Bourbon Steak, Washington, D.C.
Michael Kleinberg
The new Bourbon Steak restaurant in Georgetown’s Four Seasons Hotel has become a big draw on the D.C. circuit: former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev dined on the same night; Brad Pitt, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones have been spotted there as well.
updated 9/21/2009 10:51:07 AM ET 2009-09-21T14:51:07

Remember that “I Love Lucy” episode when the always star-struck Lucy eats at Hollywood’s Brown Derby and finds William Holden sitting in the next booth? Hilarity, of course, ensues, with Lucy making a fool of herself trying to get Holden’s attention—not the first fan to try interacting with a celebrity trying to have a quiet dinner at a restaurant.

It has always been that way, since the days the French aristocracy used to line up at the dining room at Versailles just to watch Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette eat. Things became far more proletarian when grand restaurants like Delmonico’s and Rector’s opened in New York in the 19th century, drawing everyone from Diamond Jim Brady and Mark Twain to Charles Dickens and Oscar Wilde. People gawked.

So they did at New York’s Barbetta (opened in 1906), which drew every opera singer and musician from around the world, including Enrico Caruso and Arturo Toscanini. And downscale, New York’s delis like The Carnegie and The Stage became hangouts for everyone from Jack Benny and Sid Caesar to Woody Allen and Neil Simon.

Over on the West Coast, in Hollywood’s golden years, celeb sightings were relentlessly covered by the tabloids as part of the studios’ own publicity machines. Thus, a new starlet would be hooked up with an established star and sent to the Copacabana or El Morocco expressly for the purpose of having their pictures taken by the photogs.

This endures to a certain extent today at celeb-flocked restaurants like Spago and Mr. Chow in Beverly Hills, which count among its guests everyone from George Clooney to Elizabeth Hurley, whereas it is discouraged (though not unknown) in New York: The “if you’re not famous-go-wait-in-line” syndrome is, however, still part of the appeal of two new restaurants owned and opened by Graydon Carter, the wild-haired editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair.

His Waverly Inn in Greenwich Village is so exclusive that the restaurant doesn’t answer the phone; you either have to have Carter’s personal phone number or go down to the restaurant in the afternoon and beg a table. Once there you may pass by Uma Thurman and Anne Hathaway, in the front room — on your way to Siberia in the back. Carter has also added another feather to his restaurant cap — the old 1930s Monkey Bar in Midtown, which had deteriorated into a series of losing restaurants until Carter revamped it as a hang-out for his 10,000 closest friends, and there are, apparently, “A” tables and “B” tables, and those not famous can only hope for a 6:30 table, at best.

Many restaurants confer with celebs’ “people” as to the best tactics to avoid the paparazzi at the front door. The manager of the Sunset Marquis in West Hollywood, where villas rent for up to $7,000 a night — and whose boast is that “Movie stars get big trailers. The really big stars get us” — told me that if a big star like Madonna is dining at their intimate restaurant, The Room, she may be ushered through the service hallways to a back door while a double in sunglasses whooshes into a waiting limo at the front door.

But for the average diner who wouldn’t mind sitting across from a celebrity, there are, in fact, rules of behavior, the first being that it is completely tacky to go up to a celebrity table and ask for an autograph. If seated next to a celeb (the big guys at the next table may be his bodyguards), a simple nod of recognition should be all you allow yourself of intimacy. Celebs may well want attention, but on his or her terms.

In a place like New York’s Balthazar in Soho, the chances of spotting someone from the entertainment or fashion business is very high because so many of those industry’s celebs either live or have offices in the area: On any given day you might find Bill Gates lunching with Bono, or Martha Stewart, who also likes to dine at celeb Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Greenwich Village restaurant Perry Street, where she had an apartment in the building, along with Nicole Kidmann and Calvin Klein.

Bill Cosby, who frequents New York’s Le Cirque in Midtown, literally gets up from his table and goes around the room to kibbitz with the restaurant’s guests. In fact, Le Cirque is one of the city’s best-known celeb hang-outs, including everyone from Woody Allen and Barbara Walters to Henry Kissinger and Bill O’Reilly. Once, when a non-celeb newcomer complained to Le Cirque’s owner, Sirio Maccioni, that the tables were too close, he responded, “Sir, would you rather sit this close or this far from Sophia Loren tonight?”—just as Sophia swept into the restaurant.

Mr. Chow, New York and Beverly Hills
Megan Chorman
Once a place to be for the jet set and international film crowd, Mr. Chow’s restaurants in New York and Beverly Hills now draw a lot of hip-hop celebs, from Sean "Puffy" Combs to LL Cool J.
Of course, New York is the East Coast epicenter for celebrity dining. Some even own restaurants themselves, including Robert DeNiro, who is a partner at Nobu with Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Sean Penn, Ed Harris, Lou Diamond Philips and Christopher Walken. DeNiro is always bringing his friends in to dine, who may include Leonardo Di Caprio. TriBeCa Grill shares some of those same celeb owners.

At Manhattan’s legendary Four Seasons Grill Room the titans of media and Big Apple politics gather and jockey for tables ever day at lunch, so you might hobnob with Mayor Bloomberg, Rupert Murdoch and Jann Wenner there. Once, filming a TV show, Lauren Hutton and Raquel Welch tussled and tumbled into the babbling pool in the Pool Room here. Ralph Lauren says that “the quality, the design, the food, and the people all come together to make a certain magic — there is no place like it.”

Of course, on the West Coast, the restaurant of the moment in Hollywood will always be the one drawing the most celebs. Restaurant publicists tell the media who dined where and when, and if an L.A. restaurant doesn’t have what they call a “sizzle factor,” it’s not likely to stay open long.

Larios on the Beach, Miami Beach
Dan Forer
Singer Gloria Estefan and her husband have had a long-running hit on their hands with Larios on the Beach, a lively, upscale Miami Beach Cuban restaurant that is also known as the primo people-watching spot for celebs in the city.
Beso (which means “kiss”) is a Todd English restaurant — himself a celebrity chef — with partner Eva Longoria of “Desperate Housewives,” who draws pals like Sheryl Crow, Jessica Simpson and Paul Abdul to sip mango mojitos and chow down on Mexican tapas like tortilla soup and skirt steak fajitas. The tortilla soup and guacamole are said to be Longoria family recipes. Angelino Magazine advises that “the booths along the east wall offer the best views.”

Ortolan is a swank French restaurant owned by Chef Christophe Émé and his wife, actress Jeri Ryan, who attracts her star friends and not a few Trekkies who come to see the woman who once played the Borg named Seven of Nine.

Other good bets for celeb watching are the more secluded and reclusive hotel dining rooms like the Bar Marmont at Château Marmont Hotel and Bungalows (Charlize Theron, Keanu Reeves, Courtney Love, Johnny Depp, Amy Winehouse, Sting), the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel (especially breakfast for studio bigwigs courting stars). Alas, the Bel-Air Hotel — Marilyn Monroe’s favorite poolside table — will be closed for the next year or so for renovation.

Given that Las Vegas has developed both a high-powered entertainment scene along with first-rate restaurants, you’ll find celebs visiting on a regular basis. At the new Wynn Las Vegas hotel and casino, they have a place named Sinatra’s that evokes the mystique of Ol’ Blue Eyes and has drawn stars like Jay-Z, Beyonce, Justin Timberlake and Garth Brooks.

And in Washington, D.C., where pols have to be pretty careful whom they’re seen with and where, The Monocle, just shy of the Capitol, where senators go for lunch, alerted by a dining room bell that summons them back for an important vote.

But now that Barack Obama has come to Washington, new places have vied for his visitations and got them, including when he celebrated his wife Michelle’s 45th birthday at the fine dining restaurant Equinox, two blocks from the White House. President Obama also seems a fan of Five Guys Burgers and Fries in Dupont Circle, while Obama’s staff have carved out their own niche in D.C.

The Hawk n’ Dove is where the Congressional junior staff members threw a party for Obama press spokesman Robert Gibbs. Close to the White House, the Oval Room is a big power lunch place, while the newcomer in town that has been attracting the big names is Bourbon Steak in Georgetown’s Four Seasons Hotel, where former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev dined on the same night, as have Brad Pitt, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

So unless the stars are staying in their rooms, the chances are better than ever they’ll be out and about, if not at the table next to you, certainly at the best table in the house.

Photos: The Emmy Awards

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  1. Let's get this party started

    Host Neil Patrick Harris started the evening on a lively note, performing “Don’t Touch That Remote,” a custom-made tune from Broadway composers Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman of “Hairspray” fame. Harris implored viewers to stay glued to the show. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. More than just Ducky

    Amy Poehler, left, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus present the best supporting actor in a comedy award to "Two And A Half Men" star Jon Cryer. Cryer, whose series is the most-watched comedy on TV, brought a wry tone to his speech. “I used to think that awards were just shallow tokens of momentary popularity, but now I realize they are the only true measure of a person’s worth as a human being.” (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Kiss the globe

    Actress Kristin Chenoweth seems pretty happy after winning best supporting actress in a comedy for her work in the canceled "Pushing Daisies." "I’m not employed now so I’d like to be on 'Mad Men.' I also like 'The Office' and '24'," said Chenoweth. (Robyn Beck / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Do a little dance

    "Dancing With the Stars" professionals Karina Smirnoff and Maksim Chmerkovskiy perform onstage during the 61st Primetime Emmy Awards. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. The tribe has spoken

    Jeff Probst was honored as best reality show host for "Survivor." Probst was one of the five reality hosts who emceed the Emmys last year and received scathing reviews. "Neil Patrick Harris, this is how you host the Emmys. Nice job," Probst said. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Walk with me

    Alec Baldwin accepts the best actor in a comedy award for "30 Rock." "I'll be honest with you. I'd trade this to look like him," Baldwin said as he accepted his from Rob Lowe of "Brothers & Sisters." (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Funny lady

    Toni Collette, who plays a mother with multiple personalities on the Showtime series "The United States of Tara," was honored as best actress in a comedy series. "Wow, this is insanely confronting," said a beaming Collette. She thanked series creator Diablo Cody, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of "Juno." (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Bringing the 'Gossip'

    "Gossip Girls" stars Blake Lively, left, and Leighton Meester present the best directing in a comedy series award onstage at the Nokia Theatre. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. In (auto) tune

    Jimmy Fallon delivered the funniest moment of the show when he did an auto-tune skit, and took a pratfall. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Golden girl

    "Grey Gardens" star Jessica Lange holds her award for best lead actress in a miniseries backstage at the Nokia Theatre. (Chris Carlson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. 'Daily' recognition

    Host Jon Stewart gets up to accept the Emmy for best variety, music or comedy series for "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," its seventh in a row. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Not even Close

    Glenn Close accepts the best actress In a drama series award for "Damages." It was the second year in a row she won the prize. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. 'Rock' stars

    Tina Fey, center at microphone, accepts the award for best comedy series for "30 Rock." It was the show's third straight victory. Fey thanked NBC executives for keeping the show on the air despite fact that "we are so much more expensive than a talk show." (Mark J. Terrill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Cherry on top

    Cherry Jones poses in the press room with her Emmy for best supporting actess in a drama for her work as the stalwart U.S. president on "24." (Jason Merritt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. 'Breaking' good

    Dana Delaney presents Bryan Cranston with the award for best actor in a drama for "Breaking Bad." "Lee Trevino was struck by lightning twice and now I know how he feels. I’m glad Glenn Close is a woman," Cranston said after accepting the award. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. 'Lost' in the moment

    Michael Emerson kisses his wife, actress Carrie Preston, while holding his award for best supporting actor in a drama series for "Lost" backstage at the 61st Primetime Emmy Awards. (Paul Buck / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. It's a 'Mad' world

    The cast and crew of "Mad Men" pose with their Emmy for best drama series in the press room. (Jason Merritt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: 61st Annual Primetime Emmy Awards - Show
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    Above: Slideshow (17) The Emmy Awards - The Emmy Awards
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    Slideshow (30) The Emmy Awards - Emmy Awards red carpet


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