The food, frankly, doesn't matter. "Friday Lunch," says Bistro Garden owner Kurt Niklas, with a Paul Henreid accent and a Bette Davis shrug, "Friday Lunch is getting too much. Why not Monday? Why not Tuesday?"
Ah, but it is at Friday Lunch that the weekend starts for the successful and sybaritic. They don't have to rush back to work--or go back at all. It is the Friday Lunch scene that supplements social registers and box-office grosses--the final standing based not on who you are or what you do, but on where you sit. From La Toque and the Polo Lounge on Sunset; to West Hollywood's Trumps, the Ivy and Ma Maison; to the Bistro and Bistro Garden on Canon Drive; to the nearby Grill, and to Jimmy's near Century City, this circuit on any Friday contains more important people than the Senate Dining Room and the NBC Commissary.
It's men who seem more willing to fake the necessary facade with the Papa Bear Gambit. "Hi, Chris," they say to the maitre d' at the Bistro Garden, using a big, gruff voice--just like a sturdy fellow recently did leading a quartet of lawyer-like men. Whoops! He had mistakenly come through the garden, missing the long line at the almost hidden entrance. Even a hearty handshake brought him no table.
There's also the gambit of being late. "Berkowitz. Berkowitz. Berkowitz," a woman repeated another recent Friday, planting herself before Kurt Niklas' son, Christopher. He rules from the reservation book, parting the crowds with the ease of a chef separating an egg. The woman was not known to him. He looked her in the eye, repeated "Berkowitz, Berkowitz" and asked, "Is that you or me, madame?" before seating her. One must have pull. One can't be just pushy.
Everywhere regulars abound, like actress Donna Reed with her buddies at the Bistro Garden. Mo Dean, her trademark white-blond chignon of Watergate days replaced with a honey-blond bob, might be near The Group--that cadre of Nancy Reagan friends including Bonita Granville Wrather and Betsy Bloomingdale. MGM-UA's majority shareholder Kirk Kerkorian, O. J. Simpson, and entertainment attorney Greg Bautzer might be in the garden--or they might be at Ma Maison, where the Friday Lunch tradition first took hold, a decade ago.
At The Grill, superagent Ed Hookstratten might be signing deals. Director Billy Wilder is probably there; likewise Steve Martin--if he's not at Trumps, where it's a tossup whether he, Warren Beatty or Raquel Welch causes more staff star-craziness.
Jimmy's--its recent mild renovation giving it enough mirrors and chandeliers to pass for Versailles--will be awash with execs from ABC and "the ladies," as in owner Jimmy Murphy's comment: "The ladies simply love to dress up and wear their jewelry."
At these fancy-dancy spots, the food is not dressy. Chopped salads--what the Brown Derby decades ago named the Cobb salad--are still big sellers, and all around you hear, "Iced tea, please." On Fridays, though, Bob Spivak of The Grill admits, "we uncork more Champagne." Deals being closed, as when this year the Rubin Co.'s Jack Chutuck and Scott Milne signed with Jerry Buss' partner Frank Mariani to handle the various multimillion insurance policies for the Forum. One bottle of Cristal, please.
Desserts are usually taboo, but Fridays there are more "Oh, let's have one piece--and two forks." A raspberry tart adds only a few dollars to tabs that may be as low as $15 per person.
The real tab for a good table is an impressive executive slot, a famous face, a brand-name job, a loyalty to that restaurant--and knowing that these are the unwritten rules. To prove their power, many regulars wait until Friday morning to make their reservations.
"Confidence," the senior Niklas explains.