Inside LA - The Los Angeles Lowdown

Musso & Frank Grill: Hollywood Institution

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Musso and Frank’s Grill today.

This week Musso & Frank Grill announced that they are reopening on May 10, for Mother’s Day celebrations and, having originally opened up just as the Spanish Flu pandemic was finally petering out in 1919, it seems hugely appropriate that this venerable and much loved institution should be one of the first to reopen as our Covid pandemic eases up, just over a hundred years later. So what better moment is there to look back at the life and times of this Hollywood eatery to the stars?

On our LA In A Day Tour and The Real Hollywood Tour we pay respects to Musso & Frank Grill, which opened when Hollywood was something of a Bohemian enclave, seven miles from the political, financial and commercial center of Los Angeles, which at that time was downtown. Back in those days, Charles Chaplin would arrive with his employees, galloping down Hollywood Boulevard on horseback like they were making a Western movie – and whoever came last would pick up the tab! The party kept their eyes on the horses from the only booth with a window view, which is still known as “the Chaplin booth” and is, so I’ve been told, by far the most requested table at the restaurant.

Chaplin at Musso and Frank Grill
Charles and Oona Chaplin at Musso & Frank.

Musso and Frank’s has changed little in its first hundred years of business, inside the Hollywood history is almost palpable. The menu and cocktails are exactly how you would want them to be, timeless classics, and the clientele continue to include the movers and shakers of the entertainment industry. As a movie location, Musso and Frank’s has featured in several notable films including Ed Wood (1994), Oceans Eleven (2001) and Chaplin (1992). 

The Hollywood icon, originally named Francois, opened in 1919, with the feel of a New York cafe and was an immediate hit with the East Coast movie crowd, who nicknamed it Frank’s. When owner Frank Toulet teamed with restaurateur Joseph Musso in the early 1920’s it became Musso and Frank’s. It was sold to Italian immigrants Joseph Carissimi and John Mosso in 1927 and has been a Hollywood Boulevard fixture ever since. Today Mosso’s three granddaughters and their children run the restaurant. 

Musso & Frank’s Grill c1920.

Its cultural role in the life of Los Angeles blossomed when, in 1935, Stanley Rose moved his famous bookstore, a hangout for many screenwriters and novelists, from Vine Street to a shop neighboring Musso and Frank’s. The fusion of these two institutions created an unofficial club for the Hollywood set. Historian Kevin Starr writes: “The bookshop and the bar (at Musso & Frank’s) operated together with superb synergy, creating a welcoming sense of community for screenwriters suffering from an understandable sense of displacement.”

Marilyn Monroe and then fiancé Joe DiMaggio having dinner.

The place became known as “the Genesis of Hollywood” and had an impact on the immediate locality, with the Screen Writers Guild finding its home in the lovely Art Deco building directly opposite, along with many other bookstores, including Larry Edmunds, which opened in 1937 and has survived to this day. These writer-friendly environments inspired the title of Edmund Wilson‘s 1940 monograph, The Boys in the Back Room: Notes on California Novelists with one of the boys, a twenty-five-year-old Orson Welles, writing Citizen Kane in one of the booths in 1941 (a brass plaque marks the spot).

Musso & Frank Grill
Musso and Frank’s Grill in the 1960’s.

In a town that doesn’t always hold fast to its history, Musso & Frank’s remains one of the strongest connections we have to the spirit of the Golden Age of Hollywood, when the creative community required physical spaces to find like minds, to co-create and do business. Everyone from Marilyn Monroe and Humphrey Bogart, to F. Scott Fitzgerald and Charles Bukowski, has breathed, laughed, eaten and drank here – and so it continues today, discreetly, with the restaurant’s current celebrity clientele. 

Visit over the next few months and celebrate the return of this wonderful Hollywood institution. Either reserve a table (be sure to ask for the Chaplin Booth) or sit at the central bar, sip a cocktail and just breathe in the Hollywood history (while seeing one of today’s stars perhaps).

– By Stuart Wood (Twitter)

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