9:00am PT by Chris Gardner
Don Rickles Joins Frank Sinatra With Honorary Booth at Beverly Hills Restaurant
“We were the odd couple, we really were,” said iconic comic Bob Newhart to The Hollywood Reporter while standing in front of the Regans booth inside La Dolce Vita on June 14. But the 88-year-old — ever praised for his nice guy demeanor — was not referring to the former president and was instead describing his relationship with the late legendary insult comedian Don Rickles.
Newhart was present at an event completely dedicated to Mr. Warmth as the iconic Beverly Hills Italian restaurant hosted a private party-meets-dedication ceremony that saw a one of La Dolce Vita's wine-colored-leather booths dedicated to Rickles with a golden placard with his name.
Rickles is in good company: Other La Dolce Vita booths are already named for regular patrons including Frank Sinatra, George Raft and Sinatra’s press agent Guy McElwaine. Newhart was in good company too: Other guests at the party — noshing on hors d’oeuvres like arancini, meatballs, bruschetta and Rickles’ favorite off-menu item, pigs in a blanket (made especially by restaurant owner Alessandro Uzielli’s wife) — included John Landis, Arnold Kopelson, Al Michaels, Ed Ruscha, Frank Mancuso and Rickles’ widow Barbara and daughter Mindy.
“We shouldn’t have been together but we always had such a great time and went on vacations together. Everybody should have a friend that close,” Newhart told to THR of their friendship, which began thanks to the close relationship between their wives, Barbara and Ginnie.
So, what was an outing at La Dolce Vita with Mr. Rickles really like?
“You know,” Newhart explained. “We’d walk in and it was crowded. Don pretty much insulted everybody, leaving just Don, myself, Ginnie and Barbara. It was nice — you knew going in that it would wind up empty. We’re not the Rat Pack though, we’re more like the Kitten Pack," quipped Newhart, who is still working with several stand-up dates confirmed for this summer.
Rickles' daughter Mindy said her father loved La Dolce Vita, where his favorite thing to eat was “pasta, pasta and a bucket of pasta” — anything with a clam sauce. “This is special,” she said of the dedication, while Rickles' wife Barbara added, “The joke is now that everyone will make reservations to sit in Don’s booth. They are going to be very busy in that booth.”
Rickles' longtime manager Tony Oppedisano now has two former clients with La Dolce Vita booths dedicated to them, Rickles and Sinatra. "After being with Don for 24 years, I can say that he, like Sinatra, was an American original the likes of which we will never see again. He created a standard and a brand of comedy that people will be admiring and trying to mimic for a very long time," he explained. "I spent a lot of nights here with them — and a lot of mornings with Sinatra."
It's precisely that home-away-from-home vibe that led Uzielli to purchase the restaurant in 2003 just as it was about to close. "I’ve never enjoyed anything as much in my life. I don’t think I’ll ever own another restaurant. I don’t consider myself a restauranteur but I love this place, and these are the sort of people who make it all worthwhile," he explained. "The first week I owned the placed, Mr. Rickles and Mr. Newhart came in and were at separate tables sort of yelling at each other across the floor and I thought, 'This is why we need places like this to stay here and be remembered.'"
A version of this story first appeared in the June 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.