Staff Reporter

One block in Beverly Hills is getting a new lease on life with the help of some venerable names in the restaurant business.

Thought to be gone forever, the legendary Chasen’s Restaurant is reopening on Canon Drive. And within the same week only half a block away a second location of the 16-year-old West Hollywood mainstay Spago is opening.

Close proximity is not the only thing these restaurants will share. Both are opening in sites previously occupied by former landmark restaurants. Chasen’s Restaurant will open April 18 at the site of the former Bistro Restaurant, while Spago Beverly Hills plans to start serving on April 14 where the Bistro Garden previously operated. The original Spago is slated to remain open.

Wolfgang Puck, the Austrian-born celebrity chef who owns Spago, said the location is one of two he and his partner and wife, Barbara Lazaroff, considered for the site of a second Spago.

“There were two locations in L.A. (the other was) the Bel-Air Hotel, but it was too expensive for me to buy. This (the Canon Drive location) was second. It has a beautiful outdoor garden,” he said.

Puck did encounter some problems in his quest to open a second Spago. Three limited partners in the West Hollywood Spago attempted to block the opening of Spago Beverly Hills, due to their concern about its possible impact on the original Spago. Lazaroff declined to comment last week on the breach-of-contract case, other than to say it is currently in arbitration.

The Beverly Hills restaurant, which features two 100-year-old olive trees and an 8-foot-tall fountain designed by Japanese artist Yoshikawa, will serve some of the same dishes that made the original Spago popular, such as duck and salmon, along with several new dishes, said Puck and Lazaroff.

Meanwhile, up the drive at the new Chasen’s Restaurant, the owners (who include Scott McKay, grandson of founders David and Maud Chasen) are employing the same strategy. The new restaurant is offering up some of the same fare made famous at the original Chasen’s, such as the seafood dishes and chili, along with several new dishes, said Edward Lozzi, a spokesman for Chasen’s.

The original Chasen’s opened in 1936 and quickly became the haunt of Hollywood’s biggest stars. The restaurant, however, closed its doors in 1995 after it became a “money pit” for its owners, in part due to the high cost of salaries and its pricey location, said Lozzi.

The restaurant or at least its name is receiving its reincarnation from entrepreneur and property developer Grady Sanders, who had decided to open a restaurant on the former Bistro site and was in the middle of a $3.5 million renovation when he hooked up with McKay. The two decided to open a restaurant together at the location and use the famous Chasen’s name.

Albert Charbonneau, president of the restaurant, says the new Chasen’s will succeed because of its name recognition and the experience of its staff. “The maitre’d, the hostess, the chef, myself, have great backgrounds in restaurants,” said Charbonneau, who had been general manager at L’Orangerie.

The owners also will open the Jockey Club, a private membership dining club, in the floor above the restaurant. The club, which will cost about $2,800 a year for local residents to join and less for out-of-towners, will provide private areas for smoking cigars and, according to restaurant management, the only humidor in the world with a solar-powered backup system (so that those $500-a-box cigars aren’t ruined in the event of an earthquake or other disaster).

Both Puck and Charbonneau say they’re happy to be sharing a Beverly Hills block.

“I think it’s important that there are more good restaurants in (Beverly Hills),” said Puck. “From a restaurant point of view, most of the good ones are in Santa Monica and West Hollywood.”

Elmer Dills, a restaurant critic on KTZN-AM 710 “The Zone” and ABC-7 Eyewitness News, agrees that the restaurants’ proximity to each other could actually help business. “I always go with the theory, the more good restaurants you have, the better they all do,” he said. “Good restaurants attract other good restaurants.”

While Dills is reluctant to speculate on the possible success or failure of any specific restaurant, he is bullish on Spago’s potential. “Spago has the magical name,” said Dills. “I would say he (Puck) could open in Tijuana at the racetrack and be successful.”

“Chasen’s,” Dills added “has the advantage of nostalgia.”

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