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A Discreet Addition to the Venice Scene

Drake's, in the old St. Mark's Club, won't hang a sign or list a number. But don't call it exclusive.


Venice Confidential: Will Karges, the restaurateur responsible for swinging spots like Jones, Rix, Circle Bar, Voda, Blueberry and El Dorado, will open his hippest place yet Friday just steps from the Venice boardwalk. Drake's doesn't have a listed phone number, and don't expect to see a sign out front or even the address. (Clue: The door is the one just to the left of the entrance of the St. Mark's Hotel.) "I'm not trying to be exclusive," Karges insists. "I just want the clientele to be those who appreciate the place."

He has renovated the old St. Mark's club, built by Abbot Kinney around 1910, preserving the grandeur while updating it with clever touches. (Look up and you'll find a gondola fresh from the Venice canals.) The regional American menu will be cooked by Christian Shaffer, whose background includes Pinot Bistro and Cicada. It's a lively, energetic homage to Venice, Karges says. "All the good spirits are here hanging out."

* Drake's, 23 Windward Ave, Venice.

Time to Go: Ludovic Lefebvre has decided to leave L'Orangerie. Having worked there for six years (he was 24 when he began), the charismatic young chef is now looking for a location in Santa Monica. "I want the restaurant to be much more casual and the dishes simpler than at L'Orangerie," he says, "but the quality to be as fine." Lefebvre has promised L'Orangerie owner Gerard Ferry he'll stay until a replacement is found. Comments Ferry, "We traveled the road together, and now he needs to go his way. It's his time to make a change."

Ginza Sushi-Ko Goes East: Yes, it's true--Masa Takayama, the owner and sushi master of Ginza Sushi-Ko, has decided to leave Beverly Hills for New York City. His tiny sushi restaurant, celebrated as much for its exquisite food as for its unparalleled high prices (dinners begin at $350 a head), has consistently been one of Zagat's top-rated Los Angeles restaurants, and it's the only restaurant that Times restaurant critic S. Irene Virbila has ever awarded four stars. It turns out Takayama has been looking for a New York location for four years. He's found one where he'll be in very good company: Thomas Keller of the French Laundry and Jean-Georges Vongerichten of Jean-Georges will also be opening restaurants in the new AOL Time Warner building at 58th and Central Park West when it opens next year. "I'm very excited to move," Takayama says. "I need the pressure and excitement of New York." He says he essentially plans to re-create his restaurant there, but with even higher prices (starting at a staggering $400 to $500 a head), and two seatings a night instead of one. "In New York City, people eat late," he says.

Goodells Come North: Tim and Liza Goodell, the couple behind Orange County's Troquet and Aubergine, plan to open a restaurant in the new Viceroy Hotel in Santa Monica by the end of the month. "It's much less formal in concept than my other restaurants," Tim Goodell says. "I wanted the menu to be more flexible. That's the way people like to eat, especially in L.A." The menu will be American comfort food with a wide variety of side dishes.

A Quiet Opening: Steve Arroyo, whose Spanish tapas place Cobras and Matadors has been packed since it opened a year ago, has quietly opened a neighborhood steak house in the heart of Hollywood between Hillhurst and Vermont. To keep prices low while still serving prime Black Angus beef, Hillmont's diners order at the counter, then grab seats on leather benches at one of the eight communal tables. The menu also includes grilled seafood and poultry. Despite the cement floors and brick walls, Arroyo has managed to create a warm atmosphere.

* Hillmont, 4655 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 669-3922.

Small Bites: You may not find legendary Campbell's soup cans at the Andy Warhol show, but you'll find your very own at Mirabelle's for lunch. During the run of the Warhol exhibition, Mirabelle will be serving warm tomato soup in the can, a tiny bowl of chili, sauerkraut and a juicy hot dog on a "very special" bun all for $9.50....Sure, it costs $28, but L'Orangerie serves the highest-end burger in town: a Kobe beef patty stacked high with Brie, onions and black truffle compote along with a rich mayonnaise sauce, all on a buttery toasted brioche....

You've probably never heard of Jeannie Hoverson, but she's famous at the Tam O'Shanter. She's been waiting tables there since JFK was president and Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris were vying for the most home runs. That makes it 41 years this month. Happy anniversary.

Reach Jessica Strand at jessstrand@

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