Saturday, May 25, 2024

‘Dear John, I Knew It Wasn’t Over’

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Johnny Harlowe was a Hollywood actor from L.A’.s golden age, having shared movie bills with the likes of Marylin Monroe and Marlon Brando, when he opened Dear John’s in 1962. Harlowe, who was close pals with Frank Sinatra, wanted to make the restaurant a watering hole for the Hollywood elite, so he settled on a location near the MGM lot (now Sony Pictures Studios) on Culver Blvd.

Sixty one years later, Dear John’s is one of those L.A. restaurants with great history—and a fortunate facelift, courtesy of baker Hans Röckenwagner, his wife, Patti, and chef Josiah Citrin, who lovingly remade the Culver City landmark in 2019. (Los Angeles named Dear John’s one of L.A.’s 10 Best New Restaurants of 2019.)

But from the start, the new and improved Dear John’s was supposed to be only temporary. Its location at the corner of Sepulveda and Culver boulevards was up for demolition two years ago. And though the steakhouse wound up being spared from the wrecking ball, its fate remained very much in limbo.

Two months ago, the Röckenwagners posted on Instagram that they had not yet come to terms for an extension of their lease at Dear John’s.

“We will continue to negotiate but as it is now, our final date is May 31, 2023,” the husband-and-wife team announced in early April.

The news elicited prayers for miracles. Customers threatened to chain themselves to the front door. Others suggested starting a fund to acquire the building themselves. “Nooo you must stay open and keep the rat pack dream alive,” pleaded one regular on social media.

Then last Wednesday, the very day their lease agreement was due to expire, came a most unexpected plot twist.

The Röckenwagners revealed that thanks to a last-minute breakthrough in the negotiations Dear John’s was staying put for another five years. Appropriately, it took a descendant of Hollywood royalty becoming “cheerleader in chief” to save one of the Westside’s most storied dinnertime spots.

“It came down to the wire (today is literally the last day of our original lease),” the Röckenwagners posted on Instagram. “It was not easy (we had parking taken away and rent massively increased). It was a campaign (we even enlisted our cheerleader in chief @jamieleecurtis to write an impassioned letter of support).”

The Oscar winner was born in 1958 to Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. Her dad was known as an occasional rat-packer and friend to Sinatra—and Old Blue Eyes himself was known to be found in the corner at Dear John’s playing the piano for the Hollywood crowd.

“Dear John, I knew it wasn’t over!” Curtis wrote in an Instagram reply to Dear John’s that praised one of the actress’s favorite dishes on the menu, the caviar-topped Bougie Tots.

“The campaign to #SAVEMYTOTS was successful,” Curtis added. “@dearjohnsbar will be with us for FIVE MORE YEARS. 1825 MORE days to enjoy the COOL VIBES and the DELICIOUS FOOD and COCKTAILS and the FRIENDSHIP all of it engenders. And my TOTS. Can’t forget about my tots. I can’t wait to welcome you back, I’ll be the girl at #table23 eating and laughing and singing along to Frank.”

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