Who's got time to go off the lot? Staying on campus is more alluring than ever as THR's in-house dining expert offers a guide to the history, the vibes, the power chefs and the hot seats (look for Rupert Murdoch near Budapest) that make each company canteen special.
HISTORY As his celebrity grew in the mid-1950s with the debut of The Mickey Mouse Club and the opening of Disneyland, Walt Disney found a sanctum in the Coral Room, where he supped on a continental American menu befitting the time (think poached Colorado brook trout with hollandaise). Fast-forward to the Eisner-Katzenberg era, when the Rotunda atop the dwarf sculpture-bedecked Team Disney executive building was completed in 1990.
VIBE Come here for the sweeping views (Roy Disney loved a table looking north to the San Gabriel Mountains), mouse ear-emblazoned serviceware by architect Michael Graves and an anodyne corporate ambiance. It's the most secluded of all the studio executive dining rooms (most plebes never see it, much less eat in it), in a separate building from the cafeteria where chairman Alan Horn often stops by for Taco Tuesday (across Riverside Drive is the ABC caf, where Frozen director Jennifer Lee likes the sushi bowl).
MENU Partially supported by produce from the studio's filming property Golden Oak Ranch, the Rotunda offers a Cali-casual mix, from chicken clubs ($16) to the popular marinated tuna tataki bowl with brown rice ($26). Also on the menu: Walt Disney's personal no-nonsense chili ($2.65 for a small).
POWER TABLE Top spots are along the outer rim closest to the back door: easy in and out for execs.
HISTORY Once the French restaurant stage set Cafe de Paris (utilized in everything from Starsky & Hutch to L.A. Law), it retains its famous art department-created mural, which features Janet Gaynor on a surfboard in Waikiki and a portrait of Shirley Temple just outside the door to the small adjoining private chamber that bears her name — where the child star once lunched with her mother and teacher, in part because in her era there was alcohol served frequently in the main room.
THE VIBE A high-ceilinged expanse that looks and feels largely as it did when it began its life after a Will Rogers dedication ceremony in June 1930, Fox's is the most old-school of the studio dining rooms.
MENU Voluminous crudite platters land at the start of every meal, and the seared chicken paillard ($19, served with wild rocket arugula and shaved fennel) is one of the most popular orders. Fox TV Group co-CEO Dana Walden prefers a vegetable stir fry with tofu off-menu, while FX Networks CEO John Landgraf sips the Thai shrimp soup (a cup goes for $7).
POWER TABLE Rupert Murdoch's favorite spot is a four-top (with a phone) directly beneath the mural's nod to Budapest. (The studio's founding namesake William Fox was Hungarian.)
HISTORY For years after this location opened in 1964, chieftain Lew Wasserman held court at the same rear table, with the same waitress every day. Now it's studio boss Ron Meyer keeping a close eye on things at The Studio Grill, selecting the reproduction vintage Universal posters on the walls (Creature From the Black Lagoon) and regularly spot-checking the menu.
VIBE An open, welcoming space, it's a popular rental spot for the L.A. bar and bat mitzvah circuit.
MENU The Studio Grill features fresh herbs from an adjacent garden and since 2014 has been overseen by Wolfgang Puck, whose classic (smoked salmon pizza, $24) and current (pork belly bao buns, $16) fixations are in evidence. The menu also offers a riff on La Scala's chopped salad ($21). Meyer prefers the Hong Kong-styled steam fish ($28), while film chief Jeff Shell opts for the antioxidant-omega 3 salmon salad ($27).
POWER TABLE The back left corner booth.
HISTORY Machers munch under the exposed-truss ceiling of what was once the RKO commissary where Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz met on 1940's Too Many Girls.
VIBE The most recent 2007 remodel, whose star seating option is arguably the small ivy-lined atrium courtyard tucked off to the right side, saw the late studio chief Brad Grey (who died in May) requesting high-backed, deep-cushioned booths in the style of his favored off-campus spot, Beverly Hills' Grill on the Alley. The dining room has served as a location for shows like Glee, in which it recurred as Breadstix, an ersatz Olive Garden.
MENU Just in time for Jim Gianopulos' arrival, a reboot is rumored to be in store for the space and the bill of fare (the new chief's current order: Asian salad with grilled shrimp, $29).
POWER TABLE A booth or four-top toward the back of the main room.
HISTORY This understated, sun-filled locus — opened in 2009 — is a far cry from its long-standing predecessor a short stroll away, the MGM-vintage Rita Hayworth Dining Room.
VIBE Manager Mitch Hara — his exuberance calling to mind The Palm's late, larger-than-life Gigi Delmaestro — may be the only true front-of-house personality in this arena. He'll tell you not to miss the flash-fried sweet soy broccolini ($9), and he'll be right.
MENU As at Fox, lunch opens with complimentary crudite. As at Universal, Puck supervises the menu. But Sony's dining room goes its own way, with a delicate chicken tikka masala ($24, popular with U.K. visitors) and a matzo ball soup ($8 for a cup, said to be derived from the recipe book of founding mogul Louis B. Mayer's mother) that has clung to the menu since the 1930s. Given the ownership, the menu is surprisingly bereft of Japanese-leaning offerings, aside from a poke salad ($19). Showrunner Gloria Calderon Kellett (Netflix's One Day at a Time), who's got an overall deal with Sony Pictures TV, selects the Chinois chicken salad ($19).
POWER TABLE Sony motion picture group chair Tom Rothman sits in the first booth closest to the hostess stand, while CEO Tony Vinciquerra takes the middle of the three.
HISTORY When it initially bowed in 1928 as the dining den for First National Pictures Studios (later acquired by Warners), its menu still trended not just toward the elevated — offering imported Russian caviar, paté de foie gras and oysters — but, given the tastes of the immigrants-made-good who filled the room, the Eastern European: liverwurst sandwiches, schnitzel a la Holstein and Viennese eggs.
VIBE Mel Gibson once made a habit of lighting up inside after the local smoking ban. These days the property is a health-conscious, white-on-white fantasia, lined with private rooms. The $295 deluxe studio tour includes a meal here.
MENU Former Polo Lounge chef Gabriel Morales is quick to highlight local sourcing (working with suppliers like Kenter Canyon Farms) while focusing on a different executive class today, with a dedicated sashimi and crudo section ($14 to $15), as well as a slew of popular light fish dishes, including a branzino in papillote ($23). Marketing and distribution president Sue Kroll likes the chicken paillard ($21), while DC president Diane Nelson and Warner Bros.' Consumer Products president Pam Lifford both order off menu (easily accommodated by the adjacent cafeteria with wide offerings): romaine lettuce with grilled chicken chopped and tossed with bleu cheese dressing for Nelson, a protein-style burger with grilled onion, mushroom and avocado for Lifford.
POWER TABLE Execs' regular spots are spread throughout the room.