As I started to read L.A.’s Legendary Restaurants by George Geary, a recurring theme played in my head; dang, I thought, so many cool restaurants that we’ve missed visiting. Most were frequented by our Hollywood royalty for a good reason – not just proximity to the studios, but for the comfort food, innovative cocktails, ice cream sundaes and décor from refurbished train cars to art deco to the iconic Brown Derby, the last being the most unique for me. Read on, I told myself.
What a delight it has been to peruse over 100 iconic recipes, stories, celebrity sightings, and photos of the menus and the buildings – in a truly “historic tour” of these famous restaurants: The Brown Derby, C.C. Browns, Van de Kamp’s Holland Dutch Bakery, Formosa Café, Tiny Naylor’s, Tick Tock Tea Room, Miceli’s, Pig ’n Whistle, Clifton’s Brookdale Cafeteria, Michael’s, Coconut Grove at the Ambassador Hotel, Schwab’s Pharmacy, Cyrano, Chez Jay, Hamptons, L’Orangerie, Tam O’Shanter Inn, Carlos ‘n Charlie’s, L’Ermitage, Bullock’s Wilshire Tea Room, Zebra Room at the Town House of Lafayette Park, Chasen’s, Don the Beachcomber, Cock ’n Bull, Hollywood Palladium, Ben Frank’s, Ma Maison, Lawry’s California Center, Scandia, La Scala, Trader Vic’s at the Beverly Hilton, L’Escoffier at the Beverly Hilton, Dan Tana’s, Spago Sunset, Musso & Frank Grill, Le Dome, Taix French Restaurant, Perino’s, Hamburger Hamlet, Romanoff’s, Florentine Gardens, 72 Market Street Oyster Bar & Grill and Ciro’s.
Geary describes the tall palm trees, equipped with mechanical monkeys, that once were in the famous Rudolph Valentino movie, The Sheik, that decorated the Coconut Grove.
We also get glimpses of:
- C. Brown’s had over 12 sundaes and a recipe for a hot fudge chocolate sauce that wouldn’t harden or slide off. (Lawry’s has it now.)
- Van De Kamp’s is now a satellite campus for L.A. City College.
- The grill is bent from use, bartender “Cocktail Ambassador” Manny Aguirre claims to have created the Manhattan there and several other employees have worked there for decades: at Musso and Frank Grill.
- Movie stars made many of these restaurants a second home, including the most iconic: The Brown Derby. Joan Crawford was quoted as saying, “People have to drink somewhere. Why not here?”
- There currently are 700 wine vintages at Taix French Restaurant.
- Don the Beachcomber invented the first umbrella drinks. Oh to have sat in that bar and hear the rain on its tin roof – orchestrated with a sprinkler system to mimic being on a beach in Hawaii.
- Chasen’s provided a barber and a shave for some of its celebrity guests.
- That Moscow Mule you love was first served up, complete with the copper mug to keep it cold, at the Cock ‘N Bull.
- The namesake for Romanoff’s was a known imposter of any royal family and no one seemed to care, in fact movie stars backed him.
- The first major auction sale for Zachy’s came from the 40k bottle collection from Scandia.
- If you finished a bottle of Chianti at Miceli’s, one in the original basket holder, you could write a message on the bottle and it would be hung from the ceiling.
- Artist David Hockney did the menu cover design for Ma Maison.
- Chef/owner Jean Bertranou at L’Ermitage was the first to blaze a path of growing vegetables to be served in a dining establishment, and convincing his produce suppliers to find more local growers. This was one of L.A. Times food editor Ruth Reichl’s top 40 picks.
- Where did carrot cake with a thick amount of cream cheese frosting originate? Paul Newman’s burger restaurant, Hamptons.
- Michael’s in Santa Monica was one of the last restaurants in the book. As I was reading things sounded familiar: the proximity to the beach and the courtyard. I googled and found that I had dined there with Dennis Cakebread years ago. At least I have that memory – and it’s still open!
More we may miss: I’m very sorry to have missed seeing The Zebra Room, and its neighbor, the Bullocks Wilshire Tea Room. Missed the noted “efficiency” at the Tick Tock Tea Room. Totally missed out on the flamingo drinks at Trader Vics! Perino’s was one my mom talked about, but we were too unruly as kids to be taken there. But she did take us to Clifton’s Cafeteria for Thanksgiving and some of their cake recipes are in the book…
Eve Bushman has a Level Two Intermediate Certification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust, a “certification in first globally-recognized course” as an American Wine Specialist ® from the North American Sommelier Association (NASA), was the subject of a 60-minute Wine Immersion video, authored “Wine Etiquette for Everyone” and has served as a judge for the Long Beach Grand Cru. You can email Eve@EveWine101.com to ask a question about wine or spirits.