WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — Bruce B. Bozzi has always been one of the chosen ones, a Ken doll who runs with other Ken dolls. They’re smart, muscled and successful. They all seem to have been photographed on Barry Diller’s yacht. The Met Gala? Been there, done that, sat with Tom Ford.
Mr. Bozzi recently added a vintage, shirtless photo of himself looking buff in the Hamptons to his Instagram profile. The actor-singer Cheyenne Jackson (see above qualities) left a one-word comment (“sex”), and Kathy Hilton responded with five fire emojis.
But even Adonises have dilemmas. Mr. Bozzi, 55, has lately been working through a tricky one.
“I’m not sure I would call it an identity crisis,” he said over lunch at the Sunset Tower in West Hollywood. “But it has been unnerving. And it has involved an identity that I lost — that died. So maybe ‘crisis’ is the right word.”
For 35 years, Mr. Bozzi worked at the Palm Restaurant Group, most recently holding the title executive vice president and running its celebrity-strewn Beverly Hills outpost. He previously oversaw Palm branches in New York City, East Hampton and Washington, becoming cozy with the A-list of the A-list along the way. At one point, he orchestrated a refresh of the Palm brand and became the international chain’s public face, cooking Palm Shrimp Bruno with Al Roker on the “Today” show. (“Ta-da!”) His Instagram handle was PalmStkMan.
Mr. Bozzi’s restaurant career was in many ways preordained: He is the great-grandson of Pio Bozzi, who opened the first Palm in 1926 in Manhattan with John Ganzi, a fellow immigrant from Italy. Over the decades, the Palm and its offshoots became luxury clubhouses for the media, political and legal elite. “I was the fourth generation in my family to do this, and I always kind of felt like I had to see it through, that I didn’t have a choice,” said Mr. Bozzi, who was raised in Queens and, later, Manhattan.
A court battle over inheritances (on the Ganzi side) ended that notion. Long, bitter story short, a judge in 2018 ruled against the chain’s owners — Mr. Bozzi’s father and a Ganzi heir — to the tune of $120 million, which led to bankruptcy. Landry’s, a hospitality company owned by the Texas billionaire Tilman Fertitta, bought the Palm’s remnants for $45 million in 2020. Mr. Bozzi quit as the deal was closing.
“It was a bad, bad ending to what had been a great family business,” Mr. Bozzi said. “Even though I didn’t own it, and it still exists in this new form, a part of me died.”
He went silent for a minute before shaking off the gloom. “In a way, it has been freeing,” he said. “I get to do what I want. The question is: What do I want? And that question leads to more questions. Who am I? What does my life mean?”
The more Mr. Bozzi thought about it, the more he realized that much of his identity came from others. He was “the son of” at the Palm. In 2016, Mr. Bozzi married Bryan Lourd, the all-powerful Hollywood agent, and became “the husband of.” In celebrity tabloids, Mr. Bozzi has long been identified as “the best friend of” Andy Cohen, the boisterous media personality; they have been BFFs for nearly 30 years. (Yes, Mr. Diller has hosted them on his yacht.)
“These relationships are extremely important to Bruce,” said Sarah Jessica Parker, who has been close to Mr. Bozzi since the 1990s. “But so much of his Palm life was about others — everybody else, everybody else — that I think he wants to be his own person and be seen as his own man.”
Mr. Bozzi toyed with opening a restaurant of his own, maybe a boîte with the speakeasy vibe of the original Palm. He looked at real estate in New York’s theater district but decided against it. “I still have too many wounds from the other,” he said.
Mr. Bozzi and Mr. Lourd, who live in Beverly Hills, also have a 14-year-old daughter. “I don’t want to be an absentee father,” Mr. Bozzi said quietly. “I almost never saw my dad as a kid.”
Instead, he has set out to become a liquor magnate and star podcaster.
Mujen Spirits, founded by Mr. Bozzi and a friend, Sondra Baker, began rolling out in November. It’s a line of Japanese shochu, a colorless and odorless spirit distilled from rice. Ms. Baker’s husband, Kenneth Orkin, a start-up investor and entrepreneur, is also a Mujen partner. The moneymaking opportunities are enticing: Casamigos, the tequila brand fronted by George Clooney, sold in 2017 for roughly $1 billion, and Aviation American Gin, co-founded by Ryan Reynolds, traded in 2020 for $610 million.
Mujen received a burst of publicity on Dec. 31, when Mr. Cohen and Anderson Cooper drank it while hosting CNN’s “New Year’s Eve Live.”
“It’s like a lovely Siren licking you from the seas of Odysseus,” gushed Mr. Cooper of the alcohol, which he was sipping on the rocks. Full-on soused, Mr. Cohen let loose on topics that included politics and rival shows, generating headlines.
“It can sneak up on you,” Mr. Bozzi said afterward, with a giggle.
Friendships with celebrities also inform Mr. Bozzi’s podcasting ambitions. In September, he fired off a text message to Jennifer Aniston. He has known Ms. Aniston since 1992 when, after graduating from the University of Southern California with a degree in communication, Mr. Bozzi spent several years trying with little luck to become an actor. (He worked nights at the Palm in West Hollywood.)
Would “Jen” be the first guest on “Lunch With Bruce,” his new SiriusXM podcast series? She texted him back in under a minute to say yes.
The resulting 53-minute conversation started in typical celebrity-interview fashion. Ms. Aniston dutifully recited her how-I-made-it story. He dutifully plugged “The Morning Show.” Then Mr. Bozzi asked about her love life, and Ms. Aniston actually dropped her armor. “I think I’m ready to share myself with another,” she said. “I didn’t want to for a long time.” (Her marriage to Justin Theroux ended in divorce in 2017.)
“Entertainment Tonight” raced to recycle the interview, as did People magazine and seemingly every other celebrity news outlet.
Mr. Bozzi made an even bigger “Lunch With Bruce” splash in October. The guest: Daniel Craig, who was staying with Mr. Bozzi and Mr. Lourd while promoting “No Time to Die,” his final James Bond movie. (Mr. Lourd is his agent.) Instead of chatting over a meal, they reminisced over rounds of martinis — uh, oh — and ended up on the topic of gay bars. Mr. Craig, who is married to the actress Rachel Weisz, once partied with Mr. Bozzi at a seedy one in Los Angeles.
“I’ve been going to gay bars for as long as I can remember,” Mr. Craig said. “I don’t get into fights in gay bars.”
Ka-boom! Global news coverage.
“James Bond in a gay bar is apparently a great headline,” Mr. Bozzi said, feigning innocence.
Since then, Mr. Bozzi and SiriusXM have parted ways, a result, in part, of his wanting to own the podcast. He said it would return in February, perhaps with a different name (“Hot Lunch” or “Served Fresh” are possibilities) and with sponsorship and distribution arranged through Kevin Huvane, a managing partner with Mr. Lourd at Creative Artists Agency.
“The chassis has been built,” Mr. Bozzi said of the podcast. “Now we’re going to lean in and make it more raw. No more working for the man!”
Mr. Bozzi’s knack for drawing celebrities out of their shells (alcohol aside) reflects his time as a restaurateur, friends say. “Bruce is an expert host who knows how to make everyone feel special, and that is a much harder job than anyone realizes when you are dealing with very wealthy, entitled, successful people,” Mr. Cohen said.
“I remember being in an airport once with him,” Mr. Cohen continued, “and we ran into someone who I just find kind of awful. And Bruce goes up to them and gives them the biggest kiss. He’s the nicest, most welcoming and open person to everyone, and it’s so wildly annoying to me.”
Because Mr. Bozzi is prone to oversharing, conversations with him rarely go where you expect.
“I didn’t even have a lot of sex then,” he told me, seemingly out of nowhere, about trying to become an actor in the early 1990s, a time when he was coming to terms with his sexuality. “It’s frankly a regret. You think you’re always going to have that 26-year-old-ness.” He paused to chug some water. “And now I’m on the cusp of 56. Fifty-six! I have to work hard to keep myself up — nutrition, fitness. Luckily, I like to sweat.”
I reminded him that he was speaking on the record. Yes, fine, he was aware. He then veered into his fondness for ice baths and infrared saunas; his daughter’s bus route to school; hanging out with drag queens; and Tootsie, his daughter’s pet Yorkie.
“He’s not naïve,” Ms. Parker said. “But he’s not ruined, either — he’s not cynical. What you see is what you get, and that’s not typical anymore.” They call each other “Smokey,” she added, having once put heavy eye makeup on each other.
There is one topic, however, that Mr. Bozzi froze up around: Mr. Lourd, who declined to be interviewed for this article.
Whenever I steered the conversation toward their life together — they dated for 10 years before marrying — Mr. Bozzi politely shut it down. “I don’t want to talk too much about that whole side of my life,” he said. “Our life is great. I’m a really lucky guy.”
“Bryan is the introvert, and Bruce is the extrovert,” Ms. Parker said. “During the early part of the pandemic, Bruce had a mask with sequins on it. Bryan had whatever he could get his hands on from Duane Reade.” The “extremely private” Mr. Lourd, she added, “finds Bruce’s flashy surface amusing.”
Perhaps. But one gets the impression that Mr. Lourd wouldn’t complain if Mr. Bozzi was a bit more reserved in public. Or a lot.
“I got in trouble with Bryan,” Mr. Bozzi told Mr. Craig on the podcast about their visit to the gay bar. In a 2020 appearance on Hot Takes & Deep Dives, a podcast, Mr. Bozzi told a story about how he had once kissed Madonna at a party — “full tongue” — and how Mr. Lourd had (jokingly?) responded with, “I can’t take you anywhere.”
During the same interview, Mr. Bozzi was asked whether Mr. Cohen, who produces the “Real Housewives” shows, would ever cast him as the franchise’s first male participant. Mr. Bozzi laughed. “Bryan would say, ‘The minute you do it is the minute I divorce you,’” he said.
In typical fashion, Mr. Bozzi then lightened the moment. Besides, he added, “I don’t know what my tagline would be as I do my turn holding my diamonds.”