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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Booking Ahead, Bribes Won't Help at Hollywood's Hot Spots

BEVERLY HILLS, California -- Spago. The Ivy. The Polo Lounge. Even just the names of the restaurants making up the inner circle of power dining spots conjure up visions of Hollywood glamour, power deals, expensive champagnes and market-price caviar.

How to get a table among the swells of the mighty? Be a regular, one of the known rich and famous. Have a hot movie. Or, failing all else, it helps to be pregnant.

"If you're Kevin Costner, of course you're going to get a great table. But if you're not, you need a strategy," advises a junior studio executive who spoke on condition of anonymity. The self-effacing junior exec is sometimes called on to arrange luncheon bookings for more senior studio honchos.

"If you've got a hot movie, hey, it helps. But if you're not Costner, sometimes you can't get the time or the table you want," he said.

One boss wanted a booth and had a recent movie credit with good marquee recognition, but the assistant still couldn't get that elusive 8 p.m. seating. So he made an appeal to the compassion of the maitre d': The producer's bride was pregnant.

In Hollywood, everything is negotiation. The producer got the booth, but 9:30 p.m. was the earliest seating.

And forget about something as crass as trying to grease the palm of the doorman with a large-denomination bill. Money may talk in other realms of Hollywood life, but the junior executive says trying to bribe a maitre d' gets you only a blank stare.

On Sunset Boulevard, a blue tour bus slowly passes the pink layer-cake confectionery of the famous Beverly Hills Hotel, where celebrities hold court at the Polo Lounge. The wide-eyed tourists look like space travelers inspecting an exotic planet from orbit. And, in a way, they are.

The out-of-towners live in another world from the stars that chart a course in the Polo Lounge's constellation of white linen and gleaming silver.

Still, with the right polo shirt, the right slacks or dress and a little poise, even an outer-orbit visitor could get a decent table.

"You really must be nice to everyone," says Nino Osti, maitre d' at the Polo Lounge. "You never know when someone walking in might be the next Howard Hughes."

Osti knows. The billionaire recluse lived at the hotel off and on for 30 years, consuming pineapple upside-down cakes at 3 a.m. and searching for a roast beef sandwich he ordered to be kept hidden in a tree. During the nearly 30 years Osti has worked at the hotel, he has shaken hands with five astronauts, hand-carried Sir Richard Attenborough's gold Oscar statuettes for "Gandhi" and seated countless combinations of celebrity and royalty.

Regular customers who aren't famous get special handling. Hotel guests who pay anywhere from $275 to $2,750 per night for their rooms or secluded bungalows purchase a status of their own while they wait for baby lettuce with truffle oil or crab meat ravioli.

"Leave my name out, please. I'd like to make a movie of my own some day."

But not all Osti's customers are celebrities.