Off the Menu: The Last Days of Chasen's Movie Review

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No one outside of Hollywood has any business knowing anything about Chasen's. And yet, here's a movie about the restaurant that everyone enamored with the high life ought to see.

This Hollywood landmark closed in 1995 after nearly 60 years in business, and the stories inside are legion.

Ronald Reagan proposed to Nancy here. Jimmy Stewart had his bachelor party (which was partly televised) here. Donna Summer wrote "She Works Hard for the Money" in the ladies room, and based it on the bathroom attendant.

Cutting its teeth during the booze-and-fat fueled Rat Pack era, Chasen's found itself on the wrong end of the health craze in the 1990s. Items like hobo steak -- which consisted of a sirloin virtually boiled in butter at your table; the recipe's on the DVD along with Chasen's chili -- suddenly fell out of favor to a sprout-happy Los Angeles. Waiting 20 minutes for a specialty cocktail probably didn't sit too well with impatient power diners.

And thus, Chasen's had to close. Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini (who would later go on to make American Splendor) put a lot of love into their chronicling of the final days of the restaurant, when the Hollywood elite came out en masse to celebrate its decadence one last time. The stories are occassionally incoherent but generally fun, especially for movie-obsessed geeks like myself. How these guys dug up so much archive video I'll never know, as about every celebrity on the planet makes a pilgrimage to the famed restaurant. Oddly enough, it's the staff that make the most impression on the viewer: Henny Youngman wannabe waiter Tommy Gallagher is a delight, but then his son talks about how dad was never home when he was growing up; he was always working. Kitchen manager Raymond Bilbool (who's on the commentary track with Berman and Pulcini) has enough catty stories to make your head spin.

Ultimately it's a little maudlin and a bit saccharine, but this look behind the scenes at the closing of one of Hollywood's most popular -- and unhealthy -- restaurants is a rare treat. It's just another way of saying Hollywood ain't what it used to be.

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Off the Menu: The Last Days of Chasen's Rating

" Good "

Rating: NR, 1998

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