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Hello, Deli : Studio City: A rebuilt Art's Delicatessen reopens nine months after the earthquake. Patrons breathe sighs of contentment.


STUDIO CITY — The pastrami rose from the ashes Wednesday. Nine months and a day after its fiery destruction in a Northridge earthquake aftershock--long enough to have a baby, long enough to whet a million appetites--Art's Deli reopened on Ventura Boulevard.

More than a birth, it was the rebirth of a Valley and show-biz institution--a return from limbo for an entire neighborhood that was smashed in January.

"What was it like around here without Art's? A four-letter word: D-e-a-d," said Marty Petersil, owner of The Flask liquor store a few blocks away. "That proved, as if anyone doubted it, that this is the hub of the boulevard."

Added his friend, lawyer Hugh Lipton: "You knew it was bad around here when you could always find a parking space."

Parking was scarce again Wednesday morning, even at 6:30 a.m., as friends and customers drove from as far away as Simi Valley, Newhall and Culver City to line up outside in the chilly dawn for a chance to have eggs and onions, maybe some lox (could it hurt?), and welcome their mishpocheh , their family, back to life.

Art Ginsburg himself--the restaurant's owner, maitre d', godfather, impresario--looked as high as a helium-filled balloon, his feet barely tethered to the ground, a rose pinned to his blue dress shirt.

"I was so excited this morning that my legs were shaking," he said.


The deli, founded 37 years ago with a few tables and a long counter, survived the main shock of the Jan. 17 quake with only a cracked front wall. At 3 a.m. the following morning, however, an aftershock caused an electrical fire that burned it down. Ginsburg, who lives a few blocks away, arrived with family members just in time to see flames shoot through the roof.

"We cried and watched it go--and then smiles came across our faces and we began to plan what we wanted to fix!" said Ginsburg. "It was like watching a child get hurt, then it was like watching it in the hospital getting chicken soup as the workmen built it back up from scratch."


The Ginsburg family credits their accountant, David Levi, with quickly developing the menu for recovery: Hire a contractor, wrangle with a recalcitrant insurance company and lobby their councilman for help with a variance on city parking requirements. (The deli has only six spots--the city originally demanded 65.)

On Wednesday, consiglier e Levi sat at a table of honor with Ginsburg's son-in-law and other regulars. Between bites of poppy-seed bagels and sips of hot coffee, they showed off the new wainscoting, the graceful wooden chairs ("Roberta picked them out, you like 'em?"), the shiny white-and-black tiled floor. And they toasted their new fire walls and foundation.

Well-wishers stopping by to offer them mazel tov were gratified to see hanging overhead the restaurant's trademark photos of turkey, corned beef and other sandwiches--a lineup so simple yet lascivious that Ginsburg refers to them as "Jewish pornography."

Price tag on the remake: $1.7 million, about a million over their original estimate, but unbegrudged. "People rallied around this family, and I'm sure they'll make Art's a habit again," said Levi.

There seemed little doubt of that. Relaxing at their usual tables for the first time in 271 days, actors, agents, producers, composers and writers who walk over from nearby studios recounted how the fire that torched Art's also burned a hole in their lives. Routines were upset and bellies went unfilled.

Said TV-movie producer Hugh Benson: "For years I've had breakfast here almost every single day I'm in town, and sometimes lunch, too. It's like home except the food's better."

TV-music composer Steve Dorff likewise considers Art's an anchor in his life. "My friends joke that if they want to talk to me, they come here instead of calling," he said.

Delis are important at this end of town, as entertainment-industry types like to compare their merits almost as much as they like to eat and schmooze in them.

"Best deli west of New York!" exclaimed Vernon Scott, a UPI entertainment columnist who has sat at the same table on Saturday mornings for 16 years with writer Joe Hyams, producer Walter Seltzer, ABC Vice President Ron Sunderland and publicist Jerry Pam.

"It's the only place that'll let these guys stay as long as they want," chided Hyams' wife, Lisa.

Ginsburg and his wife, Sandy, profess that they'd no sooner rush a guest than spread mayonnaise on the brisket.

"It's haimisch , it's homey, it's like a big Jewish family here," said Manny Celnik, a veteran barber who recalled attending Art's opening in 1957. "My wife, Goldie, and I missed it when it was closed; we didn't go anywhere else. We waited! Fish like this you cannot find."

Such a cluster of celebrity noshing, too, you shall not find--at least for breakfast. Now you want name dropping? No Ginsburg would hesitate to oblige.

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