There's a buzz about the Bayerischer Hof. You feel it the moment you enter the lobby, swirling with guests, guests of guests, and locals. Check-in is strictly business, yet friendly. Seeing that I'm traveling with just a garment bag, the clerk asks if I need any help. When I decline, he simply gives me the key and directions to my room. No need to waste a porter's time, not to mention my money on a tip for unnecessary service.
My room is equally no-nonsense: a small double that reminds me of a cabin on a good cruise ship. I like its well-proportioned marble bathroom, double casement windows, and two sets of doors between the interior of the room and the hall, offering total soundproofing and privacy. And this is just one type among many in the 399-room hotel. There are sumptuous suites furnished with priceless antiques in the adjacent Palais Montgelas, an 18th-century palace that the hotel lavishly restored in the seventies. There are also Laura Ashley rooms with enough chintz to do you for a lifetime, Art Nouveau suites with stained-glass ceilings, and extraordinary Tyrolean cottages, where every available inch is wood-paneled.
Choice is what the Bayerischer Hof is all about. Take dining. You can go posh in the flower-filled Garden Restaurant . . . or go native in the timber-beamed Bavarian basements of the Palais Keller . . . or go crazy in that landmark of American kitsch, Trader Vic's (you'd be surprised how well the blowfish lamps and upside-down outriggers work in Munich—honest). You can even have a night on the town without leaving the hotel, since there's a piano bar, jazz club, and small theater on the premises.
But before I make any decisions, I want to test out the swimming pool, which, like the Mandarin's, is on the roof. An elderly attendant, with perfectly coiffed Marlene Dietrich blond hair and an accent to match, sternly instructs me to remove my shoes before ascending. Needless to say, I do as I am told. The pool turns out to be big and open to the skies, thanks to a retractable glass roof. An attempt has been made at tropical landscaping, with mixed results, but the view of the twin towers of the Frauenkirche cathedral is spectacular. I swim and swim, until it looks as if we're about to have a summer cloudburst. Marlene, now in Earth Mother mode, miraculously appears and informs me that she has moved my towel from the terrace to a protected spot inside.
The next day, lunch at the Garden Restaurant—a bastion of the new, light ("lighter" would be more appropriate) German cuisine—is the perfect finale. I have velvety red-pepper soup with baked shrimp before moving on to a pike perch fillet in a mustard-horseradish crust. Despite the waiter's encouragement, I forgo the mocha parfait. But my resolve is tested when my espresso arrives, accompanied by a silver stand holding five little chocolates. I eat every one. 2—6 Promenadeplatz; 800/223-6800 or 49-89/212-0901, fax 49-89/212-0908; doubles from $209, plus required $17 breakfast.