Almost as special and life enhancing as the free cars, were the free lunches…and dinners. You had the always popular media rep lunch, going to a fine restaurant that you would tell your in-laws about so they wouldn’t think their daughter had married a Philistine. There were the media rep dinners, where you would stock up on carbs, fats, proteins, and ethanols on the rocks to survive the nastiest winters. There were the incredible media “luncheons,” where you would feast on rare delicacies. All you had to do was eat while sitting with a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue model, a Playmate of the Year, Mike Eruzione, Robin Williams, Terry Bradshaw, Gerald Ford, or Bob Hope and listen to a short sales pitch. And all of this was on top of the fine dining that was afforded by the T&E budget. “Hmmm, I’m hankerin’ for some Steak a la Palm. Hey, Sato-san. Would you and your wife like to go to dinner? Have you been to The Palm yet?”
Alas, many of the great places to eat in LA have gone the way of the large expense account. Please indulge me as I wax nostalgic:
McHenry’s Tail o’ the Cock on La Cienega. The all-male Milline Club used to meet there monthly. Their purpose seemed to be to keep dirty jokes and misogyny in the mainstream of American culture. Their annual “review” attracted hundreds to the musical show. Finally, good taste prevailed.
Ma Maison…the hoitiest of toitiness. They had an unlisted phone number. So, if you told someone that you had called ahead for reservations, you were letting them know they you were one of the pauci selecti. The epitome of passive/aggressive behavior. My fondest memory of the place is when I tried to race a 400 pound Orson Welles inside and I got jammed in the front entryway with him.
The Brown Derby in Hollywood was a favorite…just so I could tell my college buddies back in Michigan that “I was a regular.” The first time I ever had a Cobb Salad was there. I’ll never forget the feeling of pieces of bleu cheese and bacon missing my mouth and falling into my lap as Susan Sarandon sashayed in.
Ahhhh, Chasen’s. My dear friend Dick Wanderer, formerly of Army/Navy Times, first introduced me to this place. It later became the site for his legendary Christmas Parties. I will never forget my first meal there. Dick ordered the Seafood Tower for us. If my memory serves me well, I remember it as being a four foot tower of crab, lobster, clams, oysters, crawfish, scallops, mussels, and lemon wedges. It was surrounded by a flotilla of butter boats. I would usually lose consciousness after the sixteenth lobster claw.
Perino’s!!! They served me my first Steak Diane. Exquisitely done table side. The interior featured sets of circular banquettes that backed into each other, giving it a feel of a 1930’s nightclub. If you were going to have lunch at Perino’s, you told your secretary that you wouldn’t be returning as you had off-site meetings all afternoon.
Scandia!!!! You cruel, cruel mistress. Home of gravlax, herring, hot rye bread, and gallons of aquavit. Every year, National Geographic would host a dinner in the Scandia Cellar, called the Viking Feast. I need not say more. Petersen Publishing used to be next door. Pete Petersen ate there all the time. He loved it so much, he bought the place for $2 million. As the sale was going through, he found out that he was buying the place…but not the name. That cost him an additional $2 million! It didn’t do very well after that, and finally closed. There are still rumors that ghosts of ad guys dressed only in animal skins wander the place eating raw goat meat from the bone while looting and pillaging imaginary coastal towns.
They, and many more like them, are all gone. As the ad biz in LA moved west toward the ocean, and south into Orange County, the old places began to fade like the smile on your boss’s face when he suddenly realizes that he had no idea that you were nuts. And now, I find out, The Palm on Santa Monica might be moving to make way for a “mixed-use” development on its current site. The rumors have been swirling for months. It’s going to take a lot of steam to get those caricatures off of the walls. I’ve spent many a fine afternoon there, feasting on a Gigi Salad and a blackened rib eye, with sides of a “half and half,” sautéed spinach, and decanters of Jameson’s. Is nothing sacred?????
Next: Life Imitates Art