Sunday, July 22, 2007

Dinner before the concert

At the northwest corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Cherokee Avenue (between Highland and Vine), you'll find an old-fashioned restaurant which has become a Tinseltown landmark. Musso & Frank Grill is almost 80 years old, allowing it to lay claim to the title of "the oldest restaurant in Hollywood" - and it's still one of the most popular.

Virtually all of the other legendary restaurants of Old Hollywood have vanished from the scene: The Brown Derby, the original Chasen's, Ciro's, Romanoff's, the Trocadero... But Musso & Frank has survived and prospered, right in the center of downtown Hollywood.

Established in 1919, the first restaurant in Hollywood, Musso & Frank's has long been a hangout for screenwriters and assorted celebrities. Since the Writer's Guild was located nearby on Cherokee, it became a favorite watering hole of writers such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner (who mixed his own mint julips here), John O'Hara, Dorothy Parker, Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler - even Ernest Hemingway. "Sadly, most of these legendary authors were lured to Hollywood by studio money, and out of their element, many of them ended up drinking their lives away at the bar here.

Actors from the nearby studios also dropped by, starting as far back as the 1930's. Silent-movie star Tom Mix used to dine next to a window here, so his fans could see him. Charlie Chaplin liked their martinis; he and Paulette Goddard were regulars. Humphrey Bogart, the Warner brothers, Jack Webb and Peter Lawford also frequented the restaurant...

And the Musso & Frank Grill looks like the kind of dimly-lit place where Humphrey Bogart and Raymond Chandler would have hung out - the ultimate film noir setting. It's a clubby atmosphere, with wood-paneled walls, a place where the career waiters wear bright red jackets that match the red leather inside those high-sided mahogany booths. Chandler wrote "The Big Sleep" here.

Musso & Frank serves old-fashioned American/Continental food. The menu harkens back to years gone by; they serve Postum, but not expresso. Corn beef and cabbage (on Tuesdays), but no risotto. Coffee comes in small, individual pots. It's a place where you can still find shrimp cocktails, Welsh rarebit and jellied consommé on the menu. The restaurant's extensive choices include fine grilled meats and oyster stew for dinner, their famous flannel cakes for breakfast, and luncheon specials such as chicken pot pie (on Thursdays). Steaks, chops and grilled liver are always good here.

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