The announcement of its closing April 1 has turned Chasen's, that sedate, clubby eating place of Hollywood's ancien regime , into something of a hot spot. This is one restaurant that's going out in a flambe of glory.
To say the 58-year-old establishment is operating at full capacity is an understatement. It's bursting with diners seeking instant nostalgia. Sunday, there were tables squeezed into aisles. There were so many young couples (in Chasen's case, youth would be defined as Korean War generation rather than World War II) that one waitress said, "It's changing the whole demographic thing."
It was in this vibrant atmosphere that the Diamond Circle of the City of Hope held its annual "Last Great Hollywood Party." Past locales for the medical center's support group have included film studios, Pickfair and the Harold Lloyd estate. Of the choice of Chasen's this year, Circle Chairman David Marmel said, "What could be more appropriate--the last great Hollywood party at the last great Hollywood restaurant."
For many of the 150 guests, Chasen's really was the great Hollywood restaurant. For Gene Barry, getting a better table as his career progressed was "like a soldier winning chevrons in battle." For director George Sidney, Chasen's was "the last of the old places" that included Romanoff's, La Rue and Mocambo. And for Anne Jeffreys, it was "a place for quality and class in Hollywood."
The evening was done in classic style. It was black-tie. There was dancing to a combo that segued between Sinatra and Motown. And dinner was a hearty, '50s-style meal (the oversized, grilled veal chop could have been a prop from "The Flintstones") that included the chili that made Chasen's famous.
The program's main speech was by Variety's Army Archerd. Among his stories was one about dining with Alfred Hitchcock when the great director decided to bare his ample chest and show off his newly installed pacemaker. "Not something you'd particularly want to see at dinner," Archerd said.
Guests included Chasen's Manager Ronald Clint; City of Hope CEO Dr. Sanford Shapero, board chairman Richard Ziman and Diamond Circle President Israel Freeman; Norm Crosby; Gilbert and Debbie Schwartzberg; Ben Horowitz, and Selma Archerd.
Although the evening wasn't heavy on nostalgia, it was hard not to be sentimental about the closing. "I was a pallbearer at Dave's (Chasen) funeral in '73," Archerd said. "Now I feel like a pallbearer for his restaurant in '95."