In a 2008 blog, gossip monger Perez Hilton described Jennifer Aniston as she attempted to get lunch at the Ivy in Beverly Hills, writing, “If you’re a celeb, you usually hit the Ivy on Robertson Boulevard to get the paparazzi to take your pic, right? Everyone knows that it’s not the place for a celeb to go low pro. Anyway, Jennifer Aniston must be really dumb or really really lame. On Friday, she showed up to the Ivy for lunch and got all pissy about the attention she garnered from the paps.”
The article, written long before Perez attempted to rehabilitate his public image and apologize for the cruel and often misogynistic commentary he wrote about his famous subjects, is dripping with venom that’s shocking for a 2022 audience. But for anyone who paid attention to pop culture in the early aughts, the blog and the restaurant it features are cultural relics worthy of the Smithsonian. For years, the Ivy provided similar blog fodder, acting as the ideal backdrop for celebrity romantic reconciliations, business meetings, and other photo ops for tabloid heavyweights like Nicole Richie, Tara Reid, Paris Hilton, and Kim Kardashian. To be snapped on the Ivy patio meant something: You, or someone you happened to be sitting close to, wasn’t just famous, but famous enough for the paparazzi to make a living off of. You were helping to uphold the tabloid economic ecosystem.
What was once so spectacular about the Ivy has waned in recent years, though the restaurant itself remains a popular dining locale for Hollywood power brokers. Celebrities change hot spots, hideaways, and pap walks faster than outfits, but they almost always collect in the same places, moths to the flash of a paparazzo’s camera as long as it suits them.
Craig’s in West Hollywood is among the latest restaurants in the Ivy mold: Just one cursory Google search shows that within the year, celebrities such as Lizzo, Muni Long, Olivia Jade, Kim Kardashian, Nicky Hilton, Eric Dane, and more have dined at the establishment, their visits as heavily papped as a patient at the gyno. For celebrities, the appeal of Craig’s is that it provides the best of worlds both private and public; the paparazzi are lined up outside, offering the perfect location for reliable, flattering, and largely controllable photo ops. If you’re a famous person in the middle of a PR crisis, a stroll into Craig’s — dressed in your trendiest finery — is as good an opportunity as any to show off that you’re doing fine. Consider Vanderpump Rules star Lala Kent, who was all smiles and light-bouncing cheekbone highlight when she made an appearance at the height of her dramatic separation from her fiancé, producer Randall Emmett.
What’s appealing about Craig’s, as opposed to the Ivy patio, is that the paparazzi exposure lasts only as long as the celebrity wants it to. Inside, the windows are tinted and the photographers are gone, allowing celebrities to eat — or not eat — and slouch, or get drunk, or act in all the photographically unflattering ways that us regular folk take for granted. Even when indoor dining was off limits at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, it debuted a chic outdoor-dining structure with wood-paneled walls and glass partitions, which shielded diners from prying outside eyes. Craig’s clientele wants to be seen, but on their terms and with their contrived desire for privacy.
Other restaurants across the U.S. promise the same model: Carbone (in New York and Miami) offered a recent backdrop for not one but two dates for the short-lived, highly publicized romance between Kanye West and Julia Fox; the famous-ish like Amber Rose and Tyga flock to Miami’s Strawberry Moon located in the Good Time Hotel (co-owned by Pharrell); the more low-key celebrities love the leather booths of Little Dom’s in Los Feliz in Los Angeles.; and surf-and-turf restaurant Catch (in NYC, LA, Aspen, and Las Vegas) hosts Gabrielle Union, Dwyane Wade, and Justin Timberlake.
Perhaps no other restaurant has reached the level of celebrity clout as Nobu in Malibu, where Robert De Niro is a co-founder. (For me personally, Nobu is as much of a celebrity as the famous people it regularly hosts.) In the early months of the pandemic, the Japanese restaurant temporarily closed its doors, leading to a slew of celebrity broken hearts. After its Malibu location returned with outdoor dining in June 2020, attention-starved famous people reemerged like bears post-hibernation. And they continue to come: A couple months after her pregnancy announcement, Rihanna was spotted at Nobu. Justin and Hailey Bieber, the KarJenners, Kanye West, George and Amal Clooney, and many, many more have all been spotted there recently.
Celebrities who legitimately want privacy know how to go unphotographed, even while dining out. There are places — like the private membership club Soho House — that cater to these needs, offering heavy security, regulated phone use, private rooms, and low, dark lighting. For those wanting something more low-maintenance, there are places like Little Dom’s , which offers semi enclosed booths and a local crowd who are less eager to appear excited by the presence of Jon Hamm or Ryan Gosling. Of course, there’s still the risk of being iPhone-photographed by a fan, as Tom Holland and Zendaya experienced while having a meal at an unassuming Thai restaurant.
But even those kind of photos can work in a celebrity’s favor. A creepshot of Holland and Zendaya on a casual date is comforting to the celeb-obsessed the same way it is to a grandmother who needs to get her eyes on you to make sure you’re eating enough. It’s a reminder not only to order the pad see ew next time you’re in Universal City, but also that your favorite celebrity couple is both relatable — they, too, eat sometimes! — and going strong.
There are standout cases where celebrities are photographed under duress — maybe they got too fucked up at the club or it’s a windy day -— but the relationship between famous people and the paparazzi/tabloids is largely symbiotic. Dine out enough around New York City and you’ll likely find yourself sitting next to Maggie Gyllenhaal, Justin Theroux, or Succession’s Cousin Greg at some point, without a photographer in sight. That’s because they know where to go where the paparazzi are not. Meanwhile, go to the Sant Ambroeus Soho location and — like at Craig’s — you’ll be blinded by the paps’ lenses as they snap Naomi Campbell, Taylor Swift, or Sarah Jessica Parker. (It’s fun and stressful to witness, almost like going on safari!)
Former Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Lisa Vanderpump had a quote to describe her small Los Angeles restaurant empire (which has its own celebrity following with fans like Jennifer Lawrence): “Villa Blanca is where you take your wife, SUR is where you take your mistress.” [Editor’s note: Villa Blanca is now permanently closed.] To rephrase it for our purposes: Craig’s is where you take your friend who follows E! News, and a nameless sushi restaurant in a Valley strip mall is where your famous friend takes you.
Mariah Smith is a comedian, writer and producer in Los Angeles.
Marylu E. Herrera is a Chicago-based artist with a focus on print media and collage.
Fact checked by Kelsey Lannin
Copy edited by Leilah Bernstein