The Carnegie Deli in New York is a great and wonderful place…and probably more prosperous than ever since its neighbor, the Stage Deli, recently closed. The Carnegie Deli in Beverly Hills was not a great and wonderful place, which explains why it isn’t there any more.
In the early eighties, the Stage opened an outlet in Century City — also a pale imitation of its Manhattan ancestor but not quite as pale as the west coast Carnegie would be. In 1988 when the Schwab’s Drug Store at the corner of Crescent Heights and Sunset was razed, it was announced that the forthcoming shopping complex there would include an L.A. version of the Carnegie. Later, the plan was shifted to 300 N. Beverly Drive at the corner of Beverly and Dayton Way.
The buzz was that billionaire Marvin Davis had had a standing order every day at the Century City Stage Deli for a half-pound of lox, a half-dozen bagels, a pint of cream cheese and four bags of potato chips to be delivered to his office each morning. This did not satisfy him and he decided to open his own deli. (Another rumor was that he opened the Carnegie in Beverly Hills after he was made to wait too long for a table at Nate ‘n’ Al’s down the street.)
The opening on August 9, 1989 was a huge media event with celebrities including Don Rickles, Carol Channing, Billy Wilder and George Burns. Burns was so impressed with the place that he booked it for his 100th birthday party, which was to be held on January 20, 1996. George made it to that date but the deli didn’t. The opening was also attended by pickets as Davis and his partners had elected not to sign with the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union, Local 11. And there were also restaurant critics present, that evening and in subsequent weeks. Few of them liked what they ate.
The place shut its doors on August 26, 1994 and someone had to call George Burns and tell him to find someplace else for his party. There were many reasons for the deli’s closure but the big three probably went something like this…
- Nate ‘n’ Al’s, a long-established local tradition, was right down the street.
- The food at the Carnegie cost more than the food at Nate ‘n’ Al’s.
- The food at the Carnegie wasn’t as good as the food at Nate ‘n’ Al’s.
Why couldn’t they at least replicate the quality of the original in New York? Probably some combination of management and suppliers not being as good. All I know is I ate there twice — once by choice and once because an agent I was lunching with insisted we meet there. I didn’t care for the meal either time and I didn’t care for that agent.