L.A.'s Newest Cuisine Artist Opens the Doors to His Noshery with a Hearty Bono Apetit

updated 02/28/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/28/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

On opening night at Sonny Bono's brand-new eatery in West Hollywood the rain fell harder and faster than the ratings of his last TV series. But no mere flood could keep away the celebrity likes of Tony Curtis, Bert Convy, Ann Turkel, Dick Van Patten, Donna Mills, Stan Dragoti and, of course, Sonny's erstwhile babe, Cher. Between hors d'oeuvres, Valerie Perrine looked at the room's star quotient and predicted, "This restaurant will be a hit. People like us need a place where we feel comfortable—and this will be it." Cher approved as well. "Sonny is a great cook," she said. "When we were together, he made all the food."

The idea for the restaurant named Bono came to Sonny, 48, last July while he, his wife, Susie, and business associate E.J. Steinke were eating some sub-par take-out food from one of Hollywood's more popular Italian restaurants. When Sonny took one bite of his meal and declared he could do better, E.J. rejoined, "Well, then you should open a restaurant."

What began as a dare has, in seven months, grown into an accomplished fact. Bono stands on the corner of Melrose and Clinton, just off La Cienega, the same site that has been home to such forgettable eateries as a red, white and blue All American Burger and a turquoise-and-pink Chicken Olé which, says Sonny, "looked exactly like a bubble gum wrapper." In contrast, Bono has a Mediterranean look of moss green, dusty terra-cotta and off-white. Inside it boasts "an atmosphere of elegant funk," according to Susie, "like our house."

Sonny's experience in the restaurant business? Zilch. But he's known around Hollywood as an excellent cook and a warm, generous host. Besides, he's got a track record of turning blissful ignorance into big money. "I never knew how to read music, write a song or produce a record either," shrugs the composer of I Got You Babe and other late-'60s hits. "This is a total wing job."

The cost of this little "wing job" is estimated between $500,000 and $1 million, a sizable investment for Sonny, whose career never fully recovered from his 1975 breakup with Cher. To win acceptance in his own right, he studied acting, did dinner theater, TV movies and multiple Love Boats and Fantasy Islands. Still, he admits, "The transition has been a bitch." Susie sees the restaurant as a vital step on the road to self-realization. "For the first time in a long time he's doing something totally on his own," she says, "and I'm sure that's got to be a good feeling." "Great feeling," corrects Sonny, grinning.

Bono will be different from most celebrity-owned restaurants, Sonny promises, in at least two ways: (1) He'll actually be there much of the time, though he won't say how much; (2) he has no partners. He didn't want investors because "then you can't make your own creative decisions." The bill of fare includes hearty, southern Italian cuisine featuring many of Sonny's "secret" recipes, some of which he learned from his parents. There are also some lighter dishes, in deference to "those ladies—and even some men—who work so hard in their aerobics classes." For the specials of the day, the scrupulously nonsexist menu advises patrons to "ask your wait person." Customer persons will find prices fairly moderate, with main courses ranging from picchio pacchio (pasta with tomato sauce and garlic oil) at $8.50 to zuppa di pesce (seafood in broth) at $16.

Bono has played to packed houses since its opening three weeks ago. Sonny's PR man, Dick Grant, thinks he knows why. "Sonny has always been a host," says Grant, "on his TV series, at tennis tournaments, at home with Susie. He's still selling baloney, but this time to a different audience."

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