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New York may have had Studio 54, but Los Angeles had Spago.
The game-changing trattoria from Wolfgang Puck — an affable Austrian who’d made a name for himself at the since-shuttered Ma Maison — opened it doors Jan. 16, 1982. It was an instant sensation, with 18 Rolls-Royces parked outside on opening night and an hours-long wait for a table. Inside, the Sunset Strip eatery — its name suggested by composer Giorgio Moroder after the Italian word for “string” (also a slang term for spaghetti) — became a culinary sensation in addition to a week-round bacchanal, where moguls and movie stars did drugs and had sex in bathrooms while overwhelmed line cooks (Mozza’s Nancy Silverton got her start there as a pastry chef) scrambled to turn out signature dishes like salmon and creme fraiche pizza (known informally as “Jewish pizza”) to as many as 200 covers a night.
“At that time, there were very few restaurants owned by chefs,” says Puck, 72. “On top of that, we started the ‘open kitchen’ concept. In 1982, there were no restaurants with an open kitchen. Today, there is virtually no restaurant without an open kitchen.” Spago’s first mention in the press came in THR in a Jan. 26 George Christy column that declared it “the newest celebrity in town” and “the latest hottest hangout.” Among the early celebs in attendance, Christy noted, were “Lizzie Montgomery,” the star of Bewitched, and Alana Stewart, then married to Rod Stewart.
Paparazzi soon flocked to the parking lot to snap photos of A-list regulars like Johnny Carson, Michael Caine, Dolly Parton, Burt Reynolds, Sylvester Stallone, Barbra Streisand, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. But all were welcome, assuming you could snag a reservation — with one notable exception: Patrick Terrail, Puck’s former boss at Ma Maison, who was 86’d. In 1997, Spago relocated to its current location on Canon Drive in Beverly Hills.
Of its enduring success, Puck says: “We are in the hospitality business. We want to make the guests feel good.”
This story first appeared in the Jan. 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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