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COVER STORY : Power Eating : In the land of deals on meals, maitre d's are brokers of telltale tables and restaurants feed off high-profile customers

June 30, 1991|NIKKI FINKE and PEGGY BISCOW | Nikki Finke is writing a book about Hollywood for Random House. Peggy Biscow is her research associate. and

On the other hand, the 60 major investors, including Norman Lear, Sydney Pollack, Christine McVie, Ryan O'Neal and Leonard Nimoy, who put money into Maple Drive certainly didn't hurt that eatery's chances of achieving superstar status in an astonishingly short time. More to the point, the restaurant had the benefit of the highly visible 72 Market Street partnership anchored by director-producer-actor Tony Bill and actor-musician Dudley Moore. This pair knows the secret to operating a successful industry watering hole: Get your friends to drop in. So Maple Drive was a sure thing from the outset.

But its thriving industry clientele is also the result of locating in the same complex as thriving industry companies. The fact is that entertainment executives would much rather get out in the fresh air and walk to lunch than hop in their cars and fight the freeways. How else to smooth out those pesky Armani wrinkles?

So it wasn't just Kismet that Maple Drive restaurant happened to be located in the Maple Plaza complex, which just happens to house Castle Rock Entertainment, Motown Productions, Elektra Records, and the entertainment law firms Hansen Jacobson & Teller, and Cooper Epstein & Hurewitz. To further ensure adequate, uh, decoration, word is that during the restaurant's first month of operation the partners invited Elite models to eat for free, though maitre d' Colin Hadlow thought it was "just on the dry runs."

Location also plays an integral factor in the continued crowding of Jimmy's, which is adjacent to all the major Century City-Beverly Hills office towers, just a contract's throw from such entertainment entities as Orion Pictures, agencies CAA and Triad Artists and the law firm of Armstrong & Hirsch. And talk about power eating: Jimmy's was the site of a post-buyout private luncheon last January hosted by MCA's Lew Wasserman and Sidney Sheinberg for one of the Matsushita bigwigs' rare trips to Los Angeles.

The public relations company Rogers & Cowan, housed in the next block, holds some staff meetings at Jimmy's. Indeed, founder Warren Cowan is such a regular that he isn't even given a menu anymore. Instead, the waiter already has Cowan's drink waiting at his favorite corner table in the main room, then departs to fetch him his favorite dish--a plain, plain salad-- without any words needing to be spoken, and finally charging the meal to Cowan's house account. Nothing could be easier, not even eating at home.

On the other hand, even though David Geffen owns the property underneath Il Giardino, that's not the only reason it's an industry favorite. Instead, it's the combination of homey atmosphere and blink-and-you'll-miss-it environs. It's the sort of place you wouldn't find unless you happened to know what to look for. And therein lies its snob appeal.

"We have people coming in who've lived in Beverly Hills for years and did not know this place existed," notes cashier Christina Sanges.

Once arrived, both literally and figuratively, the power eaters are seated at the power tables, which tend to be located in the front. "You always sit the most 'in' people there because you want to show them off," notes DelMaestro, who escorts them to Nos. 1, 2, 39 and 40 at the Palm. "You really don't want to put a powerful guy all the way back somewhere where he gets lost in the shuffle."

At Mortons, an almost visible demarcation line separates superior from Siberian table placement. The rule of thumb is that the better the art, the worse the table. In other words, those customers who find themselves near the paintings by Francis Bacon and Ed Ruscha might as well leave town. Instead, the most coveted tables are in the center of the room or by the bank of windows--the better to see who's coming in the door.

On the other hand, the coterie of regulars at Le Dome prefer to be tucked discreetly in the back so as not to have their conversations overheard. That's why entertainment lawyer Jake Bloom, Carolco President Peter Hoffman, ICM Vice President Guy McIlwaine, APA President Marty Klein and media mogul David Geffen (always in his T-shirt and jeans) almost always make the scene.

And why soon after signing Steven Spielberg as a client last year, Michael Ovitz celebrated with a highly visible power lunch at Le Dome with the director and his producing partner Kathleen Kennedy at Spielberg attorney Bruce Ramer's regular table. In the words of one wag, "It was a way of making a statement to the industry without having to say a word. Just the picture of those four having lunch at Le Dome was enough."

Then again, some power players don't always want to be on display. At Jimmy's, agents like CAA's Rick Nicita and Rosalie Swedlin and Triad's Richard Rosenberg request the high-visibility main dining room more times than not. But Orion President Marc Platt prefers the privacy of the heated and air-conditioned Palm Court well to the rear.

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