It has been said that when you are sick, nobody calls you, but when you die, everyone wants to come to the funeral. So it was with Chasen's, the legendary Hollywood restaurant that opened its doors in 1936. In its heyday, every night was like a premiere and every table was filled with stars. In more recent years, however, Chasen's was shunned by contemporary Hollywood who preferred trendier and hipper eateries. Finally, after more than six decades, it was sold to a strip-mall developer and, in April 1995, was slated to close. Suddenly, Chasen's was the hottest reservation in town.
A feast for film buffs, Off the Menu: The Last Days of Chasen's chronicles in glorious archival footage and with interviews the glamorous history and bittersweet demise of one of the last bastions of a bygone era. The restaurant's frantic and tumultuous final weeks play out against the backdrop of poignant reminiscences of loyal patrons and the venerable staff. What Sam and Sasha were to Rick's in Casablanca, bartender Pepe Ruiz (creator of a drink called the Flame of Love), kitchen supervisor Raymond Bilbool, and irrepressible waiter Tommy Gallagher were to Chasen's. Pardon the pun, but they can really dish.
In Chasen's final days, Hollywood's elite tried to crash the party. Sylvester Stallone was turned away. One waiter remarks that Ed McMahon phoned him at home, called him by name, and asked if he could get McMahon a table. "It was the first time he ever called me 'Steve,'" the waiter laughs. "Usually he just called me 'waiter.'" From the star-studded film clips to such Tums-inducing sights as Rod Steiger eating lunch, memories--as Dean Martin croons on the soundtrack--are made of this. --Donald Liebenson