by Louis Bignami

Someone once called Palm Springs, "Los Angeles" sandy back yard. These days the posh Palm Springs sandbox for the rich and famous is the 28-room Ingleside Inn -- a hideaway success since 1975. That's appropriate for the heir to the Pierce Arrow fortune built the quiet downtown estate. If you're not an antique auto buff, and Palm Springs is the place if you like "upscale iron" realize that Pierce Arrow's were, along with Dussenburgs and Stanley Steamers, the Rolls Royce's of American autos. One wonders what the old residents would think today, given there are usually at least two old Rolls parked along entry to the Inn and its equally famous restaurant, Melvyn's that LIFE-STYLES OF THE RICH AND FAMOUS called "one of the ten best in the world."

If you collect celebrities, this is the place. Back before WW II when Ruth Hardy ran the Inn as an "invitations only" private club, Howard Hughes chased, and doubtless caught Ava Gardner here. There's a description by Ms. Hardy of guest Elizabeth Taylor as a "lovely young girl." Bette Davis, Katherine Hepburn, Rita Hayworth, Cyd Charisse and a bevy of the rich and famous were guests.

Ms. Hardy died in 1965 and the property went downhill until Melyvn Haber found it in 1975. The first day the Inn reopened in "black tie" mode, the new owner Mel Haber politely turned away a scruffy fellow on a motorcycle and his pretty rider. Mel later discovered he'd refused admittance to Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw. Today, the folks at the croquet court that look like movie stars are probably Beverly Hills doctors or lawyers. The scruffy, unshaven type you might confuse with the help could be Marlon Brando in a headband. After all, if you're a star, whom do you impress! So don't start doubling in at backgammon unless you know whom you play!

Since Mel Haber took over lovely white walls of the Inn saw Jane Allyson get married, Marlon Brando arrived in a jeep and Debbie Reynolds celebrate her 50th birthday party -- Eddie Fisher wanted reservations that night, but Mel was able to postpone his visit a week. Mary Martin sang at the piano. Opera star, Lily Pons visited often enough to have a suite named after her. Sonny Bono drops around. Wouldn't that be a trio!Brook Shields, Carol Burnett, and a two-page list of celebrities slip in and out happy with the unspoken house rules that everyone's entitled to their privacy inside the gates.

Add a gorgeous patio, a romantic pool and wonderful suites furnished with antiques -- Ask about the Royal Suite John Travolta and Cindy Williams favor -- and you know why this the place for a special celebration. It's not just "show suite" posh either: every bathroom has a whirlpool and a steam bath. Consider the complimentary continental breakfast and a full "fridge." Want to go shopping, play tennis, golf or ride horses? There's at least one old Rolls available, and the restaurant can pack a lunch.

Oh, yes, the restaurant. Many consider Melvyn's alone would be worth the ride from LA. It's ruffled shirt waiter's flit through the wicker to serve mostly continental specialties like Veal Ingleside at lunch or dinner. I'm stuck between the duck and veal, but one-day plan to order a whole dinner from the hord'ouvre list. Too bad so many of the stars stick to the house salad. Price of fame, right?

In any case, reservations are a must, and smart folks turn up at the piano bar for the complimentary hors 'd'oeuvres from four to six. The Saturday and Sunday Champagne brunch ranks well up in my personal "excuses to overeat" pantheon and make a case for a designated driver too.

What you won't find are kids, surly staff, noise or confusion. Mel takes singles, but likes couples whom "best enjoy the romantic atmosphere." Families are stashed away in the nearby Royal Aire. He also likes service. The 28 rooms at the Ingleside and Melyvn's run two employees per guest. So there's plenty of coddling, wonderful service and a total excuse to kick back and relax.

Costs Considered

Rates run $95 to $600 a day with the "season" from October 1st to May 31st. Summer rates offer packages. Ask about Honeymoon deals that can include weddings in the romantic courtyard. and other packages. After all, honeymoons seem wasted on newlyweds! Restaurant prices run from $10 to $20 for lunch to $50 to $100 for two a la carte. Given the quality and the service, this seems quite reasonable for that special event.

Ingleside Inn & Melyvn's Restaurant & Lounge 200 West Ramon, Palm Springs, CA 92264 (760) 325-2323


Of course, if you wanted to venture out into Palm Springs you could visit the Desert Museum and Moorten's Botanical Garden, take a horseback ride in the canyons, clank up the hill to winter snow on the tram or check out the unbelievable shopping. (TIP: off-season starts after Easter and you can get some wonderful discounts.) Golfers can hit one of the 54 gold courses, and there are dozens of tennis courts.

If you want to "eat out" or "party hearty" try Touche. It replaced our favorite Moroccan restaurant Dar Maghreb, but kept its upscale surroundings and meals aren't that expensive. Entrées run around $20, many are less expensive, and the lunch pizzas are killers. There's a disco, a lounge a piano bar and a DJ and reservations, lite jackets and dresses are recommended.

Bob Hope Drive in Palm Springs -- confusingly tucked away in its separate building behind Long's Drugs in the Rancho Las Palmas Shopping Center.