Dining in Los Angeles in 1971 by George Christy

Dining out 

If celebrity watching is your thing...
Los Angeles Magazine Article by George Christy, Jan, 1971
Archived by Alison Martino

You could wait an hour for a booth, and then again you might not, depending on what the action is at "Matteo's"  which is probably the chummiest star hang out in Lotusland ( as they used to call it before unemployment set in)... but even the wait can be amusing, because,  seated at the jazzy bar or on the love seat in the cozy for foyer-library  where the lighted toy trains race above you on slim wall ledges,  you'll see practically everyone,  if you or your guests are in the mood for a celeb-sighting. And you'll be even more amused as you watch the celebrities ordering, fussing, sending food back, carrying on outrageously at some stars do. 

"Zsa Zsa's the toughest", admits the very amiable Jimmy, Basque-born and one of owner Matty's cracker-jack captains. "She likes the baked Ziti with ricotta cheese, and she's always sending it back. It's not hot enough. Or it baked too long. Or it tastes different. What's wrong with the wine, it doesn't taste right....if you please Zsa Zsa you've done two days' work." 

   
He adds: Pasta eaters come here - Omar Sharif, Orson Welles, Jackie Cooper, Burt Lancaster. Orson orders two plates of mostaciolli marinara, one order isn't enough. Omar's the wine connoisseur.  He'll pay $55 for a bottle of Chateau Lafite Rothchild 1959. Ben Gazzara likes wine, too, and is so particular that you have to open four bottles of wine before he is satisfied.  He tastes one,  shakes his head, no: tastes another, no again, etc. Ben loves Ruffino Ducale -  and enjoys a free show when he's out, and always asks our captain, Tony, to sing. 

Many dinner celebrities at Matteo's, Jimmy points out, are diet conscious. "After all, their body is their fortune...besides, the camera add pounds to their faces and figures. Gene Barry's the most dedicated calorie counter,  we created a special locale fish dish for him -  broiled lake superior whitefish with a simple fresh tomato sauce.  Peter Lawford worries, too.  And David Janssen calorie counts.  Only eat clams and has a glass of wine.  Jerry Lewis like spaghetti with a watery sauce.  Lucille ball is so easy to please because she hardly eats at all.  And Barbra Streisand never fusses, she likes linguini and clam sauce and a white wine, Soave Bolla usually.  Ava Gabor is easier than Zsa Zsa -  she orders spaghetti carbonara with the raw egg and prosciutto and olive oil. 

"The wildest dinner is Trini Lopez... he has the hottest palate in town.  Loves pork chops smothered - and I mean buried! -  with burning hot peppers.  The man could eat fire.  And Lee Marvin, well,  his dinner isn't as important as the vodka-on-the-rocks.  Stars aren't the biggest eaters.  Spanish royalty eats more at one sitting that any of them". 

 All of these her heroic appetites and famous faces can be glimpsed at 2319 West Wood Blvd.



On another side of town, in Hollywood,  near the Deslilu Studios, is "Hal's Studio Cafe", at 836 North Cahuenga, The only commissary with the public is invited.  Danny Thomas wants a hot salami sandwich ("and he means sizzling 'hot')  or some old fashion baloney.  Dick Vandyke can't stand cellophane-wrapped crackers. Milton Berle smirks over "hamburgers that's too fresh." Joey Bishop never varies his lunch -  he likes a very thin slice of cheese or ham with a slice of tomato, that's all.  Andy Griffith orders but hardly eats.  The most demanding is Werner Klemperer of "Hogan's Heroes". "You can't keep him waiting... and if he asks for scrambled eggs and cheese done easy -  and they're the least bit 'over easy,' he yells. Bob Crane's forever in a hurry.  Sometimes were so busy at lunch that our regular customers - like Bob -  ring up their sales on the cash register, take their change, etc.".


Hal admits that most stars are wait conscious. "But Bill Dana will eat anything, short ribs and Stew and roast beef. He has the best appetite and should be as round as Orson Welles.  Fattening or not, blintzes are Kaye Ballard's and Eve Arden's favorites. 

"Nickoldell's" at 5507 Melrose is  next-door to the studios,  and attracts a star-studded lunch and dinner brunch.  Peter Graves, Leonard Nimoy, Mike Connors are frequent visitors - as Lucille Ball with her family. "Lucy  order steak sandwiches and Caesar salad,"  says co-owner Leonard Beidle. "Sammy Davis often and pops in for a Dubonnet-and-soda,  short ribs and some Galliano-over-ice after dinner. William Frawley was nuts about Mumm's: Champagne with steak, Jack Benny only eats cold turkey with sliced tomatoes -  maybe Jell-O for dessert.  The biggest drinker? Lawrence Tierny. Always looking for an argument. And Sonny Liston once kicked Muhammad Ali off our lot."  

    
A genuinely unique celebrity dining spot is the intimate "Cafe Four Oaks", nestled in Beverly Glen Canyon,  secluded and far away from the madding studio throng.  It's not a place you happen to pass by:  consequently celebrities like the privacy it offers.  They come here for dinner and also for the eggs Benedict at Sunday brunch which ( on warm days)  is served outdoors on the area patio. Warren Beatty, Julie Christie,  Rita Hayworth,  Rock Hudson, hide out here, and Jill St. John  comes fairly often with her hairdresser to try to make all the "lemon thing" dessert recipe from TV actor and cook, Hal Buckley. 

Call Anna Jack Alan recalls the fussiest customer was Roger Wagner of the Roger Wagner Chorale. "He came in with a gorgeous girl,  despised our wine list.  Another couple noticed his unhappiness and offered to share some of their own wine with him ( which they had brought), but no, he drives all the way to his own wine cellar in Bel-Air, re-appears with a bottle of his precious wine and gloats like a kid. Celebrities aren't ones who calls much fuss though. Frankly, the non celebrities can get carried away, act huffy and smart-alecky, so we waltz them right out the door. Of course, we go out of our way to please anyone, whether they're a celebrity or not. Steve McQueen wanted beer one night with his dinner,  we didn't have any,  so the waiter slipped out the back door, drove to the supermarket and got some."  



Other dining rooms that attract stars include,  of course, "The Bistro", which is very social. Chain-smoker Loretta Young entertains here (but her TV director-friend, Richard Morris, laughs, "The rest of us eat, while she has a couple of cartons of cigarettes"). 



"The Aware Inn" along  Sunset Boulevard pictures one of the best hamburgers in town, the Swinger, cooked with organic vegetables. Nancy Sinatra, Red Buttons, Mia Farrow, Joni James are addicted to it.


Chasen's along Beverly Blvd is notorious for chili, hobo steak - and Herb Alpert, Candice Bergen, Roz Russell, Polly Bergen dine here often.


Jean Leon's "La Scala" in Beverly Hills get some of the prettiest starlets, along with Natalie Wood Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman,  who like the fettuccine and veal with peppers (as did the late JFK who made La Scala a not-to-be-missed stop whenever he visited L.A.).  At the adjoining La Scala Boutique, you'll always spot one of the two notables,  sometimes hordes, having an informal lunch. Melrose Avenue's The Steak Pit is like a private club -  you have to reserve days ahead, as do Cary Grant, James Colburn, and Dean Martin, for a booth and the best beef steak tomatoes in the west.


Dominick's is clubby, too -  bartender Dominick frowns on anyone who comes in the front door; the "in" customers like Julie Andrews, Blake Edwards, Robert and Rosemary Stack know that you enter through the kitchen. 


In Palm Springs (we're stars have second homes), weekends are uptight during the height of the season at restaurants such as the posh Racquet Club ( where are you must be a member), Don the Beachcomber's, Ruby's, Dunes, Pete Petitto's. Leon Webb, maitre d'hotel at the Racquet Club for 22 years, reflects that "the celebrities here are more down to earth here because they're here to relax -  it's the non-celebrity customer we sometimes have problems with. Dinah Shore will eat anything you suggest, and if you give Joan Crawford a dry Martini - 'the drier the better' - she thanks you all night. 

At Pete Petitto's in near by Rancho Mirage, the Red Skelton's eat their big meal at 2:30 in the afternoon,  then won't eat a thing the rest of the day.  You can tell when the Skelton's are there - Red's $100,000 silver-plated Rolls-Royce with mink carpets and mink upholstery is in the parking lot,  alongside that is daughter Veronica's Roll's. "The  most knowledgeable dinners are Mitzi Gaynor and her husband Jack Bean,"  insists friendly Pete,  who once worked with Bing Crosby. "They take three hours to dine -  always order salad after dinner, the way gourmets do, and they change wines with each course.  Kirk Douglas also likes good food,  but hates to wait for it to be cooked to order, so how do you please him?" 

Frank Sinatra's on-again, off- again favorite is Ruby's Dunes where he sips Jack Daniels, dines on razor thin very-well-done pork chops or on a couple of Rubys chicken broth with Matzoh balls. A one time fiddler/bandleader, owner, Irwin Rubenstien says celebrities like to be seated promptly, and that Truman Capote and Lee Radziwell slow-burned one Sunday night when they weren't seated immediately and strutted right out.


                                               Frank Sinatra at Ruby's Dunes

Probably the most unsettling thing that happened, admits Ruby,  was during an evening several years ago when a superstar and his wife walked in with Bobby and Ethel Kennedy and friends. "A party of ten, they came in without a reservation at the peak dining hour, eight o'clock. I didn't have any space, so I bought them a drink at the bar. Two tables for four were soon going to be vacant -  I could see five at each in a pinch -  so I asked the star if they wanted to separate into two groups until another larger table was free.  He humphs, and marched right out with everyone,  doesn't even say good night.  But Bobby came back with Ethel a couple of nights later and apologized..."




Alison Martino is a writer, television producer and personality, and L.A. pop culture historian. She founded the Facebook page Vintage Los Angeles in 2010. In addition to CityThink and VLA, Martino muses on L.A’s. past and present on Twitter and Instagram

Comments

  1. Great article, really enjoyed it. Would love to hear more about Sinatra and his love affair with Palm Springs! Thanks!

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  2. In 1965, as a teenager in high school, I ran those huge WWII searchlights at Nickodell's. I had zero idea as to the fascinating history of the place.

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