Who Sits Where at The Grill on the Alley: The Ultimate Test of Power

Joe Pugliese
From left: Jeffrey Katzenerg, Chris Sanders and Kirk DeMicco

It takes industry stature plus long-standing patronage to score one of the Beverly Hills restaurant's 14 most coveted tables -- all booths.

A version of this story first appeared in the Feb. 14 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

At The Grill, a power lunch isn't a power lunch without a proper perch. "You don't want to be in anything but a booth," says ICM Partners' John Burnham. And a large part of the restaurant's success is its horseshoe layout, with 14 booths surrounding a central Siberia of 25 tables, meaning a third of the house is prime seating.

Maitre d' Pamela Gonyea bestows the prized square footage by one key metric: loyalty. (There are no standing reservations.) "I find myself counting to 14, and then I count back," she says. "You can feel awful, but I'm not afraid of somebody yelling at me. It's like, 'OK, bring it on.' It is what it is. Sometimes I can't get you a booth. It's physics."

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Some prefer the four conspicuous round tables in the rear, with the best sight lines. "It's out in the open," explains producer Fred Silverman, approvingly. Adds producer Arnold Kopelson: "I've had the same table for 30 years now. It's right in the center. I have a commanding view of the place."

The late Bernie Brillstein used to sit at a booth next to Kopelson; now Brillstein's daughter, Resolution agent Leigh Brillstein, often takes the table and keeps an extra place setting out in his honor. Brillstein nicknamed the largest corner rear booth (No. 133) "Devil's Island" since no regulars claim it. Gonyea assigns the table, which can seat seven, to random larger groups.

The smaller booths along the side walls are just as prime, often preferred for their comparative privacy. "Some people just want to be seen," explains Gonyea. "Others, they go: 'We don't care if we see anybody. In fact, we'd rather not see anybody!' " While Silverman finds the side booths, which front on a narrow aisle, "a little claustrophobic," others like AFI chair Bob Daly "just like the privacy."

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As for the east side versus the west side? "I like the booths on the right," says Brian Grazer. "Barry Diller and David Geffen like the left side. The way it's designed, it kind of pleases everybody." It's "force of habit," observes Resolution agent Adam Kanter, who sits on the right. "It's like you're lining up on the football field, and you're the wide receiver on that side of the field as opposed to the other," he says. "It's just where you go."

For most booth dwellers, the geography doesn't much matter -- as long as you're in one, you're shielded away to get business done. "Even though it's a big room, there's a kind of intimacy," says director Walter Hill. Daly agrees. "The thing that's great about The Grill, in addition to the food, is that you can have a private conversation in the booths," he says. "You're not on top of someone. The person at the next table, you can't hear them. That's the privacy level."

Which is why Gonyea has learned a clever way in recent years to upsell the relatively more discreet set of regular tables partitioned off from the center of the room by a high divider and immediately adjoin the booths along the east and west walls. She's now marketing them as booth-adjacent. "Steve Shapiro" -- co-founder of top realty firm Westside Estate Agency -- "heard me tell somebody that one day, and he just about died laughing."

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101: Rick Rosen, WME TV head

102: Burt Sugarman, Producer; Al Ruddy, Producer

103: Ari Emanuel, WME Co-CEO; Patrick Whitesell, WME Co-CEO

104: Brad Grey, Paramount Chairman and CEO; Brian Grazer, Imagine Entertainment Co-founder

105: Jerry Bruckheimer, Producer; Bob Daly, American Film Institute Chairman

106: Anthony Hopkins, Actor; John Carrabino, Manager

126: Jeffrey Katzenberg, DreamWorks Animation CEO

127: George Shapiro, Producer; Howard West, Producer

128: David Geffen, Mogul; Craig Jacobson, Attorney, Hansen Jacobson

129: Clint Eastwood, Actor

130: Howard Klein, Manager

131: Arnold Kopelson, Producer; Fred Silverman Producer

132: Bernie Yurman, Manager; Freddy DeMann, Producer