Celebrity Close Encounters of the Bartender Kind! (Part III)

LOS ANGELES - Standing Room Only contributing writer and co-owner of The Bar Professional, Kyle Branche, has tended bar at several up scale establishments and exclusive private parties over the years, rubbing elbows with countless musicians, athletes and actors alike. Recently, Kyle decided to document some of these cool, one-of-a-kind encounters that he's experienced over time, which SRO will now feature in a three-part, column-series. From the Editor

Article by Kyle Branche * Photos by Paul de Leon

Joffrey Lupul: For the last couple few years I've been asked to work Joffrey's special holiday parties right on the sand in Newport Beach of his awesome pad. These gigs are basically 10-hour hauls, but he makes it worth the drive down. He's such a cool guy. We get to see him in the off-season when he's healing injuries and bruises from being the left wing for the Toronto Maple Leafs NHL team. For me, these parties are like hanging in natural babe city for what feels like an entire day and night. By the time I'm through, it's close to exhaustion, but I'm so wired from the amperage I've had to exert over those long busy hours, that I just have enough left in the tank for the drive home.

Marv Fleming: This goes back to my days working the bars at the famous Denim & Diamonds in Santa Monica. Back then it was like the Studio 54 of country music. This gentleman comes up to me at the bar and orders a beer while he leans his pool stick against his shoulder. Handing me his money, I notice this monster of a ring on his finger. We introduce. Holy shite, it's tight end, Marv Fleming! He takes the ring off and plops it in the palm of my hand. Wow. It's like the weight of a miniature barbell. Just like when Lakers announcer, Chick Hearn, did the same thing to me a couple years previous at Stanley's Bar & Grill. Those NBA Championship and Super Bowl rings are like nothing you've ever seen before when you eye them first-hand close up and hold them. And Marv was just hanging out sort of incognito digging the music and playing pool, because he's from Texas. He has Super Bowl rings from both the Dolphins under Don Shula and the Packers under Vince Lombardi. He's also the first player in the NFL to play in five Super Bowls. That's impressive. And so was he to be so humble and cool with me after accomplishing so much in a storied career.

Barbara Bain: I also see Ms. Bain come into the club whenever Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks are there for the twice-a-year shows they come to. One time she came in late and had to sit at the bar. Fine with me! Barbara was also married to the previously-mentioned Martin Landau for 36 years. She's still as beautiful today as when she starred as Cinnamon Carter in the original Mission Impossible TV series from 1966-1969. She reminds me a lot of Lauren Bacall. I love Old Hollywood. I don't ask much of them. I just like being around. And in a bartender capacity for them, well, it just doesn't get better than that.

Leonardo DiCaprio: Back in December of 2012, I was asked to be the bartender at Jonah Hill's birthday party the Saturday before Christmas at his newly-acquired pad up on Mulholland. I brought my entire custom bar and kit and set-up outside on this long cool balcony that led to the back yard. There were several celebs there as one can imagine. But sometimes it all depends on who's in town at any given time. The holiday is one thing. But normally, these actors/musicians can either be on location or on the road. Leonardo was there hanging right next to the bar, along with Adam Levine, Lukas Haas, Jon Favreau, Joe Pesci, to name a few. In fact, I overheard Jonah mention how stoked he was that Joe Pesci came to his party. It was a nice gathering of friends and family celebrating Jonah's birthday. And what's weird for me, is that Joe Pesci was a member of Lakeside Golf Club when I was a bartender there. I used to make him his martinis all the time when he would come in from the course. He was always cool and funny to chat with.

Slash: Behind the Gardenia is the famous Record Plant Recording Studios. This goes back 20+ years now. I get a call from Tom asking me to come in a couple hours early. Okay, I can do that! I get there, and this is way before the doors open, and he says that Rose from the studios is coming over with a friend, and they just want to have some drinks and talk for awhile. No problem. So her and Slash roll in. Until that point, it was unknown to me who the other person was going to be. He had just been there for some time laying down the lead guitar parts for the Guns & Roses Use Your Illusion I & II albums. That was very cool. I went into silent running mode for the most part during their hang, setting up the bar and doodling around. As I kept their drinks full and speak to a minimum, the only way I could get a rock n' roll word in was to patiently wait for Rose to have to use the rest room. Funny what your mind thinks.

94’-95’ Los Angeles Dodgers: After leaving Denim & Diamonds, I was working the bar at Cafe Bellissimo in Woodland Hills, walking distance from where I lived. I wasn't supposed to work this day, but Kelly had called me in as the restaurant was closed for this event of Reggie Smith's birthday, of which I wasn't even aware of. Everybody was there, including Tommy Lasorda. It was a busy fun party, and I served everybody. I'm a big baseball fan, so this was right in my wheelhouse. And it was during the strike where they only played 115 games out of a regular 162.

Vanna White: I'm working a private party at a home out in the Oak Park/Westlake Village area in the back yard with my custom bar set-up, and my wheel of fortune appears before my eyes. Sometimes I know in advance, but most of the time I don't. And even though the client has put out the invites/RSVP's, there's still a percentage of the unknown. I had a couple different tequila's behind the bar, but Vanna went with the Patron Silver over ice with a nice-sized wedge of fresh lime. What I love is when they come right up to the bar regardless of who they're with that could get the drink for them. She's still a tall, thin beauty after all these years.

Dale Olson: Dale is not your normal household celeb name, but he was one of my favorite private clients. Though he passed away a few years ago at the age of 80, I worked his Christmas Eve parties for many years, and some Summer gatherings as well, as he was Hollywood's veteran PR guy for decades, representing such greats as Marilyn Monroe, Gene Kelly, Alfred Hitchcock, Steve McQueen, Rod Steiger, Laurence Olivier, Shirley MacLaine, and Steven Spielberg, to name a few. A lot of history in his home, it was like walking into a museum. I really miss him.

George Chakiris: About fifteen minutes before a Janis Paige show at the Gardenia, George comes through the door of the club alone. sits at the bar and orders a drink, then orders a coffee cocktail. We chatted a little bit about the club, as he was thinking of putting a Cabaret show together. In case you don't know or may not be aware of his name, George won the academy award for best supporting actor for West Side Story in 1962. This goes back a long ways. But he also was one of the dancers with Marilyn Monroe in "Diamonds are a girl's best friend" in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in 1953.

Frank Strazzeri: Frank was hired as a pianist through the local L.A. musicians union to play a show one night at the Gardenia with a performer, as several West Coast jazz cats from back in the day still do. Frank was Chet Baker's pianist for a few years in the early 80's. I'm a huge Chet fan, and was able to speak with Frank after the show when he came up to the bar for a drink. He said he really knows what happened and how Chet died in the hotel in Holland.

Snoop Dogg: On two occasions I worked for Snoop. One was at an old church in downtown L.A. for a concert fundraiser where I worked the bar in the VIP section right next to the stage, for 1,000 people attending. That was a jamming, busy night. The other was just a couple years ago when I was hired to work a bar in the recording studio for a radio publicity party with a bunch of FM people flying in from all over the country to hang and help promote his latest album at the time. He came over to the bar as he made his rounds, and said "Hey Bar Man", shook hands, and I said "Hey Snoop". I had a drink already made for him, a Dark n' Stormy, but he said "Man, if I drink that, I won't make it back to Long Beach."

Tom Morello (Audioslave): During Audioslave's first tour, they came into The Hollywood Palladium for a show. I got into the club early to set-up the bar in the VIP section, but also to hang out on the back stage while they were doing their soundcheck, of which I was able to do. But I had to move in and out to avoid the GM walking around. Though I missed Chris Cornell, I did get Tom Morello to sign the CD jacket of the debut album. That was cool enough. And then the show kicked ass with them doing a cover of "Working Man" by Rush as an encore.