“A Glass of Cabaret” – Stories and Encounters by Kyle Branche

Craft Cocktail 22

Only a very small percentage of establishments in the food & beverage industry and entertainment business survive the test of time. Most go for a few years and disappear for a variety of both legitimate and suspect reasons that individuals like myself, are all too familiar with seeing in the world of hospitality and nightlife. They can be here one day and gone the next.

The Gardenia Room has been my occupational hub away from home off and on, in and out, for close to 30 years now. A length of tenure unexpected of me. With working the bar at the club, it’s allowed me the flexibility to also work with many other establishments and outfits, practicing and expanding what I do, which included a 10-year stint writing for the industry magazines, and now being the creator and site runner for the online global directory of all things Bitters. I’ve entered into the world of apothecary !

I guess I’ve grown and come to some sense of maturity over 37 years in this field where I’ve learned to accept and let it go more than contend and repair. A relief for me of sorts, when your mind is a creative castle of ideas and production, it became a necessary outlet. A metabolism built for speed finally paces itself into cruise control for the long run.

Of course, that was the main reason and /or problem for any early arguments that Tom and I had back when we were younger, of which were mostly my fault. I was still growing and getting used to LA. Well, that and just a few unnecessary dramas. It’s the restaurant business. Scuffles and mistakes exist and happen when juggling the many moving parts. Tom and Bruce, the owners of the club have always kept the door open for me, even at times when I didn’t know it. We’ve seen each other go from our late 20’s and 40’s to our late 50’s and 70’s, employers and their employee.

At times, Tom would come and sit at the bar, just after the doors open when the bar is set-up and the room/floor is ready for another night, as he hands me the bank to count into our 1944 “old school ching-ching” National cash register, the caught glimpse silently saying to each other “We’re still here”. After so many years, we could run the place sleepwalking. A surreal quality haunting the hallowed ground created 38 years ago. The same goes for Nichole and Leonel who’ve been on the clock for a combined 40 years, those numbers also easily qualify. It’s a small room. The less staff come and go, the better.

Craft Cocktail 26

The Gardenia is the longest-running Cabaret Supper Club in the United States. It deserves some recognition for its staying power. The credit goes to Tom and Bruce. They could have cashed out long ago and made life easier on themselves, but sometimes it’s better just to have something to do than to exist with too much open everyday time, unless you have a large garden to tend to at home. I think it was the right move, for dual purposes of longevity and keeping a rare art form alive. Today it’s gained even more in popularity and trend over the last decade.

The room has become a club of legend, with numerous luminaries of Hollywood, stage, film and television having frequented the venue many times over the years. The four decades of shows and performers at the club are more than likely in a ‘lost count” status, though I believe Tom has kept all the annual performance/reservation date books and has them in a safe place, in case the history channel calls for a Chasen’s-style documentary. One time he mentioned that he had an offer some twenty-plus years ago from the studios to have a television show produced about and in the club itself, but declined for reasons unknown.

It’s one of those old style places with the ambiance being that of classic and period, not modern, so when you walk into the room it takes you back in time. If you’re not initially hip to that, than it may take a little getting used to. But after a great cocktail or two, you’ll be fine and fit right in, even if a celebrity icon is sitting at the table next to you, or in my case, at the bar, where I’ve served many who’ve simply preferred to lounge back in the very comfortable, cushioned raised seats and become unknown, since they’ve already achieved the opposite status. I enjoy serving the ones who prefer to disappear.

Holding only 60-70 people, every seat is basically an orchestra pit. But we can get some persnickety individuals wanting this or that table for various reasons, without realizing that when it’s a packed house the choice becomes limited due to the deuces, three and four-tops of reservations that more-less design the seating arrangement so that everyone fits with no seat open and empty. Not an easy thing to do in an L-shaped room of this size. But we still try to accommodate all that we can, especially for some of the more regular supporters in the Cabaret community. We just can’t always guarantee anything and everything.

Craft Cocktail 25

If you consider the numbers over this journey of time, we’ve had well over a thousand singers through the room, and ones that still perform here today into their own decades-long careers. The art of the intimate performance; it’s like saloon singing, but without the high stage. And you never know who’s going to be in the audience, so it’s always good to hit it out of the ballpark. After entering the club, the eyes adjust to the lighting on low, and the mind is soon transported into your own musical film noir where one can turn into any character they so desire for the night. Welcome to the town of make-believe !

The Gardenia is also home to the longest-running open mic night in Los Angeles, now in its 20th year. This gives newcomers a chance to feel welcomed into the Cabaret community, where they can gain equal footing and confidence to sing their craft and build a show of their own all the while experiencing and hearing other singers, voices and interpretations. A camaraderie into the art of the song.

This is the venue where Michael Feinstein got an early start, along with Andrea Marcovicci, and Maude Maggart, who’s younger sister is Fiona Apple. Barbara Brussell early on as well who recently performed this year back at the club after many years away. These are just to note a few of the too many to mention. Then you had already established legends like Margaret Whiting who performed at the club way back many years ago, as well as Julie Wilson before they passed. Janis Paige and Neile Adams did shows as recent as a few years ago, and they’re in their 80’s and 90’s, respectively. You’ve got to hand it to the older Hollywood gals, they just keep on rolling!

And there’s one that still stands out in my mind that I remember from back when I started working behind the bar, and that was actress/performer by the name of Clare Peck. She only played the room a couple few times and then disappeared, but she always packed the place. Her son is soap actor, Austin Peck. Another that recently popped into my head that performed at the club years ago as well, and that’s Phillip Officer. I never know when the past will come up to greet me again with other singer memories.

The biggest supporters of the club who live in the area are just too many to mention, and I know I’d accidentally leave a name out and feel bad about it, but you all know who you are and are on my personal FB page as well as the Gardenia FB page. Not to mention all the club goers who come in to see shows of all kinds who are not performers themselves, as well as ones who work in all the other areas in back of the cameras of the entertainment business, but don’t do Cabaret. Scotty Bowers and his wife, Lois, before she passed, had been coming into the club for many years. Scotty, a bartender way before my time, is the author of the recent New York Times Bestseller “Full Service”, sharing his experiences doing what he did in Hollywood for over 60 years.

Craft Cocktail 27

The one great thing that separates The Gardenia Room from other like-venues across the country is that Tom kept the club open out of the passion for the art as an environment for new talent to grow. This has to do with his own previous career as a dancer, singer, actor and choreographer on Broadway. He also worked at New York’s famous Latin Quarter that was owned by Barbara Walter’s father, Lou. He was on stage with Lauren Bacall in “Applause”. He auditioned Rita Hayworth. He choreographed Ann Margret’s Las Vegas nightclub act. Tom has told me many of his stories over the years. Why he never wrote a book/memoir of his own is beyond me. And I asked him to. We’re also the only club of its type that doesn’t take a cut of the performer’s cover charge.

Cabaret is like the nicer sister, with Burlesque being its naughty twin!

Though it started out more just as a restaurant for lunch and dinner in the very early years, it included a back patio for afternoon seating. Industry types running businesses in the area known as the Hollywood media district would walk down the alley between Sycamore and La Brea and turn right up into Tom’s lunch patio. In fact, the original chairs used to be corner-stacked up against the fence and brick wall of The Guitar Institute next door, out in what used to be the patio, now weathered by rain and rusted from years of non-use.

The Record Plant Recording Studios are right down the alley from us. Down Sycamore just walking distance one block South at the corner is the old Howard Hughes art deco building that he acquired shortly after it was built in 1930, and was used as the main headquarters for his company’s movie/film division. It has always been kept in pristine condition, and has recently been submitted for landmark status. Down the boulevard heading West one block is the famous and now newly reopened Formosa Cafe. And right up La Brea a couple blocks near Sunset is the now Henson Recording Studios, but used to be A & M Records owned by Herb Alpert, and before that is was the historic Charlie Chaplin Studios. The Gardenia is surrounded by Hollywood history.

Change happens over this length of time, and links to the past can be hard to let go of, when you don’t quite want to say goodbye yet. As you get older, memories can seep in deeper in the mellow attempt of holding on to what’s already gone. The youth in the mind still remains. Knowing me, I’d be the same way, for building good experiences makes for lasting memories later, creating a never-ending smile inside from participating in something historic for the record books. There’s a sentimental feeling with being the boy behind the bar at a place of note for so long. When you have the same original owners, and the staff’s low rate of turnover, we all know each other well. We come in and do our jobs. We don’t have to be told what to do.

I remember when I first got hired. It was in 89’or 90’. I was looking for more work in the yellow pages after checking out the want ads, as I also liked calling establishments that weren’t necessarily hiring at the moment. I lived in Burbank at the time, and drove up Olive Ave. into Hollywood to fill out an application, not knowing if they could really use me or not. But I had just left a downtown gig that I couldn’t stand anymore, on 444 Flower Street right across the way from the Bonaventure Hotel, so I needed to fill my work schedule out as quickly as possible to avoid a financial nosedive.

Craft Cocktail 24

Tom and I talked, along with his manager at the time, about me actually coming in to start shifting behind the bar with a beginning schedule. Poof, I was in. But what I had gotten into, I had no idea at the time. It was a weird period of adjustment for me at the onset, getting used to the vibe and my place within it. And I had to cool my energy down to fit in to how the room rolled from the beginning to the end, finding my place in the script. Tom was the director, and took a chance on me as the young bar actor. The position carried with it a center of attention as the opening act. It took me awhile, but I learned how to control it and ride the wave to shore.

The reservation books dictate to a large degree of how busy a night is going to be, and they wanted me behind the bar on some slow nights too, of which there was a slight misunderstanding at first until I figured it out, that sometimes included calling in to see if they needed me, or them calling me, as the numbers in the books can and do increase day-by-day up until a performer’s show date. I was a newbie to this rare kind of venue in Los Angeles, as anybody would be with this few and far between theme, so it took me a while to adjust to the life of activity in the room before I settled in with everything I needed to be aware of in my overall job description, which included being in charge of the house music and volume, the phones, coffees and waters, and disappearing into the shadows of the bar when the show starts.

One of the odd things that happens every night unlike anywhere else is, when it’s show time at 9:00 pm, after full seating and dinner and drinks have been completed, the room goes dark except for the stage lights, the bar is dimmed, and I’m the only one left out on the floor (behind the bar) being quiet as a mouse, even to the point when making drinks during the show, all martinis have to be shaken during the applause so the sound doesn’t interrupt the performance, which is why we don’t use blenders anymore, too loud for the room no matter what. I like that! We even had to get rid of the soda gun because the compressor would never fail to turn on in the middle of the show.

There was a few times in the last couple years when a performer was in the middle of a slow, quiet medley of songs and the crowd wasn’t huge, at the same time I was jammed with a few martini orders from the waiters, so I went outside on the sidewalk of Santa Monica Boulevard and rocked my full bullet martini shaker for a good 10-15 seconds, came back into the club, raised the bar gate, and poured into the already chilled martini glasses.

Craft Cocktail 23

With all the traffic going by, it’s good no squad cars caught me. Who knows what would have happened. Imagine me going to jail for preparing cocktails on the street. However, one thing I can say about that is, this part of the boulevard in Hollywood is also part of the last extension of Route 66 that goes all the way to the Pacific Ocean’s edge in Santa Monica. Therefore, I can officially say that I have shaken martinis on Route 66, however late it may be for the history books.

These types of clubs survive on a shoestring more or less, so as a community of like-minded artists, everyone supports each other as much as one can, as it tries to keep a toehold of exposure and recognition in American entertainment. Facebook not only helps get the word out, but images, video and bio content as well. I’ve been the administrator of the Gardenia page since it began eight years ago. It’s funny out of all this time I’ve never sat in the main room to see a show on an off night. Occasionally when I’m alone in the room early on setting up the bar, I’ll turn on the mic and music system and practice belting a few songs just for fun, as I used to perform twenty plus years ago in a singing server restaurant called Café Bellissimo.

It all remains a grassroots effort to keep it alive and kicking. An avenue for talent, of which it has in abundance, both new and established, and making money at it as a performer depends on the size of your band. Musicians have to be paid. You have a small room in which to fill up. The only advertising the house does is with the marquee on the boulevard and the Facebook page. It’s up to the performer to promote. These factors go into the price of your cover charge, all with a prayer that your besties come in to see the show and are not out of town. Most of the time, you’re just happy to break even. And about musicians, we happen to have had the best of the best in Los Angeles perform in this room over the decades, and it has been an honor to sit back and listen in awe.

But you see all kinds in the world of Cabaret, from super-talented singers who are completely broke and get little to no help or support, to performers in a financially easier position but may not possess as much talent. What I’m saying is there are all kinds from all walks that come here to this great city of chance and give it their best shot. The one universal centerpiece that doesn’t budge – you need to have talent and luck on your side. No other combination works, not even money and nepotism. When executives invest in talent, they count on it for as long a run as they can, so you also have to be professional and intelligent with your craft and in the business, and a charming and workable-with personality doesn’t hurt either.

Even though Tom is no longer with us, his spirit is always present in the chair in the back of the room where he sat with Bruce to watch and enjoy many of the performances in a space that he created for the very purpose of attempting to help others with their dreams of making it in show business like he did. This is his legacy. And we continue it today in the same room in Hollywood that he opened back in 1981, in honor of what he gave to so many that embrace the heart of his purpose and intention with the greatest of appreciation and respect.

Below is a listing of some of the celebrities that have graced the room at The Gardenia since I’ve been there.

Clint Eastwood     Ann Margret     Charles Bronson     Michael Learned    Tom Bosley     Annette Bening     Chevy Chase     Raquel Welch    Richard Mulligan     Rita Moreno     Henry Jaglom     Carol Channing    Michael Madsen     Natalie Schafer     Kevin McCarthy     Charlene Tilton    Stevie Wonder     Maria Shriver     Henry Mancini

Cheryl Bentyne     Norman Lear     Lesley Ann Warren     Robert Goulet     Carol Lawrence    Gil Gerard     Marion Ross     Michael Feinstein     Nancy Sinatra    Mel Brooks     Anne Bancroft     Gregory Harrison     Lainie Kazan    Sidney Poitier     Bonnie Franklin     Ron Glass     Phyllis Diller    Martin Landau     Shirley Jones     Bruce Vilanch

Nancy Dussault     Tim Curry     Sally Struthers     Richard Benjamin     Judith Light    Patrick Swayze     Bea Arthur     Nick Cassavetes     Jean Simmons    James Garner     Michelle Lee     Mike Stoller     Carl Reiner  Joanne Worley     Rex Reed     Peri Gilpin     Mr. Blackwell     Peisha McPhee     Leonard Maltin     Sally Kirkland

Gary Collins    Joan Van Ark     Jack Klugman     Barbara Bain     Dick Sherman    Anne Rutherford     Elliot Gould     Carole Cook     James Cromwell     Yvette Mimieux     Robert Urich     Karen Morrow     Richard Gautier    Melissa Manchester     Ray Evans     Amanda McBroom     Ken Berry     Anne Kerry Ford     Robben Ford     Lee Meriwether     Tyrone Power Jr.

Tyne Daly     Ray Jessel     Fiona Apple     Jason Alexander     Sally Field    Richard Chamberlain     Charlotte Rae     Lawrence Pressman     Betty Garrett    Leonard Nimoy     Marcia Wallace     Dick Van Patten     Mary Ann Mobley    Peter Gallagher     Pia Zadora     George Chakiris     Jackie Collins    John Glover     Adrienne Barbeau     Keith David

Michelle Phillips     Bruce Davison     Anne Jeffreys     Frank Strazzeri     Susan Blakely    James Pickens Jr.     Mary Jo Catlett     Sammy Williams     Margaret O’Brien    Rob Reiner     Sally Kellerman     Buddy Collette     Cloris Leachman    Billy Vera     Estelle Getty     Robert Wuhl     Lydia Cornell     Chris Noth

Jim. J. Bullock     Deborah Van Valkenburgh     Robert Guilliame    Beverly Sanders     Alan Mandell     Jackaye Harry     Michael Ironside     Robert Forster     Dale Olson     Stephen Schwartz     Richard Dreyfuss     Kelly Lange     Mews Small     Kate Vernon

 

“Party of 8” – Stories and Encounters by Kyle Branche

Craft Cocktail 17

Pulling up into what was once known as The Jewel of Los Feliz, an area up in the hills just off of Van Ness Avenue and Hollywood Freeway, I realize how close it is to the many historical points down below on flatter ground. Just a couple minutes away is Beachwood Drive, the original site of the old Hollywoodland neighborhood, where Aldous and Laura Huxley once lived in the late 50’s, early 60’s, on Deronda Drive. Scenes from the 1956 classic film “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” were shot in front of the Beachwood Market and Village, as well as a scene in David Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive” of a creepy guy in a cowboy hat in a deserted corral at the top of Beachwood Canyon, the same area where the Sunset Ranch is located today, a large horse stable for the public to take toured night rides through the Hollywood Hills. I’ve worked several gigs on Beachwood over the last decade, but a few years ago there was a gig I couldn’t work – the season-ending wrap party for the producers and cast of the show “In Treatment” with Gabriel Byrne. That was a drag to be gigging somewhere else on that occasion, as he’s one of my favorite actors to watch.

Just South at Beachwood’s beginning is Franklin Avenue, home of the castle-like Church of Scientology Celebrity Centre International building a block down that before it was purchased by L.Ron Hubbard in 1973, was the landmark Chateau Elysee. The church is now known for owning more historical buildings in Hollywood than any other entity, some $400 million worth. I remember going over there and checking it out over 30 years ago when I was in a bit of a lost and search mode myself. It wasn’t bad. It was different, that’s for sure. I talked with some people there, but never signed up to become a paying member or regular participant. That’s when it became kind of questionable for me, so I backed off for a bit and never returned. I didn’t have the excess funds to start paying them some monthly dues. Nothing wrong with it, we all make choices, some benefit, some regret. But hey, at least we’re seeking ways to improve and do something instead of just grazing the earth all the time, meandering here and there. Then again, maybe that’s what we should be doing!

I finally wrap a right turn onto Live Oak, the point of my uphill destination. I spend a few minutes of early time gazing over the twilight city and downtown before the remaining light turns into night. I was told that across the street is the home of actress, Kelly Lynch. Chris, my waiter friend, pulls up, who knows where everybody lives, as I mentioned before in a previous story, his brother owns the security company that some celebs and the wealthy use on property. The last time he and I were here, at the end of the night I followed him back down a different path than I usually take up. I know a lot of streets, but Chris makes me feel like I just arrived in L.A. You know how it goes, right when you think you know everything about anything, someone comes along and changes your game!

Craft Cocktail 18

Chris tells me to watch out for his left arm signal, as my headlights tight-tail his new sports car down the narrow, windy pitch-black road, where it’s all too easy to slam into a street can sticking out too far for the following morning’s trash pick-up. That’s one thing you notice, especially in the alleys of Beverly Hills, their dump cans are so big you could fit six people in them. They have twice as many in total than any middle-class neighborhood. But that’s how it goes.  The more you own, the more trash you have to shit-can. In many ways, I’m glad I’m not rich, but there are times where I could use it on occasion, just for continued encouragement in the one life that I still have.

I catch Chris’s hand movement, he slows down and I do the same. He points across his vehicle to let me know of the main entry gate into the huge Brad Pitt/Angelina Jolie compound, which from what I gathered is like four surrounding properties in one, bought up over the last several years, creating a sort of magic kingdom, so close but just far away enough, hidden and unmarked. And it’s only about ten properties down from where we’re working tonight.

Chris parks a few spaces in back of my truck. If both of us had passengers, they would open the door and slice into either a streamline of well-groomed shrubbery or a mail box would be spinning off its hinges. With no sidewalks, the landscaping takes advantage all the way up to the asphalt. Jody, the other server for the night, is sitting in her car, and we all walk in together, as the main gate was still closed. Better to open once.

Hillary and Adam are great clients and have been for years. They’re super cool people, and their single-level ultra-tech modern home is actually combined with substantial land and yard, compared to other edge properties within walking distance that are all house and no grass. No mower, just hedge clippers necessary, for the gardener that is!

The main house help answers the door, and we stroll in. In the attempt to assume our positions, I was at a loss for mine. I couldn’t find the bar, which was usually a large portable on the outside patio. Thinking it was going to be another of the same type of party and normal guest count of 40-50, it soon became clear that I didn’t receive the same memo. Thinking to myself for a moment “What the hell am I doing here, I could have worked another gig elsewhere tonight”. Hillary appears in the living room area and lets me know it’s a small dinner party, not with the usual crowd of friends. They have a small built-in bar, more of the cottage/bungalow style wet bar. The home deserved better. The only thing missing that would make the house complete, a custom build-out and step-behind.

Craft Cocktail 15

I go to the kitchen and find out that Chris and Jody had the more clear and accurate event details, which still made me wonder what I was doing there. Limbo and I don’t get along very well. Either I’m in gear with task and purpose or I prefer to be in neutral, on my own time, not someone else’s. Eventually I realize I have to somehow fit into the mold of the evenings activities or just put on a coat and become the house butler, nodding and walking away!

Adam was in the kitchen executing the role of chef with precision, and Hillary held her own in the dessert department. Lurking on the countertop was a 1.5 L Magnum bottle of a 1970 Chateau Paullac, unopened. What to do? I create a makeshift bar set-up in the kitchen to double as a station and hiding place, assembling whatever I could think of in close proximity with everything else. They soon realized that putting a task-mastered workhorse like myself in this quasi-helper position was the wrong thing to do. They thought that I knew, but I was previously unaware. I just needed more reason to sustain me and I’m fine, easy to work with. But asking to give me something to do after 30 years of shredding at top game was almost an embarrassment, if not an accidental touch of humiliation.

I’m a professional in this business, not some wannabe actor biding time for a guest-starring spot. There was no bad intention by anyone, but how do I remove that from my face to feel more at home and useful than just the role of a floater. However, I do have to keep in mind that they put me on this party because of “Guess who’s coming to Dinner”. The daunting news of the guests included Barbra Streisand, James Brolin, Mia Sara, Brian Henson (son of Jim Henson), along with the head of Universal/Sony and his wife. Surprise!

Adam goes about the cork removal at a frighteningly brisk pace, not considering the decades it had been stuck in glass. We were about to find out the mystery if a 40-year wine was too long in the bottle or not. The older and/or out of position the bottle of wine is, the more patient and sensitive you have to be with the cork. There are also slightly different cork lengths that one cannot always see. Removing the top foil helps, but the bottle could be too dark anyway. I knew Adam had a wine cellar, so I wasn’t worried of the bottle laying down properly. After he had initially used his corkscrew without being successful, I was able to remove the rest of it, the last third of the cork remaining, intact two inches from the top, so no loose ends fell into the wine. My trusty ah-so cork remover does it again.

Craft Cocktail 14

He was impressed! I was shocked!! I didn’t think it was going to come up. Either way, we could have used a simple cheesecloth to filter anything out, but there wasn’t a need after I cleaned the inside of the bottle neck of any minute debris. It’s just better if it’s a clean removal all in one pull. Some corks are tougher, so you need to take your time with a very slow screw upward and work it sloth-pace. With love and care, there was no dust in the drink. Not an easy thing to do. We decanted it for close to 3 hours before the guests first tasting at the sit down, giving it substantial breathing time. I cleaned the bottle up really nice afterward and put it on the back counter. Luckily, there was very little residual in the bottom remains.

Cocktails and hors d’oeuvres began the beguine. Glancing out of my kitchen peephole with curious eyes, out of all the places in the world a legend could be right now, she was right here. Barbra Streisand. The one and only. I remember when I was 24 and still living in Phoenix, Mom and I went to see Yentl in the movie theater when it came out. I grew up listening to her. Mom had all her albums. I wonder if they’re still at the house in her arts and crafts room? I’ll have to check. And since I used to watch Marcus Welby M.D. as a kid, I was equally familiar with James Brolin. He’s a big dude. Intimidation usually has to do with personality, ego, voice and energy. If they’re warm, you feel it, if they’re otherwise, you feel that too, all caught in a matter of seconds. This dictates and therefore arcs how Chris, Jody and I will be conducting and behaving with our collective mannerisms and floor choreography. The initial greeting and reception lasted a little less than an hour.

Steady as she goes . . .

When it came to the food, I let Chris and Jody tell me what to do and where to go. At the beginning after the guests took their named places at the long dining table, I timely made first entrance with the decanter of the 1970 red, praying it was of good taste, even with Adam giving it a swish on the palate earlier. Not everyone is of the same tongue. It was fine. But reaching, pouring and breathing in times eight while moving around the table between bodies, well, of course I had to be the first one, with the least floor experience. This just can’t not happen, now can it? Will the heavens ever stop testing me? I make it around the curve with silent lucidity, and slip away into the kitchen taking air deep into lungs, cooling the beginnings of perspiration on my forehead.

Chris and Jody followed to the table with rolls and butter. My breather was short. Next was a thin, cream-based soup, much easier to spill than a salad. Oh, the challenges never end! Hillary and Barbra were sitting next to each other on the corner of the L closest to the kitchen entrance. Of course that’s where I was told to go. It was closer, but I don’t know about any easier! With Hillary to my right and Barbra to my left, I slowly plated in front and over their beautiful hands, one at a time. With the final lean left, Barbra abruptly got up and brushed her body across my outstretched arm and went to the ladies room. Did I do something wrong? Looking at where Chris and Jody were at with their drops, I did an about face and rolled out of the area to grasp one more bowl to reverse back my way to Mia Sara. Soup was done.

Craft Cocktail 19

Adam cooked Kobe beef and lobster in sealed bags in boiling water to hold all the juices in. There was a vegetable and au gratin potato to complete the dish. The plating and removing at the tables continued, as well as my double-duty with wines and waters while trying to feel the right balance of being there and not being there, avoiding any intrusion to multiple conversations that were not to our privy. We had enough to do and sweat over, as the kitchen wasn’t exactly cool in temperature. Someone open a window.

All went well, but working with extremely tall, sensitive stemware for the champagne and wines white and red is a freaky issue, not to mention the decanter itself, as you’re trying to avoid any breakage or shattering at all costs. Then you have to do your best at proper pouring and multiple dish/course placement at the large table, moving in-between guests, without fumble! In fact, there was more focus on those safety measures than being flipped out by the celebs attending. This is how a dinner party goes! I perform this type of service too infrequently to be really good at it. By the time it comes around again, I’ve forgotten what I had previously learned, as far as left and right, etc. I’m not at my best when I’m out from the bar, but I always give it a go for sake of new experience. And the clients had faith in us to help them pull the evening off without a hitch.

I always thought Streisand was gorgeous, and the close-up was no disappointment. She had a casual and simply beautiful look about her that evening, little make-up because she doesn’t need any, really. And she seems smaller and cuter in person than what the camera does to her. I hadn’t seen Mia Sara in a long time, maybe since Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or Timecop, but she’s done more TV, episodic and voiceover than film since those days, still in it. And then you have the head of Universal/Sony Pictures, who pretty much has more power than anyone at the table, with Adam his VP. That’s the connection for this dinner taking place.

With dessert as the closer, Hillary took control of the kitchen with Adam keeping at the table this time. I think we had three different selections on each plate for the guests who had more than one sweet tooth flavor craving. It was quite the incredible culinary atmosphere despite having no hired chef on premise covering all the bases. It was more of a shared in-house event only to avoid some ugly, beat-up catering van outside in the driveway. Clean and safe, no green bean deliveries in a large, aluminum tin!

Craft Cocktail 13

Jody was doing most of the washing in the sink with both Chris and I helping a little when we could. There’s a point where the table needs three servers, than two servers, and finally one server towards the end, as a kind of fade-in and fade-out experience, much like the movies. We were the acts that created our own silent film that night. That’s always the attempt anyway, moving around in whispering code talk like a calm, attractive version of the three stooges in dinner service attire, looking at each other in passing, keeping busy for time to move quicker.

Nothing dropped, nothing spilled, nothing broken, nothing slipped. Like a dance on eggshells, we made it through the night. If a Chef or Head Waiter would have been there, they would’ve caused the potential friction for everything to fall apart at every nail. That’s what they do, getting paid to provide the pins and needles that we don’t need.

After the star-studded guests left, there were the five of us taking in a sigh of finish line completion. Walking back out to our vehicles, the night air never felt so good upon the skin as the evening’s stressors slowly slipped away into yet another one-off gig in the history books with this city of entertaining.

Craft Cocktail 21

“Highland Taffy” – Stories and Encounters by Kyle Branche

Craft Cocktail 10

The Highland Taffy Estate, as it is now called, is the old estate built in 1928 that was once owned by William Randolph Hearst. It was actually the first property he bought as his residence shortly after moving to LA. Today, it is now a private residence. The previous owner was architect Henry Lovins, designer of the Pig N’ Whistle restaurant, which was originally the concession stand for the Egyptian Theater.

With a long, narrow gated driveway sitting between a Best Western Hollywood Plaza Inn Motel and the American Legion Hall Post 43 at 2025 N. Highland Avenue, about a quarter-mile south of the Hollywood Bowl, it is an artistic gem of a property, a multi-level landscape with two homes, art studios, lush greenery, and walkways to the top where a small, amphitheater-style wedding chapel is built up against a mountain wall. This was also the original hideout for Hearst’s mistress, the actress Marion Davies. They ended up together for over 30 years.

In talking with the caretaker of the estate, he let me know that one time he had to run off a specific homeless person that was reported to be an ex-scientist PHD intellectual that dropped his once successful life and went completely off the grid. I’m sure there’s a sneak trail of open land where homeless people hang out somewhere between Taffy’s mountain edge and extends all the way over to the nosebleed section of the Bowl’s amphitheater, free concerts from an easy distance away. That’s what I would do, build the perfect tent area campgrounds in the gap where no one goes – a place to survive and exist in some form, full of individuals who’ve fallen through the ever-widening cracks in the economic pavement, and geniuses who gave up on the corrupt American system to be truly free with whatever new set of hardships they have to deal with, but having no monthly bills at all, nor an address. Like anything else, it’s a trade-off.

Spring to Fall, they rent out the venue location for parties, weddings and other event functions. This is how I made it through the gates, as a bartender for a caterer, LA Gourmet, who is on their office listing as preferred and recommended foodies. I come along for the providing of the drink.

It was a wedding party for 150 guests. We’re allowed to use the kitchen areas of both houses for all the food prep and beverage back-up. There were three bars spread out over the property. At the bottom level bar was veteran actor Casey Sander, who played the character of Wade Swoboda in the TV series “Grace Under Fire”, but has many other film and TV credits to his name. He still loves to get out and tend bar on occasion, as he used to work for years as a bartender at the famous Gladstone’s on PCH in Malibu. His talent manager is James Garner’s daughter.

At the mid-level bar was commercial, stage, film and Emmy-nominated (co-starring role in The X-Files Season 7 episode 9 –  Signs & Wonders – as Reverend Enoch O’Connor) TV actor Michael Childers, who basically does the same between acting gigs, and used to be a bartender at the Formosa Café for 16 years, the only bartender survivor from some newly-implemented bar craft cocktail program, which turned out to be the wrong place to exercise such a culinary demon. Not in a classic, old Hollywood haunt where celebs have been hanging out since the late 20’s. Legend has it that Frank Sinatra spent many nights at the Formosa in the 1950’s, pining over Ava Gardner. The interior and the exterior of the bar can also be seen in the movie, L.A. Confidential. Across the street is Jones Café, and my Gardenia Room is just a block east from there on the other side of La Brea, all three on Santa Monica Boulevard, that is thankfully cleaned up now from what used to be hooker-trans central over a decade ago. I ended up being given the duties at the bar on the top level, which would get hit first after the ceremony ended.

Craft Cocktail 11

We all arrive in the limited parking area to do a massive crew unload of anything and everything from the company vans. Michael and I have our gloves on to avoid any nicks and scuffs before we actually get to setting up the bars, nice-looking hands behind the bar is always a good thing. Getting a bleeder is never something to look forward to. But I have various sizes of band-aids in a Ziploc baggie in my bar kit for the little emergencies. I see some of the new cocktailian bartenders on my Facebook page who will go as far as to photo announce when they nearly slice their thumb off to the point of a dozen stitches, and for the next two weeks they’re wearing finger condoms, which don’t allow for the best air-breathing for healing purposes, along with extra-caution hand movements all because a slip of the blade while more than likely looking the other way when someone harks their name on a busy night.

When you’re cutting fruit, pay attention to nothing else until it’s done. I prefer a knife with a serrated edge so it can catch its own fall, as opposed to a smooth blade all the way to the tip. You’re dealing with all kinds of fruits with an equal amount of different skins, some easy, some tough. Working the cut-through is sometimes safer than becoming lazy about it with too much ease. But the initial key – Keep the hands and fruit dry. Slippage is too common. And know your knife. It isn’t worth losing any work over, or feeling the throb of blood pressure in the finger when you’re pulling a shift. But this is what happens when you cut fresh throughout a night with the huge range of garnishes they use in today’s craft bars, instead of what you think you’ll use for the night beforehand. This, I can do, because I know in advance how busy I’m going to be. Bar establishments on the other hand, some nights of the week you just don’t know.

After all the set-up, we have about forty-five minutes to shift our vehicles into the huge back parking lot next door at the Legion, freshen ourselves up from the sweat break and change into our formal attire. Michael borrows my lint roller while I put on my cologne, and then we have a smoke and shoot the shit of our lives for awhile until we cruise back in for any early guest arrivals. It’s nice just to get back behind the bar and relax our faces into happy mode. Sometimes we have a pop, sometimes we don’t, all depends on how we feel at the moment, if anything is bothering us to where we need to arc it up a notch.

It was a beautiful day, but very warm during the top of the afternoon. We always look forward to when the sun dips down slightly below the mountain ridge and we get the evening shade that cools the pores for the rest of the night while we’re slinging away. It gets busy with easy drinks at the onset as most don’t want to get plastered before the ceremony. The initial reception lasts a little over an hour with some light appetizers passed. With an acoustic guitar and violin singing through the air, the rest of the band sets up as eventually all of the guests are requested to head their way to the chapel above for the ceremony.

Craft Cocktail 7

It was a good rush for all of us when you get hit with 150 thirsty travelers in time. Not too many repeat offenders, mostly quenchers coming back for mineral or still waters. It’s re-stocking hour, and managing the 40 lb. ice bags to hold us down till the end without everything melting away. The ceremony lasts 30-45 minutes and then we’re back at it again, this time with more regular drinking of the spirits, classic cocktails, wines, beers and champagne. I even make a few blast from the past Long Island Teas along with Drivers, Hounds, Cape’s, and hey, the Cosmo is still in fashion – which is basically nothing more than a Kamikaze with a dash of cranberry juice, but chilled straight up in a martini glass instead of as a cold shot or on-the-rocks. Plus I always make something special with what I have to work with, stock-wise, behind the bar, just to make it interesting for myself. If I have peach schnapps, lemonade and pomegranate, I can play that into a few different drinks, but sometimes the pickings are slim.

And Mojitos are always a bitch to prepare outside, because the mint dies in the heat pretty quick. They’re better left in the cooler-frig of a bar where they can keep crisp and its aromatic essence alive. Otherwise, at a party this size, if one guest orders a Mojito, it usually starts an avalanche of everybody wanting one out of trend, without realizing each one is made from scratch, taking longer, yet still failing its desired effect because it’s best if everything going into the glass is cold, meaning the rum and club soda too. The mint, lime and sugar is what it is, but this is outdoors, so if the mint is warm, sweaty and getting limp by the minute, this is where you lose, by taking all that time stress-prepping them with a less than excellent result, while you still have a line at the bar that really should have been avoided in the first place. If it’s a party of 50, than it’s approachable, but not 150 people. You can use any of the various Mojito mixers on the market, but it’s still not the real deal, and takes about the same amount of time because you’re still muddling the mint if you have it there. I do love having mint as a garnish though, and it smells nice around the bar when a big bag of it is open.

The waiter captain is making sure plenty of guests go to the other bars for drinks to spread it out and share the duties. It also helps the guests in knowing all the walkways to explore while they’re on the property. A long buffet is set-up for dinner at the tables, and the band is playing some good, deep jazz with great vocals from a singer who really knows the old American songbook. We get to the past-rush point at the bars where it’s more relaxed after knocking back a few with everybody’s liquid tanks getting filled up. Time to catch up with ice refill once again and clear any mess created while pouring and shaking on-the-fly. I like the pace and challenge to kick ass in high gear, but it’s also nice when it cools down where I can cruise out the rest of the night, allowing for more customer interaction, which is a good thing. The guests enjoy some chat at the bar, and so do I. A chance to relate with someone you’ve never met before and you’ll probably never see again – in through the out door.

I think about all the history of the estate while I have moments behind the bar, panning around and knowing what it looks like in both the day and the night with lights and long candles, along with walking the property as much as I had time for. I wonder how many secrets went to the grave, if the houses are haunted, or any apparitions in the dark of night. As I spoke of Culver Studios in the previous story “Quiet on the Set”, the President and Founder of the studios, silent movie pioneer and “Father of the Western”, Thomas Ince, was invited to a party of his 42nd birthday in his honor, on Hearst’s yacht in 1924. He never made it off alive.

HyperFocal: 0

The story goes is that Hearst was jealous thinking that Charlie Chaplin went off to another part of the yacht with Marion Davies. When he caught up with them, Hearst had a gun and shots were being fired willy-nilly. As the two were speaking, the man turned around and Hearst accidentally shot him in the chest. But it wasn’t Chaplin, it was Ince. After his mysterious death aboard the yacht, that was also alleged that he had not been shot, just had bad stomach indigestion and heart trouble, the studio was then purchased by producer/director, Cecil B. DeMille. There are several versions of the big cover-up.

Feeling so bad, rumor had it that Hearst paid off Ince’s widow’s mortgage on the Chateau Elysee apartment building in Hollywood (now the Church of Scientology Celebrity Centre that I mentioned in another story “Party of 8”), as well as providing her with a trust fund just before she left for Europe. In turn, she refused an autopsy and ordered her husband’s immediate cremation.

The Chateau was originally built as a replica of a 17th Century French-Normandy castle, and ran as a residential apartment house by Ince’s widow, Elinor, for up and coming movie stars. But it operated like a hotel with daily maid service and meals served out of a formal dining room. Some of the many famous residents of the 30’s and 40’s were Bette Davis, Clark Gable, Errol Flynn, Edward G. Robinson, Carol Lombard, Ginger Rogers, Humphrey Bogart, Lillian Gish, George Gershwin, and Ed Sullivan. It became known as The Manor.

Shortly after, in 1928, RKO acquired the Culver studios and controlled it for years, bringing stardom to many legends, including Bette Davis, Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, Robert Mitchum, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Later in 1940, it was reported that stagehands high in the catwalks were confronted by a ghostly figure resembling Thomas Ince. How’s that for coming back to haunt you? He must’ve been pissed. And if he could be seen there, I don’t see a reason why he couldn’t have made it over to the Highland Taffy to spook Hearst out of his bed. In 1950, Howard Hughes acquired RKO Pictures, and in 1956, after Lucille Ball didn’t a get the leading role in a major movie that she wanted badly, she was so mad that her and Desi Arnaz purchased the lot and made it Desilu Productions.

As a side note, Scotty Bowers, author of the 2012 New York Times bestseller “Full Service”, whom I’ve known for years from him coming into The Gardenia Room, went to one of Hearst’s parties at the castle up in San Simeon, California in the 40’s, shortly after coming home from military service in WWII. Scotty may very well be the only person alive today that ever attended one of the parties.

Craft Cocktail 6

The thought of Marion Davies comes back to my mind with her living on the property. She was such a good soul, yet in a strange situation that she just rode out to the end until Hearst died in 1951. The night before his death, there had been a lot of people in the house. Marion was very upset by the large crowd of family and friends. She said it was too noisy and were disturbing Hearst, who was ill in bed, by talking so loud. She was upset and had to be sedated. When she woke, her niece, Patricia Van Cleve Lake, and her husband, Arthur Lake, told her that Hearst was dead, and that his lawyer’s associates had removed his body as well as all his belongings and any trace that he had lived there with her. Marion was banned from Hearst’s funeral. Upon Patricia’s death, it was revealed she had been the love child of Davies and Hearst.

In addition to her acting career, Marion spent much of her time at Cosmopolitan Pictures as a production manager. She had been appointed to this position by Hearst, who wanted to keep her close to him. She had a long-standing reputation in the film industry for being extremely kind to the casts and crews of her films, going so far as to pay hospital bills anonymously if she heard that they were ill. She was famous for doing dead-on impersonations of celebrities at parties. And being the practical joker, she once got President Calvin Coolidge drunk by feeding him wine and telling him it was fruit juice. When Davies was in England, she had found out that forgotten silent actress Florence Turner, who had been a star at Vitagraph, was destitute. A compassionate Davies paid for her and her mother to return to the U.S., put them up in a hotel, and offered Turner a job with her production company.

Marion started lots of charities including a children’s clinic. She was very generous and was loved by everyone who knew her. She died 10 years later, in 1961, in Hollywood.  Marion is interred at Hollywood Memorial Cemetery (now called Hollywood Forever), in section B, east side of the lake very close to the grave of Tyrone Power. This cemetery, by the way, in the summer, shows full-length feature film screenings outdoors on the property on weekends. A different kind of drive-in, among many of Tinsletown’s resting celebrities, showing the movies projected onto a mausoleum’s white marble wall. They also have DJ’s spinning music before and after the film. It’s called Cinespia. Check them out at Cinespia.org. for a calendar of screenings.

It’s that time of the night after plenty of dancing and drinking, and things are slowly coming to a close. We all start fading things out of whatever’s left that hasn’t been consumed and emptied. During a long shift, packing up at the end on a 4-tier property like this is a little more on the strain than we’d care to admit. But we do it as the finish line is near. I chat with the caretaker one more time before we call it a night. He’s a great guy and loves the property, so you know it’s being well taken care of until the next time we get the call to come over and do it all again.

Craft Cocktail 8

“Quiet on the Set” – Stories and Encounters by Kyle Branche

Craft Cocktail 5

Occasionally, I get the call to work bar gigs at the various movie studios here in L.A., whether it be Culver City, Studio City or Universal City. There are others, like Warner Brothers/Burbank studios, but some have their own sort of built-in culinary catered event department on the lot when they occur somewhat consistent, using an on-call staff in-house. They rarely go outside the walls unless it’s either a large event or one with very short notice.

Universal is like that to a degree, but once in a while I get to sneak in if the show’s offices has their own budget and petty cash. It all depends on the timing of everything, last minute or plenty of notice with advance booking. The studio lots are like very busy production villages all to themselves. They don’t let you in the gates unless they know exactly what you’re doing there. And parking can often be a ways away. I may be able to drop my bar gear off at the stage door, but I may end up walking a distance back.

When I have a call time to arrive, it’s always good to get on site up to a half-hour early to allow for the unexpected that can suck up minutes, just in case. Through the gates I get my pass, stage number and directions. Sometimes I can set up early, and if they’ve requested me to bring my own custom bar set-up, that means extra dragging time with a few more trips back and forth. I may have to wait for prep if the bar is close to the set and they’re already taping with a live audience. The many variables that you don’t know until you get there.

The beverage product could be right there close by or it could be at a major schlepping distance, like someone’s production office. However, the studios usually have plenty of help hanging around wanting something to do, and these days I have no problem accepting help from others, especially those who make good money with the union along with health insurance and other perks and bennies that I don’t have.

You notice with unions that employees have a tendency to work together as a team, covering and having each other’s backs, unlike the private sector where it’s more shark infested. I like their upside a lot better than I do my downside!  The idea and feeling of being taken care of is very motivating to me, makes me want to do more, not less. But the Food and Beverage industry is not of the same mindset to take care of their own, unfortunately.

Given its size of overall work force throughout the country, you’d think it would be of automatic necessity. It’s just the opposite. Hospitality as a whole prefers not to have strong, dedicated people they can rely on for long term. Let’s put it this way – they talk it, but they don’t walk it, and they certainly don’t back it. It must have something to do with seeing these various positions as menial tasks of work regarded as servile, when in reality they are very much respected professions of physical labor and mental work. Just ask Europe.

Now if I can just figure out where the ice bags are?

Craft Cocktail 2

        One of the first gigs I got on the set was a final season episode wrap party for the TV comedy series “Less Than Perfect”, starring Eric Roberts, Andy Dick, and Sara Rue over at CBS Studio Center on Radford Ave. in Studio City. I remember being right off the soundstage and having to set up very quietly while it was all happening live. After each take I could move more freely, but as soon as I heard the words “Quiet on the Set”, I become the silent mover in the shadows. I bring my rubber hex floor mats for the back bar so, if something drops, it won’t break and will barely register a sound that reverberates any distance at all. I may bring a lot of tools with me, but it’s for good reason. The production assistants appreciate it.

Following the last scene of the script, you hear the words “It’s a Wrap”. The pressure of the set is relieved, and it’s party time. A few chosen winners are plucked out of the audience to join in the festivities and mingle with the stars, the DJ starts up the music, the food catering floor staff begins passing appetizers, and I start making drinks at rapid pace, handling it all solo behind the bar. It’s always hectic at first until you catch up to the wave, and then you just ride it into shore.

This position I have and maintain is pretty much front and center with everyone attending; producers, directors, actors, cameramen, grips, assistants, office personnel, audience members, you name it. I have to be on my best energetic game. There is no option with only one of me behind the bar that all are counting on to pull it off. The eyes are on me once again, but I can focus and execute with the best of them. When you have enough experience doing one thing for so long, you can dial it in pretty tight, making the performance right on the mark.

It was great to meet Eric Roberts when he came to the bar. He was very nice, cordial and even asked how I was doing. People must see the comfortable couch and smile in my eyes when I’m working, easy to approach and chat up. I love it when the bar becomes the hanging-out point.

Craft Cocktail 4

        Years ago I got called to be one of several bartenders for the Producers Guild Awards that were held on the lot of the Culver Studios in Culver City, which is just northeast of MGM Studios. It was literally held in the huge stage where many movie classics were shot, including “Citizen Kane”, “Gone with the Wind”, the original “King Kong” with Fay Wray, “E.T.,” and Hitchcock’s “Notorious”. But this was only one of 13 soundstages on the property. So many more movies and even TV shows were shot here, including “Hogan’s Heroes”, “Batman”, “Gomer Pyle”, “The Twilight Zone” with Rod Serling, “Lassie”, “The Andy Griffith Show”, and the pilot episodes of the original “Star Trek”.

We get there very early to unload and set-up, everyone lending a helping hand with the beverages for a guest count of hundreds. This was one of those size parties where the more the merrier doesn’t quite apply on our end. There can be an overload of initial product in to cover, and depending on what doesn’t get used up, could be equally taxing when it’s the end of the night. We usually pray we’re so busy that there’s nothing left for us to re-box and load back. I remember it was chilly and rainy out that evening, as this event takes place at the beginning of the year when it’s still officially winter in Southern Cal. The bones can get a little brittle in knowing that our body adjustment to cold weather here is the same as someone else’s skin being adapted to living in Minnesota, except thirty more degrees closer to zero!

They were serving full plated dinner at the tables, so there’s a point where the bar slows down in the middle of the evening, and we take turns with breaks for a few to avoid sleeping standing up like horses. Gigs can be busy all the way through or it can have a series of ups and downs, you only know about half the time going in. It would be great if all the bars would be in the main room surrounding the tables, it might help us keep busier with the guests knowing there in quicker walking range, but they would also be in the peripheral camera eye, so the floor waiters have to put on the extra mileage to keep the show looking clean and wholesome.

Last year I worked the actual set bar for a live audience table reading with the cast of “Hot in Cleveland” back at CBS in Studio City, I think it was Stage 19. There were three of us bartenders for this gig, so Andrea and Daniel worked alongside me at this medium-length bar with a walk space in between. With almost 200 guests invited, the studio can easily afford a slight overstaff when they deem necessary, making my job a little easier sharing the duties, with the same pay.

A Cabaret friend, actress and performer at The Gardenia club, Robyn Spangler, was part of the reading, and showed up with her husband to say hello before she had to hit the stage. This also takes me back to when I used to see Valerie Bertinelli at Lakeside Golf Club, and now she’s back in the game, on this show. It’s interesting to work a sort of shell bar on the set where the front and top is the real deal, but the back under bar is not of normal use, you get to see a lot of props and leftover knick-knacks gathering dust until their next use on-camera.

17855248_10211533424558809_1392064451026945261_o

        A couple months after, I was called back there on another soundstage, in a makeshift living room/lounge area for the executives, with no ceiling, as just on the other side of the thin wall they were taping the pilot episode of a new comedy show called “Only Fools and Horses”, that starred Christopher Lloyd, John Leguizamo, and Wendi McClendon-Covey from “Reno 911”. This shoot was a basic pass or fail, with the onlooker suits watching a live tape feed linked into a large TV monitor/screen in the room where I was cornered to pour.

In fact, the director of the show was actor and ex-L.A. Ram defensive end, Fred Dryer, His voice saying “Action” and “Cut” several times over was easily recognizable. This 30-minute pilot took nearly 4 hours to complete shooting. It was a pretty funny show, but with this includes all the re-takes, forgetting or screwing up lines of dialogue, and hearing Leguizamo cussing at himself. To think the bank these performers make, yet the script and marks still have to be memorized and hit, and the money doesn’t improve the memory. On top of that, you still have to act. It made for a long, drawn out night for me, especially with only mild activity at the bar. One executive came over to me a few times with rolling eyes that told me “Get this over with so I can go home”. The show was cool, but I don’t think it received the green light for a season’s worth.

Late last year and early this year, I got the call on two different occasions, during weeknights (Tues, Wed, etc) which is perfect, of which the other studio gigs were the same so it doesn’t clash with my weekend work, to bring my custom bar and set-up inside the production offices of the show “Guys with Kids” up at Universal City for episode and season wrap parties, with the hope they’ll get picked up for another season. It was great to meet the crew; Anthony Anderson, Jesse Bradford, Tempest Bledsoe, along with the creators and writers, and saying hello to Jamie-Lynn Sigler (The Sopranos) on the stairs up put a nice lift in my step. She’s just as gorgeous in person.

Their offices are like a creative playground, with three massive bean bags and other toys. I set the bar up right on the outside of the office where the long table sits the various show writers and all the 3×5 cards stuck to a wall board taking you scene-by-scene through the episode. I love to see and learn the process of all the inner workings of the entertainment business. There’s no doubt had I grown up in L.A., I would have been in the business in some capacity, either in back or in front of the camera. However, with my look and baby face, I should probably feel grateful not getting eaten up and thrown out as a child actor. Instead, I’m the pleasant observer putting cocktails in hand.

Back in 2007, also up at Universal, I worked both in the production offices and up on the roof for parties for then President of NBC-Universal Television, Katherine Pope. She was very nice, and I ended up working a couple gatherings at her home as well. She’s now the executive producer of the TV series “Touch” with Kiefer Sutherland. Now that I think about it, I’ve also worked a couple private party gigs at the home of Amanda Segel, who is now the supervising producer of the show “Person of Interest”, but back when I saw her last I think she was co-producing the last two seasons of “Without a Trace”. Shows come and go to the activity and rating numbers of the viewers.

It’s funny, as I write this story, I get a call today from a service I work out of to possibly pull a 10-12 hour bar gig at old Paramount Studios over on Melrose, for a whiskey brand that’s doing some sort of sponsored event expecting close to 250 people throughout the day and eve. That’s a long-ass haul, as I may have to bring my own bar again along with other details and particulars to solo manage. This call also reminded me that I worked a gig there almost 10 years ago that I forgot, and then jogged my memory even further that I once worked at Raleigh Studios as well. That’s as far back as I can remember, which now means the only major studio I haven’t worked a bar gig is at Warner Brothers in Burbank. Strange, because I used to serve drinks to the executives when I was at Lakeside Golf Club, just across the street from the studio. So close, yet so far away. But now that I think deeper, something tells me I did a day thing there a long time ago. Hmm, oh well . . . end of memory.

Craft Cocktail 3