It’s hard to know what’s a movie plot line or real fact when examining the now defunct, but infamous Perino’s Restaurant. Either way, the eatery has an intriguing history that easily could flesh out a good flick.
In many ways, Perino’s is an Italian immigrant success story, the epitome of realizing the elusive American Dream. Alessandro Bruno Perino was only 19 years old when he arrival as a steerage passenger on the S/S La Lorraine in the Port of New York in February 1917. Born in Brusnengo, Piedmont in northern Italy, Perino worked hard and saved his money before migrating to Los Angeles. He opened his restaurant in 1932 with $2,000 of hard-earned cash, only to have it a disastrous fire in 1934. He regrouped, reopened and never looked back
Focusing on high-end Italian and French cuisine, Perino was ahead of his time, insisting on fresh, high quality food at a pricey $1.25 per dish. He bought produce from a local farmer. He changed the menu daily, but the service reportedly was constant and superb, per the owner’s credo that good service should be “never seen.” Hollywood was thriving and ready for more sophisticated fare. Over the years Perino’s regulars included Ronald Colman, Dolores del Rio, May West and Ezio Pina. Bette Davis reserved her own exclusive booth, while Sinatra sometimes performed in the lounge. Cole Porter composed tunes on the back of menu’s, it is said.
Fast forward to 1950, when Perino moved his bistro to a large, defunct supermarket building on Wilshire, where it continued until 1986. With the aid of an architect, Perino transformed the site into a New Orleans style establishment, complete with mansard roofline, wrought iron porte-cochere, pink stucco exterior, peach-toned linens, and banquettes upholstered in salmon- hued velvet. Lots of mirrored walls and chandelier sconces completed the French Quarter-style. (Sounds a lot like Brennan’s, right?) Unfortunately, another fire in 1954 severely damaged the establishment, so the next refurbishment morphed into a French Continental style.
Part of the restaurant’s intrigue was its notoriety as a hangout for the Mob through the ‘40s and ‘50s. Bugsy Siegel and Johnny Stompanato openly frequented the place. In fact, a summit called there by Los Angeles gangster Jack Dragna and Anthony “Big Tuna” Accardo was raided by the cops, adding to the Perino notoriety. It should be noted, however, that during those decades, Richard Nixon, the Ronald Reagans also frequently dined there. Super stars Grant, Monroe, Hitchcock, Taylor and DiMaggio dropped in as well.
After Bruno Perino sold the restaurant in 1969, Perino’s began to slip in popularity. Several successful movies filmed scenes there: Sunset Boulevard, American Gigolo, Mommie Dearest, Scarface and Chaplin. It also was a popular venue for television filming for Melrose Place, Hart to Hart, Falcon Crest, Columbo and Dallas.
Sadly, Perino’s closed in 1986 and was demolished in 2005. The apartment house that was built on the site displays memorabilia from the restaurant in its lobby.
One of the great stories about the cuisine is the tradition that Perino’s on special occasions served pressed duck, using an antique press loaned by Joan Crawford and her fourth husband Alfred Steele.
As an homage to that tradition, WCI Executive Chef Michael Deremer has created an entrée of Pan Seared Duck Breast with Cherry Demi Glace, served with Whipped Celeriac Potatoes and Fried Leeks for the VIP Luncheon. It will be paired with a local wine chosen by Pat Kennedy and Jenne Baldwin-Eaton.