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Everything Old is New Again

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There are a lot of places you can go to feel "LA." For most people, it’s a surface thing--to see the glitz and the glamour, maybe eat alongside some celebrities. You can go to Mozza, Katsuya, Geisha House and see the stars and eat great (well, except at Geisha House), but for some of us, Hollywood is a past as well as a present. And for us, Musso & Frank’s perseveres.

As the diners and Googie restaurants (including places that incorporate large plaster representations of food in their architecture) have closed one by one, and the Brown Derby, Chasen’s and thee Cocoanut Grove have given up the ghost, a stalwart few remain where one can go and have an experience exactly the same as someone in Golden Age of Hollywood--some fifty years ago.

All the famous twentieth century writers who swept through Hollywood, hoping to pick up a little of that movie money, came through Musso’s. Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Bukowski all had to consider the difference between a minute steak and a porterhouse on the menu here. Rumor has it Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks once raced to the restaurant on horseback. Faulkner mixed his own mint juleps here. Chandler wrote The Big Sleep in one of the booths.

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Like a lot of older places where food has been served, Musso & Frank’s does have a bit of a smell on entering, but unlike some of those places, the smell doesn’t remain. We walked through the more informal bar side, with its open tables, and its sour fluorescent light, but we’re seated on the other side, in one of the cozy high backed booths, facing twilit murals and surrounded by glowing dark wood. Waiters and busboys in red coats with tails, white shirts and bow ties zipped around, getting us menus, and rounds of perfect martinis (I prefer mine vodka and dirty – they bring them to you in small, 1950s sized glasses with an extra carafe on ice besides.) We looked around and one of my dining companions, said “This is what I always thought LA would be like.” I knew what he meant.

They gave us lots of space to study the menus, which was a good thing. Some of the stuff was just weird, and a lot of it was antiquated. I looked up some of it on Google so I could share it with you. There were a number of appetizers that involved “chiffonade” which I believe is a type of creamy jell-o*. Someone suggested that Welsh rare-bit was a rabbit, but in fact it is cheese melted on bread under a broiler. Who knew! And then of course, there’s always tongue. Generally with a nice raisin sauce. Some cow somewhere is having a hard time talking. I hear their flannel cakes (thin pancakes) are famous. They have jellied consommé, just like my grandmother used to serve on hot summer nights. There seems to be more liver than is ever called for.

We stuck to more familiar territory for our dinners. I had pot roast that came with weird looking gravy, but was actually very good. On the menu, it said it came with vegetables, by which they meant peas and carrots, steamed from fresh. My companions chose the roasted meats: pork chops and the Porterhouse steak. They came with fries, both shoe string and steak-cut. When I go next time, I think I’ll get some of the grilled meat. It was awfully good.

Now that Hollywood is Los Angeles, things that are old or not trendy seem to slip away. Musso’s watched the town fall down around it; everything became seedy and derelict. It’s there now, as the area has developed a trendy nightlife, and has been cleaned up some for the tourists and the kids. And, with a little luck, it will be there for the next incarnation of the place that is Hollywood, whether it’s grime or gold.

Musso and Frank’s Grill, 6667 Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA

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Sign photo by Adry Long, via Flickr, all others by Jacy for LAist

*Ed. Note: A Chiffonade Salad, as offered at Musso & Frank Grill is a salad made of items that are shredded and/or finely chopped and traditionally served with French dressing. --Lindsay William-Ross

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