How Beverly Hills' Canon Drive Became the Hotspot for Hollywood Power Lunches

Courtesy of Spago
Spago

In June, New York's Lambs Club phenom Geoffrey Zakarian will open his first L.A. outpost on Canon Drive — where nearly a quarter of the eateries on THR's annual list are located — as the Beverly Hills strip that's home to Spago, Bouchon, the Palm and Sugarfish becomes a veritable food court for the industry.

When Geoffrey Zakarian of top New York power spot The Lambs Club opens his first West Coast berth, Georgie, in the former Scarpetta space at the Montage in June, the restaurant will join nearly 20 eateries along a half-mile strip of Canon Drive that's become a veritable food court for the most powerful players in entertainment. Every afternoon about 2,000 execs, agents, lawyers and stars gather there to spend an average of about $40 per person, adding up to some $1.8 million a month in lunch receipts alone. As they say in the food biz, that's a lotta clams.

"The energy is great on this street," says Porta Via owner Peter Garland, who recalls a very different atmosphere when he opened in 1994. "To get people who had offices on Camden or Bedford to walk one block east of Beverly was like pulling teeth. It was kind of sleepy." More so than Rodeo Drive and Beverly Boulevard, Canon pulls off a combination of village familiarity and luxury that unites Beverly Hills' past and present. The street used to host Old Hollywood haunts like Kurt Niklas' The Bistro (now the site of Mastro's, which is closed for lunch) alongside mom-and-pop retail shops. La Scala owner Gigi Leon recalls shopping for candy and shoes on Canon as a child, as well as buying cheese at Hickory Farms, now the site of her family's restaurant, which opened in 1989 and currently stands as the street's oldest power lunch spot.

Wolfgang Puck's Spago, which moved to Canon in 1997, took over the location of another Niklas eatery, Bistro Garden, somewhat acrimoniously. Niklas was upset that agent Irving "Swifty" Lazar had moved his legendary Oscar party from Bistro Garden to Spago a dozen years earlier, and refused to sell the space to his rival. So Puck enlisted CAA's Michael Ovitz and Bob Goldman to help plant a rumor that the agency was looking to buy the restaurant as a private club. By the time Niklas learned the true identity of the buyer, it was too late to back out of the deal.

Canon gradually has transformed over the past two decades, says Mulberry Street Pizzeria's Richie Palmer, who since 1991 has observed the changes from his casual eatery's central spot and doesn't mind being surrounded by high-end alternatives. "I get the occasional power lunch," he says. "Everybody who's anybody in Hollywood comes in, from Ron Howard to Brian Grazer, to read the paper and have a slice. We do all right."

Restaurants gravitate to Canon in part for its relatively favorable rents, a draw for establishments from La Scala to The Palm, which after nearly 40 years in West Hollywood dismantled its wall of celebrity caricatures and reopened on Canon in 2014. Says Palm Restaurant Group executive vp Bruce Bozzi Jr., whose family has co-owned the establishment with the Ganzi family for four generations: "Certainly knowing that Spago was here made us feel like this was a smart move." (Still, not all Canon eateries thrive: Both Canon Club and Spaghettini closed in March, though the latter will reopen with a new concept this summer.) Beverly's monthly rents range from $15 to $20 per square foot, Canon's from $7 to $12, partly because many of its landlords value the street's neighborhood legacy, says commercial real estate broker Jay Luchs. "Canon's a street with a good vibe, not a street where you hear about people getting kicked out [due to exorbitant rent increases]. It's more old school."

But the new school has made its mark: The five-star Montage Beverly Hills arrived in 2008, bringing a surfeit of well-heeled new diners. A year later, Thomas Keller opened Bouchon Bistro across from the hotel, separated by the landscaped garden that functions as Canon's town square. (Many hotspots along the stretch have a much lower valet-to-cover ratio at lunch than dinner thanks to the foot traffic from hotel guests and entertainment firms including Gersh, MGM and Principato Young.) Recent additions Wally's and Sugarfish have added to the buzz. Zakarian, who'll add lunch service at Georgie in July, says he didn't grasp the magnitude of Canon's power lunch scene when the Montage first approached him. "I was very surprised and gratified, actually," he says. "We believe in opening quietly, and hopefully we'll have a lot of people [because] of North Canon's big lunch crowd that hangs around there all the time."

Zakarian also says he's experienced nothing but generosity from his new neighbors, a familiar sentiment: Leon recalls once borrowing linens from e. baldi when La Scala ran out during a Saturday event. Meanwhile, Edoardo Baldi notes that some patrons worried about e. baldi when The Palm moved in, but "it doesn't work like that," says the Italy-born kitchen maestro. "More and more people want to come on Canon because they have so much option. It's beautiful to see this neighborhood evolve."

 

1. Spago
176 N. Canon Dr.

2. Sugarfish by Sushi Nozawa
212 N. Canon Dr.

3. Georgie and The Garden Bar
Opening in June
225 N. Canon Dr.

The Rooftop Grill at the Montage
225 N. Canon Dr.

4. Bouchon Bistro and Bar Bouchon
235 N. Canon Dr.

5. Mastro’s Steakhouse*
246 N. Canon Dr.

6. The Palm
267 N. Canon Dr.

7. Via Alloro
301 N. Canon Dr.

8. Mulberry Street Pizzeria
347 N. Canon Dr.

9. Caffe Roma
350 N. Canon Dr.

10. Xi’an
362 N. Canon Dr.

11. e. baldi
375 N. Canon Dr.

12. Il Pastaio
400 N. Canon Dr.

13. Shiki
410 N. Canon Dr.

14. Porta Via
424 N. Canon Dr.

15. La Scala Beverly Hills
434 N. Canon Dr.

16. Wolfgang’s Steakhouse
445 N. Canon Dr.

17. Wally’s Beverly Hills
447 N. Canon Dr.

18 Nic’s Beverly Hills*
453 N. Canon Dr.

19. Il Tramezzino
454 N. Canon Dr

*Not open for lunch

This story first appeared in the May 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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