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Villaraigosa: 'I Want My Picture on That Wall'
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Lucy Casado, owner of Lucy's El Adobe Cafe in Hollywood. Photo by Nadia Wehbe
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Lucy Casado, owner of Lucy's El Adobe Cafe in Hollywood. Photo by Nadia Wehbe

Politics: Once Jerry Brown’s hangout, Lucy’s El Adobe opens its doors to the new favorite son.

The moment Antonio Villaraigosa laid eyes on the eastern wall in the main room at Lucy’s El Adobe Cafe in Hollywood, he became like a child on Santa’s lap.

The wall is covered in photographs of some of the most prominent names in American politics and pop culture — from the late Hubert Humphrey to Ronald Reagan, from Dolly Parton to Drew Barrymore, from Cesar Chavez to Steven Spielberg.

For Villaraigosa, who has been on the cover of Newsweek and treated like a celebrity almost everywhere he goes, seeing this collection of a virtual Walk of Fame meant just one thing:

“I want my picture on that wall.”

When he repeated it a moment later, it almost sounded like a Christmas wish. After all, the person showing him the room and introducing him to each table of diners was wearing red, though it wasn’t Santa nor Mrs. Claus.

It was Lucy Casado, the owner of the popular Mexican restaurant on Melrose Avenue, which for more than two generations has been the political-cultural salon of Hollywood.

When he was governor, Jerry Brown used the restaurant’s west room for his virtual Los Angeles office as well as his rendezvous with Linda Ronstadt, who once cruised in on roller skates to give Brown a loving kiss while he met with two suits who looked on enviously.

Jackson Browne, Glen Frey and Don Henley of the Eagles, Jimmy Webb, the late Nicollette Larson, George Lucas, Gene Roddenberry among others have all called on their muses on Lucy’s.

One of the musicians on Lucy’s Wall of Fame is jazz saxophonist Mindy Abair who hit No. 1 on the jazz charts with a track titled “Lucy’s.” The night the song topped the charts, Lucy was dining with her friend Tom Selleck, who, upon hearing the news walked over and surprised Abair with his personal congratulations.

Abair, like many others in the music and entertainment industry, suggests that there is something mystical about Lucy’s El Adobe, some nourishing nectar beyond the margaritas and arroz con pollo that has always brought success to most who make regular pilgrimages there.

They offer, as example, Jimmy Hahn who for most of his 24-year political career swore by the ambrosia of El Adobe, even during the 2001 mayoral campaign when he overcame a primary setback to defeat Villaraigosa.

But then this year, though he had the Casados backing, Hahn made an offhand remark to Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez that dining at Lucy’s had become “cliché.”

Several months and a humiliating defeat later, Hahn is dining at taco stands in San Pedro, supplanted this night at Lucy’s by the politician for whom nothing is cliche, who at this moment has just one thing on his mind.

“I want my picture on that wall,” the mayor says for the third time.

Lucy Casado, however, is not your typical Los Angeles voter. She has seen charisma, and it alone is not enough. Witness Bill Clinton. His picture is not on her Wall of Fame.

Villaraigosa, at least, is in the running. She is open to the idea, though it is nothing she had considered one way or the other, even after he made history as becoming the city’s first Latino mayor in modern times.

And, to be sure, Casado is a diehard Latino loyalist. Her late husband, Frank, was one of the founders of the Mexican American Political Association, the state’s oldest Latino political organization.

But Lucy Casado, possibly even more than Frank, has been more discriminating in wearing her ethnicity on her sleeves. Having been around people with charisma and beautiful smiles in Hollywood all her adult life, she didn’t swoon over Villaraigosa four years ago and she remained loyal to Hahn last spring, cliché or no cliché.

Casado didn’t even think Villaraigosa would want to visit her restaurant until her friend, Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge insisted he join him for a fundraiser at El Adobe.

Olive branches aren’t on the menu, but this was clearly what was served by both sides.

Ever the suitor, Villaraigosa made it abundantly clear he wanted to belong. He met each of the cooks and waiters separately, and he dutifully stayed at Casado’s side as she showed off a part of his city that he had never seen before.

As for the picture on the wall, well, like all the good places in Hollywood, you have to stand in line.

Tony Castro can be reached at tcastro@laindependent.com.

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