Paul Schrader to Sam Wasson in THR ‘oral history” piece about Morton’s in the ’80s heyday: “It was very relaxed — if you can describe a den of backstabbers and thieves as relaxed.”

The original Morton’s was a truly fascinating Hollywood power restaurant. Eating there on a weeknight in the late spring of 1981 (I was based in NYC but visiting Los Angeles for interviews) was one of the most exciting contact highs I’ve ever experienced, ambiance- and social atmosphere-wise.

Great food, excellent service, nothing but hot shots and cool players, beautiful women at the bar. Sitting at a nice table around 8 pm made you feel as if you were doing something really right in your life, and even that you might somehow live forever. You were right at the nexus of silky, aggressive coolness.

There were no woke Stalinist terror vibes back then…no gender pronouns, no trans stuff. Cool guys dressed like cool guys and various tiers of industry women (actresses, production execs, journalists, screenwriters) were quite fetching and formidable. Diners of all shapes and persuasions and income levels seemed happy, or at least made an effort to convince others that they were. Life felt wonderful in a certain sense.

I took a pretty lady there once in ’93 or ’94, hoping to score and at least get started in that regard. But she found the place intimidating; it creeped her out. So much so that she actually asked me in so many words, “Why did you bring me here?” (Unspoken answer: “Why do you think?”) After that I realized I was dead meat and never called her again.

Launched in 1979 by Peter Morton (co-founder of the Hard Rock Cafe), Morton’s lasted much longer than your typical hot industry spot — a phenomenal 28 years. There were two locations at the corner of Melrose and Robertson — the elegant original building at the southwest corner (flush vibes, awesome paintings, darkly lighted) and then the southeast corner location where Cecconi’s currently sits.

The reason I’m mentioning the old Morton’s is that I can’t find a single decent photo of the sumptuous interior or the palm-shrouded exterior…only a couple of shitty, low-rez photos. Odd. I’m presuming that Peter Morton had an iron-clad rule about no paparazzi being allowed on the premises, but why didn’t he have his own photographer take discreet snaps for posterity’s sake?

The two best print articles about the Morton’s glory days of the ’80s and early ’90s were (a) Wasson’s THR piece and (b) Ben Stein‘s “farewell to Morton’s” piece for the N.Y. Times (“Time Runs Out on a Place to See and Be Seen,” 11.25.07).

/ >
Apologies for the cruddy, out-of-focus photo.

Excerpt from Stein’s Times piece: