AN APPRECIATION: It not only was perhaps the most consistently popular and cool restaurant in Beverly Hills, Kate Mantilini which is located at the corner of Wilshire Blvd and Doheny and just two blocks from the headquarters of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, has in recent years become a key part of Oscar campaigning. Sadly, due to a dispute over higher rent with a greedy landlord more interested in lining their pockets than in pleasing Hollywood, Kate’s is closing its doors tonight after 27 years in the key BH location. The other Kate’s located in Woodland Hills remains open, but frankly it isn’t the same. This one was special.
The restaurant, founded in 1987 and owned by the Lewis family (Marilyn and Harry who also founded the famed Hamburger Hamlet chain and sons David, and Adam who has been running it since 2010) which is open late unlike just about every other place of its type in the area, became a real watering hole for many Hollywood types like Mel Brooks who has written his own obit for the place, and so many others. It was almost impossible to go in there and not run into someone you know. It was really a hopping place, both at lunch , dinner and late night. And it not only has been host to numerous premiere parties (including several for Matt Weiner and Mad Men, a Marilyn Lewis obsession) it was also prominently featured in the movie Heat with a key scene between stars Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, now memorialized on the walls of Kate’s. I was even in there after the Oscars and a winner with his brand new shiny statuette came in passing up the Vanity Fair party in favor of a late night snack at Kate’s.
Even more importantly Oscar campaigners themselves discovered the value of Kate’s which often was swarming with Academy members and brass who frequented it either before, after or in between screenings and events at the neighboring Academy. The only reason tonight’s closing won’t be more of a wake is because the Academy itself is shut down until October for remodeling so all their screenings have moved temporarily to Hollywood. Despite publicity about the closing some Academy Kate regulars may not even be aware. But when Awards Season rolls around this Fall –and Kate’s is gone– there will be grieving among the membership, I guarantee you. With another popular spot, The Beverly Hills Hotel now the subject of a Hollywood boycott over social policies of its owner the Sultan Of Brunei, the Bev Hills industry crowd will be overcome by nostalgia for the way it was, especially for this place. And it won’t be all about just the hash browns, the sand dabs or the tortilla soup.
The high walls are lined with blow-up photos in its final days of the Mad Men cast as both that show and this restaurant hit the end of their run. The first time I remember seeing those giant photos was for the after-premiere party for Unstrung Heroes in 1995 which is why diners have, to this day, always had its star Andie McDowell looking down on them. But during the recent Oscar season The Weinstein Company, which has its LA headquarters across the street, took over those large prized spots hovering above the dining booths for all of its contending movies, just as Universal and Focus did the year before that for Les Mis and Anna Karenina, as have others in the past. And like any campaign advertising they were charged a premium by the restaurant which certainly came to realize that there probably wasn’t a better place to reach Oscar voters in big numbers than having some sort of presence at Kate’s. It’s illegal, according to Academy rules to send out lavish brochures of contenders to their members, but as some crafty consultants realized it wasn’t illegal just to put a few up at the entrance desk where everyone waits to be seated. Also there have been plenty of copies of Deadline’s Awardsline, Variety and other awards season publications allowed on the restaurant counter right next to the candy jar to lure advertising and Academy eyes. And members of the Writers Guild who frequented their own theatre right there on Doheny also were a constant presence at Kate’s. In fact, I do a winter screening series for UCLA Extension Sneak Preview at the WGA and so many of the 400 or so who took the Wednesday night class would first have dinner at Kate’s. I always checked with Lisa Glucksman, a Kate’s hostess, to find out what mood they were in before facing them for the Q&A following the film. Like so many who work at Kate’s Lisa became a friend. She’s also an actress and we saw some of her shows over the years including Frankie And Johnny At The Clair De Lune.
Since word got out in mid-May about tonight’s closing, the place has been jammed with stars, producers, directors and industryites looking for one last “Kate’s fix”. There has been a sense of disbelief, sadness and tears all around from the regulars to the staff who so many knew by name (a real rarity in this era and this town). It was like a family. It certainly had that atmosphere. One of the waiters, who joined just a few years ago, after working 30 years at the now also-vanished Hamlet at the end of the Sunset Strip told me about all the stars he has gotten to know over the years. You don’t realize it until they are gone, but these watering holes have meaning even for the biggest names. Jim Laurer remembered serving Dean Martin who hit the Hamlet alone just about nightly in his final years. And other legends like Bette Davis, Eve Arden, the Sinatra clan etc. Kate’s had the same feel, and he felt at home there too. It was a special place where the famous and the non-famous were all treated like family. On a personal note my wife Madelyn and I will certainly miss Kate’s. She was there all the time doing what came to be known as “Job Whisperer” sessions, offering tough love and resume help for industry members who were out of work.
So here’s a toast to the Kate’s Beverly Hills family, and I apologize in advance if I have left anyone out: Brenda, Meg, Jason, Kerry, Joe, Brian, Alex, Martha, Tyrone, Robert, Jim, Melanie, Marielle, Carmella, Steve, Isaac, Lisa and Tom. We feel your loss — as does everyone, including those multitudes of Oscar voters, who all got to know and love Kate Mantilini in Beverly Hills.