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Little Groups of Winos

The Bistro Garden, for those who lack entree to the good life, is a Beverly Hills restaurant where, with the proper combination of comestibles and combustibles, it is possible to spend $100 for lunch.

It is a restaurant favored by Presidents of the United States, visiting dignitaries from abroad and celebrities of such stature they are able to afford cars worth more than your house.

In other words, it is not the kind of establishment where one might comfortably order a burger and a beer and expect thereafter to sit around and watch two hockey teams bloody each other on a television set over the bar.

Due to its haute cuisine, its prices and its general ambiance, the Bistro Garden quite obviously is additionally not the type of restaurant that encourages drunkenness, rowdiness or other displays of untoward public behavior.

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In the 25 years it has been in business, there have been no complaints relative to vulgar displays of any kind, including but not limited to customers urinating against its outside wall.

Which brings me to the San Fernando Valley and to what has become known as the Battle of the Bistro.

It all began when a kind of mid-level restaurant and bar called Tail of the Cock was torn down to make way for a tony shopping center on Ventura Boulevard in Studio City. Centerpiece of the project was to be a Bistro Garden fashioned after its Beverly Hills prototype.

Ventura Boulevard, as you might know, is a hum-drum collection of pizza parlors, food markets, dry-cleaning establishments and other businesses of a less-than-inspiring nature.

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It is not, as a friend pointed out, a Champs Elysees, a Paseo de la Reforma or even a Pico Boulevard.

Builder Herb Piken, therefore, assumed he would be greeted with kisses and angel hugs when he announced the construction of his upscale, $15-million shopping center and attendant Bistro Garden.

Au Contraire.

What he got was a chorus of objections from posturing neighborhood activists who protested that his proposal would be a blight upon their block, which is difficult to perceive, the block being what it is.

The shopping center, they said, would destroy the “village” nature of Studio City and the Bistro Garden would attract drunks, bums and other defilers of public decency.

Visions of loutish millionaires in cashmere suits vomiting on the neatly tended lawns that abut the planned Bistro filled the air. Thoughts of wealthy rock stars prowling the suburbs in search of aberrant sexual satisfaction chilled the blood.

One woman told of already existing effronteries to good taste in the area of restaurants across the street from the proposed Bistro.

In one week, she said, she picked up 40 wine, beer and vodka bottles tossed there by those who had not been able to sate their alcoholic thirst in the restaurants and had finished off the booze in their cars.

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Further, she said, she saw a man walk across the street from the restaurants and urinate in front of her home, and anticipates that others will line up on the lawn for the same purpose if a Bistro Garden opens in the Valley.

This kind of silliness has managed to prevent final approval of the restaurant despite contradicting arguments that the Bistro does not count among its clientele those inclined to leap from their limos and relieve themselves on residential lawns.

Kurt Niklas, who owns the Bistro, calls the whole business childish and says he intends to continue the fight to open the new restaurant. Those who protest, he adds, are of an income and mentality that would not patronize it anyhow.

Neighborhood activist Eileen Kenyon huffs back that she’s been to the Bistro and likes it, but “the idea that high-class people don’t drink is baloney. Everybody drinks.”

Even in the closing days of the Tail of the Cock, she said, little groups of winos were hanging out in her neighborhood, and if the Bistro opens in the Valley, she says ominously, the winos will be back.

The Bistro Garden is not a place I visit with any frequency due to the limiting nature of expense accounts offered to those of us in the trenches at the L.A. Times.

But since Denny’s has managed to proliferate throughout the Valley with impunity, I see no reason why a restaurant that offers something considerably more appetizing than a Grand Slam breakfast ought not to receive equal consideration.

If Studio City loses the Bistro Garden, it will be left with what it deserves: a man who urinates on lawns and a little group of winos looking for a better place to drink.

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