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Let's Eat Out

Somewhere Over Rainbow: Relic Rocks On

November 03, 1988|ROSE DOSTI | Times Staff Writer

Well, you may and may not want to hear about the Rainbow Bar and Grill on Sunset Boulevard.

It depends.

If you've thrown up your hands in your quest for a true East Coast Pizza (we're talking about the kind they make in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and Newark, N.J.), start salivating. The Rainbow probably has, in my humble opinion, the one and only of its kind in this town.

It's the real McCoy, and you'll know it when you see and smell it: gooey strings of mozzarella ooze out of a lava of fragrant Southern Italian tomato sauce as you dismantle a wedge on your plate. The crust is crisp and thin with soft bubbles of chewy dough lining the outside edge.

If you need chicken noodle soup that acts like penicillin when you're sick, weary, worried or whatever, then the Rainbow's oversized bowl of excellent chock-full-of-chicken soup threatens to outdo many such curatives 10 times over. It does, anyway, for hundreds of diners who regularly come just for the giant-size portion. And for only $4 the big bowl, too.

There is, however, a hitch.

The Rainbow is not just a restaurant. Upstairs it's a hot dance club filled with heavy-metal rockers and music that blooms to grand proportions as the evening progresses. I mean heavy duty. Beat, beat, beat. Metal, leather, chains, tattoos, bare thighs, hair and silicone. And lots of it. So be prepared for some people watching. If you arrive late for supper, say, after 9 p.m., bring earplugs. And don't forget the Kleenex to wipe the fog off the glasses. Delicious Rocky Horror-Elvira types are legion here. If you are allergic to such shows, go early, say 6 or 7 p.m., when the stereo is sweet and low and early birds minimal, or don't go at all. This place may not be not for you.

I loved it all. The cutoffs, the haircuts, the silicone, the blaring music. All, all, all.

An invitation from our electrician brought us to the Rainbow.

Besnik, whose last name I should know but don't, is a fellow Albanian with an Alexander the Great profile and Newman-esque water-blue eyes. "I invite you to Rainbow," he said to my husband and me one day after spending an entire day drilling holes in our ceiling.

"You like chicken soup," he said. "You like pizza." Not questions. Statements. "Best food," he said in his monosyllabic way of transposing Macedonian into English. He prepared us for the surprisingly exemplary chicken soup and outstanding pizza but not for the Rainbow. The Rainbow is a Fellini movie set with Addams Family overtones. Hitchcock, Dirty Harry and Rodney Dangerfield all rolled into one.

Besnik, whose appearance had transformed from Industrial Revolution to Bijan-at-Cannes, sat at table No. 1, where the view is superb. That's where diners must pass for their tables further back. That's where poster model Angeline passed 10 times during an evening she dined there, making her way, I suppose, to the bathroom, something or someone, and where Sylvester Stallone sat when we revisited.

Table 14, facing the nonburning fireplace and the Rainbow logo, is usually spoken for by the glitzier clientele, so don't bother asking for it. Unless, that is, you are Elizabeth Taylor, Mickey Rooney, Jack Nicholson, Britt Eklund, Robin Williams, Robert De Niro, Richie Blackwell, Poison, Fleetwood Mac, or Al Stewart, all of whom, said co-owner Mario Magleri, have at one time or another sat at the very table. John Belushi, sadly, ate his last meal there.

Vestiges of the Original

The restaurant is a Hollywood heyday relic, falling in step with the changes of the boulevard throughout the years. It was originally known as the Villa Nova in the '30s, became the Windjammer in the '60s and now the Rainbow. Current owners Magleri, and record producer, Lou Adler, took over the restaurant, the adjacent Roxy and Whiskey clubs in 1972.

The original building, its pub-like interior with magnificent mahogany panels rising to a glorious bulkhead resembling the interior of a sailing vessel, still stands. Climbing vines and Christmas lights obscuring the architectural design, added by the present owners, also still stand. (Off with the vines and lights, I say. I want architecture restored). Anyway, the original shape of the stern can be enjoyed on the second level, where the disco dance floor is located.

The service people, gorgeous waitresses with excellent physiques and good intuitive sense for customers' needs, and managers like Tony Vescio, wearing a red carnation and cuff links, couldn't be better cast for the job than if Mario Puzo had hired them.

Back in the golden days of Hollywood, the Rainbow, then known as the Villa Nova, was a famed hideaway rendezvous for Hollywood stars out for a late night of romance, anonymity and a good steak. Marilyn Monroe was said to have met Joe DiMaggio on a blind date there.

It's still a good hideaway for a good steak. I have a hard time seeing romance or anonymity in its current incarnation, but you never know.

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