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Food at Riordan's Tavern comes with free jokes

January 10, 2008|Jessica Gelt

Former mayor Richard Riordan mingles with the customers of his 6-month-old restaurant Riordan's Tavern like a practiced, albeit comfortably retired, politician. "Hi, I'm Dick Riordan," he says, shaking hands with four young businessmen at the bar and flashing a mischievous grin before leaning in to converse with a table of diners who recognize him and shout, "We love your restaurant!"

Dressed in well-worn jeans and a crisp yellow shirt with an orange sweater slung preppy-style over both shoulders, the 77-year-old venture capitalist and would-be stand-up comedian (he once took a comedy-writing class and tries out jokes on all comers) is a man who enjoys himself and thrills at being enjoyed by others. This explains his habit of buying historic restaurants around town: By preserving eateries that are probably worth more as parking lots, Riordan gets to play the romantic and stay close to the public.

He purchased the 84-year-old Original Pantry, a low-key steak joint and greasy spoon just blocks from the Staples Center (and now next to Riordan's Tavern), in 1981. "It reminded me of New York City and I just fell in love with it," he recalls. He is also about to reopen Mort's Deli -- the kitschy, down-home darling of the Pacific Palisades -- as the Village Pantry with an upscale dining annex called the Oak Room. In addition, he is a shareholder of Gladstone's on the Pacific Coast Highway.

Riordan's Tavern is his first stab at creating something entirely new. Its polished dark wood, green leather and exposed brick accommodate a menu of pricey steaks and burgers as well as an assortment of stiff drinks and draft beers. It's supposed be Irish in theme -- the restaurant's logo is a picture of Riordan dressed in traditional garb from the Society of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick -- but Riordan laments several times over lunch (spicy BBQ sliders, butter-soft filet mignon, corned beef on rye, creamy twice-baked potatoes, cheesecake and French-pressed coffee) that Irish music isn't being played.

His favorite menu item is the Mayor's Burger, a one-pound behemoth the size of a dinner plate that's smothered in aged cheddar cheese, bacon, house chili, sauteed onions, vine-ripened tomatoes and shredded lettuce on a 7-inch homemade brioche bun. "I inspired its invention because I love hamburgers," he says holding the plate up for a picture before launching into a well-worn joke.

"Ask me about my reputation as a flip-flopper," he says. I oblige. "Maybe I was, maybe I wasn't," he says with a shrug, feigning bewilderment before laughing uproariously. 875 S. Figueroa St., (213) 627-6879.

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-- Jessica.Gelt@latimes.com

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