Many of the easy L.A. cliches – about slovenly attired writers, ever-advancing veganism and generalized historical amnesia – were upturned on Saturday, Dec. 7, when a sizable portion of TV’s comedy aristocracy took part in a raucous, carnivorous dinner called Beefsteak in downtown’s Historic Core neighborhood.
The third annual event, benefiting the L.A. Food Bank, was co-hosted by longtime Simpsons scribe Matt Selman; ABC development executive Cort Cass; performer Eric Wareheim of the Comedy Central-affiliated troupe Tim and Eric; and Neal Fraser, an acclaimed local restaurateur (Mid-City’s BLD, downtown’s upcoming Redbird) who competed on the most recent season of Top Chef Masters and, along with wife and business partner Amy Knoll Fraser, was responsible for the food.
Although it’s nominally a charitable endeavor – expected to raise approximately $25,000 this year – perhaps the true founding impulse behind the evening was, for once, to pursue pointless fun. “If you think about it, aside from the Emmys each year, there isn’t really an opportunity to get together and blow off steam,” said Cass. “So this has become this sort of adult bar mitzvah or prom. Nobody wants it to be a networking event. And there’s enough silliness involved that it probably won’t become that.” To that end, a not-insignificant number of attendees wearing inflated-balloon cow headdresses mooed about.
The red-carpet-free Beefsteak – which drew the starry likes of Jimmy Kimmel, Mindy Kaling and John C. Reilly, along with an anonymous raft of chuckle-drudge writers from innumerable sitcoms among the more than 600 attendees – is a contemporary reimagining of Manhattan’s macho old-timey political dinners of cronyism and privilege, which were immortalized in Joseph Mitchell’s famous-to-gastronomes 1939 New Yorker article “All You Can Hold for Five Bucks.” Like those merry old events, this one, fittingly held at the decommissioned St. Vibiana’s cathedral (with its soaring ceilings, copious marble and stalwart columns), featured a no-nonsense menu of beef filet on bread slices, bottomless alcohol, zero utensils and aprons to wear over guests’ finery – in lieu of napkins – for the wiping of greasy fingers.
Unlike those merry but exclusionary old events, women, gays, Jews and other minorities were given seats at the 150-foot-long tables, too. “The origin of this thing was a smoky, power-mongering, world-ruining nightmare,” said Selman. “This is the inclusive update.”
The Beefsteak revival conveniently dovetails with other on-trend cultural moments in the city’s zeitgeist. The restaurant scene’s persistent nose-to-tail infatuation made it positively chic to dish out head cheese – a meat jelly loaf made from parts of the feet, head and sometimes tongue and heart of an animal – served as palate cleansers before the lamb and pork chop courses.
And then there’s the hirsute-hipsterism that’s inspired so many urban-lumberjack beards and twirling-mustache situations in recent years. In full evidence at the former cathedral, it allowed the smattering of top hats, ascots and even monocles donned in ironic good cheer to appear – with a squint – not quite camp. Among those appreciating the sartorial display was TV and film producer Jonas Bell Pasht, creator of the new Esquire Network style series How I Rock It. “I love the call-backs to the older world,” he said, taking in the room. “All of these guys – gentlemen tonight. It’s a sense of occasion.”