The Bistro in Beverly Hills


No, this isn't a production still from James Cameron's TITANIC, this is the original Bistro restaurant once located in Beverly Hills. The original address was 235 Canon Drive. Today this room is the 2nd floor of Mastro’s Steak House (although it looks nothing like this now). 

The Bistro catered to high-powered crowd thick with denizens of the film industry and high society from 1963 until 1996. The Bistro was a favorite of Billy Wilder, Groucho Marx, Debbie Reynolds, and Elizabeth Taylor to name a very selective few. 


The Bistro on Canon Drive in 1965. Photo: Robert C. Wood


My mother had her baby shower for me on the second floor event room. It was given by Karen Kramer, wife of Stanley Kramer.  And check out my grandmother in white go-go boots! 


My mother, Judi Martino at her baby shower at the Bistro with my stylish grandmother, Verna 


Karen Kramer, wife of Stanley Kramer who directed, “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, her mother Dorothy and our interior decorator and friend, Janet Anderson

Judy Garland and Mark Herron leaving the Bistro in 1965. Newspapers and articles chronicling the event


Ellen Dunne outside of the Bistro in 1965. 
Photo taken by her husband Dominick Dunne
Courtesy of Griffin Dunne

One of the first events that gave the Bistro world wide publicity is when  Judy Garland sang a few songs for Princess Margaret. According to columnist Early Wilson, she sang, "I Left My Heart In San Francisco", "Chicago", and "The Man That Got Away". Sadly, no recording is available. 


I can always tell when photos were taken at the Bistro because of their signature lattice work and wooden saloon chairs. 


The decor was originally the set for Billy Wilder's movie,"Irma La Douce". When filming was finished, he donated it all to the restaurant. Thus the name... Bistro


Farrah Fawcett


David Bowie


Groucho Marx


Robert Culp

The Bistro was highly popular with old Hollywood celebrities and music personalities and was known to throw parties for record companies, award shows, and movie studios. Also, bridal showers, weddings & receptions, bar mitzvahs, birthday & holiday parties.  It was quite a room for an event. 


Sammy Davis Jr., Dyan Cannon, and Carol Channing

Scores of residents and Hollywood types did what they could to keep the party circuit going. If it wasn't a luncheon it was a black tie dinner-dance affair. Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, Dinah Shore, Gregory Peck would often frequent the Bistro, and James Stewart never seemed to mind sitting next to out-of-town guests sipping a "Silver Bullet" - a gin & tonic with Scotch floating on top. It was party central and 'where to be seen'. For example, shortly after Mia Farrow married Frank Sinatra they attended a party where Princess Margaret, and her husband, the Earl of Snowdon, met the elite of Hollywood. It was at that party, Mia showed off hew new short Vidal Sasoon haircut. In 1974, Debbie Reynolds was presented the "Americana Award" during a buffet dinner and Christina Onassis had her 21st birthday upstairs. But, Niklas said the greatest party that ever took place in the Garden’s private Pavilion Room was producer Jerry Perenchio’s one-year wedding anniversary bash. “He flew Pavarotti over to sing.”

Alan Alda and Roger Daltrey in conversation at the Bistro in 1974
The Bistro was one of the greatest places to see Hollywood movie stars mingling with rockstars. 


David Cassidy, Elliot Mintz and Elton John

MCA Records party for Elton John 
Mackenzie Phillips and Valerie Bertinelli at the Bistro, 1977



Xanadu launch party in 1979 

The Bistro was also recreated on a sound stage for Robert Towne & Hal Ashby’s SHAMPOO. Production was denied permission to shoot at the original location because of the restaurants tight event schedule. 


"Shampoo"



Jackie Collins was inspired by the Bistro Garden to write her 1983 novel “Hollywood Wives.” 

In 1977 the Bistro moved down the street to 176 Canon and was renamed the Bistro Garden. It closed 20 years later after scandalous rumors of an anti-Semitic insult to a patron had caused a number of customers to defect. That 'rumor' had the phones ringing off the hook. It was most likely a big misunderstanding, and Kurt apologized publicly and profusely, but a particular influential society matron refused to let it go, kept the story circulating and initiated a boycott. And that was the beginning of the end for the Beverly Hills location. One of the first examples of cancel culture.
Owner Kurt Niklas, owner/ maitre d’ Jimmy Murphy of the Bistro restaurant in Beverly Hills, 1972 (photo UCLA). Although Niklas might joke that the restaurant’s Continental fare didn’t win fancy awards, a 1986 review by former Times restaurant critic Ruth Reichl praised the “perfectly cooked” capellini, “impeccable” onion soup and “wonderful clams casino.”

Bistro fashion show, circa 1978
First floor of the original Bistro, circa 1966 (postcard)
Robert & Rosemarie Stack with Sylvie Vartan in 1970
Elliot Gould, Christopher Reeve and John Belushi
 (photo Jim McHugh)
"Three's Company" Party invitation 

The Bistro then moved to Ventura Blvd, although Niklas was not happy about Spago taking over their old location since Swifty Lazar moved his legendary Oscar parties to that same infamous address. (Lazar had held his Oscar parties years before at the original Bistro before partnering with Wolfgang Puck).  Niklas was so worried about this that he wouldn’t sell the property exclusively to Spago. Wolfgang had to turn to Michael Ovitz to help plant a story that Creative Artists was looking to purchase the property. By the time Niklas learned the true identity of the buyer it was too late to back out of the deal. 

Swifty Lazar and Diana Ross at the Bistro Garden


Kurt Niklas died at 83 in 2009 


The Bistro on Ventura Blvd closed in 2020

Last year the Bistro on Ventura was forced to close because of the pandemic. And so it goes. More Hollywood history washed away, but not forgotten. 
 

Vintage matchbook from the Bistro with the CR prefix, circa 1965


Matchbook cover art 1970s & 1980s 


Matchbook from the later years

My mother kept this ashtray and a bottle of water as souvenirs from her baby show. It's amazing how the water hasn't evaporated after all these years. 






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 and on her website, alisonmartino.com


Alison is also currently a columnist for Los Angeles Magazine.

Comments

  1. I'll always miss their souffles. For a brief moment they had a quick service stand in the food court at the Century City Mall after the first remodel of the mall.

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