On Its 100th Anniversary, Musso & Frank’s Grill Gets the Star Treatment

Musso and Franks - 100 Anniversary - Getty - H 2019
Photo by Gregg DeGuire/Getty Images

The venerable restaurant, an outpost of both Hollywood glamour and comforting camaraderie for a century, is honored on the Walk of Fame.

"Musso's doesn't measure time by hours or days or weeks or even years. We measure time by centuries," Mark Echevarria, the owner of the legendary Musso & Frank Grill on Hollywood Boulevard, announced Friday to a crowd of the iconic eatery’s faithful on the day of the 100th anniversary, which it marked by receiving the first-ever star on the Walk of Fame granted to a restaurant. "Musso's is a hundred years old and just getting started."

At the unveiling of the star, nestled neatly in the entryway to the restaurant, Echevarria pointed out that the long, colorful history of Hollywood — the geographical neighborhood and the industry as a whole — was inextricably intertwined with Musso and Frank since its beginnings in 1919.

"Hollywood Boulevard was a dirt road; there were no stars on the boulevard there; there was no glitz and glamor," Echevarria said. "We were here. We grew up with Hollywood, or Hollywood grew up with us. It's the same."

At the ceremony, presided over by television personality and producer Marc Summers (Double Dare, Unwrapped) and attended by city officials including Hollywood Chamber of Commerce president Rana Ghadban and City Council member Mitch O’Farrell, friends, family and longtime patrons gathered to pay tribute to the enduring eatery on its centennial.

Vanity Fair contributing editor Michael Callahan, author of the forthcoming book The Musso & Frank Grill, which chronicles the restaurant’s fabled history and starry patrons, provided a historical perspective from the podium. "Two men, John Mosso and Charles Carissimi, bought the place and operated it under a simple belief: that pairing delicious, authentic, hearty foods of the world with elegant European service and killer martinis would change how people would dine," Callahan explained. "And they were right. … [It] would prove to be one of the greatest in the history of Los Angeles dining."

Callahan noted that a glimpse of the restaurant from any era couldn’t help but evoke a glittery nostalgia. "You look at the pictures and everyone just looks so glamorous, even if they're buying cigarettes at a drug store," he said. "It was no different inside the Musso & Frank Grill, where Orson Wells just wanted to be left alone, and Steve McQueen sat at the counter and occasionally got grumpy with the bartenders, and Dorothy Parker tossed out her infamous, withering bon mots. As she left to return East, Parker insulted almost everything about Hollywood and burned every bridge here except one: She never had a negative word to say about Musso's."

Musso’s outlasted many of the challengers that would emerge over the decades to vie for the title of "restaurant to the stars," said Callahan. "As they died off one by one, Musso's endured, weathering the rise of the counterculture, and even worse, the rise of yuppie culture and countless challenges and trials by doing what it had always done: baking the bread, manning the grill, stirring the drink and throwing out the welcome mat."

Musso’s secret? "Its best dish wasn't on the menu," said the author. "It served up a particular warmth, a singular kind of slouchy glamour it didn't post a picture of. Once you went in, the only thing you could think of was how soon you could get back, because the people who ran Musso's then, and who mercifully run it today, knew that enjoying the great restaurant isn't really about the food. It's about how it makes you feel. It's nice to go to a family-run restaurant. It's extraordinary to go to a restaurant where you get to be family."

"Longevity spelled backwards means good food, warm hospitality, feeling at home," agreed actor and restaurateur Danny Trejo, who proclaimed the restaurant’s eggs Benedict as the finest in the world and who still turns to bartender Manny Aquirre for tips on the horses. Long before he was famous himself, Trejo would return to Musso’s for celebratory dinners every time he’d "graduate from university" (his preferred tongue-in-cheek euphemism for incarceration in the penal system), and he was welcomed with as much hospitality then as when his Hollywood career later ascended.

"I met Jonathan Winters here," Trejo told The Hollywood Reporter of an early visit memory. "He understood that, in 'universities,' I boxed. He knew it, and he goes 'Hey!' and we started talking boxing." But it wasn’t the celebrity encounters that drew him back over the years, the actor contends. "There are a lot of iconic restaurants in Hollywood, and a lot of people go to see, and go to be seen. You go there, and you don't know how good the food is because you went there to be seen. Let me tell you something about Musso & Frank's — it's so good, you don't care who's here."

Still, that celebrity cachet has been part and parcel of Musso’s mystique since its doors first opened. "My favorite story would probably be Charlie Chaplin riding his horse down Hollywood Boulevard [to come to Musso’s]," Echevarria told THR. "And one of the reasons why it is my favorite story is because he was really the first 'super-regular,' and we've kind of coined that term because we got such dedicated customers that come in literally on the daily, and he was the start of that. And so we celebrate them, we love the fact that people have that devotion to this restaurant."

Echevarria’s wife Tina said the celebrity connection could be reciprocal. "One story that really stands out is the story of Johnny Depp, which I just find so endearing and sweet," she said. "Before he was famous, he would sit at a specific booth near the first phone booth in Los Angeles, which happens to be inside Musso's, and he would give out the phone number of the phone booth to perspective agents. He would just sit in the booth and wait for the phone to ring. As soon as the phone would ring, he would answer it as if it was his home. He definitely attributes Musso’s to a huge part of his success."

As the centennial celebration has kicked into high gear over the past year, Echevarria said more and more new faces have also been finding their way into its leather booths, fueled by recent key appearances in high-profile films and television series, including filmmaker and longtime patron Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and the Netflix series The Kominsky Method.

"We do open the doors gladly to those that want to come and experience true, authentic, Old Hollywood, and we have been seeing that with the release of Quentin's film and The Kominsky Method," said Echevarria. "People want to come and experience some of these authentic places that Quentin certainly glorified and identified in his film, and they come to Musso’s, and we love seeing that."

"What's really, really cool about what Quentin's film did, we were noticing people talking at their tables of over, we're coming in, we're eating dinner at Mussos, and then we're going to go see the film, and that is the quintessential Hollywood experience," continued the restaurateur. "That he included us in the film was just really an honor, and the fact that we are part of what he wanted to do — to get people to eat dinner and go to movies — that, we're very honored to be a part of, because that is very Old Hollywood."

And one can expect the traditions that have been in place since Bogart and Bukowski bellied up to the bar to remain eternally intact. "It's not changing," said Echevarria. "I love the fact that we don't change, and that not changing gives our guests and our community a place to come where they can be comfortable and familiar, and that they get a consistent — not only with serving the finest in cuisine, but where they eat it."

He added, "That experience that they have, the feeling that they get when they come into Musso’s, is something that we are never going to change, and we're very proud of that."