Elton John’s Maple Drive Oscar Party
Last night watching the post Oscar telecast, I caught an interview with Elton John about what have now become legendary Oscar parties for his AIDS foundation. He mentioned the place where he first held it, some twenty years ago, at a restaurant in Beverly Hills called Maple Drive. The following excerpt, long buried on my hard drive, is about that restaurant and that time.
The restaurant was tucked away in a residential Beverly Hills neighborhood. By design it was not a place you would stumble upon just walking or driving by; it was, rather deliberately, a restaurant that had to find you, through early word-of-mouth over lunch at Spago or from some eager young assistant who had her ear to the ground for that sort of thing. The fact that the place was enormous inside and yet practically hidden was a key ingredient, part of its industry caché, like not having the restaurant name readily visible as you entered. On the face of their matchbook was a simple black and white line drawing of a piano and an intertwined lobster. I believe the name of the street was printed there. There may have been a telephone number.
If you did not valet park your car – which you did – and you approached the place on foot or, better yet, if you were a well-to-do elderly local out walking her miniature dog collection, then you would have felt the frisson charge of the place getting stronger as you moved towards it. To walk by at night and peer in through the open terrace was to look onto the USS Enterprise bridge before the roll of opening credits. The restaurant’s insides hummed and glowed with some marvelous golden energy from the future, an energy that everyone inside took for granted. With its vast open-plan, its multi-level battle-stations, and the crisp efficiency of its workers moving across the starship floor, the restaurant seemed capable of breaking apart from the absurd over-irrigated jungle that surrounded it and streaking into the Hollywood skies. CUT BACK TO and CLOSE ON the NOISY CHIHUAHUAS, slack-jawed now, stunned into silence. You would either want to go into this restaurant or you were in the wrong city.
Dudley Moore was one of the owners and some nights after driving up in his white Rolls Royce – a match for the one from Arthur – he would sit down at the Yamaha grand piano. It was a piano that he himself had picked out, and he would play his compositions seriously and with sensitivity, but not as a movie comedian, not as Arthur, really not as an entertainer at all. In his own way when he was at the piano he was unmasked and hiding behind nothing, even if his back was turned to his audience, and perhaps it was turned to make the greater revelation possible. You could hear on some of those evenings, even in his music, why women adored him and guess at the secret of why he was in the restaurant business at all.