In a continuing series of looking at Hollywood restaurants where some of the scenes in my novels take place:
Musso and Frank Grill
Given that, in Hollywood, people, places, trends and the current definition of ‘hip’ come and go like last week’s MovieTone news reel, Musso and Frank Grill’s position as the oldest restaurant in Hollywood t’ain’t nothing to be sneezed at. Very few places in Hollywood have lasted more than a decade or two before they’re resold, redecorated, repackaged and relaunched into something different. The famous Hollywood eateries like Sardi’s, the Brown Derby, Chasen’s, Mike Lyman’s Hollywood Grill, the Seven Seas, the Fog Cutter, the Gotham, the Cock and Bull, Scandia, and Nickodell’s have all come and (long) gone, but Musso and Frank Grill, at 6667 Hollywood Boulevard (originally 6669 Hollywood Boulevard until they moved next door in the mid-30s) can lay claim to being a central part of the Hollywood social scene for over 90 years.
It was the year 1919 when Joseph Musso and Frank Toulet first opened the doors to their restaurant. In 1922 they hired Jean Rue as head chef and there he stayed…for 53 years. During that same era they hired Jesse Chavez as the head waiter…and he stayed on for 50 years. Apparently not only was Musso and Frank Grill a damned decent place to eat and drink, but it was also a hell of a place to work.
For the next thirty years as Hollywood evolved into its golden age, pretty much everyone ate at Musso and Frank. According to a 1935 Screen and Radio Weekly article, Charlie Chaplin was fond of the broiled lamb kidney and lamb curry and rice, as well as the Irish stew and also the duck. Valentino liked the spaghetti (and enjoyed being able to converse with the waiters in his native Italian), Gary Cooper liked the tenderloin steak with baked potato, Ginger Rogers preferred rum cake for dessert over the Grill’s more famous funnel cake, while Joel McCrea enjoyed his New York cut steak rare with a chiffonade salad on the side. (I had to look up what a chiffonade salad was and found I was glad it went out of favor. It was a salad made up of radicchio, arugula, lemon, blue cheese and Belgian endives. BLEECH! The only thing I like from that list is the lemon.)
As a well-known haunt, Musso and Frank really hit its heyday in the 1930s and 40s. Since the Writer’s Guild was located nearby on Cherokee and next door was the most famous book shop in Hollywood–the Stanley Rose Bookstore which Musso and Frank took over in the 1950s after Rose’s death (the space is still called the New Room even though this happened over 55 years ago)–it became a favorite watering hole of writers such as F. Scott Fitzgerald (whose The Great Gatsby is currently being remade in Australia), William Faulkner (who mixed his own mint juleps there), John O’Hara (author of BUtterfield 8), Dorothy Parker, Ernest Hemingway, Nathanial West (author of the Hollywood masterpiece, The Day of the Locust), Budd Schulberg (who wrote probably the best Hollywood novel, What Makes Sammy Run), and Dashiell Hammett (author of The Maltese Falcon).
Raymond Chandler, creator of the famous Phillip Marlowe detective, was also a frequent customer…apparently very frequent as it is said that he wrote his second Marlowe novel–The Big Sleep–at Musso and Frank. It’s hard to say now if that’s actually true or not but it’s possible: the Musso and Frank Grill is mentioned by name in the book.
That’s quite a collection of articulate and erudite people–you can imagine the conversations around the old-school red leather and mahogany booths. Those booths are still there although at the time they wouldn’t have been considered ‘old school’…I guess back then they just would have been considered ‘school.’
What makes this place even more unusual is that the décor, ambiance, menu and bar haven’t changed very much since the 1920s. Wisely, the current operators of Musso and Frank (who, incidentally, are the descendants of those earlier owners) have stuck to a ‘if it ain’t broke then don’t fix it’ philosophy. Musso and Frank is one of the few places left in Hollywood where you can go and experience what it must have been like to dine out during Hollywood’s golden era.