In 1927 prominent architect Gordon B. Kaufmann built Hilhaven Lodge as the “entertainment quarters” to his Beverly Hills mansion. The five-bedroom, stone-and-redwood house was a modest structure but its presence was huge.
Ingrid Bergman bought the house during World War II and lovingly nicknamed it the Barn… most likely inspired by the living area’s grand vaulted ceilings. Bergman sold the house to fellow actress Kim Novak (Vertigo) who she knew from both having worked with Alfred Hitchcok. While Novak lived at Hilhaven she had a romantic affair with Director Richard Quine while they filmed “Strangers When We Met.” James Caan rented the house in the early 70’s while he was filming “The Godfather” and turned the living room into a makeshift basketball court so he could play whenever he wanted.
In 1972 Hollywood Producer Allan Carr (Grease) purchased the Hilhaven Lodge and set out on a path to take its reputation to the next level. Carr installed a flashy disco in the basement and started hosting Hollywood’s glitziest get-togethers. By 1999 the years of late-night A-list partying took its toll and Carr invested little in maintaining it.
Keeping in line with the tradition of successful showbiz residents, Hilhaven Lodge was purchased by director and producer Brett Ratner in 2000. Ratner removed the mirrors and leopard print carpet and set out to restore Hilhaven to its original glory (although thankfully the basement disco is still in play).
Ratner has stayed true to the sprit of the Hilhaven Lodge and hosted his own variety of chinwags. He made the clever addition of a vintage photo booth and let the magic happen. In 2003 he released the book “Hilhaven Lodge: The Photo Booth Pictures.” It genuinely captures a taste of what it would be like to attend a Tinseltown house party with everyone from Robert Downey Jr. to Heath Ledger. Well done.
For Ratner, the house and its parties have inspired more than just a coffee table book. The famous private playground will now be commemorated by its own Whiskey. “The Hilhaven Lodge” will be crafted from three decades of aged Bourbon, Rye and Tennessee Whiskey. We spoke with Ratner to get the details.
Every cool person I ever met in Hollywood drank whiskey; especially the legends from back in the day and most had been to parties at Hilhaven Lodge going back to the 50’s. In fact I found an old whiskey decanter type bottle engraved with Hilhaven Lodge made of glass, leather and wood, which I first showed Diageo, and is what inspired the design of the bottle. I believed if there was a spirit that would be served at the house it had to be a Whiskey. So, The Hilhaven Lodge is now the House Whiskey!
How do you like to serve The Hilhaven Lodge?
3 different ways! On the rocks is probably the best way, but the “old fashion” which is stirred down with sugar and Angostura bitters makes a classic drink, or the “high ball” over ice and topped off with cold sparkling water and garnish with lime makes a delicious cocktail.
What comes to mind when you drink it?
The liquid of Hilhaven Lodge is a true representation of the feeling you have being in the house. Diageo has spent 7 years developing the liquid from 3 decades. They did it by sending many whiskey masters and experts to experience the lodge through the scents that exist, from the 80-year-old oak wood to the smell of the fruit trees on the property. The liquid was created from actual visits to the lodge by these whiskey masters. The liquid is rich in candied fruit from the Bourbons, with dark brown caramel notes from the Tennessee whiskey and full of light spice notes of clove coming from the aged Rye. All make up a long smooth finish that is silky with lush vanilla, a subtle sweetness and a vibrant oak nuance.
The smell of light spice and sweet oak are smells you can actually experience sitting enjoying a cigar by the fire in real time in the Great Room at Hilhaven Lodge.
Describe the spirit of the Hilhaven lodge
The Hilhaven Lodge is about celebration and living the dream. The house has been a manifestation of my dreams coming true. It was a dream for me to own an old Hollywood house with history and when I walked in the first day I knew I had to own it (even though I couldn’t afford it at the time.) It had a feeling and vibe unlike any house I had ever been to and with so much history to explore. I spent 2 1/2 years restoring the house back to its original glory…. and when I opened up the house to finally entertain the Hollywood legends came out in droves to see what I had done and to reminisce about the decades of experiences they had shared there. Warren Beatty told me he hadn’t been to the house since the early 50’s, and when he first came he saw Eartha Kitt dancing with Kim Novak in the big bay paneled window and that was what inspired the shape of the The Hilhaven Lodge bottle. At my parties on one side of the Great Room would be young Hollywood with the adulation for the legends across the room but with the enthusiasm, youthfulness and excitement with a desire for building their own experiences at the lodge. Everyone young and old were either living out their fantasies at Hilhaven Lodge or reminiscing about when they did back in the day.
Most interesting thing you’ve heard happened at Hilhaven Lodge?
It was my 40th birthday and I thought that I would keep the party small and I would only invite a handful of friends and family. So on the same day without any notice I invited Al Malnik (my mentor from Miami), Mick Jagger, Al Pacino, Warren Beatty, and Eddie Murphy…. and shockingly they all showed up. One of the greatest nights of my life but not unusual for a Hilhaven Lodge party. We all ended up in the disco dancing until very late.
There are so many great memories… From- Francis Ford Coppola cooking an Italian dinner for me and all my friends and after dinner my grandmother playing piano as Francis serenaded her. To- Victoria Secret Fashion brand hosting a party at Hilhaven Lodge and inviting 50 supermodels. Nothing strange about a Victoria Secret Supermodel party with 50 supermodels except that they have never had a party like that ever or since in a private home but wanted to do it at Hilhaven Lodge because of the history of the house. Four different girls ended up marrying friends of mine that they met at that party. I have the photo booth pictures to prove it.
How has living at Hilhaven inspired you?
It inspires me to work hard and count my blessings and be grateful to be living in such an incredible home. My late grandfather lived with me for the last 14 years of his life at the lodge. I would walk him around the pool for his daily exercise. He was 95 years old. He would say to me. “Living here is paradise. Thank you Brett.”
I was proud to be able to share Hilhaven not only with my family but also with all my friends who would come and visit. What good is having a beautiful home if you can’t share it with the people you love. I feel like Hilhaven Lodge came my way because I am a person who likes to entertain and lives with an open door policy. I’m always having guests stay at the house… it is never empty. I feel like Hilhaven is just mine for this generation. My hope is that the next generation’s owner will continue the tradition of celebrations for many more people to enjoy. That’s what the house was built for and should continue to be. I am so happy to have created the house whiskey for the guests of the Hilhaven Lodge to enjoy for at least another 100 years.
What are your hopes for Hilhaven in the market?
My personal hope is that The Hilhaven Lodge will give people around the world the feeling of what it is like to be living your dreams in Hollywood and in the place I call home, Hilhaven Lodge. The liquid of The Hilhaven Lodge is the true embodiment of not only the smells and textures of the house but the design is a true reflection and interpretation of what its like to be there. In one bottle you get the wish fulfillment and taste of living the dream and enjoying it to the fullest of ones imagination. Except the imagination is a real place that exists and I call it home.
I am proud to be launching the whiskey in Miami, my hometown and Beverly Hills, the place where the lodge exists and in Kentucky where it is made and where I spent my youth pursuing the girl of my dreams, a young girl from Hazard, Kentucky who became my first teenage love. All this tied together for me in my collaboration with Diageo to create The Hilhaven Lodge whiskey…. what I believe will become one of the great spirit brands today and for future generations to enjoy. They will learn what its like to be living their dreams at Hilhaven Lodge, where dreams do come true especially when sipping on Hilhaven Lodge’s House Whiskey.