Jay Fiondella, who opened Chez Jay in Santa Monica in 1959, died Thursday in Santa Monica at 82. Fiondella was a real Hollywood character who drew everyone from Frank Sinatra to Sean Penn to the little Ocean Ave. shack with the sawdust-covered floor for steaks, martinis and the famous potatoes au gratin with bananas.
Fiondella was also an actor, a real playboy and frequent visitor to the Playboy mansion, a trophy-winning hot air balloonist and a deep sea and Arctic treasure-hunter, according to his biographer Jon Stebbins. Some say Marilyn Monroe met JFK for pre-tryst drinks at Chez Jay; it certainly seems like the right kind of place for that, and Fiondella was friends with Peter Lawford, so it makes sense. The last time I walked by Chez Jay I snapped this picture and marvelled that it has lasted so long. Co-owner Michael Anderson will continue to run the restaurant, hopefully for a long time to come.