Michael Cieply: Hollywood Can Still Schmooze, But Not At Patrick’s Roadhouse

As of Friday, Patrick’s Roadhouse was still closed. Plates and pitchers were stacked inside. The old-style coffee maker seemed ready to go, and there were even some bright green lights shining along the roof. But the place looked like a radioactive version of the Spanish Kitchen, frozen in time, plus dinosaurs, leprechauns and the Statue of Liberty on top.

Anyway, the eviction notice plastered among the stickers and shamrocks told the tale: Another stop on Hollywood’s erstwhile schmooze circuit has been gone since late April, and will stay gone unless the proprietor can come up with back rent and renegotiate the lease on a diner that’s marked the seaside end of Santa Monica Canyon since 1973. (There’s a GoFundMe campaign to help.)

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Maybe it’s just part of the general Restaurant Apocalypse. Within a hundred yards of Patrick’s, Tallula’s, Mason and The Hungry Cat are all closed and empty. Covid, food price inflation, rising labor costs and changing tastes have been killing restaurants, high and low.

On a morning traipse around Santa Monica and Far West Los Angeles, I counted 20 recent victims, including Ingo’s, Lotus, Margo’s (trying to come back), Dagwood, the Bagelworks Café, Casa Escobar, the Pacific Dining Car (now a pet health spot), 800 Degrees Pizza, the Saviola Seafood Bar and Izzy’s (which kept promising to revive after the lockdown, but never did). Sweet Lady Jane on Montana Ave. abruptly closed, but re-opened under new owners. Marmalade, after 17 years, left Montana for a less toney neighborhood. Kalaveras on Wilshire Blvd. seems to have lasted for about a year; but they were painting over the storefront mural this week.

Restaurant mortality, of course, is nothing new. My wife, while an editor for Los Angeles Magazine, put together a clever memorial called “They Also Served.” It listed dozens of fondly remembered gathering spots like Chasen’s, Jack’s at the Beach and The Broken Drum (“You Can’t Beat It.”) And new places do open, though as often as not they seem to be the kind that hand you a number, suggest a tip starting at 20 percent, and point you toward a stool where you can eat in semi-communal discomfort.

Here in movieland, what there still is of it, however, the current closings cut a little deeper. They mark the end, I think, of a schmoozing culture that, as much as anything else, defined Hollywood.

It’s a funny word, “schmooze.” It comes from the Yiddish, shmuesn, and before that from Hebrew, approximately shemuoth, according to my Webster’s.

Leo Rosten, in The Joys of Yiddish, says it refers to a “friendly, gossipy, prolonged, heart-to-heart talk.” No other word, he avers, “conveys ‘heart-to-heart chit-chat’ as warmly.”

Make no mistake, it is a Jewish thing, brought here from shtetls that no longer exist. Maybe they explain it at the Academy Museum, in that new exhibit, Hollywoodland: Jewish Founders and the Making of a Movie Capital. I’ll have to check.

To survive in the village of Hollywood, at any rate, the rest of us had to learn the fine art of schmoozing. And it isn’t as simple as it sounds.

For starters, schmoozing is tactile. You can banter on the telephone all day long, but you’re not really schmoozing unless you do it in person, almost always in a restaurant, and usually not one with Michelin stars.  You can dine at Citrin. But if you want to schmooze with Peter Chernin, for instance, that’s better done over a bowl of cabbage soup at Factor’s Famous Deli.

More importantly, schmoozing is not transactional. It is, as Rosten wrote, ‘friendly, gossipy’ talk, meant to form bonds but not commitments. Harvey Weinstein, in my experience, was never a great schmoozer; he was always trying to buy or sell something, never willing to let the conversation drift into the idle back alleys of village life. In the schmoozy heyday of the 80s and 90s, the talk was mostly about schools, doctors, remodels, vacation spots, traffic, and, of course, golf. The top-line schmoozers from Castle Rock mentioned afternoon tee-time appointments with ‘Dr. Green.’

Yeah, there was industry chatter. Inevitably, someone would ask: “Have you seen anything you like?” And sometimes you shared minor confidences. “I can’t read the trades,” Mike White once confessed.

“Why not?”

“Because they give me inanition,” he said. Reading about the success (often inflated) of other writers made it hard for him to work.

Gossip? Sure, but it was best not to push it; anything you said was bound to get around. Back whenever, I found myself schmoozing with Irving Azoff, a master of the form, at a restaurant in New York. A music industry lawyer stopped by the table for a friendly hello. Somehow, David Geffen was mentioned. At my hotel the next morning, I had an ice-cold call from Geffen. “You are never to speak my name in the presence of Irving Azoff,” he said.

Inveterate schmoozers were usually at their best on home turf, and you were supposed to know the house rules. The gatekeepers at Patrick’s tried to evict me from an unmarked table that was, they huffed, Jim Wiatt’s favorite. “But I’m meeting Jim Wiatt,” I wailed. I guess I didn’t look like a client. Ned Tanen and Arnold Schwarzenegger used to show up there. So did Lucille Ball and Johnny Carson, or so they say.

The best schmoozer I ever met is the producer Larry Mark. He leaves you laughing, makes you feel smart, and walks away from the commissary table having picked your brain clean, and you never felt a thing.

The funniest was Ray Stark, in an old man sort of way. Ray especially liked the Hamburger Hamlet on Sunset Blvd. (gone, of course). I can remember him eyeing someone there, two tables over, just before a round of surgery fixed his vision. “My God, she’s gorgeous,” he kept saying. Nobody wanted to embarrass him by pointing out that “she” was either a guy or was on the way to becoming one. “She’s gorgeous,” Stark finally sighed. “But she needs a shave.”


Even with changing habits, work from home, Zoom meetings, and a less friendly tax law, you can still find places, here and there, for the kind of idle talk that used to hold the film village together.

Appropriately, one of the more comfortable is Fanny’s, in the Academy Museum, just down from that exhibit on Hollywood and Jews. The food is good. The prices aren’t bad. And it’s named for Ray Stark’s mother-in-law, Fanny Brice.

You can still spend time there, swapping idle talk, and they won’t rush you out.

But not on Tuesdays. Because the schmooze circuit is tighter than it used to be. On Tuesdays, they’re closed. And certainly not at Patrick’s, because, for the moment at least, never mind the workers cleaning up the building’s disintegrating trim on Friday afternoon, it’s gone.

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