At 90, Star-Powered Restaurant Has Stories Of Its Own
LIANE HANSEN, host:
Coming up, a Hollywood executive finds happiness as a Vermont baker. Stay with us.
First, Hollywood's oldest restaurant is celebrating its 90th birthday. Musso and Frank's Grill, known as Musso's, is even older than that iconic Hollywood sign put up on the hill in 1923. And in a town where trendy restaurants seem to sprout and wilt overnight, Musso's has thrived by remaining faithful to its traditions.
Reporter John McChesney recently visited the venerable film world haunt.
JOHN MCCHESNEY: Musso's sits on a somewhat tacky and tawdry block of Hollywood Boulevard, populated by tattoo parlors and head shops and a palm reader. But step into this red leather and mahogany interior, and you step into another world, another era. Sit at the old bar, and you run into passionate regulars like Martin Townsend, who's been coming here since 1953.
Mr. MARTIN TOWNSEND: You walk into this place - and I'm not just talking about me, I've got other regulars here and they say the same thing to me. You walk into Musso's, and it embraces you. Musso's is historical serenity.
MCCHESNEY: One source of Martin's serenity is a world-famous martini concocted by bartender Manny Aguirre.
Mr. MANNY AGUIRRE: It's good to the last drop.
(Soundbite of martini shaker)
MCCHESNEY: But customers here can also bask in a little reflected glory when they learn that many of the 20th century's literary giants sat at this bar: Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Dashiell Hammett, Nathaniel West, to name a few. And legend has it that William Faulkner mixed his own mint juleps here.
And diminutive 75-year-old Manny, who's worked the bar here for 20 years, seems to have served most of the movie heavies of the past half century.
Mr. AGUIRRE: Harrison Ford, Frances Coppola, Jack Lemmon, Cesar Romero - my God, you name it. I mean, I can - Jack Webb.
(Soundbite of pouring)
MCCHESNEY: The waiters here stand out in red-jacketed tuxedos, and they're all moving on in years. They're all male, and nearly all of them speak with a Spanish accent. Juan Ramos, 69, has been here 38 years. Just after we sit down, a blonde woman in a white, fur-fringed vest swoops in on him.
Unidentified Woman: Oh, there's that handsome man. He's such a big star.
Mr. JUAN RAMOS: Thank you very much.
Unidentified Woman: You bet.
MCCHESNEY: Juan blushes as she plants a big smacker on his cheek. The blonde sweeps on, unnamed. His famous customers, Juan says, appreciate his professional detachment.
Mr. RAMOS: One reason, I don't get impressed with them. They're celebrities, they're good actors. They're doing their job; I do mine.
Mr. JORDAN JONES (Owner/Manager, Musso and Frank Grill): You know, these guys have been here for longer than I have been alive.
MCCHESNEY: Meet Jordan Jones, who at 29, may be the youngest member of the Musso staff. He's also the fourth-generation owner/manager of the place. To learn the ropes, he started as a busboy. And his peppery staff are still giving him some history lessons.
Mr. JONES: Change is kind of a four-letter word around here. And so I wouldn't say that my family has any plans to change the place, but preserve it.
MCCHESNEY: Musso's menu is especially well-preserved. Jones finds a 1953 version in his great-grandfather's office, which is perched above the old dining room. The confusing format and the food are largely the same. Only the prices have changed dramatically. A dry martini was 55 cents. You can still find retro dishes on today's menu: chicken pot pie, liver and onions, squab, lamb kidneys and jellied consomme.
At night, the old, cast-iron, wood-fired grill is loaded with huge steaks. The copper sconces and wrought-iron chandeliers are glowing, and so are some of the regulars - like L.A. City Councilman Tom LaBonge.
Mr. TOM LABONGE (City Councilman, Los Angeles): This is the most special spot in Los Angeles. This is a real place. This has been here 90 years. Very few things in Los Angeles are 90 years old.
MCCHESNEY: But Musso's isn't just a nostalgic retreat. The entertainment industry continues its love affair with the place. An episode of the popular TV series "Mad Men" was recently shot here. And director Noah Baumbach spent a day here filming for his new movie, "Greenberg." No extras were hired; Musso's wait staff and regular customers were stars for a day.
For NPR News, I'm John McChesney.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.