A Jolly Tar, Phil Scully Appeases the Palates of Hollywood Stars with Sharp Wit and Good Food
06/10/1985 at 01:00 AM EDT
Tucked beneath the awning of the Beverly Terrace Hotel, behind a dilapidated door bearing no name, is a small restaurant called Scully's. Presiding over the dimly lit eatery is the surly, wisecracking cook and owner, Phil Scully. He serves only breakfast and lunch, closes on weekends, doesn't advertise and has an unlisted phone number. "If you haven't been invited, you shouldn't be here," he says. Naturally, Scully has Hollywood celebrities eating out of his hand as well as off his dishes.
Jack Lemmon gives him standing ovations. Don Rickles cracks up at the sight of him. An autographed photo of Ed McMahon and wife Victoria marks their favorite table. Robert Wagner, Jim Garner, Bob Hope and Johnny Carson are among the regulars. After a meal, Peter Falk once gushed, "Perfect! Marvelous!" Snapped Scully, "We'll add $5 to the price."
Power brokers such as David Begelman and Frank Price also frequent Scully's. "More deals are done over eggs Benedict at Scully's than at all the other restaurants in town," says the owner. Recently 14 entertainment execs showed up in four limos for breakfast. At lunch Dolly Parton and her lawyer chatted about a movie deal. Dolly, in fact, is a loyal fan. "Scully, I love you and I think you are the best," Dolly wrote in a note that's framed over her favorite booth.
The spice that has made this restaurant so hot for 10 years is the owner. "They come for the food and the show, and I'm the show," Phil Scully says. Wearing a British Airways chief-steward's cap, white leather-top sneakers and striped Bijan apron, Scully cooks and serves each main dish with flair and considerable banter. "Here's the scampi," he announces, proffering a copper skillet for general inspection. "Save up and you can buy it." If a diner inquires about what to order, Scully has a glib response. "The goose?" he repeats, loud enough for all to hear. Then, turning to a guest who was eating the goose, Scully asks, "How was the goose, sir? This gentleman wants to know."
And Scully gets a hoot out of it all. "I do my show for eight hours," he says. "I'm rude but I'm never crude. I want to be out here entertaining, asking how the food is, getting my applause, because I'm painting my portrait when I put it on the plate. Nobody taught me to do this. This is my creative ability."
The rest of Scully's winning recipe is the privacy of its out-of-the-way location. The last thing he tolerates are newcomers who gape, table-hop and ask for autographs. "We don't leak out information," Scully says. "We just let them live. That's why I think Carson and Lemmon like it. I take care of my stars when they are here." But it doesn't mean that Scully will fawn over them either. "I treat them just like I'm dressed—mediocre," he says. "If anybody gets out of line, I walk over and bark a couple of times. But I don't mean it. And the food's so good, they want to come back."
If the balding and bearded 52-year-old Scully looks and sounds like a gruff British tar, there's good reason. He was born in Liverpool, put to sea in 1949 as a bellboy on the cruise ship Caronia and followed that with stints as a waiter on the Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth and Ocean Monarch. In 1959, at age 26, Scully moved to Los Angeles where he hired on as a waiter at Chasen's.
There he developed his mock-insolent shtick and learned to banter with the likes of Cooper, Tracy, John Wayne, Richard Nixon and JFK. By 1975, he was catering manager. One night Tom Snyder and his wife showed up but couldn't get their usual table. When they walked out in a huff, the innovative Scully gathered up six filets mignons, fresh asparagus, spinach salad, cheese bread, chocolate snowballs, a bottle of Château Lafite-Roth-schild and tracked the Snyders to their Benedict Canyon home. He offered to whip up the meal. Instead, "We drank the Lafite and they put the food in the refrigerator," Scully recalls. The incident gave him the idea of opening his own restaurant and cooking for favored customers.
The spot he chose is a snob's nightmare. The Beverly Terrace is located at Santa Monica Boulevard on the fringe of Beverly Hills, and Scully has only a handshake lease. Customers who want to use the restroom are directed to the hotel's facilities or across the street to the Chevron station.
Scully's 13 tables seat only 35 people. The fixed menu includes corned beef hash and eggs, $10.95; bum's rush steak on rye, $23.95; a variety of omelets at $8.95 and 11 desserts. His live-in girlfriend, Melody Trox, 24, is hostess, and a waiter and waitress serve the side dishes and bus the tables.
Scully runs a taut ship, but for all his bluster, his soft side shows in unexpected ways. On quiet mornings before his famous patrons arrive, he'll haul in local street people and feed them. But true to form, they get the same treatment as everyone else. "I make sure they leave their baskets outside," Scully says. "I fix them a little scrambled eggs and some good homemade toast. I give them a couple of bucks and say, 'Get out of the vicinity. And don't come back. We all love ya.' " And they all, apparently, love Scully.