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Smoke House turns 60

Longtime patrons gather for food and fun as the famed restaurant's owner recalls memories.

October 14, 2006|By Chris Wiebe

MEDIA DISTRICT WEST — Smiles, toasts and the sounds of clinking champagne glasses filled the Smoke House on Thursday as loyal patrons, celebrities and community leaders gathered to celebrate the restaurant's 60th anniversary.

Since opening on Pass Avenue and Riverside Drive in 1946, right across from a Warner Bros. Studios entrance gate, the Smoke House has been a favorite eatery among A-list actors and actresses, from Bob Hope and Bing Crosby to Judy Garland and Steve McQueen. And the legends of the restaurant's celebrity clientele found their way into many conversations at the anniversary celebration.

Longtime waitress Judy Denniss, 65, was a hit with customers when she was hired at the Smoke House three days before her 21st birthday.

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"All the men who came in here would always say, 'Judy, Judy, Judy,'" she said, referring to a line attributed to one of Cary Grant's screen roles. "And I'd say, I've got 1 million men, but never Cary Grant."

But when word spread one day that Cary Grant was, in fact, having a meal in the Smoke House, the waitresses gave Denniss just what she ordered. Denniss was directed into the banquet room, where an obsequious Grant, in on the joke, shouted, "Judy, Judy, Judy!" and promptly gave her a kiss.

In a 60th-anniversary congratulatory letter to the Smoke House, Adam West, who played "Batman" in the 1960s television show, credits Denniss for his chronic tendency to over-tip.

But beyond appealing to the Hollywood set, the Smoke House has also a become a favorite in the Burbank community.

Vice Mayor Marsha Ramos mused about coming to the Smoke House with her husband, David, after a John Burroughs High School dance, when they were 15 years old. And just last week, the Smoke House was where her family came to celebrate her mother's 70th birthday, she said.

"This is certainly a place that has special memories in the hearts of so many people," she said.

Lee Spencer, who owns the Smoke House with his wife Marti, told a story about seeing the Smoke House for the first time in 1949, as a Cub Scout visiting California from his Wyoming home. During a tour of Warner Bros., he saw the restaurant across the street and remembers thinking to himself, "Hey, it sure would be great to eat there," he said.

And all these years later, the Smoke House has not lost its allure for Spencer.

"You can go anywhere in the world and talk to people who have eaten at the Smoke House," he said. "That's what makes it exciting to stay in business."

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