Hollywood Glamour Is Pandemic-Proof at the Polo Lounge


LOS ANGELES — Hollywood is down in the dumps. Oscar hopefuls like “King Richard,” “Nightmare Alley” and “West Side Story” have sputtered, and everybody is aware of that, studio spin apart, the Omicron variant is barely partly responsible.

What about these gorgeous Spider-Man grosses? Sure, nice, no matter — one other superhero hit. It doesn’t change the proven fact that one storied studio, twentieth Century Fox, vanished in 2019 and one other, the venerable Warner Bros., is slashing theatrical output by nearly half. Unless regulators do one thing surprising, Amazon will quickly swallow Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Streaming companies are ending a moviegoing period.

“It’s over,” a glum movie govt stated at a vacation fete. “TV won.”

But there’s at least one place the place Hollywood feels undiminished. Step into the 88-year-old Polo Lounge — as a deluge of movie V.I.P.s have achieved these days, defying a lingering boycott over its proprietor, the sultan of Brunei, and his enacting of Shariah regulation in his nation — and return to a time when motion pictures indisputably commanded the tradition. Outside the Beverly Hills Hotel, which homes the Polo Lounge, change is washing by means of moviedom with terrifying pace. (Hollywood’s prize system, lengthy an important promotional platform, is crumbling, with the near-abandonment of the Golden Globes on Sunday as just one instance.) Inside the clubby Polo Lounge, nevertheless, little or no has modified in many years.

It would possibly as nicely be 1937, when Marlene Dietrich, carrying lengthy gloves, could possibly be seen dispassionately smoking a cigarette at the bar, her mink slung over a stool. “It’s one of the last surviving links to a time when movies still mattered,” stated Terry Press, a former president of CBS Films and longtime patron.

What higher place for Hollywood heavies to collect for what quantities to group remedy? And, maybe, plot a counterattack.

Regular guests in latest months have included David M. Zaslav, the chief govt of Discovery, which is merging with Warner Media; Brian Robbins, the new kingpin at Paramount Pictures; Toby Emmerich, Warner’s film chairman; Bryan Lourd, the Creative Artists superagent; and Jeffrey Katzenberg, a former studio chief who stays a formidable Hollywood string-puller.

Mary Parent, who produced “Dune” as vice chairman of Legendary Entertainment, and Casey Bloys, who reigns supreme at HBO and HBO Max, have performed enterprise there in latest months. Power lunchers have included Emma Watts, Paramount’s former manufacturing chief; Reginald Hudlin, an Oscar-nominated producer and director; and Lorne Michaels, the creator and govt producer of “Saturday Night Live.”

Not way back, Jimmy Fallon, dutifully carrying a face overlaying, stood subsequent to the grand piano on a Friday evening and belted out “Sweet Caroline.” Jennifer Lopez and Jennifer Lawrence have been noticed. Kim Kardashian and Pete Davidson dropped in for a chunk the day after Christmas. Caitlyn Jenner had tried however was requested to go away for ignoring the gown code. (No “ripped denim.”)

As of early December, Polo Lounge income for the yr was roughly 10 p.c above the similar interval in 2019, in response to Edward Mady, the lodge’s normal supervisor. He added that the Polo Lounge had just lately been receiving about 150 calls a day for reservations, with roughly 75 requesting one in every of 9 patio cubicles.

“What boycott?” Mr. Mady stated.

In 2014, Mr. Katzenberg, Jay Leno, Ellen DeGeneres, Elton John and others led an entertainment-industry boycott of the property after its proprietor, the sultan of Brunei, imposed Shariah regulation in his nation, making homosexual intercourse and adultery punishable by stoning. Hollywood mass-shunned the Polo Lounge, which was at first abandoned after which bounced again as a well-liked spot for Beverly Hills Ladies Who Lunch. (“Betsy! Betsy!”)

By 2017, many luminaries had returned. The leisure {industry} enjoys a public snubbing, nevertheless it additionally has a brief consideration span. President Trump, elected in 2016, prompted outrage on so many fronts in liberal Hollywood that remembering to be mad at the Polo Lounge was troublesome.

And folks needed their salads. The hottest one at the Polo Lounge is the McCarthy, well-known for its worth ($44) and for being chopped so finely that one may nearly drink it with a straw.

A-listers might have returned, however none had been desperate to be quoted on this article. An e-mail to Mr. Katzenberg, as an illustration, was forwarded to a spokesman, who responded, “He is actually unreachable on vacation at the moment so won’t be able to participate.” Others declined as a result of they didn’t wish to make themselves a goal for activists. Several cited the awkward optics — cooing over an ostentatious watering gap at a time when extra studio layoffs are on the horizon.

Protesters haven’t given up. In 2019, George Clooney wrote an opinion piece calling for an expanded boycott. (He didn’t reply to a question on whether or not his place had modified.) In October, one in every of the most ardent proponents of a boycott, James Duke Mason, wrote a brand new letter to the sultan, Hassanal Bolkiah, demanding the revocation of his kingdom’s “draconian laws.”

“The boycott has been and still is firmly in place,” Mr. Mason stated by telephone. “It’s a matter of values. Is your McCarthy Salad really more important than human rights?” Mr. Mason added that he and a number of other associates intend to redouble their marketing campaign in opposition to the lodge and its sister Dorchester Collection properties in 2022. (Mr. Mason comes from a present enterprise lineage; his dad and mom are Belinda Carlisle and Morgan Mason, a former agent and producer.)

Dorchester Collection, the London-based lodge firm owned by the Brunei Investment Agency, responded with a press release: “We operate autonomously and embrace our longstanding values of inclusivity and belonging.”

In some methods, the Polo Lounge is completely positioned for all times throughout the pandemic. It has a big outside eating space adorned with Brazilian pepper timber, roses and magenta bougainvillea. Studio places of work have been largely closed since March 2020, so moguls who would usually conduct enterprise meals on their heaps have wanted a spot to go; many stay inside strolling distance. Mr. Zaslav has been intermittently staying at the Beverly Hills Hotel; he’s renovating a historic property 4 blocks away.

The Los Angeles power-restaurant scene has additionally been shaken up. Chateau Marmont closed its restaurant to the public when the pandemic began. (It has additionally had boycott points.) The Palm was bought, prompting the departure of its charismatic torchbearer, Bruce Bozzi. For some, the Peninsula nonetheless has the stench of Harvey Weinstein, who, his accusers stated, used the cowl of labor conferences there to sexually harass and assault ladies.

San Vicente Bungalows, a red-hot non-public membership that opened in 2019, has crammed a lot of the hole. It is thought for a various and younger Hollywood clientele (and for its treacly maître d’hôtel, previously of the Sunset Tower).

But the Polo Lounge nonetheless ranks. In mid-December, Mr. Robbins, who took over Paramount in September, was deep in a breakfast dialogue with Hannah Minghella, a senior govt at J.J. Abrams’s manufacturing firm. Mr. Lourd occupied a sales space close by, partly hid by a wall of white poinsettias. The restaurant’s director, Pepe De Anda, who began at the Polo Lounge in 1986, tended to an important-looking girl carrying a head scarf at Table 6, a comparatively secluded spot the place Marilyn Monroe most popular to sit down.

Hollywood has misplaced a few of its glamour to finances cuts and company consolidation, to not point out the pandemic. But the Polo Lounge — the place avocado toast runs $36 — oozes the similar extravagance it did in, say, 1998, when 57 million folks watched “Titanic” sweep the Academy Awards. (Last yr, the Oscars attracted 10.4 million viewers, beneath “The National Dog Show.”)

Near the Polo Lounge hostess podium, menus have just lately been on show from Christmas dinners in the distant previous, when moguls and stars apparently washed down “creamed calf’s sweetbreads en casserole” with “frozen apple toddy.”

The current, after all, can’t be averted totally. At tables favored by movie executives, there’s eye rolling and nostril upturning about Silicon Valley’s push into leisure: Apple is spending how a lot on Martin Scorsese’s subsequent movie?

And barbarians await at the gate. TikTok creators and Instagram influencers have found that the lodge’s garden makes an attention-grabbing backdrop.

Mr. Mady, the lodge’s normal supervisor, tensed up when requested about the social media crowd. “We’re not proud of that,” he stated. “We’re trying our best to curb it.”