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Patrick's Roadhouse's days could be numbered

Owner Anthony Fischler received notice from his landlord in November to vacate within 30 days. Longtime patrons are stopping in to pay respects and hope the burgers don't stop coming.

December 21, 2009|By Martha Groves
  • Generations of diners have enjoyed the burgers and bacon at Patrick's Roadhouse, which names some of its dishes for customers.
Generations of diners have enjoyed the burgers and bacon at Patrick's… (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles…)

Patrick's Roadhouse, a shamrock-adorned institution on Entrada Drive near Pacific Coast Highway, is the kind of neighborhood joint that names omelets for its best customers -- and not just the famous ones like Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose scrambled eggs with the works was dubbed the Governator Special.

Mark Fishman, a licensed acupuncturist and thrice-weekly regular, got to design a "Dr. Mark" concoction for the menu: eggs with sauteed spinach, mushrooms, onions, red bell peppers, Swiss cheese and house salsa on the side, assuming one knows to ask for the condiment.

Alas for Fishman and other Roadhouse devotees, the eatery's days might be numbered, now that owner Anthony Fischler has received a notice to vacate.

If it closes, Fishman said, it will be the end of the world as he knows it.

"Patrick's is my second office," he said. "It's one of the truly unique places in America."

Fischler said his landlord, M & M Investments in Santa Monica, served him in November with a 30-day notice. Since then, rumors have swirled that the spot might be converted to a Starbucks, a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf or a bar. Fischler said Lee and Christine Benchay, the property owners, aren't sharing their plans with him, despite his repeated efforts to contact them.

The Benchays also did not return a reporter's call seeking comment.

"It's such a shame," Fischler said. "It's this icon where generations -- grandfather, father and son -- have eaten. . . . A lot of people are coming in to say goodbye."

As Anthony Fischler recalled for a 2007 story in The Times, his father, Bill, got into the restaurant business by accident.

The elder Fischler was a prosperous retailing executive with a house in Beverly Hills until he and his wife decided to divorce. He told his wife that she could have everything else as long as he got custody of their four children.

One afternoon in 1973, Fischler took his children to a greasy spoon at the beach called Roy's, at the foot of Santa Monica Canyon. After Fischler complained that his burger was the worst he had ever tasted, Roy suggested Fischler buy the place and cook his own darn burger.

The next day, as the story goes, Bill Fischler, who had run a countertop restaurant in South-West Africa, now Namibia, after World War II, was flipping burgers.

He renamed the establishment Patrick's Place, after his son Patrick, who went on to become a successful character actor on TV, then later settled on the name Patrick's Roadhouse.

Through the years, celebrities, including Lucille Ball, Johnny Carson, Goldie Hawn, Sean Penn and Hollywood mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg, have devoured eggs, bacon, burgers and pie from the booths' well-worn wooden benches, relics from a train station that predated the restaurant.

The place is decorated with World War II memorabilia, paintings of British royalty, steer horns and other quirky items, all collected by the elder Fischler, who died in 1997.

Anthony Fischler said he was looking into pursuing legal action against his landlords, especially because he recently spent thousands on repairs that he said the Benchays requested. "We've had people coming by with cameras, taking pictures . . . and measurements," he said.

"Little did I know I was repairing the place for the next guy," Fischler said. "I'm hoping beyond hope they'll talk to me and work out a deal to keep my father's legacy open."

The threat of closure has resurrected a long-simmering family dispute over the ownership and operation of the restaurant.

Three of the four siblings have disagreed over how to manage and finance the restaurant. The disputes have "infected the family like a virus," said Tracey Fischler, who ran the restaurant for a time.

Clinton Fischler said the best outcome would be if the landlords shut down the restaurant. "It has destroyed the family," he said.

Anthony Fischler, meanwhile, said Clinton was bitter because his two tries at operating a Patrick's Roadhouse restaurant in Palm Springs failed.

Customers arguably couldn't care less about the family infighting. They just want Patrick's to keep the bacon and burgers coming.

"The ambience is eclectic," Fishman said. "It's the opposite of a Starbucks or Pottery Barn. Every time you go in, you discover something you've not seen. It should be saved at all costs."

martha.groves@latimes.com

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