Adam McKay, Danny Trejo, Dita Von Teese and others share memories of the iconic eatery where Charlie Chaplin, Frank Sinatra and "Quentin F—ing Tarantino" have held court: "It's hard to find people who've never been there."
There are many reasons why people still flock to Musso & Frank Grill, the Hollywood Boulevard restaurant and bar celebrating 100 years: the unchanging decor, affable servers in bright red jackets and earnest busboys in green, the martinis and the sidecars, the flannel cakes, the lore. Frank Toulet, restaurateur Joseph Musso and chef Jean Rue opened the doors in 1919. It moved one door down Hollywood Boulevard in 1934 and added a second dining room in 1955. Outlasting contemporaries like Chasen's and The Brown Derby, Musso's isn't the industry hotspot it once was, but producers and writers still converse over chicken pot pie and lamb chops in the large mahogany booths.
Musso's Old Room, featuring the counter and grill, is where Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio would canoodle in the third booth along the wall. In the New Room, Frank Sinatra sat at his preferred booth, and The Rolling Stones still have their favorite table (and server, Sergio).
When the Screen Writers Guild (now the WGA) resided across the street, Musso's Back Room was the epicenter for writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald, who proofread his novels there, and William Faulkner, who would mix his own mint juleps. Later, Charles Bukowski and Gore Vidal were regulars. When the Back Room closed (after the space was taken over by the adjacent Vogue Theater), the owners moved its bar to the New Room. "So when you're talking about Fitzgerald and all those literary giants hanging out here, this is the actual bar they were sitting at," says current proprietor Mark Echeverria, the great-grandson of John Mosso (no relation to Musso) who, along with Joseph Carissimi, bought the restaurant from the founders in 1927. Echeverria took over in 2009 and has changed as little as possible. The staff — still all male — have been working there for 20, 30 or even 50 years.
To some, Musso's is a special-occasion restaurant. To others, it's an everyday joint. To highlight what makes it special, THR talked to a range of insiders — from the management and staff to Hollywood regulars — for a walk through its storied history.
The First Time …
DAVID LYNCH I love the restaurant, the booths on the old side. It's the real-deal Hollywood. The first time I went might've been in the '70s. It's true that I ate with [Twin Peaks co-creator] Mark Frost in maybe 2012. That lunch at Musso's started the 18 hours of Twin Peaks: The Return.
STEVEN SODERBERGH (WHO FILMED AN OCEAN'S 11 SCENE AT MUSSO'S) When I first began coming to L.A. in 1980, my buddy's apartment whose floor I was sleeping on was in Hollywood. Immediately the historical aspect of [Musso's] appealed to me.
DANNY TREJO When we did Runaway Train, Eddie Bunker said to me, "Let's go to Frank's." I thought he meant go for hot dogs. But it was Musso & Frank's.
WALTON GOGGINS I started going in 1991. I had just arrived in Los Angeles. I'll never forget ordering my first drink. Vodka martini. Dirty. Three olives. I could only afford one. I remember closing my eyes and contemplating all of the elbows that have leaned against this bar and thinking, "I don't know how I got here. But I'm here."
ADAM MCKAY The first time I went to Musso & Frank was because we had done Anchorman at DreamWorks, and I met Steven Spielberg. We had been chatting and he said, "Have you been to Musso & Frank?" And I was like, "No, I haven't," and he said, "You have to go. It's the oldest Italian restaurant in Hollywood." So I went with my wife and I was like, "Steven Spielberg says we have to go here." It's fabulous; it's an amazing place, but the food wasn't very good. And then I saw Spielberg again and I was like, "That was a cool joint." He was like, "It's not about the food, man. Get a cocktail. Hang." So the next time we went, we got it. We were like "Musso & Frank's!" And then we dove into the menu more and we found the good food.
On the Menu
J.P. AMATEAU, EXECUTIVE CHEF Not a lot of chefs can say they're only the third chef to work in a restaurant that's been open for 100 years. I took Jean Rue's classic recipes and gave them a little face-lift, both visibly and in taste. It was different back then. Everything was brown. There weren't a lot of fresh vegetables.
ALAN ARKIN It was the first place I'd had or even heard of french-fried zucchini. I made a complete pig of myself. That was 50 years ago and I've never forgotten it. I expect to be going there for french-fried zucchini the next hundred years or so.
TREJO I try to go every Thursday. Best chicken pot pie anywhere.
SODERBERGH The Tuesday corned beef and cabbage, that's my jam.
MICHAEL CONNELLY, BOSCH CREATOR If you are writing about L.A., there is no better place for inspiration. I go there all the time for a great martini. Those martinis are the cure for writer's block.
The Preferred Seats
ECHEVERRIA The [Charlie] Chaplin booth is the only table with windows that look outside. He used to race his horses down the road, usually with Rudolph Valentino. They would tie their horses up and he could watch them from the table. Steve McQueen famously sat at the counter. He would sit in the first seat [on the Hollywood Boulevard side], and you'll see this groove on the wall. The chair swings, you know, and makes this mark in the wall. You have to think that he put a little bit of his signature in that groove.
JOHN TRAVOLTA I sit in the Frank Sinatra booth when I go. They said they should call it the John Travolta booth, and I said, "OK, whatever you want." But I like it being the Frank Sinatra booth.
TREJO They always give me the second table in the dining room. But during the day, I don't care. I just walk in. Me and Eddie sometimes would sit at the end of the counter.
ECHEVERRIA Sergio has been the favorite server for The Rolling Stones. They've become such good friends that they will actually fly Sergio to some of their shows.
SERGIO GONZALEZ, WAITER Keith [Richards] and Ronnie [Wood] are my favorite. I know what they want right away. I only work lunches now, two or three days. But when they want to come in, the boss will ask me to come just to take care of them. Keith and Ronnie love the liver and onions, medium well, mashed potatoes and peas. And they're in heaven.
MARY MELTON, FORMER EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, LOS ANGELES MAGAZINE The grill man is so distinctive from Sergio, who is distinctive from Manny. They really let the waiters be who they are.
GONZALEZ I've been working here since 1972. Way back, I used to wait on a man. He would walk in with a cane and used to say, "Hi Papa, how you doin'?" I'd give him a hug and kiss on his head, but I never knew who he was. I didn't know until he died that it was [gangster] Mickey Cohen.
SODERBERGH Having a truly professional waitstaff is one of the key components of their success.
GONZALEZ Quentin Tarantino came in with Leonardo DiCaprio about a month before they shot his movie [the upcoming Once Upon a Time in Hollywood] here. He asked me to be a waiter in it. I told him I'm not an actor. He just said, "Sergio, you know what to do." I worked five days on it. It was fun.
LYNCH There must be a trillion stories from there. I had the great privilege of meeting John P. St. John, badge No. 1 in LAPD robbery and homicide. He was in charge of the Black Dahlia case. One day John St. John called me and said he'd like to take me to dinner, to show me something. I met with him at Musso & Frank about 8:30 at night, had dinner, and after, he opened his briefcase and took out an 8-by-10 black-and-white, glossy, super beautiful, crisp, clean, focused detail picture of the Black Dahlia laying in the grass. And he said, "David, what do you see?" I looked at it intensely for like 10 minutes. I finally said, "I don't see it." He smiled, put the photo away and never talked about it again. I thought about it day and night; it plagued me. It finally dawned on me much later, that the photos he showed me were taken at night. She wasn't discovered until the next morning.
DITA VON TEESE I once heard that Elizabeth Short [The Black Dahlia] frequented the place. I've always loved dressing up in my best femme-fatale attire from the 1940s when I go to dinner there. I'm not sure if it's true, but I'd play up that look anyway, and saunter through the dining room.
SODERBERGH I was hoping that some air of success, luck or opportunity would somehow attach itself to me if I spent some time in there. It was a special occasion to go there in the '80s, and I didn't have that much money. I recognized some of the regulars, including the illustrious Norman Lloyd. I liked being around that atmosphere of people who made a living in the industry.
AMATEAU My dad had been in the entertainment business since the early 1940s. He was Humphrey Bogart's stunt double. They were the same height. He'd say Bogie would sit at the bar, and Lauren Bacall would call looking for him on the phone, and my dad would tell her he wasn't there.
TREJO Me, Eddie Bunker and my friend Dennis went one night. It was just when they passed the law when you can no longer smoke in restaurants. But we were smoking, and this guy came over and said, "Hey, put out that cigarette." I took one look at him, and he knew he made a mistake. One of the waiters nicely asked if we could put out our cigarettes when we had a chance. Dennis said to that guy, "You were just saved by the law."
MELTON My sister's father-in-law was a legendary TV producer, Al Simon. He was the executive producer of The Beverly Hillbillies and Mr. Ed. He had been going there since the dawn of time. He had a credit account, which they had for regulars.
SODERBERGH I recall Jerry Weintraub saying that he'd arranged to have me be able to run a tab there, to be one of those people to sign the check and pony up at the end of month. But I never followed through with it. It's too bad if he actually did that and I've never tried to use it. But I wouldn't want to embarrass myself by saying, "Put this on my tab!" and not having a tab.
GOGGINS I was invited along with a few folks from cast of The Hateful Eight to watch Quentin Tarantino get his star on the Walk of Fame. Afterwards, we all went to Musso & Frank to have lunch. Of course we did. This is Quentin Fucking Tarantino, where else would we go?
JIMMY PAPPAS, THE RESTAURANT'S HONORARY "MAYOR" I've seen more A-list celebrities at Musso & Frank than I have in all my years working at three major motion picture studios. Joe Namath, Jack Nicholson, Michael Douglas, Kathy Bates, Anthony Hopkins, Florence Henderson, Nicolas Cage. The great thing is there are no paparazzi or autograph hounds in here. The management knows how to really run a restaurant with privacy.
VON TEESE In the early 2000s, I had one memorable meal with Johnny and Linda Ramone.
PAPPAS I was friends with Jerry Maren, who was one of the Lollipop Guild Munchkins [in The Wizard of Oz], and threw his 93rd birthday party for him, which was a complete blast. We even had a yellow brick road.
TREJO I met a lot of people there over the years, like Jonathan Winters. I always run into people I know [like] Sean Penn.
PAPPAS One evening Gore Vidal was in an argument with one of his paramours. The paramour left in a fit of rage and he didn't have a ride home. He was confined to a wheelchair, and with no cellphone, so I gave him a ride home.
SODERBERGH In the spirit of the Ocean's movies, and the interest in a certain kind of Hollywood movie-star glamour, having a scene at Musso & Frank was a no-brainer. Obviously, filming there was a great opportunity to memorialize my good feelings about Musso & Frank. It's really fun to bring someone for the first time and watch them soak up the vibe. I don't know how anyone can go there and not want to go back.
A version of this story first appeared in the Feb. 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.