By NOLA L. SARKISIAN
Amid the usual lunch-hour rush at Le Dome, one of the best seats in the house remains empty a cozy spot in the corner, located prestigiously on the restaurant's terrace. That's because the table belongs to television producer Hal Brown.
Brown, chairman and chief executive of Marquee Entertainment Inc., has reserved his favorite table at the Hollywood haunt every Monday through Friday for the entire year. If he's busy, or plans on dining elsewhere, he'll call the restaurant and alert the manager of its availability.
That isn't the case today. Dressed Hollywood casual, with gray jacket and slacks and a black dress shirt open at the collar, Brown rolls in at 1:15, with his assistant Deborah Citraro in tow. Taking his usual seat, he orders a Skyy vodka. She orders water.
Why lunch at the same place day in and day out? Superstition has something to do with it.
"I've done a lot of business deals here. I've gotten a green light on a production or a licensing agreement with a foreign distributor," says Brown, who has been lunching at Le Dome in West Hollywood for 17 years. "Perhaps the deal would've been made anyway. But "
After 45 minutes of smoking and talking shop on the terrace, the two have yet to order a meal. Eventually, waitress Melanie Boyd places a pair of menus on the table. "For your convenience, when you're ready," she says.
Boyd, who became the first (and remains the only) woman server at Le Dome four years ago, knows better than to intrude on her high-powered clientele. "If there's a problem, it's always your fault. If the steak's not cooked right, it's your fault," she says. "So you try the best you can and be gracious. If people want the steak medium rare, you try to get them to specify how pink that is."
Finally, Brown is ready for lunch. He's somewhat superstitious about that, as well, ordering corned beef and cabbage every Thursday. On other days, if he doesn't like what he sees, he'll have the chef whip up something special. Today, for instance, he asks for scampi.
Boyd, a petite 40-year-old clad in a white shirt and short black skirt, with matching apron and satin tie, hurries the order to the kitchen and turns her attention to the other tables in her section.
Most of them are folks like Brown TV, film or music industry suits who have made Le Dome their second office and the site of many megamillion-dollar deals. They pull into the parking lot and leave their Mercedeses and BMWs with the valet. Then, briefcase and cell phone in hand, they stride into the restaurant smiling and blowing air kisses to fellow diners.
"You see a lot of table hopping," Boyd observes.
Like many waitresses, Boyd has her own ties to Hollywood. Having worked at the former Victoria Station in Universal City and Chasen's to support herself as an actress, Boyd came to Le Dome after owner Eddy Kerkhofs spotted her helping out at a party thrown by Elton John. Since then, she has abandoned her acting career and now plans to open a floral shop in the next couple of years.
"Melanieee, how are you?" Barry Lawrence, another Le Dome regular, coos at Boyd. "You look lovely."
Lawrence, carefully attired in a navy-blue sport coat with a striped silk handkerchief in his coat pocket, kisses her on the cheek and gallantly lifts her hand to his lips for another buss.
"She's warm and makes me feel comfortable," he says of his favorite waitress. "She has a memory and doesn't forget."
Lawrence, waiting for a friend to arrive, seems unsure of what to drink.
"C'mon, it's Friday. Have a drink," Boyd coaxes with a smile. The charm works and she promptly returns with a Jack Daniels with a twist of lemon.
A tall brunette in Chanel sunglasses rushes in and heads toward a table on the patio to greet her waiting friend with a hug. The two order a Diet Coke and Chardonnay and Boyd soon returns with the drinks.
A group of five Hungarian men follows, also taking a patio table. Friends for years, they meet weekly at area restaurants. Boyd takes their order most seem drawn to the chicken tarragon and speeds it into the kitchen.
The shift that started unhurriedly has now gained momentum and Boyd is working hard. One of the Hungarian gentleman, it turns out, is less than happy with his California Chardonnay.
"I would like a French Chardonnay. This is no good," he says.
"We only carry a French white burgundy," Boyd replies.
"Fine. Do you also have a cigarette?" he asks.
Boyd is accommodating.
She takes the drink order back to the bar and whips out her own packet of Parliaments. "I'll give him one of mine. It's something I occasionally do. Somehow a drink and cigarette go hand in hand," she says.
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