One of my restaurants was Woods Cove inLaguna Beach on Coast Highway at the corner of Diamond Street. About a hundred yards down at the foot of Diamond sat Bette Davis’ home on the ocean. The restaurant had been transformed from a two-story residence several years before my ownership of the business. As you entered, there was a massive rock fireplace in what used to be the living room. This area was now the cocktail lounge, the bar, and piano bar area where Wally would tinkle the ivories each evening with all the wanna-be crooners and sultry songstresses hanging on to get a few notes in. A couple of the regulars were Virginia and Beverly, then there was Lola Albright with her friend, Bill, who would get on the piano to accompany. When Martha Raye showed up, she only wanted Wally on the ivories, and after closing we would go up to his home high on the hill where the piano and singing went on till the wee small hours.
Beyond the “happy hour” area was the dining room with an all- window view of the ocean — plus a view of Bette Davis’ rooftop! The kitchen, dishwasher area, and walk-in refrigerator, freezer, pantry and storage were on the south side of the building. A one-bedroom apartment was over the kitchen area, and then there was another room used for the office.
On weekends, we featured scrumptious prime rib, and we were also famous for the delectable clam chowder. (I’m getting hungry, and the Warden has not offered up dinner yet, however she did take care of my thirst department.) Everything is copasetic.
Besides the outstanding food and drink, there was another attraction at Woods Cove, and she came with the place. Helen Beck was a local artist, working in pastels and painting portraits, and doing a fine job of it. She did her thing in the lounge by the fireplace with her easel and a stool for the subject to sit on. She had her own little business and charged $60 to do the customer’s portrait. I was her first guinea pig under the new management — especially when she wanted to do mine for free. The picture appearing with this blog is the result done in 1960. I was 42 at the time.
Well, now where is there anything about SCAM? I’ve got to quit horsing around and get to it.
One week day evening, one of my waitresses, Betty, came up to the hostess desk to say there was something weird going on and thought I should observe. From a distance I watched these 2 guys — definitely strangers to us — and the one was eating off the other guy’s New York steak. I knew exactly what was going on, and I just knew this was going to be a fun evening.
I knew the fireworks would begin when Betty presented the check, and sure enough, the one fellow told her he could not eat his steak, it was not good, and he was not going to pay for it. Now I was called to take over this dispute, and told them in no uncertain terms that they should’ve reported this immediately upon being served and tasted the food — there was one bite cut from steak — so at this point it was their responsibility to pay the entire check. I then asked Betty for a knife and fork, and proceeded to cut off a bite of the steak in question. It tasted great to me; had Betty take a bite and her opinion was the same. I marched into the bar with plate held high and asked John, my huge bartender to have a bite. He licked his chops saying there was nothing wrong with the steak. The two diners, average size, were still not going to pay so I had Jim, the other bartender call the cops. By the way, the little squirt causing all this brouhaha must’ve enjoyed the baked potato — it was conspicuous by its absence, even the skin was no where to be found.
We stood around waiting for the cops to arrive, and shortly a uniform comes through the front door, and whaddya know it was the one policeman I would have chosen if I had the chance. It was the star of the Laguna Beach Police Department — a Latino much beloved by ALL of Laguna Beach — and he was well over 6 ft. — a handsome hombre whom everyone called “Taco.” I explained to Taco the dilemma we had, and then had him take a big bite of the steak. He scarfed it down, and said he thought it was delicious. The 1½ diners got their 2-cents worth in, being quite adamant that they were not paying for the one dinner. I asked if they would like a doggy bag —- that went over like a lead balloon.
Finally, Taco ended up inviting them to step into his police limo, and they were whisked off to the station where they spent the night as guests of the City. In the morning they had a command performance before the Judge. He charged them with defrauding an Innkeeper,” assessed a fine, and had to pay the bill to the Innkeeper, little ol’ me!
Maybe the Judge told them to never come back to Laguna, ever again, while he was at it.
Moral to this story: do not EVER try to pull this scam — especially if I am the owner of the joint,
And especially — if the Judge is a friend of my family.