During my stay at the Beverly Hills Hotel I expected to see at least one A-list celebrity, some extreme plastic surgery and a sugar-daddy studio executive inappropriately paired with a young aspiring starlet. I wasn't disappointed.
I spotted Warren Beatty in the Polo Lounge restaurant within 24 hours, and had lunch opposite four women dressed in velour tracksuits who resembled Joan Rivers's less natural-looking sisters. Then there was the man who made Harvey Weinstein look like Brad Pitt, with an MTV blonde draped all over him. The Beverly Hills Hotel is pure theatre, and it's where Hollywood legends and, since it opened in 1912, power players from Charlie Chaplin to Elizabeth Taylor have stayed there.
Dubbed the Pink Palace, and located appropriately on Sunset Boulevard, the hotel looks a bit like a Disney princess's castle. It is set in 12 acres of lush tropical gardens filled with palms, hibiscus and bougainvillea, and the centrepiece is a large swimming pool complete with music piped under the water. At one end is a Jacuzzi, while the sides are lined with sun-loungers, potted lemon trees and private cabañas. Inside the main areas of the hotel, the décor is like a box of macaroons – sugary pale pink, green and apricot – with gold fittings, velvet chairs, potted palms, chandeliers and swagged curtains. Modern or minimalist this hotel is not.
If the Chateau Marmont has a reputation for wild nights and excess, as seen in the recent Sofia Coppola film Somewhere, the Beverly Hills Hotel has a more grand, genteel atmosphere; it's pure Hollywood establishment. Anyone nostalgic for an era when leading men had dimples in their chin and women actually swooned will love the kind of retro glamour where people dress for dinner; during my stay, one woman turned up in a black sequinned ballgown with a train.
The regulars love it so much that they are fiercely opposed to change. When the restaurant tried to stop chopping the ingredients in the famous McCarthy salad by hand to save time, and changed the bowls it was served in, there were outcries. Named after entertainment lawyer Neil McCarthy, this salad is a legend in its own lunchtime, and contains a chopped mix of chicken, lettuce, tomato, bacon, egg, beetroot and cheese. The Polo Lounge has indoor seating with velvet chairs and an outside patio, and is a popular spot for power breakfasts and lunches. One of the hotel's staff told me that some hotshots conduct two lunch meetings simultaneously, flitting between the two by pretending to take calls on their BlackBerrys.
It would be a shame to have to focus on business here, rather than the pleasure of eating, because the upmarket American food is excellent: crab cakes, lobster salads, lots of steak. One night I had prime New York steak with corn and bacon bread pudding ($49/£33), and the best soufflé I've ever had ($19/£13) – probably not the kind of food to eat before squeezing into an Oscars gown, but delicious, nonetheless.
Other places to eat and drink include the Fountain Coffee Room, where you sit on restored bar stools around a classic curved soda fountain counter, and have an egg-white omelette or a stack of pancakes, the Cabana Café by the pool and Bar Nineteen12, which is full of the jeunesse dorée of Beverly Hills.
If you like gawping at multimillion-dollar homes and guessing the identity of their inhabitants, then the location is perfect. It's a short walk from the luxury shopping strip Rodeo Drive and the world's most well-known zip code: 90210. Not that anyone seems to walk in LA; apart from gardeners and staff tending to the properties, the streets are almost empty. Fittingly, the hotel has a complimentary courtesy car service within Beverly Hills. It's 20 minutes' drive from Los Angeles International airport, but allow more time to get anywhere here because the traffic is often terrible.
There are 204 rooms and suites, including 21 bungalows that have separate entrances, living and dining rooms and features such as pianos or Jacuzzis. Later this month, two ultra-luxurious "presidential bungalows" will be unveiled. No 23 features an outdoor circular fireplace and No 24 an outdoor garden shower, while both have "butler's pantries" in the kitchens. These will cost upwards of $10,370 (£6,912) a night, room only.
I stayed in a slightly more modest deluxe guestroom which, with its balcony, opulent bathroom, wooden writing desk, armchair and sofa, and soft tones of pale yellow and peach throughout evoked the 1940s via the 1980s; the design is plush and cosy rather than innovative. One let-down was the cost of the Wi-Fi: $10 (£6.70) a day, which although not uncommon in the States, still stings. However, a highlight was returning from cocktails on Sunset Boulevard to find a chocolate sculpture resembling something by Joan Miró waiting in my room. The service is brilliant.
The Beverly Hills Hotel, 9641 Sunset Boulevard, Beverly Hills, California (001 310 276 2251; beverlyhillshotel.com)
Double rooms start at $628 (£419), room only.