Hollywood’s dealmakers are fully vaxxed and adapting to life after the pandemic
Words by MAX BERLINGER
Illustrations by DEREK CHARM
Movie sets are bustling (with COVID compliance officers on hand), theaters are filling up (masks compulsory), studio execs are fighting for prime parking spots and international film festivals are back on — flashbulbs, red carpets and all. But nothing says “Hollywood is back open for business” quite like a high-powered deal executed over lunch or dinner.
West Hollywood, home to entertainment-mogul mainstays like Craig’s, Cecconi’s and the Tower Bar, is buzzing. The Ivy, The Palm and La Scala are all booked up (unless, of course, you know the maître d’). And despite the toxic fallout from last year’s layoffs and lawsuits, a line of exotic sports cars gleamed in the midday sun outside of the Chateau Marmont on a recent afternoon.
And as Los Angeles’ infamous deals-and-dining scene rises from the curbside, things look a little different than they did pre-COVID: Newer, younger, faces are populating buzzy patios, business is being conducted in far-flung parts of town (including the Valley) and a crop of new potential power spots is gaining steam.
“So much of Hollywood is about that in-person dynamic. You know, it’s all about the schmooze”
“Everyone is back and hustling and bustling about, trying to get some business done,” says Jeffrey Lane, a longtime L.A. publicist with his own eponymous firm (he dropped that Jeffrey Katzenberg was at the Polo Lounge the day before we spoke). “So much of Hollywood is about that in-person dynamic,” says one GM of a busy hotel restaurant (they had just hosted Madonna and Justin Bieber). “You know, it’s all about the schmooze. You feel that now, because everyone has a serious case of Zoom fatigue.” When I ask him if it isn’t just easier to conduct all these meetings over video calls, especially for celebrities who enjoy their privacy, he shrugs it off. “Look — energy and charisma is the unconscious energy that drives so many of these deals. It’s one thing to see someone on-screen, but Hollywood has always been about someone being amazing in the room.”
Data backs this up; according to the online reservation platform Resy, restaurant bookings in Los Angeles started picking up in April and May and consistently reached pre-pandemic levels again starting in June. Diners, anticipating the new jolt of energy, have been shifting from day-of bookings to making reservations days and weeks in advance.
That’s not the only change. A host at a high-powered West Hollywood eatery told me a new type of celebrity is being not only accommodated but prioritized these days: influencers. While the Zendayas and Lakeiths of the world will effortlessly snag a prime table, they’ll now be picking at their chopped salads elbow-to-elbow with youngsters who wield their influence not through movie screens but through touch screens. Tinseltown power brokers may be surprised to return to their favorite haunts and be greeted by a sea of streetwear-clad 20-somethings wielding iPhones and livestreaming their rib eye to a sizable online audience. An agent I spoke with lamented that her beloved Mr Chow, once home to a demure Beverly Hills set, has a new kind of clientele. “It’s just not the same,” she sighed. “The last time I was at Craig’s,” Lane commiserates, “the backroom was filled with … I won’t say tourists, but they weren’t the regulars.”
“The vibe is much cooler, younger, and hipper Downtown. It’s way more diverse and inclusive”
Another way that the old paradigm is shifting is how the power meal will be used by those who have forsaken traditional corporate hours. Once a tightly orchestrated midday office escape, it may look vastly different in a post-pandemic world. Many managers and agents have found they can work mostly through Zoom and email, and used that as an excuse to move farther afield — now many are calling Santa Barbara, Ojai or Palm Springs home. These commuters are banking on swinging into town just a few days a month, which means back-to-back client meetings in quick succession … and preferably in public venues, to make their presences known. Expect marathon, daylong negotiations — over lattes (at Alfred Coffee on Melrose Place) in the morning, lunch at Spago in the afternoon and an early dinner at San Vicente Bungalows — before they hightail it back from whence they came.
Additionally, now that agents’ corner offices in the power nexus of Beverly Hills, Century City and WeHo are sitting empty, the gravitational pull of the power lunch has shifted outward. It’s not uncommon for casual meetings to take place in neighborhoods that the big shots call home. The Brentwood crowd, for instance, is dining at the newly opened A.O.C., Jon & Vinny’s or Toscana, while in Studio City, establishments such as Joan’s on Third and Petit Trois on Ventura are buzzing with A-listers come lunchtime. A client-relations manager at a beloved members-only club said that Downtown is finally gaining traction thanks to recent neighbors like Warner Music’s L.A. headquarters. “The vibe is much cooler, younger, and hipper Downtown,” he said, noting that it attracts much of the hipster Eastside crowd over the more old-school Westside usuals. “It’s way more diverse and inclusive.”
And while Angelenos are notoriously creatures of habit, they’re also “heat-seeking missiles,” one celebrity publicist smirked — always looking to discover the next big thing. After all, few things help reinforce someone’s status (and self-esteem) better than a hard-to-land reservation at a buzzy spot. Lucky for them, there are quite a few contenders. The French fine-dining venue Bicyclette Bistro, from the République team, just bowed on Pico near Beverly Drive, and it’s already a trial to get a table (the tasting-menu-only restaurant upstairs is set to debut later this year). The Pendry hotel, on Sunset, is also making waves with Wolfgang Puck’s rooftop upscale dining establishment Merois and a basement private member’s club, The Britely, as the spot for PYTs to party post-COVID. A few people, including Lane, mentioned that the former maître d’ of Craig’s was opening a new restaurant in the former Bouchon space on Canon Drive that already has assistants battling to get their bosses in on the first wave.
This story originally appeared in the Fall 2021 issue of C Magazine.
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