The Seven Seas : Southern...


Day breaks on this reach of beach to the scuffing of joggers and rummaging of the homeless.

Later, Bill Fischler shoves open the flaking door of tattered Patrick's Roadhouse and at 7:58 a.m., morning becomes official.

A jukebox that played in Ricky Nelson's den shuffles through a mongrel collection of 45s from "La Boheme" to Kid Ory and stops at Billy Eckstein. Fischler sings through an open window to deserted sand and his is a dreadful falsetto with a vibrato trapped in 72-year-old pipes.

Ayend ooold man rivaah, he jest keeps roooling along. . . .

The first customer is from a BMW and Malibu, headed for work.

"Good morning," greets Fischler. With a gentle bow. "Nice to have a rich person in the place. Tracey, dahling. Table number three on the right."

Then comes Jack Nicholson's daughter Jennifer, Mayor Riordan damp from mountain biking, and Hollywood Reporter columnist George Christy dictating morning items from a front booth and saying he didn't realize that Walter Winchell had the same habit.

Next, tourists from Italy, France and Ohio. In-flight magazines speak of this place. What the glossies don't say is that Fischler can chat them up in five languages.

So unrolls every day at Patrick's, a dump diner that is Deux Magots in a tank top for Hollywood's lost and found generations; a mutt ugly hangout sharing local eminence alongside Musso & Franks, Lucy's Adobe, and Harold and Belle's.

It's also a sacred relic of the solar-bleached, Hobie-riding, tummy-tucked, Vuarnet-wearing, volleyball-ing California beach scene.

Set where Santa Monica Canyon dribbles into the ocean, on PCH at the Pacific Palisades line, Patrick's metal is rusted black by decades of salt mists. Paint is gas chamber green. Misaligned building seams are tree rings. Here's where the old Red Car stop became Roy's Hot Dogs, which stretched into the Entrada Motel before being jumbled together by Fischler 20 years ago as Patrick's Roadhouse.

Insides are no less chic. Furniture is antique and mismatched. Findings from Fischler's attic and leavings from estate sales form an eclectic decor that is early Sanford & Son with traces of Anglophilia.

The menu contradicts an area devoted to bodies beautiful and endocardial diets. The only salvation may be that Dr. Oscar Janiger, author of a book on alternative medicine, eats at Patrick's.

Still, the fare is 19 types of hamburgers with nobody holding the grease; 11 sandwiches that will never see Wonder Light 9-Grain, and a short-order special of eggs scrambled inside a small hill of sauteed sausages, potatoes, peppers, mushrooms, onions, ham, tomatoes, bacon and whatever else the grocer delivered.

(Word to the unwise: This is called Bauernfraustuck, which means breakfast cooked by an Austrian farmer's wife. It is a passion of Arnold Schwarzenegger, friend of Fischler and the first person to lend a celebrity presence--plus his mom's recipe--to Patrick's.)

So food falls between boot camp and Denny's. Decor wouldn't slow those who brake for garage sales.

That doesn't explain what brought President Clinton here, and has Julia Roberts, Sean Penn, Ted Danson and Sylvester Stallone among its dressed-down-for-Sunday-brunch regulars.

"I'm not sure what the X-Factor is," says Mayor Riordan over orange juice and a banana cereal from South Africa. "Location? I don't think it's the food."

It probably is Fischler.

Part Curly Howard, part Noel Coward, Fischler is to Patrick's what Toots was to Shor's. Keeper of the protocol and personal secrets, Thalia and court jester.

Mein host likes to shock, likes to amuse. So he dresses in fluorescent T-shirts, baggy shorts and Fighting Irish knee socks. Hair is white bristles. Eyes always twinkle.

He fawns, but with irreverence. Not to be insulted by Fischler is to really be insulted. He never forgets a name and that makes unknowns feel like the famous.

And this blueblood from New York's Upper East Side, to California in 1962 via coffee plantation management in Africa, glows brightest at Patrick's, from opening to closing every day of the year.

"Looking for the bathroom, honey? To the back, to the left, to the door marked 'Pipi Room.' You do know how to spell, do you. . . ?

"Of course the jukebox is too noisy. If people have to talk real loud to be heard, they think they're having a good time. . . ."

He watches the eyes. He knows when to pull back, when to charm. He says he's never been wrong.

"I'm an exhibitionist, a frustrated actor," he admits. "To paraphrase Shakespeare: Patrick's is my stage and all my customers the players.

"Nothing gives me greater pleasure than standing by the 'to go' window, having strangers shout greetings and me waving like the Queen Mother.

"You know, I used to stand outside theaters on Wilshire Boulevard to see Zsa Zsa Gabor. Now she comes in here every Sunday."

Despite the crisp character he has created, there is a private softness to Fischler.

After a divorce, he raised three sons and a daughter from nippers. He is never far from their successes or problems. Anthony and Clinton manage businesses. Tracey is lead waitress at Patrick's. Patrick, who gave the Roadhouse its name, is moving comfortably in show business.

Fischler speaks great loyalty for the influential four who years ago added their push and presences to the place--Ned Tanen, former head of Paramount; movie producer Steve Tisch; columnist Christy, and Schwarzenegger.

"Because of them, a hot dog stand I bought for $2,500 just growed and growed," he says.

Fischler excuses himself to greet an incoming quartet.

" Buenos dias. Como esta? From Mexico City? Where 4% of the population has 90% of the money. But what a good-looking sweater you're wearing."

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