It is New York City, 1926. Two Italians from Parma, Pio Bozzi and John Ganzi, opened their first restaurant at 837 Second Ave. in Manhattan. The Palm restaurant was an immediate hit with the New York elite, some of whom were journalists and cartoonists from the New York Daily Mirror, Hearst, and King Features, among others. It was those cartoonists who created the now famous caricatures on the walls of a restaurant whose owners had no money to decorate them. In exchange for meals, the cartoonists would draw cartoons and caricatures of restaurant regulars and cartoon characters such as Popeye, Batman and Beetle Bailey. Before long, the caricatures became a tradition that every Palm restaurant would follow.
The original menu featured crowd-pleasing Italian meals and fine cocktails. However, staying true to their philosophy – treat guests like family, serve great food, and always exceed expectations, just as family would do — Bozzi and Ganzi added steak and, in later years, lobster, to the menu by request. The restaurant was such a huge success that the duo decided to expand — first to D.C. and then to the west – West Hollywood that is. Opening in October 1975, The Palm quickly was embraced by Hollywood stars and studio execs. The walls began to fill up with illustrations of celebrities, studio executives and loyal patrons — illustrations that now serve as a time capsule of Hollywood past and present.
It was those Hollywood drawings that intrigued me on my first visit to The Palm in the mid-90’s. A new arrival to Los Angeles, I had never heard of The Palm nor sunk my teeth into the now famous three-pound lobster, which became my favorite dish. Dimly lit with a modest and welcoming bar, The Palm made me feel like I had stepped into someone’s drawing room or library. Dining with friends had never been more spectacular. The food was some of the finest I had ever eaten. I sat in a booth absorbing the ambiance like the neophyte Angeleno I was. It was exciting and comfortable, all at the same time. That’s the way The Palm in West Hollywood, which served its final meals a week ago Tuesday, will always be remembered.
I recently stopped in to enjoy my final meal and thought about why The Palm is one of my favorite restaurants. It’s not just because I shared Chardonnays and filet mignon there with my friend Dennis Cole, the good-looking actor of the 70’s (his caricature was in the front of the restaurant next to that of Jacquelyn Smith, the Charlie’s Angel who was his former wife). Nor is it just about my memories of eating four three-pound lobsters and enjoying two bottles of champagne with my second husband (luckily neither of us had to drive). And neither is it my memories of the dinners with clients and friends and the nightcaps after a local play.
The Palm WeHo will forever be one of my favorites because of its hospitality, the inviting people who greet you when you walk in the door, no matter whether you are an A-list celebrity or the guy or gal who just loves LA and has chosen to live here. It’s because of the servers who have been a part of The Palm family some for 10, 20 or 30 years. It’s the way they welcome special requests like extra char on a filet, and about being able to ask the chef how he gets those lobsters grilled to perfection yet not overdone. What a thrill it was to be invited into the kitchen — pre-professional-culinary-expert-days — to view his technique firsthand. It’s the feeling of being in a place where you belong with perhaps a hundred other diners you don’t know. Those are the memories I will treasure.
On my last visit, I sat down in true Palm fashion with a friend, Genevieve Morrill of the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, and asked her to share what The Palm in West Hollywood has meant to her and to West Hollywood. Right out of the gate she blared, “they are making a huge mistake, huge!” which I immediately flashed onto another icon, Julia Roberts, in the film “Pretty Woman.” You know the scene.
“The Palm is such an institution,” Genevieve said. “All this nostalgia is going away.” I agree. Even though generations will be able to enjoy the new Palm when it opens in November in Beverly Hills, there is no re-creating the nostalgia experienced in West Hollywood. “This is the Melrose Triangle”, said Genevieve, explaining that the area near the site of The Palm will become one of the most significant developments in West Hollywood. The Melrose Triangle project will sit on West Hollywood’s border with Beverly Hills, both signature cities within greater Los Angeles that are loved by celebrities, visitors from around the world and locals alike. “The Palm West Hollywood has been a relevant part of that era,” Genevieve said. “It will surely be missed.”
“But I don’t expect West Hollywood to crumble when The Palm closes,” Genevieve continued. “There is a big demand for locations here. West Hollywood is exploding with notable stars like Oprah, Drew Barrymore, and Will Ferrell establishing offices and more.”
Add to that the celebrity factor, increasing pedestrian traffic, economic growth and more parking, all of which makes WeHo a community for other cities to contend with. West Hollywood is not just holding its own among Los Angeles-area dining and retail establishments but making its mark as a true destination for everything hip, tasty and fun.
While we will miss The Palm in West Hollywood, we look forward to crossing through the Melrose Gateway into Beverly Hills to find new nostalgic moments at its new location. But Genevieve and others like me will always hold dear to our hearts our memories of the first “west” Palm location – The Palm West Hollywood. When I asked Genevieve what her favorite meal was at The Palm WeHo, a broad smile came across her adorable face as she replied, “lobster, of course! And the waiters – their professional career is to be your server! Where can you get service like that?!”
The Palm in West Hollywood has closed. Yet for many of us who loved it, it will always live on.
Susan Irby is a freelance Lifestyle Reporter, multi-published author, and award winning TV and radio host who is certified as a food healer and fitness nutritionist. Her work has been viewed on FOX11 Good Day LA, ABC7, KCAL9, Self.com, CalorieCount.com and recently, Susan was a weekly host on 790 KABC radio LA. In print, her work appears monthly in Max Muscle and Great Taste magazines and has appeared in The New York Post, First for Women, and The Mail on Sunday. Visit www.susanirby.com