Luxury travel

Behind the velvet ropes with L.A.'s must-know concierges and maitre d's

Don't name drop.

That might be unheard of in a town like Los Angeles, but the city's top gatekeepers -- the maitre d's and concierges who flip the most sought-after tables in town, secure coveted after-afterparty invites, and make clients' wildest dreams (the legal ones) come true -- say it's so if you want them to hand you the keys to the city. Especially during Emmy weekend.

Why no name dropping?

"Because, typically, if a celebrity or a well-known person wants to help a friend, they pick up the phone and call themselves. We've been there long enough to know who's who and we know who's friends with whom," says Craig Susser, the maitre d' at Dan Tana's in West Hollywood.

He's worked at the Italian eatery -- one of the toughest reservations in town -- for 21 years and has been maitre d' for seven. The competition for Dan Tana's 18 tables is fierce and Susser makes no apologies for taking care of regulars, but says it's not difficult to become one.

"It's a relationship," Susser says. "When I see you three days a week, then I'll do the same for you."

Regulars include George Clooney, Sumner Redstone, Leonardo DiCaprio and Clint Eastwood.

Although regulars are very respectful (even they have to wait sometimes), Susser admits that it's not always easy to make everyone happy.

Chris Denton, Mr. Chow's maitre d', keeps a little reference library underneath his desk that tells him all the agents, directors, producers and executives in town. So don't try to pull a fast one on him. "If I'm wondering about someone, I can find out very easily. We look them up or make a call. I'm very keen on finding out who these people are and where they rank and how I should deal with them."

His due diligence seems to pay off: "Chris seems to have a savant-like telepathy that enables him to create the most comfortable environment for all of the regulars that enjoy Mr. Chow," says regular Brian Grazer.

A tip for those regulars' assistants from Dan Tana's Susser: Don't call and say, "If I don't get this table I'm going to get fired." He hears it all the time.

Dimitri Dimitrov has also seen it all as a maitre d' for the past 20 years and at the Tower Bar at the Sunset Tower Hotel for five. "It's hard work, and you may not get home until 4 in the morning -- and I'm tired. But then the blend of people here -- it could be Brad Grey at a table, Johnny Depp at another table and then Sean Penn passes by -- and it may all happen in one night and wow! It's this amazing atmosphere and this amazing, successful, magical night. I don't care how much I made, it's just about being part of this community."

He says that bold-faced names feel comfortable at the Sunset Tower because "secrecy is really the key. We're really into privacy. If celebrities want to have a second, third glass of wine, they can have it. It's not a place for them to be exposed." Up to 90% of their reservations are under pseudonyms.

Former stockbroker (and self-described "cocky, bald-headed, tattooed, arrogant East London boy") Steve Sims, owner of Bluefish Concierge, got his first clients by going to parties and hotspots and meeting people who didn't know how to get into other parties. He helped them get in. He started Bluefish in 1997 and has had a Los Angeles office for two years.

His business sees a 20% increase during awards season. He gets his clients into the ceremonies and afterparties: "They'll always have space; they just want the right people."

But if you're an up-and-coming actor, producer, director or a photo hound planning to pay Sims to sit next to someone: Don't bother. "We won't do that."

During awards season, East gets a lot of international clients who come to Los Angeles and are very interested in meeting people and networking. "We can get them into the shows but very often the afterparties are as important as the awards themselves," the company's Rebecca East says.

The Peninsula Beverly Hills' chief concierge, James Little, experiences a prominent ramp-up of requests for hairstylists, make-up artists and last-minute tailoring and couture requests during awards season.

"We have a seamstress on staff during award season," he says. "There's also a lot of last-minute rides over to Jimmy Choo, Neiman Marcus and Chanel, and signing for last-minute jewelry and making sure it's secure until the celebrity can get it." The staff can fasten a bow tie and the engineers know how to fix a shoe.

As thrilling as awards season can be, many of the gatekeepers are nostalgic for the bygone ways of Hollywood.

Maitre d' Pamela Gonyeas has been at mainstay the Grill for eight and a half years. Despite the big agencies moving to Century City, the restaurant is still packed, but "people are coming in and out quicker. People are now all business where they used to be more leisurely. Martini lunches? You just don't see that as much."

But Mr. Chow's Denton maintains he loves this business because every night is different. "You never get bored. Restaurants aren't like theater. They are theater. Every night is a different performance."

And the curtain couldn't close each night without the surefire bizarre and odd customer requests.

Little of the Peninsula's oddest request received: "One guest wanted to arrange that his friend, who just had a wild bachelor party in Australia, be picked up from the airport with a limousine filled with rabbits and Red Bull."

No problem.

The Four Seasons' concierge desks are deluged with requests, even from people who aren't hotel guests, in part, thanks to Oprah. "She said on her show, 'If you're ever stuck, just call the concierge at the Four Seasons.' We were inundated," says Charles Hawkins, concierge at the Four Seasons Beverly Wilshire.

The key to maintaining the keys to the city, says Susser: "Even if you say 'no,' it's how you say no."
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