Off the Menu: The Last Days of Chasen's (1997) Poster

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The golden days are gone forever
steve-belgard2 March 2004
Just watched it last night on cable and I gotta tell you, my eyes were moist at the end. Remember, it's documenting the "last days" of a Hollywood institution, so it's understandable that the staff, many who were there for decades (working their butts off) are seen as being a little more than bitter. It's the place they called home for years, and it was being taken away from them (as well as their livelihood). The doc is right on in re-telling how Chasen's became overshadowed by the hipper, trendier dining spots frequented by young Hollywood. It was only after the announcement that it was closing that it become the "in" spot again - but it was too late, the writing was already off the menu and on the wall. I went there in 1990 and the place was nearly empty - only a few diners. But the image of the duo sitting at the front table will always linger in my mind - Jimmy Stewart and George Burns enjoying a quiet meal together. It doesn't get any better than that.
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Great Slice of Hollywood History
noahax5 October 1999
This documentary is a great fun for pop culture buffs, or anyone who loves old Hollywood. Chasen's restaurant has been a Los Angeles institution for decades, and the filmmakers interview many of the waiters, cooks, bartender, etc. who've worked there over the years, along with interviews with numerous celebrities. Most memorable is a bitchy queen, Raymond Bilbool, who ran the wait staff for many years and has lots to dish about. Someone could write a sitcom based on this character.

Overall, it's a very solid documentary that packs plenty of entertainment into its short running time.
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Fun, nostalgic, and sad look at the old Hollywood
blanche-226 August 2006
Chasen's restaurant was the place to be when Hollywood was in its golden years, and this documentary covers its last days and says goodbye to an era. Famous for its chili, which Elizabeth Taylor had shipped to Rome during the filming of Cleopatra, their hobo steak, and a special drink called The Flame of Love, Chasen's has a permanent place in Hollywood history. Opened in 1936, it played host to every star in the galaxy. It was the place where the "Shirley Temple" was invented - for Shirley - and where the ladies room attendant inspired Donna Summer to write "She Works Hard for the Money." Unfortunately, times change. Lettuce is in; steak is out. Spago's is in; Chasen's is out. The stars stopped coming, the restaurant lost money, and its new boss, a businessman rather than Dave Chasen and his wife, decided to close.

The people who work at Chasen's, it turns out, are as colorful as some of Hollywood's greats. There's Raymond who scoffs at a negative book written by an ex-employee: "He's doing his own thing now. He has a wife with a mustache (pause pause pause)...well, she does"; Tommy Gallagher, who had his picture taken with everyone from the Rat Pack to the Pope; (he died shortly after the filming); the hat/coat check woman, whom we are told has her secrets. "Didn't you tell me Tyrone Power hit on you?" one of the employees asks her. As they give their interviews, they're all soon to be unemployed, some there over 30 years and more.

This is a well done documentary that leaves one with sadness and the unhappy realization that nothing is forever. Not even Chasen's.
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From the Inside
Miqque22 October 2006
Know that, as of yet, I have not seen this documentary. So why might I be arrogant enough to comment? My father, Jack Loveland, was General Manager of Chasen's 1949-1966. He passed in 1967. I grew up in the bowels of Chasen's; knowing Dave Chasen (and to a very limited extent, a few contacts with Maude Chasen) and brother Phil. I knew more about the wine cellars, the pantry (and pantry chef Joe), the freezers, meat preparation areas, and unseen corridors than just about anyone. As a wee boy I rolled butter into balls to placed into iced silver bowls, vacuumed the dining room floors, took inventory in the deep freeze. I knew where they kept the massive barrels of MSG and spent hundreds of hours doing child-drawings on the backs of unused menus (brought home by my dad). I heard stories of how Peter Lorre spent massive amounts of time in those wine cellars with my dad pouring his movie salaries down his throat in the form of rare bottles and vintages. Bob Hope gave me a toy wind-up tank when I was five or so. Every once in a while we would get a case of chili or a cake or a Per Al's cheesecake as gifts. Oh, yeah - I never ate in the dining room. Ever.

So just finding out about this DVD from Wikipedia and our noble host, IMDb, I look forward to viewing this video with a very prejudiced eye. From the comments, should hope for an accurate presentation of the hard-working staff. I note Tommy Gallagher is cited, and I remember him well. With any restaurant, presentation - by waiters and bartenders and maitre-d's - as well as the celebrity owners and customers is they typical fodder for the most amicable of filmmakers. Here, as with others, however, they had best beware. Some of us know far more than you do, and it had better be a fair and balanced presentation! Yea, I have a voice on the web (albeit minor) and a history of reviewing film. One so close to my heart and dear to my memory will indeed undergo the harshest of scrutiny, and this small piece will indeed lead to a review of microscopic detail. (One day, soon, to show up under IMDb's Miscellaneous links.) Should anyone care to send me a review copy, I'd be delighted. As is, I am grateful for a tribute of any sort to a Hollywood / Beverly Hills landmark, an important meeting place and watering hole for many celebrities; provided by a group of very fine people who worked hard for a living.
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DocJoe4 June 2000
I have to agree that it´s a fantastic documentary. I was very surprised to watch it on German TV, because I just stayed at Raymond Bilbool´s place in Hollywood for the second time. If you want to know him better (and you should, because he is even more entertaining, when you meet him an his friends personally), you should definetely consider to visit his Bed&Breakfast Inn in the Hollywood Hills.
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Unbelievably boring & empty excuse for a documentary.
inframan21 September 2002
This must be the WORST documentary I have ever watched. I love Hollywood legends & I love old LA restaurants. Musso & Franks and Cantors on Fairfax were favorites when I was working out there. I never got to Chasens & would have loved to know more about it, but all I saw in this awful thing were a bunch of unhappy soon-to-be-ex-employees grousing repeatedly about their sad lot & the "good old days" but no evidence at all of the latter. 60 years of history, yet nothing at all about the menu, the decor, no details about the clientele other than that they were "celebrities". Well, maybe the medium is the message here & it was nothing but fame walking in & out the door & people sneeking a peek, but the food was really mediocre along with the decor. Lucky they lasted as long as they did I guess. Certainly the owners & employees I saw kvetching up on the screen didn't make me regret never going there.
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Celeb Customers Made and Broke Chasen's
djfone12 July 2016
I recall as a kid, watching "I Love Lucy" reruns, that Chasen's and The Brown Derby were THE celeb-spotting places to eat. But, if that's all they offer, they'll be dead as soon as the celebs move on to the next New Kid In Town, like The Ivy. They will never forget you 'til somebody new comes along.

Watching "Off the Menu: The Last Days of Chasen's", I saw golden age celebs by the dozens, who hadn't dined there in decades, acting like they were visiting beloved family. The staffers seem to be staring and saying internally "Where ya been all these years? We wouldn't have to close if you'd eaten here once in awhile!".

But, whose fault is that? The restaurant business is very demanding and fickle. If you don't keep pace with what the dining public wants --- not just wax-works celebs to ogle --- you go out of business.

Having been in such a position, I felt deeply for the many loyal employees to knew their best employment days were about to end forever.

However.... I'm really glad I'll never again have to listen to loudmouth celeb-worshipper Tommy Gallagher, who just had to be in EVERY celeb photo snapped there; and I'm glad I never had to work for mincing, caustic bully/queen Raymond Bilboon, who seriously needs a good b-slapping in the ladies' room. I'm glad I never got stuck sitting next to them on a plane. Maybe those two are why the celebs no longer went there.
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Great Sentimental Material
BruceUllm3 July 2007
My late father was in "the business" and I had some exposure to the Hollywood crowd in the 60's. I was never lucky enough to dine at Chasen's, but wish I had been. This eatery, along with Scandia, The Brown Derby and Cyrano's have all closed now, victims of neglect. The current clientèle are too health conscious to ever want the truly delicious fare and wonderfully elegant ambiance of a Chasen's. The closest thing we still have to such a place is Musso Frank's on Hollywood Blvd. I have eaten there and am very glad it's still around. You can enter that place and suspend disbelief: it becomes the 1940's and Boogie or Grant or "Stanny" (Barbara Stanwyk) might come walking in at any moment....or so I began to believe after savoring a truly fine vodka martini at the bar.

So this documentary did bring back a feeling to me and a longing for those times, my now deceased parents and a sense of loss of a Hollywood that had some real class.
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