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September 1, 2015 · Posted in Commentary 

Polo Players- enhanced

Do we have a deal? (l to rt) Bob Vickrey, Barry Stein, Arnie Wishnick, Josh Greenfeld

By Bob Vickrey


As we approached the stately Beverly Hills Hotel on Sunset Boulevard, the perennial playground of the rich and famous, we wondered if the staff there was prepared to host the likes of the middle-class and not-so-famous.

Our motley crew of four might not be confused with the “Beverly Hillbillies,” but the boyish giddiness we had exhibited in recent road trip luncheons certainly might raise a few eyebrows in this traditionally button-down palace.

The storied Polo Lounge inside the lobby of the hotel, which has a long history of Hollywood deal-making and star-sightings, was the fourth stop in our newly-formed monthly dining group where our goal was to dine in many of the oldest and most famous restaurants in Los Angeles.

The idea had started when our friend Josh Greenfeld had expressed an interest in visiting Langer’s Deli in downtown LA. It had been years since any of us had enjoyed one of their famous pastrami sandwiches, so we piled into Barry Stein’s SUV, and proceeded to act like exuberant teenagers as we made our way through the Westside. We had so much fun that day, we decided to make it a monthly ritual and choose a different classic L.A. dining spot each trip.

In succeeding months, we hit Canter’s Deli on Fairfax Avenue, where we spent an inordinate amount of time at their renowned bakery counter, and Musso & Frank’s Grill in Hollywood, which had offered some particularly fond memories for me during my younger days in the book publishing business.

The dress code at the swanky Polo Lounge had a more relaxed policy than in previous decades, but I thought we might be testing the limits with our rather casual attire. Only Arnie Wishnick, the longtime Executive Director of the Palisades Chamber of Commerce, wore a sport coat. However, we all agreed that the always-stylish Arnie probably wore a sport coat when he mowed his lawn.

Josh had enjoyed a special history with the hotel. When he had first arrived in Los Angeles in the late 1960’s as a magazine writer, the Beverly Hills Hotel had been home for him and his family during their first two weeks in town. He reminded us, “Life Magazine picked up the whole tab for their entire stay.”

As we surveyed the impressive dining room, Josh immediately declared “It’s not the same.” Not only were there no rich and famous diners on the Polo Lounge patio, where Hollywood deals had been struck for decades, it appeared the place had morphed into a birthday party destination for teenagers. We spotted two large tables filled with giggling kids who were dining on $28 hamburgers. However, we decided that our group could easily match their adolescent behavior.

We could tell that our waitress, Ana, who was obviously a seasoned pro at her job, had sensed the celebratory spirit of our little party and entertained us with her well-practiced lines she had learned through the years. When Arnie asked her to take our picture, she replied, “Some people think I’m a waitress, but in fact, I’m really the hotel photographer.”

When we were handed menus, Arnie closed it immediately and said, “I already know what I want—the salmon burger.” He admitted he had done his homework and had studied the online menu days earlier. Josh decided to go with Arnie’s choice until Ana interrupted with an observation, “I believe that a man who wears such a distinctive hat in the Polo Lounge should not have his salmon served on a burger.” Josh nodded in agreement. Barry took only a minute to choose the $40 lobster salad. He couldn’t quite order with a straight face and asked us poignantly, “Okay, how often are we going to be together in a great place like this?” That sealed it for me, and I was also in for the lobster salad. (I’d meet with my banker on Monday morning to iron out the details of payment.)

It didn’t take long for us to scarf down our delicious lunch, and were only interrupted once as we joined in singing “Happy Birthday” to diners at nearby tables. I could only wonder what Jimmy Stewart would have to say about the current state of affairs at his beloved Polo Lounge?

When Ana arrived with our check, and after each of us had the chance to access the total damage of our lunch bill, we all broke into broad grins. I asked, “Where is Life Magazine when you really need them?”

Josh asked if we could tour the grounds and check out the bungalows where he had stayed years earlier. The grounds of the hotel were just as well-manicured as we had remembered from previous visits, and we sensed it was a nostalgic stroll for the former Oscar-nominated screenwriter and author, who has certainly enjoyed his share of recognition during a rewarding writing career.

When the parking attendant at the front entrance of the hotel took our ticket, I reached into my pants pocket for my roll of one-dollar bills. I felt sure that this particular bill denomination was a rare sighting at this hotel. He was also probably duly impressed by the money clip that secured the bills—a “jumbo-sized” paper clip from Staples.

As we exited the driveway, we were certain we’d left a lasting impression on the hotel staff members, and that they were eagerly anticipating the next visit from the four high-rollers from the Westside.


Bob Vickrey is a longtime Palisadian. He writes for several Southwestern newspapers including the Houston Chronicle. He is a member of the Board of Contributors for the Waco Tribune-Herald and a regular contributor for the Boryana Books website.


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