What Really Goes Down in the Polo Lounge?: The Beverly Hills Hotel 1948

The legendary Beverly Hills Hotel is a story of extravagance, wealth, elegance, status, and romance. The iconic location is home to some of the most elite dining, with rooms like the Fountain Coffee Room, The Cabana Cafe, BarNineteen12, and the most famous “epicenter of LA power dining” Polo Lounge. In the later years of the Golden Age of Hollywood, everyone who was anyone met at the Polo Lounge to share gossip, glances, and maybe even a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, or two. 

The Beverly Hills Hotel opened in 1912, just two years before there was even a city of Beverly Hills.  

The idea for the hotel was to give people a place to stay while they were looking for property in the budding community. In the 1930s, the famous Polo Lounge was built, named for the polo fields that held its structures. In 1948, the year that the menu below was in use, the hotel was painted its distinctive pink color. The Beverly Hills Hotel has been known as the “pink palace” ever since. 


In 1949, the Crescent Wing was built and designed by famous architect Paul Williams and the Polo Lounge, Fountain Coffee Room, and lobby were all renovated. Williams also created the familiar and now trademarked logo, giving the hotel its pastel chic aesthetic.

Highsmith, Carol M, photographer. The Beverly Hills Hotel on Sunset Boulevard in Beverly Hills, California
. United States California Los Angeles, 2012. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2013632134/.
Letter from Leonard Bernstein to Helen Coates, March 3, 1950
. Manuscript/Mixed Material. https://www.loc.gov/item/lbcorr.00590/.

In 1948, the uniqueness of the Beverly Hills Hotel existed not only because of its glamorous aesthetic but also because it was a hotspot for Hollywood celebrities and deal-makers in power. Dining at the Polo Lounge and maybe ordering a healthy salad with your Sauvignon Blanc was a symbol of high status and social popularity. Healthier alternatives like the “Beverly Hills Salad De Luxe” became popular during this time, probably because of the Hollywood pressure to be thin. This social pressure also incited the use of amphetamines as “diet pills,” which unfortunately most actresses were using during this time. Nothing, though, dulled the glow of the Beverly Hills Hotel.  


Because of the glamorous appearance of classic Hollywood culture, The Beverly Hills Hotel was the perfect place to show off your extravagance and flare. You could have lunch poolside or meet with powerful executives to discuss your next picture. The hotel also had the best service and amenities, such as golf and horseback riding.

Winners of the “Coquette Contest” at the Beverly Hills Hotel in 1929 as part of a promotion for Mary Pickford’s film Coquette. Pickford Corp. Mary Pickford and the Coquette contest winners
. [United States: s.n, 1929] Video. https://www.loc.gov/item/2018600176/.

The opening of the hotel was celebrated with a high-class, formal dinner, as seen below. From that point on, every night became a must-attend affair. Movie stars and celebrities always seemed to be at The Beverly Hills, whether they were shooting a movie or posing for a picture by the pool. 

If posing by the pool happened to arouse a bit of an appetite, a patron might even sit down to order the “Beverly Hills Salad De Luxe,” a very famous and popular dish that is still on the menu at the Polo Lounge. Today, that entrenched dish is known as the McCarthy Salad. 

Above: the “McCarthy Salad” today https://static.parade.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/McCarthy-Salad-small.jpg 

The “Beverly Hills Salad De Luxe,” as seen on the 1948 Polo Lounge menu, consists of crab legs, fresh shrimp, avocado, tomato and romaine, and 1000 island dressing. The modern version of this, now called the McCarthy salad, adds bacon, boiled eggs, and chicken, transforming the old “De Luxe” to resemble more of a traditional cobb salad, with the price at a whopping $44. This dish is named after Neil McCarthy, an English actor, regular guest at The Beverly Hills Hotel, and captain of the local Polo team in the 1940s. The Polo Lounge is said to have been created for Neil McCarthy and his team for their luxurious breaks from the polo field. The detailed recipe is as follows:

  • ¼ head iceberg lettuce
  • ½ head romaine lettuce
  • ½ cup diced, grilled free-range chicken
  • ½ cup diced, roasted red beets
  • ¼ cup free-range egg yolk
  • ¼ cup free-range egg white
  • ½ cup finely diced aged cheddar cheese
  • ½ cup applewood-smoked bacon
  • ¼ cup diced tomato
  • ¼ cup diced avocado
  • 1 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 shallot
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 3 cloves roasted garlic
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • Salt and black pepper to season
  • Canola oil

“To prepare the salad, artfully arrange the salad ingredients in a bowl. Place the dressing ingredients in a blender and drizzle in the canola oil to emulsify. Add the dressing and enjoy!”

Foodies today will argue that either salad is certainly not the healthiest dish, but in the 1940s and 50s (and arguably even now), being “in” with the next best new diet was the way to stay current in society. Below, is the “fat girls’ diet” from 1959, with many “practical ways to take off fat” for only 25 cents a pop.

Based on this image alone, it certainly seems like the social pressure to be thin, for young women and girls especially, was a lot more of a vocal concern in the forties and fifties. To be seen in a public place scarfing down a hamburger would be a travesty. Therefore, eating a healthy, luxurious, salad in the company of other thin actresses would do great work in elevating one’s social status. Diet culture also appeals to society and, more specifically, the male gaze. Below is an advertisement for “Movieland’s Get-Your-Man-Diet,” just one example of how young girls are told by society from a young age that men only like a very specific body type in women. 

The issue with diet culture and the concept that being thin is being healthy is problematic because different people have different reactions to food. Foods that are “healthy” to one person can be harmful to another. Likewise, someone who is skinny is not necessarily healthier than someone who is bigger than them. Hollywood and Los Angeles in general have only contributed more to the problem. Diversity in Hollywood has only been a recent conversation and, therefore, the same body types and skin colors have dominated the silver screen. This issue of visibility is problematic because people who aren’t exactly the “perfect slender woman” are not validated in the media. In conclusion, The Beverly Hills Hotel and its extravagancies were, and still are, iconic in media, but still problematic in nature.

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