IN THE PINK AT BEVERLY HILLS HOTEL
Marilyn Monroe was once asked why she didn’t like to get tan. “I want to be blonde all over” was the reply. What (and who) becomes a legend most depends on entering into the mythic and going all the way. The Beverly Hills Hotel, that great pink dream floating above Sunset Boulevard, is another icon shimmering beyond the sum of its parts. Palm trees. Bungalows. California Suite . Like Mt. Rushmore, it is so hauntingly familiar, you can see it with eyes closed.
You might imagine that the fare there is room-service champagne and caviar (it’s Beluga Malossol, by the way) or a Cold Filet of Salmon Vincent at the Polo Lounge while you gab with New York on the phone, and of course you would be right. But how about a Bon Vivant sundae, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or an All Beef Frankfurter Maison? Drop off the Bentley with valet parking or park it yourself someplace nearby and sidle past the registration desk. Head towards the Polo Lounge and edge down the carpeted stairs. You’re at the Fountain Coffee Room.
Be prepared for an onrush of memories. The coffee shop is tiny and, like the aquarium scene in “The Graduate,” feels womblike and underground. The wallpaper is pure ‘50s delight, a mass of great green banana leaves. Waitresses are motherly and dressed in candy pink. The griddle man sports a high toque blanche . Customers wait for one of the 20 pink-padded, high white wrought-iron counter stools. It’s fun to people-watch in such close proximity. There are the Ray-Ban with Variety types, the fresh-faced family of four, guests at the hotel from the Midwest, the Billy Joel, Meryl Streep and Pia Zadora look-alikes and the elderly couple traveling with their maid. The nail-polish pink menu with avocado green type brought the past hurtling back to me. I remembered the years of going shopping for winter coats in Fifth Avenue department stores. My mother and I would always adjourn to one of the ladylike restaurants for lunch, so I felt compelled to have a grilled cheddar cheeseburger in honor of camel-hair coats past and suggested my friend take my mother’s part and try the chicken salad plate.
Hurrah for a coffee shop that has Golden Oldies and knows how to play them right. They serve the Ur chicken salad here: the big scoop of meaty white meat with the two rings of ripe tomato, the serious dill pickle hunks festooned with one colossal black olive, all lumped quasi-symmetrically onto the plate. Similarly, the cheeseburger is a generic class-A: thick and juicy on a cartoon-round bun. There is orange juice squeezed to order and the ‘50ish Fresh Orange Freeze too. It’s fresh orange juice and orange sherbet whipped into a thick, intense sweet slush. When we learned that one in-house bakery serves the entire hotel, we tried the strawberry cheesecake just because Signoret and Montand might have had it late at night in their bungalow. It was very creamy and too sweet. Wayne Thiebaud could have painted the piece.
Breakfast on another day was equally pleasing in this cozy nook. We dug into a hearty, spicy plate of corned beef hash with a fried egg and shared a piping-hot corn muffin before tackling a Fresh Fruits Bouquet. Served with banana bread the texture of compressed sand and a bowl of sweet raspberry yogurt, it was every nice and ordinary fresh fruit plate you’ve known, with orange slices and two kinds of berries, banana and cantaloupe slabs set on an iceberg lettuce throne.
The most radical appearing item on the menu was called Brioche French Toast Nouvelle. Nouvelle or not, and I’d say not , it was very, very good. Three thick, custardy slices of yeasty raisin studded toast were served with whipped maple butter and three of the most beautiful and enormous strawberries one could eat. This is old Beverly Hills. There’s no mineral water served; we drank glasses of club soda fizzed straight from the fountain tap.
A single menu offers salads, sandwiches, breakfast and grilled specialties until closing time. This is not a place for a terribly quick meal. (Weekend breakfast time is especially jammed.) Dishes are cooked to order and service tends to be slow.
This is the kind of place one goes to get away from it all, the sort of curiously comforting spot one frequents after 50 minutes on the couch. But one must eventually come back into life. After that enormous breakfast, my friend and I stumbled into the sun. And in this pink dream world, as if on some cosmic cue, Sting appeared, blonder-than-blond all over. (No, this was not a hallucination; yes, it is true.) I’m going back to the Fountain Coffee Room. Soon. Maybe they’ll be a Sting-look-alike downstairs.
The Fountain Coffee Room at The Beverly Hills Hotel, 9641 Sunset Blvd., Beverly Hills, (213) 276-2251. No reservations. Open 8 a.m.-6:30 p.m. seven days a week. American Express and Visa accepted. Valet parking available. Meal for two (food only): $10-$30.
The correct hours for Christopher’s in Pasadena are as follows: lunch: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday; dinner: 6-10 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday and 6-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Sunday brunch: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. The hours were incorrect in last Friday’s Calendar.