CVIndependent

Mon11302020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Happy Friday, all. Let’s get straight to the news:

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has died. NPR’s Nina Totenberg sums it up: “Architect of the legal fight for women’s rights in the 1970s, Ginsburg subsequently served 27 years on the nation’s highest court, becoming its most prominent member. Her death will inevitably set in motion what promises to be a nasty and tumultuous political battle over who will succeed her, and it thrusts the Supreme Court vacancy into the spotlight of the presidential campaign.” Thank you for working so hard for so long, Justice Ginsburg.

• Fires remain the big news in the west. The Los Angeles Times offers news on the nearby Snow fire, which was sparked by a burning car and has forced evacuations; and shares the awful news that a firefighter has died battling the El Dorado firethe one that was sparked by that gender-reveal party down the road near Yucaipa.

• On latest episode of How the CDC Turns: Now the official government guidelines again say that if you’ve been in contact with someone who has the coronavirus, you should get tested, even if you don’t have symptoms. CNN explains the craziness.

The president today announced he’s banning TikTok and WeChat from mobile-app stores as of Sunday. As a result, China is ticked off—as is the American Civil Liberties Union

• Yet more Census shenanigans: The San Francisco Chronicle is reporting that Census workers there were told their work was over—even though the entire city had not yet been surveyed. Key quote: “Several (workers) reported being offered counting jobs in Reno, Fort Bragg (Mendocino County) or the far reaches of the East Bay instead. But San Francisco, their supervisors told them, was fully counted even though statistics … showed that was far from the truth.” 

Also from the Chronicle comes this: “The Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, managed by the University of California but federally funded, has suspended its employees’ diversity training program by order of the Trump administration, which recently called such programs ‘divisive, anti-American propaganda,’ The Chronicle has learned.” Sigh. 

The Public Policy Institute just released a new poll regarding Californians’ feelings on all sorts of things. Turns out Californians like Gavin Newsom and Joe Biden, but aren’t wild about the idea of bringing back affirmative action.

NBC News takes a look at the problems some people, who want to vote by mail, are having in other states. Key quote: “Mississippi and four other states—Indiana, Texas, Louisiana and Tennessee—continue to limit vote-by-mail access and don't consider the pandemic to be a valid reason for absentee voting. Each state faces numerous legal challenges to the stymied access. With less than two months until Election Day, many voters remain confused about whether and how they can vote by mail. The uncertainty has the potential to affect voter access and, therefore, the outcomes of the elections themselves.”

• While we’ve been making good progress at stemming the figurative tide of COVID-19 around these parts, the number of new cases has doubled in much of Europe in recent weeks. And they’re soaring in Israel as well.

• Two professors, writing for The Conversation, make the case that “humanity can leverage the internet to collaborate and share innovations toward solving pressing societal problems” like COVID-19. How would this work? Well, for starters, they think we should make taxpayer-funded health efforts, like vaccines, open-source.

• A smidgen of good news: There’s yet more evidence that efforts around the world to slow the spread of the coronavirus are also tamping down the flu. MedPage Today has the update.

Can wearing eyeglasses decrease your chances of getting COVID-19? Data out of China indicates it’s a possibility.

• From the Independent: Andrew Smith worked at Lord Fletcher’s, the legendary Rancho Mirage joint, famous for its prime rib, that was one of Frank Sinatra’s favorite places to hang out. The owner announced last month he was closing the restaurant and putting it up for sale; here’s Andrew’s remembrance. Key quote: “The portrait of Frank Sinatra, framed and mounted behind his favorite table, always attracted the most attention. Michael Fletcher has hundreds of stories to tell, but the most notable is about the night that Sinatra and Alan Shepard jumped behind the bar to perform a duet of ‘Fly Me to the Moon.’”

• According to The Hill: “Aria DiMezzo, a self-described ‘transsexual Satanist anarchist,’ won the Republican primary for sheriff in Cheshire County, N.H., last week.” Wait, what?

• I was again a guest on the I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast this week, where I discussed the reopening prospects for Riverside County, among other things. Check it out!

• The year 2020 has brought the world a lot of things, most of them terrible. However, it will also bring the world its first Lifetime Christmas movie with a gay storyline. I just don’t know what to think anymore.

• And finally, Gene Weingarten, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Washington Post, writes about what happened after a neighbor asked him for a tomato. Trust me when I say you’ll want to read this—and read it until the end.

That’s enough for today. I am going to get together with some friends, socially distanced in a friend’s backyard, to toast the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The Digest will be back on Monday; have a great weekend despite all the chaos, everyone.

Published in Daily Digest

For more than a half-century, Lord Fletcher’s has stood as a landmark on Highway 111—so it was with great sadness that we learned in August that the restaurant would not reopen.

It was especially sad for me—because I worked there, and I had grown rather fond of the place.

Lord Fletcher’s had always closed for summer, but COVID-19 meant the closure happened extra-early this year, in March. The scheduled reopening in September seemed more and more unlikely the closer it got, but the expectation was still when rather than if.

Michael Fletcher, the owner, reached out to the staff a few days before the story hit the news. Around the restaurant, we’d heard quiet rumors that the family was open to offers. That made sense; Michael is in his 60s, and there was no apparent succession in place. He did mention a couple of factors privately, but I’ll just say that although the family could have weathered the financial effects of the pandemic, COVID-19 accelerated a decision which was likely imminent.

Opened by Michael’s father, Ron Fletcher, in 1966, the restaurant established itself as an intrinsic piece of local history. It was inspired by the countryside inns of his English homeland. At the time of its opening, it was a bold project, isolated and far from Palm Springs. However, it thrived, quickly attracting a wealthy and star-studded clientele.

The iconic exterior might seem a little dated, like a good, old English pub—and therein lies the charm. Inside, with its central fireplace, exposed brickwork, carpets and thick wooden tables, Lord Fletcher’s portrays warmth, comfort and authenticity. It is supplemented by a treasure trove of memorabilia that includes a grandfather clock, swords, lances, tapestries and centuries-old etchings. The expansive collections of Toby jugs and horse brass leave barely an inch of wall space uncovered. It’s a literal museum that brings a new discovery to even the most-frequent visitors.

Ironically, the portrait of Frank Sinatra, framed and mounted behind his favorite table, always attracted the most attention. Michael Fletcher has hundreds of stories to tell, but the most notable is about the night that Sinatra and Alan Shepard jumped behind the bar to perform a duet of “Fly Me to the Moon.” You get a sense of how deep the relationship ran when you learn that Ron and Michael were gifted front-row seats to a Sinatra show in London. Sinatra arrived onstage, halted the applause and then took a knee, telling the Fletchers that on this night, they were his guests. Frank was a regular for more than 30 years. Barbara Sinatra continued to return for many years with friends to reminisce.

Lord Fletcher’s golden era boasts an extensive list of celebrities. Lucille Ball had her own table, and other regulars included Bob Hope, Elizabeth Taylor, Kirk Douglas, Walter Annenberg, George Hamilton, Steve McQueen and Gerald Ford. More recently, Anthony Bourdain filmed an episode at the restaurant, accompanied by Josh Homme, of Queens of the Stone Age. We got the occasional celebrity in the restaurant during my time, but the golden era had faded to nostalgia.

While several remaining customers had been regulars since the opening, much of the clientele had passed away. There was revitalization and new life thanks to the modernism movement; as younger tourists flocked to the desert to witness its midcentury architecture, they also sought out the Sinatra experience. Therefore, the restaurant always remained profitable, but it wasn’t at the bustling levels of its heyday.

Just like the décor, the menu changed very little over the years. The salad, which was tossed tableside, got one small tweak about 40 years ago: The regular bacon bits were replaced by soy bacon bits. It was always amusing to hear newcomers convinced by their senior hosts when trying to modify the salad: “You take the salad the way it comes! It’s delicious!” There was Sinatra’s favorite, the delectable braised beef short ribs, as well as harder-to-find items like the chicken and dumplings, cooked in and served from the pot.

The main attraction, even more than Sinatra, was the prime rib. It was widely acknowledged as the best in the valley. I remember one party of late-night diners showing up unannounced. They’d told their cab driver they were going out for prime rib; the cab driver insisted on making a detour and brought them to Lord Fletcher’s. On another occasion, I waited on a couple in their 20s. They stood out, as it was rare that I had to ID someone for a drink. During our conversation, they informed me that they were prime rib afficionados. They made all their travel arrangements around prime rib restaurants, and they were in the Coachella Valley for the sole purpose of visiting Lord Fletcher’s. They left with the highest praise, putting Lord Fletcher’s ahead of renowned spots like Lawry’s and House of Prime Rib.

The bartender, “Sir” Andrew, had worked at Lord Fletcher’s for 17 years. He was only the third bartender in 54 years. He was noted for his skills and his ability to remember everyone’s regular libations. Such was the generosity of his pours that you never ordered a double, and rarely ordered a second. The signature Royal Brandy Ice had been the creation of the first bartender—a mixture of brandy, creme de cacao and praline ice cream. Sinatra had the recipe pinned on his fridge. If he couldn’t make it to the restaurant, his driver would swing by to pick up a tub of the ice cream.

Andy’s longevity behind the bar was exceeded by Chef Terry, who had worked in the kitchen since 1977. I also had the pleasure of working with an English waitress, Sam, who’d been at Lord Fletcher’s since 1972. Although officially retired, Sam still came in to help during the busiest shifts. Sam sadly passed away in 2019, making Sonny the longest-serving waitress. Sam trained Sonny when she first started in 1983.

While we employees could share his generosity and hospitality, Michael’s stories and memories were the real soul of the restaurant. That’s something that could never be replaced.

Modernization is inevitable. We’ve seen it with the passing of ownership at places like Mr. Lyon’s. At Lord Fletcher’s, the building has its own quirks and limitations that will necessitate a little renovation. Regardless, I hope that it sees a swift resumption of affairs, with a respect for its history and endearing charm. I’m sure that the rest of the Coachella Valley wishes the same.

Published in Features & Profiles

What: The Veal Marsala

Where: Lord Fletcher’s, 70385 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage

How much: $28

Contact: 760-328-1161; www.lordfletcher.com

Why: It’s a classic dish at a classic venue.

I recently celebrated a friend’s birthday at Lord Fletcher’s. Turns out Lord Fletcher’s is celebrating a birthday of its own.

Ron Fletcher opened the restaurant, offering “a touch of Olde England on Restaurant Row” in Rancho Mirage, back in 1966. That means Lord Fletcher’s—now owned and managed by Ron’s son, Michael Fletcher—this year is turning the big 5-0.

Given that most restaurants don’t even last one year, the fact that Lord Fletcher’s has been open for 50 years is an accomplishment that should be heartily applauded. Also worthy of applause: Lord Fletcher’s still offers a top-notch dining experience featuring classics including pot roast, prime rib and other hearty fare.

During that aforementioned birthday dinner, I ordered another classic: the veal marsala. It was prepared perfectly: The mushroom sauce was savory yet not too salty; the meat was tender enough to cut with a fork, yet still substantial enough to offer a pleasant mouth-feel. The accompanying vegetables and garlic mashed potatoes were also on the mark (although there could have been more potatoes, in my book). I’d also be remiss if I didn’t give a hearty shout-out to the house salad with palace dressing, which was simple yet fantastic. (The house salad or the soup of the day is included with the meal. Don’t shell out the extra $8 for the wedge; it doesn’t even include bacon, for Pete’s sake.)

It was a lovely meal with great friends in a unique yet classic setting. (All of the English knickknacks and works of art are a hoot.) Here’s to another 50 years, Lord Fletcher’s.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

I moved to the Coachella Valley some four years ago from Los Angeles, where I had worked in the media and entertainment industries for roughly 30 years. “Jaded” was my middle name.

Not long after my wife, Linda, and I took up residence in Palm Desert, we were invited to a "desert drink the night away" party where I first met Mike Taylor. He regaled all listeners with stories of his “salad days,” as he would say, bartending for many of the celebrities who roamed the Palm Springs-to-Rancho Mirage range back in the ’70s and ’80s.

To say that Mike is “an original” would be an understatement—and his storytelling skills have been honed to a glistening point over his years behind the bar.

In this video, longtime area bartender to the stars Mike Taylor recants some of his favorite tales of serving drinks to, and hanging around with, Ol' Blue Eyes himself. Saturday, Dec. 12, marked Frank Sinatra's 100th birthday, so kick-back, watch and enjoy just a few of Mike Taylor's funny moments with Sinatra and friends, and brace yourself for some heavy duty celebrity name-dropping in this four-minute ode to Mr. Sinatra.

Published in Snapshot