Mr Dimitri Dimitrov

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Mr Dimitri Dimitrov

Words by Mr Sanjiv Bhattacharya | Photography by Bill Gentle

14 January 2016

We meet the maître d’ the celebs have on speed dial and discovers why manners are everything (but you should also dress well).

It’s not often a maître d’ is flown to New York to star in a Mr Bill Murray movie. But Mr Dimitri Dimitrov, the maître d’ at the Sunset Tower Hotel in Los Angeles, is in a class of his own. Friends with Mr Tom Ford, Mr Warren Beatty and Ms Nancy Reagan, he inspired Mr Ralph Fiennes’ character in The Grand Budapest Hotel, and he remembers Ms Sofia Coppola, the director of A Merry Murray Christmas, when she was a young girl.

“I love Bill!” he says, in his high-pitched Macedonian accent. “Last week when he was at the restaurant, he gave me a gift.” He pulls up the sleeve of his sharp grey suit to reveal a cheap Timex, not the vintage Baume & Mercier he usually wears. “Bill said, ‘Your watch is garbage. Throw it out!’ And all because it doesn’t do this.” Mr Dimitrov pushes a little button on the side of the watch and the face lights up electric green. “That is Bill!”

A small, slight man, dapper in a suit, Mr Dimitrov is a throwback to when hotel service was more than a stopgap for actors trying to break into the business. Always the last to enter a lift, and the first with a compliment, Mr Dimitrov’s is the hand at your elbow, gently encouraging. “Please, sir, after you. Welcome.”

But his submissive manner belies his power. In a city obsessed with status, Mr Dimitrov holds the keys to the most exclusive tables in town. During awards season, most Los Angeles establishments brace themselves for a celebrity onslaught, but for Mr Dimitrov, this is business as usual. “These people are our regulars,” he shrugs.

The elite of Los Angeles traditionally congregate in only a handful of places in town, each run by men like Mr Dimitrov who understand their particular needs. Morton’s used to be the spot, or The Polo Lounge and, before that, Chasen’s. But today, under Mr Dimitrov, The Tower Bar has become the place where Messrs Elon Musk and Johnny Depp hold meetings, where Mr Jeffrey Katzenberg and Ms Betsy Bloomingdale rub shoulders with Ms Katy Perry and Mr Kanye West.

“If you misbehave, we don’t want your money. Manners, behaviour is very important. And please dress well”

“We are like the coffee shop for the social elite,” he says. “The menu is bistro, comfort food. Everything is familiar. We are not experimenting with gingers and vanillas. No no no, this is plain food. People come for a fast dinner and then go.”

Simplicity is key. At Hearst Castle in the late 1920s, Mr William Randolph Hearst, at the time the richest man in the US, would host the likes of Messrs Charlie Chaplin and Clark Gable with ketchup and mustard on the table. The truly accomplished like to remember their childhoods, a life before money, when they could be themselves. They have no interest in molecular cuisine and bells and whistles, which is more about the chef anyway. “We are only about the guests,” Mr Dimitrov says. “It’s not about us. Never.”

Naturally, his high-profile guests get special attention. When Mr Ringo Starr was in last week with Mr Dave Stewart, he didn’t have to mention that he prefers lightly steamed vegetables, no salt or butter – the kitchen already knew. Its list of high-profile dietary habits is long.

“I look after them because they enhance the pleasure of everyone else,” says Mr Dimitrov. “If you have young girls, so beautiful, well you can’t hide them, so put them in the centre. They give such a buzz and vibe. But not just entertainment people, no no no. Mr Elon Musk, I adore him. If people see him, they are just, ‘Oh my God,’ and the memories last for ever.”

Mr Dimitrov likes to mix it up, between the old glamour and the new – to sit a young Ms Kate Mara next to Ms Betsy Bloomingdale, who is in her nineties. And he’s a walking Who’s Who in Southern California, or as he puts it, “a student of social structure”. Required reading includes People, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, The Economist and The Wall Street Journal. He knows which star is with which agent, who just got promoted and who’s getting divorced – and he seats them accordingly.

Take regular Mr Depp, for instance. “He has come 60, 70 times, and these people, it’s more their restaurant than mine. But beyond him, you have to know Tracey Jacobs, his agent, and Jim Berkus, who is head of UTA [United Talent Agency]. And these people also have their people.”

And when Mr Dimitrov can’t recognise someone, there are other cues. “Clothes can tell you about status, but also the skin, the texture. I can see who uses the spa. This is part of what I do. Successful people are very humble, I find. And they have a confidence that is unforceful. No one placed them at the top; they earned it.”

“Successful people are very humble, I find. They have a confidence that is unforceful. No one placed them at the top; they earned it”

There are those who haven’t earned it, of course, such as a certain Saudi prince who created a scene when Mr Dimitrov didn’t give his bodyguards their own table of four. “Oh my God, I just had to step on the ground,” he says. “Because you cannot buy us. If you misbehave, we don’t want your money. Manners, behaviour is very important. And please dress well. You must respect the place.”

Another of Mr Dimitrov’s values is that when he sees someone’s status fall in this sometimes cruel city, he continues to treat them as though they were at their height. The ex-mayor of Los Angeles, Mr Antonio Villaraigosa, used to come in with assistants and bodyguards and got the full treatment. “He’s not the mayor now, but I don’t want him to notice a difference,” says Mr Dimitrov. “He may be governor in the future. You never know.”

No doubt, Mr Dimitrov’s star has risen and risen. His story is one of dreams that come true, so far beyond his imagination that to think of it today, he shakes his head and holds his hand to his heart. “I get goose bumps,” he says. “It makes me cry.” He grew up in communist Macedonia, and had a modest upbringing, with a housewife for a mum and a father who made shoes. “Not even shoes, only slippers.” And he would dream of Hollywood. “I knew that Los Angeles had bright colours, something positive. And we were just in this grey atmosphere. I would read about Warren Beatty when I was 10 years old, and today he is my friend. My life has been incredible.”

He went to London and devoted himself to the service industry, starting in Covent Garden in the 1970s, before moving to the Ritz-Carlton Montreal, where he served the Queen and Ms Indira Gandhi. He still harks back to that era of service. He came to Hollywood in the 1980s to run Russian restaurant Diaghilev, and it was there that he met Mr Tom Ford, who changed his life.

“Kindness is the most important lesson in life. I treated Tom Ford with kindness and respect and it came back to me”

When Mr Ford became Gucci’s creative director in 1994, he held a party at Diaghilev. Then, a decade later, unbeknown to Mr Dimitrov, the owner of the Sunset Tower Hotel, Mr Jeff Klein, was asking Mr Ford whom he should hire as his maître d’. Mr Ford recommended Mr Dimitrov.

“This is the most important lesson of life,” says Mr Dimitrov. “Kindness. I treated Tom Ford with kindness and respect at Diaghilev, and it came back to me in this wonderful way. Everything is connected.”