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For Price of a Meal, You Too Could Be Glamorous

August 20, 2003|Joseph Honig | Joseph Honig writes for television in Los Angeles.

Transfixed by old films, my 12-year-old daughter watches Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers glide through Art Deco nightclubs and asks, "Dad, were there actually places like these?"

I tell her about Perino's.

She watches Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake toast dangerous love and wonders about glamorous rooms, women in hats and long-gone cafe society.

And I tell her about Perino's.

After a living room screening of "North by Northwest," she asks, "Dad, did you ever see Cary Grant? I mean in person."

And I tell her about a summer night many years ago when I waited for my car with an elegant, silver-haired man who happened to be Cary Grant. He asked if I knew whether the Dodgers had won.

He asked me at Perino's.

Closed to diners for more than 15 years, the pink Wilshire Boulevard restaurant will soon be a memory.

Film companies will have to find another luxe location. The place is coming down. As reported in this newspaper, a new building called Perino's Apartments is on the way.

Goodbye Perino's.

Goodbye to a marvelous room where ordinary souls could imagine they too were sleek and celebrated and part of some wonderful Hollywood story.

There were too many waiters. Too much service. Too many chafing dishes revealed with too much flourish. You had to be there.

Perino's.

Men with sapphire rings held cocktails and gold lighters. Women rustled and flourished in evening dresses.

When it was in business, a number of us learned how to be adults at Perino's.

In truth, it had nothing to do with the real Los Angeles. Perino's was, even in its heyday, an outpost for old money and people of the moment.

The food was more presentation than calories. It was mostly manners and social anthropology.

It was also an immense amount of fun.

In its final days, you could go to Perino's and see the ghosts of old Hollywood. There were aging stars. There were occasional furs. Real cocktails. No water drinkers. Just like the movies.

For a generation raised on Bogart and Bacall, Perino's was a soundstage for romance. You could be Bill Holden. Maybe Robert Mitchum. If only for an hour or two.

Everyone seemed more alluring in that great sunken dining room.

And soon it will be gone. Like Astaire, Rogers, Ladd and Lake. Like Chasen's and the Brown Derby and the Cocoanut Grove.

Things change. There are new places to trade glances and maybe fall in love. Places where women wear jeans and boots and silver bracelets. Instead of diamonds and hats.

My daughter, when lost in classic movies, looks at the evening gowns, cigarette cases and men in black tie. She thinks about cocktails and music and waiters carrying white telephones.

"Dad," she asks, "what else did Cary Grant say to you? Besides the Dodger game."

Not much, I tell her. We just stood there and waited for the cars. Until, I add, he looked up at the night sky of Los Angeles, turned my way and said, "Isn't this still a wonderful old place?"

And I agreed.

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