A Dream of a Night in Beverly Hills


I never thought I would stay in a hotel 4.1 miles from my house--and consider it a vacation.

But then, I didn't know what arranging a getaway entails when you have a child under 2. It would take all the emotional preparation and strategic planning of a Normandy-style invasion.

First there was the decision to go. Martin and I knew it was time to get away for our fourth wedding anniversary when we found ourselves not only reciting by memory the names and personalities of characters in the children's show "Thomas the Tank Engine" but also discussing the trains after our son went to sleep.

We looked for someone to stay with 22-month-old Nicholas. On short notice, my brother-in-law, his wife and their two children agreed to uproot themselves to our house in L.A.

Picking a destination near home--in a sense, playing local tourists--satisfied our need to be close. (We could rush to the emergency room if he cracked his head open, I reasoned to my patient husband.) And by making the trip a quick overnighter, we also would put less strain on our relatives and our budget, allowing me to indulge in a fantasy: a weekend of hotel pampering, fine dining and shopping without a stroller in Beverly Hills.

We had heard about hotels in Beverly Hills that were new or newly renovated, and we decided to try Maison 140, a bed-and-breakfast opened in August by the same people who created the hip Avalon Hotel on Olympic Boulevard. Guests at Maison 140 get access to the pool, gym and all the other amenities at the larger Avalon, a couple of blocks away.

So one Saturday last month, we got ready for our overnight "vacation." After seeing the yellow Post-it Notes with instructions I left around the house, my sister-in-law teased that I ought to take the baby monitor to see if it would work four miles away.

But we eventually made it out of the house and to Maison 140, which is on a quiet street near Wilshire and Little Santa Monica boulevards, behind the Peninsula hotel. The location couldn't have been better for walking to swank stores such as Neiman Marcus and Barneys New York and for sightseeing on Wilshire Boulevard.

When we pulled up to Maison 140's white brick facade with red door, we could see immediately it was not designed for the minivan crowd; indeed, ours was the only one in the parking lot. Walking into the lobby, I blinked as I took in the black hardwood floors, black walls, black ceiling, zebra rug, and red and white accent pieces. No broken crayons with the paper torn off for me to pick up off the floor.

The building, constructed in the 1940s and once owned by silent film star Lillian Gish, reminded us of a B&B; we stayed at in London. Maison 140 claims to combine French and Far Eastern design elements (we wouldn't know), but our room reminded us of a mid-century-style house, with white globes for lamps and an oversized black wooden base to the bed.

Our room was small, but it had a spacious bathroom and nice touches like soft linens and a free CD of new singles that ranged from Dolly Parton to the Black Eyed Peas. We settled in, unpacked and got ready for dinner.

Because we're not the Beverly Hills restaurant crowd, I had polled friends about where to eat on our anniversary. Matsuhisa? The Belvedere at the Peninsula hotel? Crustacean? When one friend, a native of Beverly Hills, found out we'd never been to Spago, she was insistent: Go there.

So we dressed up for Spago and climbed into the minivan.

The only reservations I could get were 6 or 9 p.m.; we opted for 6. Our table was in the middle of the restaurant, bordering the brick courtyard with orchids and tiny white twinkling lights. We saw founder Wolfgang Puck making the rounds and a group of high-schoolers dressed for the prom. We laughed in amazement--a prom meal at Spago.

We didn't laugh much at the menu. The prices were certainly Beverly Hills. My appetizer of Maryland crab cake, about 3 inches wide, cost $22.

It was, however, delicious. The rest of the meal was just as good. I ordered the Alaskan halibut, and my husband had a Caesar salad and the organic chicken, which he immediately pronounced the best he'd ever tasted. For dessert: a chocolate gratin, which we shared. We enjoyed the evening, managing not only to talk about our son--and the child on the way--but to let our minds wander to other topics.

We're among those for whom such dining is an extravagance. But this was a special celebration, and despite the tab--about $75 per person (including a glass of wine for Martin), plus tax and tip--we considered it a fair price for an evening at one of L.A.'s most celebrated restaurants.

We moved on to the Martini Lounge at Nic's steakhouse, a place that specializes in drinks with names like "Windex" and "Ladies Who Lunch." The place was a nice change of pace for us. I skipped the drinks, of course, but we snacked and enjoyed the chance to unwind.

It was still before 9 p.m., so we walked to the Peninsula. The bar was packed, a fireplace warming the wood-paneled walls and a piano man playing Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind." We stayed long enough to absorb the ambience, then called it a night.

A good breakfast of pastries, cereal and coffee is included in the rate at Maison 140. (Our room was $185, plus $15 for parking and $28.50 in taxes and an energy fee.)

In the end, we decided to forgo shopping to relieve our relatives, who we figured had been up since about 6:30 a.m. with our son. We got home, and there he was, happily playing with his cousins.


Debora Vrana writes for the Business section of The Times.


Budget for Two

Maison 140, one night, $228.90

Dinner, Spago, $195.08

Drinks and snacks, Nic's Martini Lounge, $16.20

FINAL TAB $440.18

* Maison 140, 140 S. Lasky Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90212; telephone (310) 281-4000, fax (310) 281-4001, Internet http://www.maison140.com.

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