Of all of Los Angeles's high-class haunts where you might end up dawdling away an evening talking about Leo over apple martinis, Beverly Hills Café was not one of them. It wasn't even in Beverly Hills but on the slightly shady corner of La Cienega Boulevard and Wilshire. Amid a row of fancy restaurants and Mercedes dealerships, BHC, as our small clique of high school losers called it, stood out with its awful turquoise facade and 1970s futuristic architecture. It was a run-down, 24-hour, space-age lodge for freaks and geeks, and it was our second home.

At any hour, on any day, you were liable to meet a host of wacky characters who were up to all sorts of good -- and not so good. There was the Korean Cowboy, a man who spoke barely a trace of English, but with his shit-kicking boots and massive Stetson, he had clearly chosen the John Wayne film oeuvre as his introduction to America. Our waiter, John, was a burned-out former dancer on Soul Train, and if it was late enough, and he had enough to drink, he'd boogie off a few rusty moves and offer up hip words of wisdom. To the right and left, there were armchair philosophers, drug addicts, frustrated executives, in-love couples -- an entire armada of humanity for us to learn from, but mostly laugh at.

No one ever asked us to leave. The place wasn't so much managed as it was sparingly monitored. We'd all gather in the late evening, cobbling together change to order a few cherry Cokes and steak fries with ranch dressing and stay for hours. We also drank coffee, though we thought it tasted terrible, and smoked cigarettes, though they made us cough and wince. It was our very own Parisian café, the one place we felt we belonged, where we could talk and introduce ourselves to the world.

How it existed as long as it did, I'll never know. It's gone now, replaced by some normal diner or another. In an unforgiving city, at an unforgiving age, for all of us who found sanctuary in its eccentricity Beverly Hills Café was like a weird, strangely wise aunt -- after awhile, you learned to love her, and you never forgot the things she told you.

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