MAKING OUR OWN HISTORY AT THE CHATEAU MARMONT

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December 1, 2015 · Posted in Commentary 

 

Chateau Marmont Hotel

By Bob Vickrey

 

Barry Stein is the only native Angelino in our monthly lunch group, and he prides himself on knowing every back road and alley in all of Southern California.

His job as driver commands such respect that other members of the group have been instructed to call him “The Driver” when he picks us up for our trips to some of the oldest and most famous restaurants in the city. He often reminds us to capitalize the “T” when designating his role as “The Driver.”

Barry is a photographer whose finished works are so secretive that few of his friends have ever seen his photos. Only employees of Pricewaterhouse, the accounting firm that protects the secrecy of the Oscar ballots each year, have allegedly seen his work.

A News reader asked recently how our group chooses which restaurant we visit each month. I told her, it was simple; “We fight a lot.”

So, in our continuing quest to visit some of LA’s most historic landmarks, we decided to have lunch at The Restaurant (yet another capital “T”, please!) inside the Chateau Marmont Hotel on the Sunset Strip.

The rather majestic seven-story structure rises from a scenic knoll along Sunset Boulevard that often becomes obscured amid the congested signage and billboards of the famous Strip. The hotel’s design was inspired following a European trip by prominent Los Angeles attorney Fred Horowitz after visiting a Gothic chateau in the Loire Valley.

The Chateau Marmont opened its doors in 1929 as an exclusive new apartment building in Hollywood. But Horowitz sold the building two years later and it was converted to its present day status as a luxury hotel. In later years, cottages and bungalows were added to the scenic property.

The landmark hotel holds lots of Hollywood lore within its walls. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, Billy Wilder, Hunter S. Thompson, and Annie Leibovitz are said to have done some of their best work while staying in the hotel. Jim Morrison of The Doors took up residency there in 1970. And of course, this was where John Belushi famously died of a drug overdose in Bungalow 3, in March of 1982.

Chateau Bar & Lounge

It had been so many years since I had visited the Chateau Marmont; I had forgotten it was one of the many L.A. buildings that is missing its front door. We wove our way through a darkened parking garage and eventually climbed a flight of stairs that led us to the main floor lobby and our restaurant. (I suddenly had the disoriented feeling we had stumbled back into the darkened labyrinths of Clifton’s Cafeteria by mistake.)

We found the patio dining there quite warm and welcoming as we made our way through the many tables filled with women diners. This seemed to be the restaurant of choice for the Hollywood ladies lunch-set. Nevertheless, the maitre d’ was gracious enough to seat four grey-haired gentlemen.

I was disappointed to find the “soft-shell crab Po’ Boy” I had spotted on the online menu was no longer available. I opted for the same lobster Cobb salad that I had ordered in our previous visits to the Bel Air Hotel and the Polo Lounge. Barry ordered the Caesar salad and a side of roasted Brussels sprouts, which became the popular sharing dish of the day. Whoever thought a plate of boring Brussels sprouts could become the hit of our luncheon? Poor Barry hardly got his share by the time we had plundered his meal.

To no one’s surprise, Arnie Wishnick placed his standard hamburger order—“Well done, thank you very much.” He insists that he has been on a lifelong mission to discover the very best hamburger in Los Angeles, and those of us who eat with him regularly would vouch for that dedicated “mission.” Josh Greenfeld didn’t find anything on the menu that excited him, so he went with the burger as well.

When our lunch orders arrived, I kept my focus on the astonished faces of my table-mates as Arnie began his well-rehearsed ritual of stripping his burger of its condiments. It usually starts with an innocent, “Does anyone want my pickles?” Then the complete dismantling begins—of everything in between the burger patty and the bun. Off comes the sauce, lettuce, tomato, onion, and whatever else gets in his way until he is down to the bare essentials—meat and bread. Blame it on his mid-western upbringing, or simple old-school eating habits, but the man knows what he likes.

Somewhere in the dark recesses of a kitchen corner, there had to have been a once proud chef named Jake sitting dejected and inconsolable after being told of the carnage inflicted on his carefully crafted burger. He probably asked himself, “Where did I go wrong?”

His assistants likely crowded around him with some gentle reassurance. “Forget it Jake, it’s not your fault. Arnie’s mother never had much luck in getting him to eat his vegetables at home either.”

 

Bob Vickrey writes for several Southwestern newspapers including the Houston Chronicle. He is a member of the Board of Contributors for the Waco Tribune-Herald and a regular contributor for the Boryana Books website.

Chateau Entrance

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