Dog Days Dining

It was a fine winter's day, and Dorothy Parker, who'd just moved to L.A. to write some scripts, was strolling through the lobby of the Beverly Hills Hotel with her dog. The dog, as dogs will do, chose that moment to relieve itself. "Mrs. Parker! Mrs. Parker!" the manager scolded. "Look at what your dog did." Parker responded characteristically. "I did it," she said, mustering all the dignity she could.

That was the '30s. Nowadays--far from being canem non grata--dogs are the accouterment of the moment at some of L.A.'s trendier boites. Pretty people, pretty food, great dogs on nicely weathered cordovan leashes--it's the Biff-Heather-and-Sparkie-the-dalmation lifestyle fabulousness of a J. Crew catalog. (But only alfresco; the city health code prohibits pets inside restaurants.)

I am not a dog owner, nor do I aspire to become one. I have a hard enough time feeding myself. But everyone I know with a pooch insists on installing Fido table-side when we do lunch. And the Westside restaurants that now welcome the canine-attached are not about to let Tinkerbelle or Dortmund sulk while the master and mistress dine on lobster polenta and blush Zinfandel; the dogs get fed, too, or are at the very least tolerated.

Every weekend afternoon the sidewalk tables at hipster joints like Swingers and red on Beverly Boulevard are garlanded with all manner of cockers, goldens and boxers. "In a town like this, where relationships only last so long, people grow very attached to their dogs," says Chris Wood, Swingers night manager. "And it's good to have a steady companion here, especially when you're eating."

Record company executive Andy Gershon claims red is the only place his Irish setter, Lucy, will dine--she apparently favors the color scheme, not to mention proprietor David Reiss' willingness to whip up dog specialties. "We treat dogs like people," says Reiss. "We give them a bowl of water. They're happy." (Not to quibble, but if all it took was a bowl of water to keep people happy, we'd have a coherent Middle East policy by now.)

At Michel Richard on Robertson, the restaurant's French flair--the scents reminiscent of Rue St. Germaine, the cafe au lait and pain au chocolat--is what architect Sophie Harvey appreciates. So does Elvis, her Jack Russell terrier. Elvis has merely to position himself among the tables looking soigne and--voila!--he's gnawing a yeasty baguette. "The French are very into dogs," Harvey says. "The clientele appreciate Elvis. He can hang and be petted and never feel shunned."

Casting associate Elisabeth Rudolph's Weimaraner, Suki Wilhelmina, has her own doggie seat belt when she motors with Rudolph to Poquito Mas on Sunset. There Suki chills on the patio with Rudolph and scarfs scraps of shrimp taco or carne asada. "She likes her tomatoes very ripe," notes Rudolph.

Although dogs can't eat the atmosphere either, they still notice. Tucker, choreographer Adam Shankman's shepherd-malinois mix, is exquisitely attuned to the vibe at Who's on Third. "Tucker is bisexual," Shankman declares. "And Who's on Third is very gay-friendly. He likes the mixed crowd." Plus the waiters who, unbidden, serve him cool water in an aesthetically pleasing bowl.

Studio executive Lynn Harris and her golden retriever, Cassidy, favor Kings Road Cafe on Beverly, where delectable dog biscuits are served with abandon and the unattached canines make for lots of cruising. Just the thing, Harris says, "if Cassidy wants to shake her tail and do a little flirt."

Dog dining, of course, veers perilously close to preciousness, which is why for some there's no place like home. Merrill Markoe, author of "What the Dogs Have Taught Me" and creator of David Letterman's Stupid Pet Tricks, serves her four in her humble kitchen. "I've got my own doggie restaurant," Markoe says. "But I'll tell you, the tipping is very poor here."

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