasher and take a shower simultaneously. I was not raised for this kind of hotel extravagance.)
Sitting in the car on the deserted hotel driveway, my husband, who had been promised pampering, asked indignantly, “Am I supposed to park this car myself?” I cautiously entered the empty hotel, and then took the antique elevators up to the second floor to the darkened reception area. There was no one to greet me. An old-fashioned bell stood there. As in any good horror movie, I rang it warily. After a prolonged silence, a disappointingly normal woman appeared. She confirmed that we could park any old place, and that “James” would show us to the cottage.
I found my husband back at the entrance, where he had finally given up and parked the car. James appeared. He was sweet but seemed uncertain about his role. After an awkward moment, I offered to carry the luggage myself. Having settled this issue, I followed James through the historic property. When I wasn’t struggling with my baggage on the stairs, I was in awe at the privileged look behind the walls of this famous hotel.
Narrow paths meandered through lush vegetation to reveal 1920s-era cottages. It felt like stepping back in time, and it was glorious. Our cottage was atmospherically creaky, with vintage floors, windows, and kitchen appliances. I walked appreciatively through the rooms until I reached the bathroom, which housekeeping appeared to have missed. Dirty towels were piled in the tub and on the floor, and the soap was used. Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the entire scene was that the soap brand was “Dial.”
Someone reading this post in the future will wonder why I didn’t call the front desk angrily demanding some type of compensation for this oversight in my $930-per-night room. I was so happy to be out of my house that I couldn’t even pretend to be upset. Also, I had no confidence that anyone would answer the phone at the front desk. Not having had a cleaning service in my home for over a year due to the pandemic, I felt I was up to this task. I stashed the towels in a corner, threw away the soap, and then washed my hands for a full twenty seconds with a fresh bar of Dial.
The hotel bar was closed, but James had mentioned that we could order cocktails at the pool. We thought an afternoon at the pool sounded spectacular. Once again, there wasn’t a soul around. There were, however, the remains of drinks and food at several poolside tables and a pair of underwear flung into the bushes. Like any good tourist in a new habitat, I took a picture of the underwear and dirty dishes.
Eventually, and I mean after a really long wait, the server appeared. Surprise! It was our old friend James, the porter. “Well, this is a real treat,” I said. “It is nice to see you again.” I ordered a bellini and my husband ordered a glass of champagne. James seemed flustered by the bellini request, which is champagne and peach juice. He timidly asked if he could just make me a mimosa. After a year of quarantine making my own drinks, I really didn’t care if he brought me some wine in a box with a straw. I said that a mimosa would be delightful. When the drinks arrived, I asked my husband how the champagne tasted. He said that as long as he thought of it as “hard cider,” it tasted great. We settled into the plush pool couches and enjoyed the silent, solitary afternoon.
We got to know James well during our stay, as he was the only hotel staff in evidence. We saw him around the property, he took our drink orders, and served us breakfast at the pool. James told us that, until recently, he had been the gardener. We were fond of James by this point, and we were thrilled to hear of his promotion.
In reviewing the situation at the hotel, we had a few options. We could pretend that: 1) We were survivors in a post-apocalyptic movie and had become the neighborhood warlords inhabiting a mansion; 2) The rapture had happened, whereby all the good people were zapped to heaven and we were left here alone on earth (with James) to contemplate our many sins; or 3) We had rented out the entire hotel for a private party and James was the personal butler assigned to us.
The post-apocalyptic option seemed a little too close to reality. The rapture explanation was too religious-y, but would totally explain the abandoned dishes and underwear at the pool. In the end, we picked option three. In the future, this story will begin with, “Remember the time we rented out that famous Hollywood hotel for our 50th birthday?”
Many people can book a room at a fancy hotel. Only during a pandemic can one accidentally rent an entire hotel for their personal use. On balance, then, my $930 was quite the bargain–a never-before-never-again experience, complete with Dial soap.
For more pandemic adventures, please read:
Vaccine Family Reunion: Las Vegas