Hobnobbing at The Grill on the Alley

By Bob Vickrey
Special to the Palisades News

When it was suggested that our monthly lunch club try The Grill on the Alley in Beverly Hills, I had to admit that I had never heard of it.

But after learning that The Grill is a favorite haunt for show-business executives, I understood why I had completely missed this industry hideaway that some refer to as “The Commissary.” Having called L.A. my home for almost 40 years now, I have been living with the shame and humiliation of never having produced a major movie or successful television series. And what’s worse, I never even tried.

In times past, Los Angeles was recognized for having such celebrated restaurants as The Brown Derby, Chasen’s and Morton’s. And these days, many fans of The Grill compare it favorably to those classic bistros of bygone years. A few old-timers have even compared it to the venerable Musso & Frank’s Grill in Hollywood (which turns 100 next year).

Craig Natvig and The Grill waitress Patricia.
Photo: Barry Stein

The Grill can’t yet boast the long history of those illustrious institutions, but after 30-plus years, it has established a sterling reputation for its extraordinary service and its flexibility in catering to special off-menu requests.

Steve Oliver, a longtime server there, once said “For any request, the answer is ‘yes’—now, what’s the question?” One regular customer described the restaurant’s professional service: “At The Grill, the actors are in the seats—not serving you.”

Our special guest this trip was my longtime friend, Craig Natvig, a third-generation Palisadian who has specialized in residential real estate for almost two decades and is a top-producing agent with Coldwell Banker.

He attended Palisades High School and received a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Colorado.

Prior to his real estate career, Craig founded and managed the Pacific Athletic Clubs in the Palisades and Palos Verdes for 15 years. The local club is where I first met him as a member of PAC (now the Bay Club), located at Sunset Boulevard and PCH. His athletic background and passion for adventure sports had led him into the world of fitness training and the creation of the PAC workout facility.

Craig was a world-class skier and internationally certified instructor, and even made an appearance in Warren Miller’s renowned ski film Steep and Deep. He was also an A-rated beach volleyball player and competed in more than 150 triathlons throughout the world—including the Hawaii Ironman World Championships.

After arriving at The Grill and remembering Craig’s impressive athletic achievements, I considered shortening the ordering process and simply informing our waiter, “I’ll have whatever he’s having.”

But instead, I spotted the liver-and-onions on the menu and decided to go “rogue-primitive” by ordering this rather politically incorrect dish that seldom ranks high on anybody’s list of favorite foods. In fact, I asked my fellow tablemates if they would need to find seating elsewhere if I ordered the liver. By most healthful standards, I was also likely abandoning those long-held dreams of winning my own Ironman competition.

Craig ordered the Kobe burger with French fries and coleslaw, so I felt better knowing “Mr. Ironman” occasionally lets his hair down and doesn’t always have kale salad for lunch.

Arnie ordered the Caesar salad with blackened salmon and Barry chose one of the Grill’s most famous dishes—the chicken pot pie, which was roughly the size of an intimidating banana cream pie from Marie Callender’s. He said little about his mammoth, blimp-like dish, but when he scarfed it down in such short order, we assumed it signaled a big thumbs-up.

We topped off our memorable luncheon with a big slice of Key lime pie and four sharp-edged forks—which are always handy in the inevitable duel that ensues when any dessert hits our table.

After the mid-day rush, we chatted with our server Patricia, who has been working at The Grill for 22 years, and we briefed her about our monthly outings at famous restaurants throughout Southern California. She told us that Clint Eastwood is probably her favorite celebrity customer because of his friendliness toward fellow diners who often stop by the table to greet him.

We informed her that we had also been available to chat with fellow diners during our extended lunch there, but not one person took advantage of our friendliness and availability.

At first, I assumed it was simply because Mr. Eastwood had been given a better table, but when I caught Patricia glancing down at my plate of rather unappealing liver- and-onions leftovers, I think I figured out our problem.

Bob Vickrey is a longtime Palisadian and a regular columnist for the News. He also writes for the Houston Chronicle and the Waco Tribune-Herald.

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