Area: Palm Springs
Typa Joint: Old School
Signature Cocktail: Not Really (I had a gin martini)
This is my third trip to Palm Springs, and I have visited Melvyn’s each time. How can I resist? It was a Sinatra hangout. He and fiancé Barbara Marx had their pre-wedding dinner there. (NO, all you Trip Advisor and Yelp reviewers – they were not married at Melvyn’s, and their wedding reception was not held there. Get it right, will you?)
Did you know that Barbara was previously married to Zeppo Marx, one of the Marx Brothers? Anyway, I digress…
During the first trip, Maria and Bob and I had a lovely dinner. I was greatly entertained by the photos of famous people hanging in the bar and the book written by proprietor Melvyn Haber about the celebrities who have been to Melvyn’s (all proceeds from the book go to charity), including Lucille Ball, John Travolta, Cher, Mr. and Mrs. Bob Hope, Barry Manilow, Jerry Lewis, Joan Collins, Larry King, Liberace, Liza Minnelli, Frank Sinatra, Sidney Sheldon, Donald Trump, Gerald Ford, Goldie Hawn, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. I bought the book and kept one of the bar napkins with a dapper Sinatra printed on it as a memento.
On my second visit, my friend Jamie and I were in Palm Springs for PS Modernism Week and stopped by Melvyn’s for a cocktail. That’s when we met Maître D’ Brian Ellis, who gave us some solid recommendations for other places to visit and even gave us his phone number in case we had any questions. What a swell guy.
On this trip to Palm Springs I have been to Melvyn’s twice; on Thursday I took a walking tour of historic inns, sponsored by the Palm Springs Historical Society. The tour included the Ingleside Inn, built originally in the 1920s and temporary home of many a celebrity, in its day.
I returned just a few nights ago, on Frank Sinatra’s 100th birthday. I was there to toast Frank, to see the old place again before I wrote the Bent review, and to carry a message to bartender Mark Myrick, who has been bartending at Melvyn’s for 30 years; Andy at Lord Fletcher’s told me to tell Mark to stop by for a visit.
I arrived a little after 10:00 p.m., when Mr. Haber and Roxy were just leaving. I expected it to be packed in honor of Ol’ Blue Eyes, and also expected live music of the Great American Songbook variety, given the occasion. Well, it was not full, and there was DJ’ed music from the 60s, 70s, and 80s on tap (the piano player posted a sign which said he had laryngitis).
I sat down at the end of the bar closest to the front door, next to a woman of indiscernible age. That’s about the only thing she was hiding. She was in a dress cut down to there and cut up to here, with lots of sparkling jewelry. I hoped her tan was obtained in a booth and not poolside, for her skin’s sake. Her white-blonde hair had a hint of yellow, but maybe that was the bar lighting. She seem to know everyone, waving to the oposite side of the room on several occasions.
Having been to The Nest in Indian Wells recently, I felt this woman would have been much more in her milieu there. As my new friend Jo, a beautiful 80-year-old woman I met at Lord Fletcher’s said about The Nest, “When going to The Nest, pack your penicillin.”
The woman swayed and gyrated in her seat to the beat of each song, flirting with any man within a two-barstool radius. Within that radius sat Barney, who claimed to have been the drummer for Journey back of the 1980s. Google that shit – no one named Barney was ever in the band – 1980s or otherwise. By the way, I tried Barney as both a first name and a last name in my search.
When dealing with pathological liars, it has been my experience that everything they say has a kernel of truth in it; they spin and layer it from there. Perhaps Barney was a roadie or something like that. He added another layer, saying that he had just spoken to Steve Perry on the telephone a few days ago, and Steve was doing well. I wanted to break out in song, “Oh Barney, your lies, go on, go on.” (With apologies to the song “Oh Sherry.”)
With Barney to my left and Blondie to my right, flirting feverishly (a comment was made about swallowing, which sounded more like a sure thing than innuendo), I ordered a gin martini. It felt right for the occasion. I asked the bartender to make it pre-Prohibition style, with one shot of vermouth for every two shots of gin. By the way, that bartender was not Mark Myrick; Mark was not there on Saturday night.
The bartender actually argued with me a bit, being rather dismissive to tell you the truth. I think it was my blue hair. “We usually don’t put any vermouth at all in a gin martini.” Well, thank you for that “This is how we do it,” Montell Jordan, but just like Frankie, I’m havin’ it my way.
I eventually got the drink I wanted, when from behind came a familiar voice. I looked in the mirror behind the bar to see the reflection of Brian, the Maître d’. Brian helped me off with my coat, to the apparent dismay of some of those around me, given the tattoos on my shoulders. Brian asked me about them and introduced himself. I told him of my prior visits and thanked him for always being such a gentleman. He kissed my hand and thanked me.
Brian Ellis has been the maître d’ at Melvyn’s for 39 years. Here’s a photo of him with Barbara Marx:
And here we are, on Saturday night:
Doesn’t he remind you of Lewis Black? And I don’t care that I have four chins in that photo – you can tell I’m having such a good time with him!
Brian Ellis is the only thing that redeemed Melvyn’s for me that night. Frankly, I don’t think I need to go back, ever again. I’m sure it will continue on just fine without me, but it’s true what they say: You can’t go home again, and the third time is the charm.