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ENTERTAINMENT

Mortons to be a memory

The iconic Hollywood haunt says it will close its doors this year. A British club owner plans to take over the space.

May 12, 2007|Annette Haddad | Times Staff Writer

For Hollywood's elite, it was the place to gather on Monday nights. Table location determined your position in the pecking order. On Oscar night, winners clutched their awards as they made their way through a gantlet of air kisses and fawning congratulations.

Now, the Mortons era is ending. On Friday, the iconic West Hollywood eatery announced it would close its doors at the end of the year.

Plans call for the space to be converted by British hotelier Nick Jones into a members-only social club called Soho House West Hollywood.

"That's sad to hear," said Pat Kingsley, longtime celebrity publicist and frequent Mortons diner whose office is just two blocks away. "Mortons is a nice, comfortable, intimate place to relax."

Like the earlier shuttering of such haunts as Chasen's and Ma Maison, the planned closing of Mortons marks the passing of a Hollywood era.

Mortons was where the likes of Michael Ovitz, Michael Eisner, Sherry Lansing and Barry Diller held court when they ruled the town, with a celebrity quotient higher than most movie premieres.

Power players would go there to be seen but appreciated the spacious dining area that allowed for private conversations.

The phrase "Monday Nights at Mortons," when the powerful would regularly gather at the restaurant, came to symbolize a Hollywood culture in which as much business was done over free-range chicken and chopped salads as was conducted in office suites.

The late producer Julia Phillips immortalized Mortons in her bestselling 1991 Hollywood memoir, "You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again."

Mortons was opened in 1979 -- located first on the southwest corner of Melrose Avenue and Robertson Boulevard before moving across the street in 1994 -- by Peter Morton, scion of the well-known family of American restaurateurs and founder of the Hard Rock Cafe. For the last two decades, his sister Pam has operated the eatery.

"We have enjoyed serving so many great people in Los Angeles and have always appreciated their patronage," Peter Morton said. "Many deals and friendships were made at Mortons, and in closing the doors it now becomes a piece of L.A.'s history."

Morton said his sister had decided "to move on and explore other passions in her life." People close to Morton added that a lease dispute contributed to the decision to close the restaurant.

One night a year, Mortons was the toughest ticket in town as the site of Vanity Fair's post-Oscar party hosted by Editor Graydon Carter. Vanity Fair executives could not be reached on whether they would continue to book the location.

But Jones, founder and chief executive of London-based Soho House Group, which operates private clubs and hotels in London and New York and several restaurants and spas in Britain, said he hoped that the party would go on at the site.

"We've always maintained strong links with Vanity Fair and conversations are ongoing," Jones said.

A nascent player on the Hollywood scene, Jones, 43, has been hosting his own Oscar-related events here since 2003. He has had to rent locations, usually local estates, for his annual week of pre-Oscar night soirees.

"The last four years made us fall in love with the town," he said.

With his Soho House West Hollywood, Jones said he wanted to offer a private meeting and dining environment for media and entertainment figures by invitation only. He declined to detail the membership criteria.

"There seems to be an appetite for this sort of thing in L.A.," Jones said.

Jones said he planned on spending about $5 million to renovate the 8,000-square-foot property, which he is leasing and won't take over until January.

Until then, Mortons is expected to remain open.

"It's been a blast," Morton said.

annette.haddad@latimes.com

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