“The Georgian” On My Mind
By Bob Vickrey
I doubt if Ray Charles had The Georgian Hotel in Santa Monica on his mind when he recorded his classic hit song in 1960, but I found myself humming his famous tune as our monthly lunch group made its way through the canyon to our destination on Ocean Avenue.
When we began our lunch club venture last year, our intention was to visit some of the most famous Los Angeles restaurants, but somewhere along the way, legendary Southern California hotels became an integral part of our itinerary. We’ve visited the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel, the Bel-Air, the Chateau Marmont, and most recently, the Culver Hotel, which all occupy splendid chapters of Los Angeles history.
The Georgian opened its doors in 1931 when Santa Monica was a little-known beach community, and the colorful art deco hotel became a seaside getaway for Hollywood A-listers. It became one of L.A.’s first speakeasies during prohibition and hosted the famous and the infamous, such as Gable and Lombard, Fatty Arbuckle, and Bugsy Siegel, who enjoyed martinis and jazz on the hotel veranda.
The ornate lobby features arched doorways, marble floors, and a crown-molded ceiling. The hotel underwent a major renovation in 2000, and added lavish amenities to the 84 rooms and 28 suites.
As we settled into our seats on the veranda overlooking Palisades Park and hundreds of early-summer tourists parading by us on the sidewalk, Josh informed us that he had left his wallet at home. Despite the raised eyebrows among his fellow diners, we decided to allow him eat with us anyway. We trusted that he would pay us back, but nevertheless, we drew up a hastily-written I.O.U. on a napkin, and had him initial several key clauses that we felt solidified the contract. If that didn’t work out, we would volunteer his dish-washing services in the kitchen for the duration of the afternoon.
Barry ordered the grilled chicken ciabatta sandwich, while Josh decided on the roasted salmon filet. I ordered the seared Ahi tuna tower with wantons, and if you’ve read our previous lunch club columns, you already know what Arnie ordered. (Hint: It comes wrapped inside a bun.)
During lunch, we shared our memories about the colorful life of Muhammad Ali and the ever-evolving perception by historians of his true cultural significance.
Josh told us the story of meeting Cassius Clay in New York shortly after the young boxer had returned with his gold medal from the 1960 Olympics. At the time, Josh was book editor of Newsweek magazine and accompanied sportswriter and broadcaster Dick Schapp to a local tavern where he was introduced to the brash and dashing young champion. Clay was receiving significant attention from the excited patrons of the pub as he collected donations to help pay his way back home to Louisville. The story reminded us that amateur athletes in earlier times did not have their pockets lined with cash by sports equipment companies like Nike—they were truly on their own.
Speaking of brash characters, we couldn’t help but discuss the Presidential election primaries and the surrounding carnival-like atmosphere that now exists. I admitted that I had been repeatedly drawn to the CNN website several times a day just to discover what newsworthy quote Candidate Trump had uttered since last checking in. Our normally opinionated group was unusually timid about speculating on the ultimate outcome of the fall election. This ambivalence certainly represented a first for us.
After lunch, we toured the lobby and adjacent rooms as Barry busily snapped pictures of the grand old hotel’s charm and beauty. The historic photos that adorned the hallway walls recalled earlier times in the once-sleepy little town of Santa Monica.
We decided to hustle Josh to the car before hotel management discovered he had left his wallet at home. They might become suspicious that we had shorted them on the bill.
Besides, Arnie had to return to work at the Palisades Chamber of Commerce office, and we faced the always-daunting task of navigating our way through the village at the exact time local schools were being dismissed. And recent history had made us keenly aware that the epic time-consuming left-turn off Sunset has caused more than one Palisadian to rearrange dinner plans.
Bob Vickrey is a writer whose columns appear in several Southwestern newspapers including the Houston Chronicle. He is a member of the Board of Contributors of the Waco Tribune-Herald and a regular contributor for the Boryana Books website. He lives in Pacific Palisades, California.