Los Angeles Times Restaurant Critic Jonathan Gold recently offered a brilliant reflection on the impending closure of one of Los Angeles’ most highly acclaimed and long running restaurants – Campanile. For more than two decades, the restaurant has famously played home to many of L.A.’s most talented chefs, including chef/owner Mark Peel and his former wife, Chef Nancy Silverton.
The restaurant played a very dramatic role in my own adventures in Los Angeles and continues to offer some of my greatest dining memories.
At the far end of the Campanile bar await three backless bar stools, each situated in such a manner as to provide the perfect lighting for reading. For several years, I lived just a few short blocks away from the restaurant, and I arrived to spend many an evening engrossed in a good book at the end of that bar. I would often enjoy excellent dinners; however most often, I simply enjoyed an escape via great literature and a glass of wine.
As with most neighborhood bars, especially those that survive for many years, a very loyal clientele of regulars tends to form over the years. I was lucky to meet and know many of the regulars at this bar, an unusually eclectic of mix of professionals, most highly successful entrepreneurs and movie industry-types seeking a quiet place to unwind with friends. In many cases, the “friends” in question were the bartenders that have worked here for years, if not decades. These gentlemen were always the consummate professionals, painstakingly remembering each guest’s name and preference of seat, libation, and conversation topic. It was always a comfortingly familiar experience to return to this bar, year after year.
Oddly, only rarely was I found in the dining room of the restaurant. We descended upon the restaurant, as did most of Los Angeles, for the launch of the infamous Grilled Cheese Nights. I suspect that I personally tried every version ever created by Ms. Silverton. I am also quite certain that I thoroughly enjoyed every one.
One very special night returns to mind, however – the night that I would meet my personal “cultural hero,” acclaimed American writer Gore Vidal. I happened to be entertaining friends visiting from the East Coast. We were deep into dinner (I vividly recall this dinner as my introduction to the elusive and exotic Flageolet bean!) and deep into the enjoyment of our wine, when I suddenly realized that I was sitting a mere two feet away from my literary hero. Observing that I was about to ask for Mr. Vidal’s autograph (and rudely intrude on his dinner) and had no paper or pen at my disposal, the server whipped out a menu and pen in the blink of an eye. Mr. Vidal was gracious and accommodating, and I treasure my autographed menu to this day. It perhaps sounds corny, but it was one of those “only in LA” celebrity encounters that one remembers for a lifetime.
Upon hearing of the closing of this great restaurant, I very recently found myself driving down La Brea on the way home. It was a Saturday night and, to my surprise, a parking space was open directly in front of the restaurant. Destiny was demanding that I visit one last time. The bartender remembered me, warmly welcomed me back and thanked me for stopping in to say hello. There wasn’t time for conversation, as everyone at the bar had returned for the same reason – to relive and relish long held cherished memories. While there, I noticed the gentleman that had offered the pen and menu to document my meeting with Gore Vidal was busy serving his guests in the front vestibule of the restaurant on this busy weekend night, just as he had likely done professionally for years and years.
I enjoyed my beverage, offered with the bartender’s compliments, and then exited with a smile… And my memories – wonderful memories of great friends, great literature, and memorable evenings spent with consummate hospitality professionals. To those professionals, I sincerely wish the very best of luck and happiness, as well as my sincere thanks for their warm and caring service throughout the years. They were very good years, indeed.
Campanile is scheduled to offer
final service on October 31, 2012.
Campanile on Facebook (for final updates, memories, and information)