Sad times for friends of the HollywoodItaewon endured one of its saddest days in recent memory on Sept. 23, when the news went out that Barry Dorscher, who ran the Hollywood Grill, had died that morning in a motorcycle accident in Thailand.
Barry had been on vacation with friends, so it was they who conveyed the bad news to folks in Seoul. From there, word got out to Barry’s many friends here via anguished phone calls and text messages.
That night an impromptu memorial service was held at the Hollywood Grill. Loved ones set up a small, touching shrine in one of the booths, with a big photo of Barry smiling happily, and an album for people to write their farewells. People who’d heard the news ― and there were many ― came by to share their sorrow with hugs and tears.
Barry’s funeral was held last Saturday, at the Memorial Chapel of the Seoul Union Church in western Seoul. The church is adjacent to the Foreigners Cemetery, where his remains were eventually laid to rest.
The night before, his many friends had again filled up the Hollywood for a wake. From about midnight, 10 or 15 people gave short tributes, led by Sonny Mellon, Barry’s best friend and Air Force buddy.
Mr. Mellon first met Barry in 1979, when both were stationed at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California. He said Barry proved right away to be an exceptional linguist and interpreter; both were assigned to the Air Force base at Osan in 1980, and they became close friends over the next three or four years.
But most people who knew Barry didn’t think of him as a scholar or a cadet. They think of, and thank him for, the great bar he started, the Hollywood, right after he retired from the Air Force in 1994.
The original bar, located where its successor the Hollywood Grill is now, had loads of character; it was jam-packed on Fridays, Saturdays and even some weeknights. On Sunday afternoons, Barry would show movies on his big-screen TV, a special treat in those days. Hungover locals would try to get there early and stake out the best booths.
The Hollywood really took off the next year, when Barry expanded it to the second floor, where the restaurant La Tavola is now. From the get-go, the new section, more like a nightclub, was phenomenally popular. Some nights you couldn’t get in unless you knew Barry, or Marcel the doorman.
Back in the here and now, the good news is that the Hollywood Grill will remain open. Barry’s 21-year-old son Shawn, who’d been helping out over the last year, will take over, and a co-manager, Eugene Kang, will remain on board.
Mr. Kang reassured me that he and Shawn “won’t change a thing.” So yes, the Grill will still be there. It will still serve up the best steaks in town, and it will still be the friendliest place to down a few. But it’ll never be the same.
by Mike Ferrin