The Crowd: Viking spirit lives on in Newport

The holiday season still sparkles at Newport's Ritz Restaurant. Stopped in for lunch Tuesday to celebrate our 36th wedding anniversary and found that the Christmas lights were still ablaze as Ritz restaurateur Ray Jacobi greeted the arriving crush, wishing his patrons a happy and healthy New Year.

As we settled in to our black, tufted-leather booth, surrounded by all the tradition we have come to know as familiar in a world where the old standards have vanished, I thought for a moment about the legacy of Ritz founder Hans Prager. It is interesting how one life can impact so many people, even in a relatively small community. Prager, a child of war-torn Europe in the early part of the 20th century whose family somehow made it to China, escaping persecution and certain death in Germany, would eventually create an amazing reputation in Southern California as one of the preeminent restaurateurs, first in Los Angeles and then in Newport Beach.

In the early days, Prager's clients and friends formed an association known as the Noble Vikings, which originated in pre-Ritz days when Prager worked in Los Angeles at the legendary Scandia Restaurant on Sunset Boulevard. This group would band together over decades for both social and business connections with the underlying purpose of giving back to the community, which has afforded them the opportunity to prosper and flourish in their own lives.

Today, some years after Prager's passing, the Noble Vikings continue in the spirit of giving back and over the holidays produced their annual Christmas gift- and food-box drive, supplying nearly 1,500 50-pound boxes created by Viking volunteers. The boxes were then distributed by 14 participating charities in Orange County assisting needy people. It is estimated that each food box supplied holiday nourishment for approximately eight people, which means that nearly 12,000 people enjoyed Christmas dinner, thanks to the Noble Vikings.

Major donors to the cause include Simple Green, Sunshine Makers Inc., the Hausman Family Foundation, Mike Knapp, Stacy and Aleks Renshaw, the Bartlett Foundation and Bill Piercey. Financial support from these folks brought in close to $50,000, making the 2012 event a win-win for the community. Among the charitable recipients were Civic Center Barrio Housing, Homefront America, Pio Pico Elementary School in Santa Ana, and Boys and Girls Clubs of Santa Ana, Tustin and the Harbor Area. Also supported by the Noble Vikings were Orangewood Children's Foundation, St. Michael's Society and Latino Health Access, to name only a few.


The Ritz Restaurant will join a long list of participating restaurants as Newport's official Restaurant Week kicks off Jan. 18 and runs through Jan. 27. The seventh annual citywide culinary celebration will offer special three-course prix fixe menus at prices of $10, $15 or $20 for lunch and $20, $30 or $40 for dinner. For a list of the 70 participating dining rooms and more information regarding the 10-day event, visit


Celebrating the New Year in grand traditional style was the Balboa Bay Club & Resort, where I am editor of the Bay Window, the club's official publication. General Manager Dieter Hissin welcomed a crowd of some 300 revelers for a New Year's Eve celebration in the ballroom festooned in shimmering gold, silver and white décor. The evening was produced by Malcolm Smith, director of club operations, working with hotelier Richard Szilagyi and special event coordinator Aaron Trent. The crowd was in awe over the digital special effects, which produced spectacular images on the ballroom walls throughout the evening. Creative floral designs by Karri Selvaggi featured verdant white roses mixed with both silver steams and golden succulents centering tables topped with shimmering gold sequined overlays.

As much of the West Coast was celebrating the New York New Year at 9 p.m., the formal dinner dance was just getting started on the bay. Champagne flowed in the foyer as the ballroom doors were opened to reveal a massive, high-polished white dance floor fronted by the band Rembrandt. More than 1,000 gold, silver and white balloons were suspended high above the floor as the New Year's Eve crowd, including Kyle and Danielle Shotwell, George Morris and Jann Williams, Diane and Doug Overbee, Shawn and Jay Rowerdink, Howard Lieberman, Traute Huycke, Rex O'Day, Courtney Neils and Leah and Casey Hannegan danced the night away. Also spotted in the crowd enjoying Executive Chef Josef Lageder's holiday dinner, featuring saffron lobster risotto, seared diver sea scallops and roasted Colorado veal rib-eye, were Malcolm and Maria Elan, Josephine and Victoria DiGiorgio, Kara and Marty Everin, Ron and Gail Soderling and Anthony and Ginger Jordan.

THE CROWD runs Fridays. B.W. Cook is editor of the Bay Window, the official publication of the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach.

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