DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Here in LA, for a hundred years now, generations have eaten at a restaurant that says it is the oldest in Hollywood. Stars, studio heads, writers have settled into Musso & Frank's red leather booths to negotiate, gossip, drink and, oh, yeah, eat. NPR special correspondent Susan Stamberg went to see how Musso's is doing in its centennial year on Hollywood Boulevard.
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SUSAN STAMBERG, BYLINE: The restaurant opened before there was a Hollywood sign. The Musso & Frank Grill is such an institution, it's listed in the book "1,000 Places To See Before You Die," such a showbiz staple that "The Kominsky Method" pals on Netflix have lunch there every day.
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STAMBERG: Alan Arkin, as Agent Norman Newlander, watches Musso's ancient, bent-over waiter shuffle slowly to his booth. In a red jacket and bow tie, his silver tray shakes as he slowly delivers Norman's martini, two olives in an icy glass. Norman's pal, Kominsky, arrives. Alex, the waiter, shuffles back with Kominsky's regular slowly. It takes an eternity.
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ALAN ARKIN: (As Agent Norman Newlander) Look at this. For you, he runs.
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SONNY DONATO: What we do is, we don't shake 'em.
STAMBERG: Sonny Donato has been making Musso's famous $13 martini for seven years.
DONATO: We stir the ice. That keeps the alcohol from being what they call bruised. We have all of our glassware chilled.
STAMBERG: Gin, or vodka?
DONATO: Well, traditional, always gin.
STAMBERG: Olives, or lemon peel?
DONATO: We go olives, unless people specify.
STAMBERG: It's always about what the customer wants. Full disclosure - we are recording at 11:00 a.m. For journalistic integrity, this reporter felt obligated to try the martini.
Oh, my goodness. Perfection. Look at this. Look at this. Calf's liver. Lamb kidneys. The menu has food my father loved.
It would take many martinis to order some of it.
Calf's sweetbread. Tongue. Liver and onions, Rolling Stone Keith Richards' favorite. Sauerbraten. Chicken pot pie.
MARK ECHEVERRIA: We serve comfort food.
STAMBERG: Mark Echeverria is Musso's fourth-generation owner-operator. They have updated lots of the menu, lightened it, slimmed it down. But...
ECHEVERRIA: People want to know that they can come into a restaurant and get that dish that they had 30 years ago. The Welsh rarebit. That's for me. Waiter Sergio Gonzalez (ph), he stands up straight and moves at a pace. Sergio has doubts - are you a cheesy girl? Assured that I am, he brings a warm metal platter with a swimming pool of melted cheese and a big spoon.
SERGIO GONZALEZ: It has a cheddar cheese sauce with beer.
STAMBERG: Isn't there Worcestershire sauce in there?
GONZALEZ: Yeah. Worcestershire sauce, too. I'm sorry. And a little bit - a little dash of Tabasco, too.
STAMBERG: Served over toast points with - for my diet - some slices of tomato. Delicious. Sergio's pleased.
GONZALEZ: Some people order Welsh rarebit, and they don't even know what Welsh rarebit is. Where's the rabbit?
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Where is the rabbit?
GONZALEZ: Where's the rabbit?
STAMBERG: They want to know, where's the rabbit...
GONZALEZ: Yeah, rabbit. No, no, no.
STAMBERG: ...In the Welsh rarebit.
GONZALEZ: No, no. It's not rabbit. It's Welsh rarebit. Oh. 'Scuse me. (Laughter).
STAMBERG: Wonder if movie star patrons Clooney and Pitt, maybe Johnny Depp, like Musso's Welsh rarebit? Or earlier regulars, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Dorothy Parker, William Faulkner? Owner Mark Echeverria says Musso's started as a writers' hangout.
ECHEVERRIA: The Screen Writers Guild was actually across the street. Back in the '20s and the '30s, these studios were hiring novelists to come and write screenplays.
STAMBERG: William Saroyan, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald.
ECHEVERRIA: He even mixed his own mint juleps behind the bar.
STAMBERG: The movie moguls didn't like what those guys wrote.
ECHEVERRIA: Studio execs would just hack it. And then the novelist would come to the Screen Writers Guild to complain and then walk across the street and get drunk at Musso's. (Laughter).
STAMBERG: Film and TV people still come to Musso's, especially on Thursdays for the chicken pot pie. Waiter Sergio Gonzalez has served them for 47 years, almost half the life of the place. Sergio, 66 now, just works lunches. It's good exercise, he says, walking all day. Hard on the feet.
GONZALEZ: You have to wear the right shoes. Spend a lot of money on that. Because I know. If you don't have good shoes, at the end of the night, oh, my God.
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STAMBERG: For a century now, through droughts, downpours, mudslides, fires, earthquakes, there's been Musso & Frank's. I have a friend, Barry (ph), who worked nearby during the big Northridge quake in 1994. The town was terrified. Afterward, Barry had dinner at Musso's. It was business as usual, he says, packed. Everyone needed comfort food that night.
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STAMBERG: I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR News.