Musso and Frank Grill – the oldest restaurant in Hollywood

In a continuing series of looking at Hollywood restaurants where some of the scenes in my novels take place:

Musso and Frank Grill

Musso and Frank Grill, on Hollywood Blvd

Musso and Frank Grill, on Hollywood Blvd

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.

Musso and Frank Grill, on Hollywood Blvd

Musso and Frank Grill, on Hollywood Blvd

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.)

Musso and Frank Grill, on Hollywood Blvd

Musso and Frank Grill, on Hollywood Blvd

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.’

Musso and Frank Grill advertisement

Musso and Frank Grill advertisement

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.

About martinturnbull

The Hollywood's Garden of Allah novels blog is by Martin Turnbull, a Los Angeles based historical fiction author writing about the golden era of Hollywood in his series of novels set at the Garden of Allah Hotel, which stood on Sunset Blvd from 1927 to 1959. Check him out at www.martinturnbull.com and Facebook: "gardenofallahnovels"
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4 Responses to Musso and Frank Grill – the oldest restaurant in Hollywood

  1. Jo says:

    Martin,
    I happened onto your blog this morning–you know how it is, google one thing, end up in Hollywood–and have read every entry on your blog. It is its own book! I love the title, both plaintive and familiar. Less enthralled with the spots-in-Hollywood entries, but when I read the book I may return to them.
    I too go the rounds with poetry manuscripts. I have been lucky–have had 2 chapbooks accepted for publication, one in fall 2010 and one coming out next month. I also indie-published a small format chapbook (approx. 4 by 6 1/2 inches).
    I love the final cover of your book. Your website looks good. (I could not navigate wordpress so used webstarts.) Are you going to add a purchase-the-book-option? I also did not know about Guru.com, plan to register as a poetry editor. I find I can edit other people’s writing better than I can my own (not talking about the grammer-spelling-punctuation part). Now it’s the getting out there, and finishing those next 8 books! Well, I’m hooked on your blog–now bookmarked– and look forward to reading your novel(s).
    Jo

    • Hi Jo, how delightful to hear from you! Thank you for reading my blog! ALL of them?? Really?? Thank you! I’m very flattered.

      You’re not the only one who has said that about my spots-in-Hollywood but I’ve been reading lately how to build an author platform and the consensus seems to be that it’s better to blog about your subject rather then your book. It establishes your (online) authority in your chosen field, which makes sense. Plus while I was querying agents it was okay but now there isn’t enough going on with my book to fill a weekly blog, let alone twice-a-week or three-times-a-week! So I thought I’d mix it up with entries about places featured in my novels.

      I’m so glad to hear that you like the cover of my book. My book designer was terrific to work with and he came up with exactly the sort of thing I had in my mind but could never have created in a million years! So I’m very happy with it. And my website too. How did you find working with webstarts? Was it easy to navigate? Yes, wordpress can be a bit tricky but I’ve (so far) managed to muddle through it and am pleased with the results.

      Yes, when I got the sample edit from my editor ALL THAT RED was a bit of a shock! But when I read through the edits they made a lot of sense and CLEARLY showed that my manuscript wasn’t nearly as ready as I assumed and I needed someone to rip through with a machete. Fortunately Meghan is great at that and I”m looking forward to getting the whole thing back at the end of the month. I found Meghan on Craig’s List so that might be a useful avenue for you but yes, I suggest you look into Guru.com – it proved to be a terrific resource for me.

      Thanks again for emailing me and I’m very happy you’ve enjoyed blog!

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