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The Last Tea Time : Fans flocked to the famous concrete tables to bid Trumps adieu. 'I became an adult in this restaurant,' moaned a regular.

September 13, 1992|BETTY GOODWIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

New York had Donald and Ivana, and L.A. had Trumps.

But now that everything '80s is coming to a crashing end, we can include the restaurant Trumps and its daily teas on the fatalities list.

"Do you know how sad this is?" Bill Melamed, a personal manager, asked co-owner and executive chef Michael Roberts at Trumps' last tea. "I became an adult in this restaurant."

"Half the kids in Beverly Hills did," replied Roberts, smiling gamely, as he did all day.

On Sept. 4 when its doors closed for good on the Western reaches of Melrose Avenue, Trumps was a victim of declining tastes for things like plantains and caviar or quesadillas stuffed with grapes and Brie served with sweet pea guacamole, dishes that were taken as seriously here as anything French in a sauce anywhere else. Trumps even looked '80s with its Southwestern facade, minimal art gallery interior and ascetic concrete dining tables bearing tiny exotic succulents.

Trumps helped define Los Angeles as a stylish city and was a backdrop for the famous, creative and successful citizenry of West Hollywood and beyond. Eddie Murphy and his bodyguards dined there en masse, and Sam Shepard regularly ordered bourbon at the bar. Sally Field had a baby shower there. Big-ticket artists like David Hockney and Ed Ruscha were regulars, as were famous chefs like Julia Child and James Beard. Jerry Brown was a habitue when he was governor, and Sen. Edward Kennedy entertained there when he came through town.

"This is a very Democratic restaurant," said Roberts, allowing that Republicans could probably be found across Beverly Hills at Jimmy's.

Of meeting famous people, "The thrilling moments for me were Lillian Hellman, Martha Graham and Claudette Colbert," said Roberts, 43, who was still wearing his chef's coat at the farewell tea--with a wrist corsage someone had given him.

"I had a fabulous chat with Claudette Colbert, whom my grandmother said she had bumped into on the SS France on its first night out in 1939." They were wearing the same dress, he said, "although Claudette Colbert obviously had no recollection.

"Lillian Hellman would always eat the smoked chicken salad but never let go of her cigarette. For every forkful, she took a smoke."

Another famous person flashed through his head. "Elizabeth Montgomery, one of my all-time favorites, practically lived here."

And another. "I had some cousins of my mother from Amsterdam, New York, for dinner and Mitzi Gaynor was here and they almost died."

On closing day, a large group came in drag at the bequest of Ron Meyers, a restaurant designer (but not Trumps' designer; that was co-owner Waldo Fernandez).

In Meyers' thinking, this was a tribute to the fluffed-up ladies who did lunch and tea at the restaurant since it first opened on Oct. 13, 1980.

Meyers called the restaurant an icon and said it was "the end of an era for the city. So I thought, wouldn't it be fun for a bunch of men to go to tea in drag?"

Meyers wore a floral cotton sun dress that elicited another era gone by. "I'm a '60s starlet who just got put under contract at Paramount. I'm the last contract player," he said.

Hollywood publicist Richard Grant sat in a corner for farewell tea with his personal trainer and watched the goings-on from a spot that was once his surrogate business office.

"I used to eat lunch here a minimum of twice a week," said Grant.

"Table 1 was the best table in town for a business lunch. You could see everybody and have command of the room, but nobody could hear you. I'm very sad about it closing. Michael said he'd make me a container of Caesar dressing so I can have it at the house."

"It makes me feel I ought to have come here much more often," said photographer Tim Street-Porter, a Brit with a fondness for Trumps' teas.

"When this place goes, the cucumber sandwiches will go and the clotted cream will go too and there will be nowhere else to go."

In recent years, after the foodies moved on, the restaurant was merely breaking even, not a good enough reason for the partners to keep it going.

"My partners are very happy to abandon this place," said Roberts.

"For me money is not the issue. I get a very big salary. I just want to express myself. I can't do it here because what I established is too strong in the public's mind." Roberts said he has imminent plans to open more restaurants in L.A., and that's plural.

"I'm feeling great," he told all the people who were saying goodby. "I feel like that summer between high school and college. I loved high school. I was very popular. I went to all the proms, and I can't wait to go to college."

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