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Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006

Spot the celebs

Globe and Mail
Saturday, Aug. 30, 2003

Whole Foods Market, 10:30 a.m.: A man with a striking resemblance to Danny DeVito is gesticulating at the deli.''I just want something light for between screenings,'' he says loudly enough for two nearby publicists to hear. ''What can you get me?''

A Whole Foods' ever-accommodating "team member" smiles and extends a sample over the counter. "How about an empanada?"

He says no to that -- he's had a bagel this morning -- till she finds him some tortellini. Then he walks away, beaming.

We know two things: One, he's no Atkins dieter. The other is that if it's Friday, this must be the film festival, where celebrities and their people have descended en masse to unlikely hot locations such as this one.

In the 27 years since Toronto started hosting its international film festival, restaurants and bars -- such as Sassafras, Bistro 990 and the new Lobby, on the walkout level of the Metropolitan Hotel -- have traditionally been the place for celebrity spotting. But in an increasingly time-pressed festival circuit, clandestine celebrity-spotting can now be achieved at less likely sites. Time was, the rich and famous had their place apart and, officially, they still do -- as anyone knows who has looked on from outside the VIP cordons at parties and movie premieres the public has no hope of getting into.

Celebrities are people too, and at any given time of day, they have needs. Take Whole Foods (87 Avenue Rd.), where a swarm of people in black has descended for quick noshing between morning screenings at the Cumberland theatre. Producers are stalking salads while a group of thin actors has discovered Whole Foods' policy of infinite sampling -- just like a cocktail party, only the conversation is about the food, not Ben Affleck and J.Lo.

This year's move of film-festival headquarters from the Four Seasons to the Dundas-area Delta Chelsea should bring even more aficionados to the Brass Rail (701 Yonge St.), the after-work adult-entertainment venue popular with movie people. The newer Upper Brass (699 Yonge St.) even has a VIP area and a dress code. "Lots of guys come from the film festival at night," the manager says. "They're just regular customers."

That's not quite the case at Suspect Video (605 Markham St. and 619 Queen St. W.), where shop talking takes on a whole new meaning this time of year. Effective schmoozing is one of the pressures of the festival, and Suspect, always a destination for film buffs in the know, becomes a resource for boning up for meetings, or just hanging out with new friends.

"We get all kinds of fun people," says Bob Loblaw of Suspect's Queen location. "Sam Jackson, Quentin Tarantino, Tony Todd, Stacy Valentine." Stars tend to buy rather than rent, although some, like Samuel Jackson, maintain memberships. Suspect doesn't court the festival; most film types come to them through word of mouth.

"You know -- Samuel Jackson and Quentin Tarantino pop by for a visit and they tell two friends, who tell two friends," Loblaw says.

Some celebrities' needs are more immediate than film trivia -- such as the Cosabella thong, the starlet's best defence against red-carpet panty line. There's no place like Augustina (138 Cumberland St.) for last-minute accessorizing, lingerie and the ubiquitous Film Lunch T-shirt (Petit Bateau); reportedly, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen make regular visits.

Owner Christina Burgess keeps the store open later for the festival to accommodate clients.

"We get a lot of people running errands for celebrities for things that they need." Over the years, they've developed a special relationship. "Although we don't sell toothpaste," she says, laughing.

For that, places such as 24-hour Rabba Fine Foods (37 Charles St. W., and locations around town) and Yorkville's Second Cup, whose patio last year harboured French producers hosting serial meetings, lend the festival a surprisingly democratic tinge.

Parker Posey likes the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art (111 Queen's Park). And the hotbed of celebrity shopping is Holt Renfrew: Every afternoon, sudden changes of plan bring last-minute dress emergencies to the second floor, where personal shoppers are happy to assist. Ditto the Paper Bag Princess (287 Davenport Rd.), whose vintage dress-and-celebrity pairing maven Elizabeth Mason recently opened a film-industry addition with an extra 1,000 square feet.

No place has more connections than Juice for Life (521 Bloor St. W., and 894 and 336 Queen St. W.), with a guest roster that lists Woody Harrelson, Sidney Poitier, Jon Voight, Willem Dafoe, Eric Stolz,, Salma Hayek, Reese Witherspoon, Joseph Fiennes, and Wesley Snipes.

"Woody Harrelson and the Olsen twins have been in recently," says Henry Pak, manager of the Bloor Street store.

What's amazing about the celebrity-Juice for Life connection is that, unlike the traditional star hangout, the place doesn't take reservations or offer a private room. It's just health food. Most stars eat with regular folk, although takeout orders -- especially for fresh-squeezed juice blends -- can be huge. "We accommodate everyone as much as possible," Pak says. "It's usually pretty easy to get a seat."

Cigar stores are a destination for puffers such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bill Cosby -- to the extent that smoking lounges in Yorkville and on King Street can be hard to get into. But a little-known place to spot limos on the way to the airport is Chez Tabac (1724 Avenue Rd.), which keeps the espresso machine running, offers a discount to film people and is installing a slot machine offering gifts with purchases this year. Owner Marty Spring started that when he noticed that receipts started spiking at this time of year.

"The typical smoker might spend $25 to $30 for a smoke," he says, "whereas the average person visiting the city for something like this might spend $800, $1,200 or even more." Spring has regular VIP clients but keeps the espresso on tap for anyone who wants to drop by.

"I keep a 'mi casa es su casa' environment," he says. "People who come here always come back."

But even amid the festival crowds, he wants you to know he's got lots of parking. "There's a big LCBO with a nice Vintages department right here," he says. "For the 1,000 people you're going to send us, they won't have any trouble." ROBTv Workopolis