"An El Padrino evening," whispers the gentle invitation within the burnished brass frame in the muffled lobby of the elegant Beverly Wilshire Hotel, "never goes out of style."
Wrong. Sunday night, beamed and discreet El Padrino restaurant will serve its last order of sand dabs, pour a final Ballantine's and soda and quietly die at closing.
Frank Sinatra will have to find another secret spot for his after-show, wee-small-hour nightcap. So will evangelist Gene Scott. No longer will the jazz fortunate find Mel Torme sitting in at the piano.
A year from now, a hotel spokesperson said, the room will reopen. But as something else. No name, no decor, no menu, no concept has been decided. The hotel says it is considering a restaurant in keeping with the Beverly Wilshire's 1928 grandeur. Critics of the closure are fearing more ferns and Formica.
Yet nobody knows for sure and the hotel is presuming a painless transition, betting that regulars will adopt the new bistro just as easily as they transferred allegiances when the hotel's familiar Oak Bar was torn apart to make way for the untried El Padrino in 1962.
Padrino was a contrivance of the late Hernando Courtright, hotelier, true boniface, and el padrino (godfather) of the Beverly Wilshire.
The Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel, he decreed, should remain the place for stars to be seen--with El Padrino for those choosing not to be seen. As the 21 Club in New York secured a niche through personal attentions and handsome trademarks--then El Padrino would become a West Coast counterpart for conducting the business of show business.
Ergo, it was no coincidence that when El Padrino opened it was with Ballantine's Scotch, tablecloths and Christofle serving carts, all borrowings from 21.
The clientele quickly formed. Muckrakers working bar conversations for gossip columns; writers pitching actors and actors pitching directors and directors pitching backers; publicists creating images; stars getting into romantic trouble and show-business attorneys getting them out of it.
"At El Padrino," publicist Jerry Pam said, "Roger Moore announced to Vernon Scott of United Press that he was tired of being James Bond and would not be making any more 007 movies."
El Padrino's closeness to offices of the stars (Kirk Douglas works within strolling distance), their agents (the William Morris Agency is nearby), plus a carefully cultivated insulation (semi-shrouded booths) against gawkers, became assets rarer than its char-broiled lamb chops.
Sinatra celebrated his 50th birthday at El Padrino. Isaac Stern said its chicken-in-the-pot was better than his mother's. Rachel Roberts and Rex Harrison preferred the lamb stew. John DeLorean did some creative financing here.
And Steve McQueen, sick, lonely, spent the closing evenings of his life at El Padrino, drinking beer and memorizing Ibsen's "Master Builder," the dream role he didn't live to produce.
"Ben Hogan was in here only two or three days ago," Jimmy Vollmer said. He has been maitre d'Padrino for 11 years and will move to its replacement, the hotel's Bordeaux Room, on Monday. "Mr. Hogan gave me an autographed box of golf balls."
Regent International Hotels purchased the Beverly Wilshire from Courtright and partners in 1985. A spokesman said current refurbishment is part of an overall program to return the hotel's cultured, regal past.
Whatever the design, Courtright's influence clearly is being expunged. His coffee shop, Hernando's Hideaway, closed last year and will reopen beneath another identity. Now El Padrino, its name forming yet another commemoration of Courtright, is to disappear.
Hence an informal suggestion gathering speed and noise in the halls and offices of the Beverly Wilshire.
Could there be a more elegant, more au courant , more aristocratic or more honorable name for the new restaurant than . . . Courtright's?
El Padrino, Beverly Wilshire, 9500 Wilshire Blvd., (213) 275-4282, for lunch/dinner reservations.