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RSVP / ORANGE COUNTY : Ritz, Rex Come Out Swinging to Please Crowd

January 03, 1991|ANN CONWAY

It was the battle of the bashes at Newport Center Fashion Island on New Year's Eve.

In one corner: the classic Ritz restaurant nestled under the rolling promenade of the Pacific Mutual building. In the other: the Rex restaurant, the new bistro thriving next to I. Magnin.

But we're ahead of our story. What's hot about the Ritz and the Rex is the history they share. Ritz owner Hans Prager once operated his restaurant at the Newport Beach locale where the old Rex stands (now called 21 Oceanfront). When Prager left the beach at the behest of Pacific Mutual, Rex restaurant owner Rex Chandler opened his bistro there. He did so well that billionaire Donald Bren invited him to open up shop at Fashion Island. (Both bistros are famous for the top guns they attract. And, until now, sharing the in-crowd has been no problem--the Rex was at the beach, the Ritz at the mall. Each offered a unique brand of ambience.) Now the two restaurateurs--great friends--find themselves in the rather awkward position of competing on the same turf. The good news: Each spot was jam-packed Monday night. But there was a decided difference in who went where . The glitzed-out Ritz, smothered with a rainbow of balloons on Mylar streamers, attracted the young-and-restless and the midlife crisis set (so many older males with sweet-young-things on their arms. And enough decolletage to give the nudes on the walls competition). The glittering Rex--also smothered with a rainbow of balloons on Mylar streamers--attracted the young-and-restless. Period. (Lots of furs here. And short, spangled dresses.)

"Well, I think the Rex-set is about a bunch of kids who have graduated from Bobby McGee's," sniffed one older, bosom-baring blonde at the Ritz.

Prager's popular restaurant--which had two seatings--attracted around 500 guests, some in black-tie, some in suits--all dressed to kill. Among guests was glamour-model Tina Schafnitz and her husband, Matt, who were diving into their white chocolate ice cream and raspberries Chambord at a very early 8:30 p.m. "We came early and we're leaving early," Matt said. Joining the Schafnitzes were super-model Andrea Witeck and new beau, model Kyle Anderson.

Also at the Rex--Roger and Candice Schnapp. Roger's New Year's resolution? "To continue to hope that the Republican Party moves in the right direction--to the conservative wing of the party." (How Orange County can you get?)

Over at the bubbling Rex--where about 200 partied--Rex Chandler and his lovely wife, Susan, held court over a crowd that danced on black marble between their six-course repast.

Among guests were the newly engaged Rick Zak and Denise Cox. Their resolutions for 1991? "To get married!" they chimed.

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