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Off the Menu: The Last Days of Chasen's Reviews

A tribute to one of bygone Hollywood's gilded night spots, where Alfred Hitchcock could count on a better table than presidents and popes, this seat-of-the-pants documentary captures the demise of Chasen's, which closed its doors in 1995 after more than 50 years of serving butter-drenched Hobo Steaks and Flame of Love cocktails to industry movers and shakers. Directors Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer interviewed longtime staff who had spent decades catering to the rich and famous, tracked down archival footage of premiere parties and glittering patrons (too many of whom go unidentified), and caught the hectic bustle of the faded night spot's last frantic business days. "Nobody comes to visit when you're sick," observes bartender Pepe Ruiz sadly. "But everyone comes to the funeral." The picture is rich with anecdotal history: Donna Summer reveals that "She Works Hard for the Money" was inspired by Chasen's ladies' room attendant. A waiter recalls the night Hitchcock decamped, offended by a woman's backless dress: "You're running a whorehouse here," the director intoned mournfully. A note from Richard Nixon thanks Mrs. Chasen for delivering the restaurant's famous chili to the White House. (The President was only following in the footsteps of Elizabeth Taylor, who had it shipped to the Rome set of Cleopatra.) Perhaps inevitably, Chasen's staff includes a couple of bona fide eccentrics, like glad-handing Tommy Gallagher, who appears to have more photos of himself with luminaries than the average politician, and Burmese-born Raymond Bilbool, who runs the banquet room like a military outpost. Issues of race, class and the cruelly fleeting nature of Hollywood celebrity occasionally peep through the shimmering facade, but they're given short shrift: The movie's subject is the last night of ballyhoo, and the party takes precedence over all.