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Chandelier bartender honored

There was a crowd of at least 60 people in the Winners’ Circle at Santa Anita Park following the fifth race on Jan. 31. A horse by the name of Devine Actress had won the race, but that wasn’t what drew so many people.

Larry Stewart

Larry Stewart

They were there to honor legendary bartender Frank Panza, who’s been serving libations in Santa Anita’s Chandelier Room since 1961.

“I didn’t know I had that many friends,” Frank said afterward. “That was the biggest Winners’ Circle crowd yet,” said Randy Fowler, the head of the food and beverage department and one of Frank’s bosses. “It was the biggest this meet and one of the biggest ever.”

I became an occasional visitor to Santa Anita after becoming a sportswriter for the old Herald Examiner in 1969, and began frequenting the track a little more after moving to Arcadia in 1978. That was also the year I went to work for the Los Angeles Times.



I have always loved the Chandelier Room, which is in the Turf Club. The ambience is hard to beat and you never knew what celebrities you might run into. Sure, the Frontrunner, which opened in 2000, is more modern and hip, but I’ll take the Chandelier Room any day.

Chandelier room bartender Frank Panza (bottom center, pink tie) is honored in the Winners' Circle following a race at Santa Anita Park.

Chandelier Room bartender Frank Panza (bottom center, pink tie) is honored in the Winners' Circle following a race at Santa Anita Park. Benoit photo.

I really didn’t get to know Frank very well until I became an every-day regular at the track after taking over the horse racing beat for the Times in 2007 and then moving on to the Thoroughbred Times, a national publicaton.

Over the past three years, I always make a point of visiting Frank. I love his stories involving some of the people he has served over the years – Robert Mitchum, Greer Garson, Ava Gardner, Cary Grant, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez, John Wayne, Gregory Peck, Clark Gable, Betty Grable, Harry James, Bob Hope, Telly Savalas, Walter Mathau, James Darren, Liz Montgomery, Farrah Fawcett, Mickey Rooney, Mickey Cohen, David Jansen, Phil Harris. I could go on and on. But you get the picture.


If you want to hear stories such as that one, come to the Chandelier Room and sit down at the large marble-top bar. Frank will be there, and he has got a million of ’em.


Frank later said so much was going that he really hadn’t been able to hear much of what Denman said. “Did he mention my son went to Notre Dame?” Frank asked. Frank Jr., who works in the export-import business in San Francisco, is a 1980 graduate of Notre Dame. Assured that Denman had mentioned that, Frank said, “I’m very proud of my son.”

On his day at Santa Anita, Frank Panza had a lot of be proud of.

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