This story originally appeared on the Gents Cafe Newsletter. You can subscribe here.
When you read about restaurants and bars the latest and greatest is usually what makes the news. But as someone who tends to steer clear of food and drink trends (QR code menus, $25 mocktails, butter boards, etc.) I’ll take tried and true over shiny and new any day of the week. And for my money there is no place more tried nor true than The Musso and Frank Grill, the oldest restaurant in Hollywood.
If you’re a fan of classic films and stars such as Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, Myrna Loy, and Jimmy Stewart, you might feel a heavy sense of disenchantment when you first step out onto Hollywood Boulevard where people dressed as superheroes, Muppets, and Minions, pose for photos next to wide-eyed tourists. But since only tourists enter Musso and Frank from the Hollywood Boulevard side, it’s best to avoid the street altogether and slip through the rear entrance by the small parking lot where it is rumored Dashiell Hammett and Lillian Hellman ended their first date with a backseat romp.
Once inside you’ll be confronted with a dining room lined with booths on one side and a long counter on the other. This is the old room, opened in 1934 when Musso’s outgrew its space next door which opened in 1919. To the left, an open doorway reveals the new room, built in 1955. (Yes, it’s almost seventy years old and they still refer to it as “new.” Just part of the charm of M&F.) The new room is anchored by the restaurant’s original back room bar, behind which red-jacketed bartenders, some of whom look as though they’ve escaped from a nursing home, serve martinis with three ounces of gin but nary a drop of pretension. And the martini is what you have come for. Stirred gently and served in a small cocktail glass along with a sidecar resting on crushed ice to ensure the last swallow is just as sharp as that first magical sip. It’s somewhere between that first and last sip that time becomes distorted and you find yourself gazing at the dark wood paneling and decades-old pastoral wallpaper and imagining the Hollywood and literary royalty who’ve sat at that very bar. Icons like Raymond Chandler, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Rita Hayworth, Gary Cooper, and Groucho Marx.
Regulars don’t need to bother with the food menu, which has been virtually unchanged for a hundred years. In fact, only three people have held the title of executive chef in the restaurant’s history. Filet Mignon flame cooked over mesquite is the best seller, but be sure to start with an order of crisp, trimmed celery stuffed with Roquefort mousse, an hors d’oeuvre that wouldn’t be out of place at a cocktail party hosted by Don Draper.
The restaurant accepts credit cards but it’s worth paying in cash just to watch the bartender make change on a register that predates color television. And before you leave, pause by the door and take a look back at the Hollywood time machine you are about to exit. But don’t dismay, Musso and Frank will be there when you need it, and right where it has always been, in that hypnotic intersection of the past and the present.
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