Stepping Uptown at Waldorf Astoria

By Bob Vickrey
Special to the Palisades News

During the closing credits of many television variety shows of the 1950s and ‘60s, the off-camera announcer would routinely remind viewers, “Hotel accommodations for tonight’s guests during their stay in New York City were graciously provided by the beautiful Waldorf Astoria Hotel.”

Since no one ever offered those same accommodations during my stays in New York, last month’s lunch club visit to the glitzy new Beverly Hills Waldorf provided my first glimpse into at least one version of the storied hotel.

The original New York City hotel was built in 1893 in two stages, as the Waldorf Hotel and the Astoria Hotel, which accounts for its later dual name. The hotels were demolished in 1929 to make way for the construction of the Empire State Building. The business reopened as the Waldorf Astoria two years later in its present location on Park Avenue, and quickly became known as one of the world’s most prestigious hotels.

Bobbie Farberow and waiter Michel-Angelo Lepe. Photo: Barry Stein

World-renowned figures, including Winston Churchill and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, stayed at the hotel and have luxury suites named after them.

Of course, in Beverly Hills, the owners will likely put their own Hollywood spin on naming guest suites. Will we see luxury-room options with names such as the “Pauley Shore Suite” and “The ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic Penthouse” in our own L.A. version of the Waldorf?

The glitzy new 12-story Beverly Hills Waldorf, with 119 “deluxe” rooms and 51 suites, opened last summer at the intersection of Wilshire and Santa Monica Boulevards, where the Robinson’s-May department store once stood. Rooms range from a nominal $815 for mere “commoners” to the $20,000- a-night Presidential Suite for the rest of us.

Our special lunch guest last month was Bobbie Farberow, the former co-owner of the well-known Village landmark Mort’s Palisades Deli, which had been named after her late husband Mort.

The Farberows opened their deli in 1974 on Swarthmore Avenue, and it quickly became one of the most popular restaurant destinations in the village. Several years later, the modest deli moved to a larger location across the street, where it thrived for many years until Bobbie decided to retire from the business. She sold the lease to former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan in 2007, who remodeled the building and later into the Village Pantry and adjoining Oak Room.

Mort’s Deli was mentioned often during those early planning meetings with developer Rick Caruso for his new Palisades Village project. One of the most frequently heard suggestions from attendees was a request to bring back a restaurant similar to “Mort’s.”

When the restaurant closed, Bobbie dusted off the teaching credential she had acquired many years earlier and began teaching at Palisades Elementary. She now serves as a special instructor in the “intervention” program for kindergarten students who face various challenges in the classroom.

Bobbie had already scouted out the new digs at the Waldorf a few weeks earlier with several girlfriends, but this was our first look at the swanky joint. We found the staff very welcoming from the time we arrived at the front door all the way to our restaurant destination, Jean-Georges Beverly Hills, located just off the main lobby.

We could immediately tell that our waiter, Michael-Angelo Lepe, was a seasoned pro—and we figured with a name that elegant, we were in very capable hands. We began with an appetizer of Crispy Monterey Calamari served with a citrus chili dip. Barry and I now consider ourselves calamari experts since we order it so often, and we gave it two big thumbs up.

As usual, Arnie already knew what he wanted, and ordered the Grilled Bigeye Tuna Burger with Miso mayonnaise—and please, sir—hold the Yuzu pickles. Bobbie had the Grilled Chicken Club with extra- crispy bacon on toasted sourdough. (She generously allowed them to save the accompanying fried egg for their next customer.)

Barry ordered the Warm Shrimp Salad on tender greens with avocado and cham- pagne dressing. My indecision slowed down the ordering process until Michael-Angelo (I kept wondering if that was his real name) strongly recommended the “Wild Striped Bass” special, which was crusted with sesame seeds in a sweet-and-sour broth with mushrooms, olives, celery, and seemingly, just about everything else they found on their kitchen counter.

Even though my lunch was absolutely delicious, all those ingredients didn’t oc- cupy very much space on the plate—nor in my stomach afterward.

So we capped off our exceptional lunch with cappuccinos and a warm chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream on the side.

Since Bobbie’s chicken club sandwich was roughly the size of Barry’s SUV, several of us received elegant Waldorf “doggie bags” filled with her leftovers. Given the price of our tab, I’m certainly glad we managed two meals out of this trip.

On the way out of the hotel, Bobbie whispered to me, “Even though we tend to make fun of this kind of extravagance, I think I could possibly become accustomed to this lifestyle.”

She’s right. Maybe this weekend I’ll give the front desk a call and see if that $20,000- a-night Presidential Suite is available.

Bob Vickrey is a longtime Palisadian who is a regular contributor to the News. He also writes for the Houston Chronicle and the Waco Tribune-Herald.

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