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Benjamin Epstein

Happiest Fund-Raiser, Bar None

December 26, 1985|Benjamin Epstein

"Now you just tell me aaall your problems, honey," said the bartendress, with compassion but also with a note of cynicism--perhaps she'd said those words too many times before.

In fact, she hadn't.

In fact, Dec. 19 marked the first time that Barbara Grady, a fund-raising consultant for South Coast Repertory Theatre, had ever tended bar.

Ditto David Emmes and Cristofer Gross, SCR's producing artistic director and communications manager, respectively; Carol DiStanislao of South Coast Plaza, Linda Frost of South Coast Village and Diane Pritchett of the South Coast Metro Alliance. They all donated their services at Alfredo's Taverna, their tips and $1 per drink to SCR as part of the Westin South Coast Plaza's Celebrity Happy Hour series.

Training was minimal.

"They give you an apron and they say, 'Do it,' " said DiStanislao.

"Definitely on-the-job training," confirmed Frost.

No one was keeping count, but Gross, waiting tables, definitely had the most accidents, to which SCR's Jerry Patch and Cori Flocken could personally testify. Nobody seemed to mind.

"He's been a real bumble," noted Frost with a laugh. "Anyway, he's not taking orders, he's taking phone numbers."

Catherine Boire, the hotel's director of community relations, believes celebrity bartenders will catch on.

"Everybody's saying they've had enough of the balls and the wine auctions, enough of the fashion shows," said Boire. "This is something new. And it's not $100 a ticket. It's $3.50 a ticket."

In a bit of bar small talk, Boire mentioned that the hotel will have a very special guest this weekend: Ralphie.

"The University of Colorado football team is playing the Washington Huskies in the Freedom Bowl at Anaheim Stadium," explained Boire. "They're the Buffaloes. Their mascot is Ralphie.

"Ralphie the buffalo, who it turns out is a female, weighs 1,400 pounds, and she goes everywhere with the team. We'll have her stabled in Town Center Park till she goes to the game." (Mr. Stox Restaurant of Anaheim will feed the teams prime rib and cheesecake dinners today and Friday.)

One experienced bartender was on hand at happy hour for moral support and/or recipes for house specialties: He explained to DiStanislao, for instance, that a champagne poinsettia was champagne, cranberry juice and Cointreau, that a good and plenty was anisette and kahlua.

Bartenders rarely touched a bottle; spirits were on one push-button gun, mixers on another. You might call it drinks by the number.

"Yep, one if by rum, two if by tequila," said DiStanislao.

"Big deal," cautioned one customer at the bar, " don't ask them to make a Long Island iced tea."

England be glad! Pluck up thy lusty heart!

--Words to a song from the manuscript of Henry VIII.

In Henry's time, guests would have brought their own knives and eaten with their fingers.

But at the UC Irvine Madrigal Dinners, nine of which took place over the last two weeks in the Fine Arts Village Theatre, guests were supplied not only with knives, but also with forks and spoons, and were encouraged to use them.

The UCI Chamber Singers and Concert Choir re-created characters from King Henry's court--minstrels, magicians, mimes, jesters and courtesans--and the atmosphere of a royal yuletide banquet in Renaissance England, specifically Christmas Eve, 1540.

The final performance benefited the Volunteer Center of South Orange County, a United Way agency that provides volunteers and services to 650 nonprofit agencies in the county.

Part of the $2,500 raised paid the way for participants in the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) to also attend the dinner, according to the center president, Allan Simmons.

They say that charity begins at home; this Christmas, the directors of the Orange County chapter of the American Red Cross decided to take the adage to heart.

They had to.

"The Red Cross has donated so much money to the (volcano and) flood disaster in Colombia," explained Rex Chandler, "our financial committee found that our local disaster-relief fund is broke. If something were to happen here in Orange County, we would have nothing."

Chandler opened his Rex of Newport Beach restaurant for its second annual Christmas brunch Sunday. The event oversold: 230 enjoyed eggs Benedict and champagne, and local Red Cross disaster-relief coffers were fattened by almost $6,000.

"It seems pretty remote, I know," admitted Chandler. "If you look at it, sure, I suppose the joke would be--oh, like Neiman-Marcus burning down? But if a big disaster happens, and one can happen anywhere, we would be short funds.

"That almost sounds funny because our chapter is so well-organized. But that good organization costs money, too. What happens is that we're so charitable to other chapters and to disasters around the world, we wind up giving most of our own funds away."

Chandler and most of his staff donated their time; all food products were donated by businesses such as Ingardia Bros., Young's Market and Wine Warehouse.

"It's good," added Chandler. "Everybody gets to put in their little charitable thing, and then we all feel really good on Tuesday and Wednesday."

Chandler's mother, Radie, was hard at work.

"I work here every day," she said. "No, he doesn't make me. I like to."

Radie Chandler, who opens the restaurant every morning at 4, explained that while the kitchen help, such as dishwashers, were paid for their work on Sunday, Manuel Rodriguez of Santa Ana, who was busy chopping olives, was not.

"I told him to punch the time clock, but he wouldn't," she said. "He insists on donating his time."

Radie had lots of good news for fans of the Rex: The operation next door, Egads, has gone out of business, and the Chandlers have taken over the property.

The Rex will double in size, and at one end of the building, with a separate entrance, will be an oyster bar, grill and retail fish outlet, all due to open in February.

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