Red Leather Booths - Old-Stlye L.A.

by Fredrica Duke
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dan-tanas-signThere was one prerequisite for our birthday dinner for Robin. A red leather booth. Where to find one? So few places left with that old Rat Pack-era feel. I still miss them. One of my all-time favorites was Sneaky Pete’s on the Sunset Strip. It was next door to Whisky A Go-Go, where Duke’s Coffee Shop is now. Waitresses were dressed in really short-skirt barmaid outfits. A place where Johnny Carson sometimes sat in on drums with the musicians. How great was that? Good that it’s been closed for a hundred years, or it might make me miss my father too much. I went there with him all the time for steak and a baked potato with tons of butter, sour cream & chives.

Peggy had gone last week to Dan Tana’s, the dimly lit, checkered-tablecloth, celeb-oriented Italian place in West Hollywood. Libbie thought it was perfect for the Robin dinner. Since I never went to Dan Tana’s much back in the day, it would be a nostalgia-free zone – no memories with my dad to weigh me down. Still, I spent the rest of the week toying with the idea of changing restaurants. Many texts and phone calls back and forth between the girls. Robin said she would be just fine if we all met at Nate n’ Al’s, the Beverly Hills deli we all grew up in, but some of us just couldn’t envision a birthday celebration there. So, I never cancelled the reservation -- and here is how retro Dan Tana’s is: they never called “to confirm.”

Guess what time the dinner reservation was for? I’m laughing as I write this because I have friends that call me Granny for eating so early. 5:30. It’s a time that works for me and Robin. Robin calls this a “late lunch.” When we arrived at Dan Tana’s, they sat us in a booth facing the wrong way for some of us. We aren’t mobsters in fear of a hit, but we do like our backs against the wall so that we can watch the door.

dantanasaladWe all decided ahead what we would order, so we feigned looking at the menu and quickly told the waiter what we wanted. First thing they brought us was the extra cheesy, sour dough garlic bread. Then came two orders of Caesar salad, split for four, which turned out to be way too much -- we should have ordered one.

As if stepping back in time, it was a heavy-on-the-iceberg-lettuce, extra garlicky salad. As each dish came out, I thought, “The 70’s called and they want their food back.” Don’t get me wrong, I’d go back to the 70’s in a heartbeat. And speaking of heartbeats, the rest of the meal was pretty artery-clogging. Whitefish, breaded, heavily drenched in butter – and after two pieces of that bread (not one like my dainty friends) -- was probably overkill.

I noted the time we were done eating -- 6:25. Now we got down to the serious business of catching up. Each of us pulled out our iPhones. Peggy showed us the dog she is adopting. Robin showed us a pic of the pit bull her mother just found. I showed Libbie a picture of her young daughter that I snapped in her home right before we went out, which nearly sent her into tears.

dantanaladiesThen in unison we handed over our phones to the waiter to record the event, proof that we can all look back on twenty years from now -- provided none of us dies from the coronary-inducing meal we just consumed. Then we hopped into our cars. I looked at everyone and thought, wow, our friendships even pre-date our driving.

I’m thinking we will start a new trend of retro dining. Give our arteries a few months break and then meet up for one of these meals. Next one will be Lawry’s. I can’t wait for that salad, served in a chilled bowl, with the waitress in her throwback uniform pouring my Thousand Island dressing from high above the table.

Here are some restaurants I would go to and the dishes I would order -- if I owned a time machine: Scandia for Pyttipana; Chasen’s for Hobo Steak, but first the chilled seafood platter and cheesy toast; Belle-Vue for bouillabaisse, with frog legs to start; Chez Puce for the perfect crepe; Ma Maison for a simple watercress salad with perfect vinaigrette and a kiwi tart.

“Is this your first time in LA?”

“Maybe you can be a help to me.”


“I was wondering if there are any new good restaurants. You know, where the famous people go?”

“It’s probably safer to recommend the more established restaurants. There’s Ma Maison and La Scala, Scandia. And of the newer ones, I hear that Le Dome is quite nice.”

-- Dialogue from American Gigolo, 1980


Fredrica Duke shares how she discovered her love of food while growing up in Los Angeles on her blog Channeling the Food Critic in Me.  



#12 fredde 2013-03-01 21:13
Forgot to mention Madeo's, quite possibly one of my favorite restaurants in Los Angeles!!!
#11 fredde 2013-03-01 21:11
Laraine, Anne Kupper at 90-something is still “cooking”—speak ing of cooking, no restaurant in the world has ever served me a meal as good as your mom, Margie and Anne. Those two women would make us unforgettable-t o-this-day gourmet meals. Restaurants that are still around with red leather booths that I would love to go to are Peppones (faintly expensive), Matteo’s, not so much for the food, but for nostalgia, and of course, Rich, Musso’s, always Musso’s for flannel cakes, before 3:00 and after Lamb Chops and Chiffonade Salad for dinner.
+1 #10 Rich Whitley 2013-03-01 16:51
Love your writing, Fredde. And now I'm hungry. How about adding Musso's to your list of vintage eatery field-trips.
+1 #9 Laura Plotkin 2013-03-01 16:00
And yes, Laraine, I ran into Tracy a few years ago (at a writers guild strike where I was representing Sheila Kuehl, for whom I worked for 14 years)! I hope all is well with you and yours! And, yes,FB makes the world very small indeed!
+1 #8 Laura Plotkin 2013-03-01 15:57
La Masia--thank you Carole White!
+1 #7 Laraine Newman 2013-02-28 13:12
Quoting Laraine Newman:
Wow, is this ever six degrees...Freddie, your mother in law was my mother's best friend, Carole you and I went to school together and Laura, your brother Chuck went to school with my sister Tracy and they're still friends...AND Dan Tana's makes the ONLY Ceasar salad as far as I'm concerned. I have more than a few memories of eating there with the Linda Ronstadt, JD Souther, and Glenn Frey set.
Talk about the 70s....
+1 #6 Laraine Newman 2013-02-28 13:11
Wow, is this ever six degrees...Fredd ie, your mother in law was my mother's best friend, Carole you and I went to school together and Laura, your brother Chuck went to school with my sister Tracy and they're still friends...AND Dan Tana's makes the ONLY Ceasar salad as far as I'm concerned. I have more than a few memories of eating there with the Linda Ronstadt, JD Souther, and Glenn Frey set.
+1 #5 Jennifer arbaugh 2013-02-26 19:08
Fred. I concur with your friend. 5:30. LUNCH or martinis... Dan Tana's.. Soul food and memories .. Xxx Jenn
#4 Carole White 2013-02-26 12:09
The restaurant next door to Dan Tana's was La Masia. We would trade off for special occasions. Either La Masia for sangria and the delicious chicken breast which was stuffed with something (can't remember exactly what) but I do remember the melted butter oozing out when I cut into it--or Tana's for that delicious cheesy bread you mention, and a good steak or veal milanese with a little side of spaghetti. I remember my father needing to be in a certain seat as to see and be seen by whom ever of his cronies would be coming in.
Gene Barry, Tom Jones, Mick Jagger, Lew Wasserman...the list goes on.
Thank you for your delightful column Freddie...You take me back to places I enjoyed with my family in those sweet days gone by.
+1 #3 Valentina Pfeil 2013-02-25 21:57
My family went thru a succession of italian restaurants in LA that would get our patronage for years, starting with the Villa Capri and ending with Dan Tana's. My dad made a deal with the owner (Dan?); He gave the restaurant avocados from our ridiculously fruitful avocado tree each fall, in exchange for free meals. To this day, I have a problem paying for avocados!

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