It was a good week for Preston Sturges: More than 30 years after his death, the director was honored with a retrospective of his films, a new production of one of his plays, and the opening of a restaurant called the Players, named for the restaurant Sturges ran in the '40s . . . sort of like someone in 2030 opening a restaurant called Spago.
It's been a good week for Milton Weiss too. The owner of the new Players--this one located in Beverly Hills--has been seeing lots of old friends, "theatrical types," as Weiss calls them, who used to eat at other Weiss-family restaurants. There was the Brownstone over on Pico, near the studios of 20th Century Fox (now it's the Italian restaurant Orlando Orsini). Before that there was Mama Weiss, a hot Beverly Hills restaurant in the '30s and '40s, originally located in a two-story farmhouse on Rodeo Drive. Weiss' mother ran the show back then, and Weiss himself helped out at the restaurant. But he spent many of his days and nights warming a bar stool at the original Players (now the restaurant and club Roxbury) on Sunset.
Though the look of this new Players is hardly old-fashioned, there's a comfortable charm about the place. Weiss, his wife, Colleen, and his daughter, Andrea, roam the room like hosts at a small party, ready with a quick quip or a story about the players of old Beverly Hills--the show people who settled this town.
Just look at the history on the walls: There's funnyman Louis Nye, cross-eyed slapstick great Ben Turpin, "Donkey Serenade" composer Rudolf Friml. "We got Eddie G. Robinson in the other room," Weiss tells a group of new customers. The menu is a mix of old and new too. There are the contemporary Italian dishes that many California diners can't seem to do without, but there is also a good selection of what Weiss calls "heritage dishes," Mitteleuropean things like paprika chicken served with spaetzle; mushroom-barley soup, updated with a shot of garlic; a plate of white sausage. From your seat you can hear the comforting whack-whack pounding in the kitchen every time someone asks for the wiener schnitzel --proof that the dish is cooked to order.
* The Players, 9613 Little Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 278-6669. Entrees $7.95 to $14.95.