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Water Hazard : Restaurants: After three customers fell into the pool at a Sherman Oaks eatery, guardrails were erected. But some say that solution is all wet.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

For 14 years, the shallow pool smack in the middle of Lannathai Restaurant in Sherman Oaks has been as much a part of the dining experience as the traditional Thai cuisine.

The pool’s glassy surface mirrors the restaurant’s sleek decor. Brass deer grace the water’s edge.

A perilous ambience, it seems.

After three customers took unplanned dips in the 22-by-11-foot pool, Los Angeles building and safety inspectors ordered the area enclosed and the restaurant three weeks ago installed 4 1/2-foot-high guardrails.

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But not all diners look favorably upon the $700 iron bars, which some likened to a jungle gym, animal cage or Marineland dolphin pool railing. “I think it’s a little monstrosity,” regular customer Darrel Estes, 60, said at lunch Thursday.

The enclosure is the latest transformation of the kidney-shaped pool that started out as an eight-foot-deep demonstration model at a pool-construction company that once occupied the Van Nuys Boulevard building where the restaurant is now located.

Lannathai owner Surapol Mekpongsatorn decided to keep the novelty when he bought the property for his restaurant, reducing the depth to 21 inches.

Since then the pool has evolved into something of a blue-tiled institution. “Everybody comes in to see the pool,” manager Vara Niyomtes said.

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Some customers have seen more of the pool than the restaurant intended. Three years ago, a woman chatting with her friend fell into the water while walking to her table, Mekpongsatorn said.

The restaurant had no other pool problems until Mekpongsatorn refurbished the eatery this fall, replacing a brown Spanish tile floor with a light gray granite that blends with the water.

The night after the remodeling was completed, a new customer fell into the pool, sprawling sideways in the water as she lost her balance, Niyomtes said. The woman stalked out of the restaurant, and her friend later returned with a $500 bill for the woman’s water-damaged watch, purse and clothing, Niyomtes said. The restaurant paid her $500, she said.

One week later, the same fate befell another customer. This time, the drenched woman apologized profusely for making the plunge and left to change clothes before returning for dinner.

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Soon after, a man who forgot about the pool while crossing the restaurant to greet a friend escaped relatively unscathed--soaked only from the knees down.

The restaurant was subsequently visited by inspectors from the Department of Building and Safety’s Bureau of Community Safety, which makes calls only in response to complaints from citizens or inspectors from other divisions, said building inspector Michael Martin.

The inspectors notified the restaurant that the pool violated city municipal codes that require any body of water 18 inches or deeper to be enclosed, Martin said.

The water measured 19 inches at its deepest point, Martin said.

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But the widely spaced rails that Mekpongsatorn subsequently installed also appeared to fall short of city standards because a child could crawl through them, Martin said.

Meanwhile, building inspectors took the whole issue to the city attorney’s office and were told that legally, the restaurant could not be obligated to fence in the pool--if an employee were assigned to prevent accidental belly-flops.

So Mekpongsatorn said he plans to replace the tall bars with a shorter railing and designate the hostess as an auxiliary lifeguard.

In the end, though, few safety measures can stop people determined to mix dining with dunking. Earlier this week, Niyomtes said, two customers shucked their shoes, clambered over the guardrails and slipped their feet in for a soak.

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“They weren’t drunk,” Niyomtes said. “They were just happy because of the holiday.”


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