Everything around us—well, everything other than traffic—is galloping forward (or upward) at a startling pace. There’s technology, of course. Try as we might, it’s impossible to keep up with each gadget innovation and app update and podcast download, to say nothing of the onslaught of pinging e-mails and texts and social media posts that swarm around us like gnats. Then there’s this city, where street corners once so familiar have been razed for new development and, in the process, rendered unrecognizable. Progress is good, but every now and then I need to make a pilgrimage to a place that hits the Pause button, despite time itself constantly jabbing Play. It might sound like a contradiction, but there is something fresh about being frozen in time; never evolving is more radical an idea these days than persistently revising.
Few places in L.A. have stopped the clock for as long as Musso & Frank’s. When I asked my husband which cool new restaurant he wanted to eat at for his birthday last September, he suggested Musso’s. It’s not new, but it’s never not been cool to us. On Hollywood Boulevard since 1919, the famed bar and grill with the red leather banquettes has long been our go-to spot. A couple of decades ago, friends threw us an engagement party there. We dined at Musso’s one New Year’s Eve, when I drank two vodka gimlets with dinner (as Musso’s pours them, that’s one too many) and did a lot of emoting later that evening when we saw Titanic at the Chinese Theatre. We’ve broken Yom Kippur fasts in one of the booths, where I downed a pile of sourdough bread, a tableside Caesar (extra anchovies, please), my usual entrée of sand dabs and potatoes, and some rum cake—after 24 hours of not eating or drinking at all. (Urp.) I don’t limit my Musso’s visits to milestone occasions, either; sometimes the only excuse I need is that it’s Thursday, aka chicken potpie day at the restaurant, so let’s make this happen.
In this issue writer Michael Callahan explores the allure of Musso’s, from its stalwart waiters (Sergio is my favorite) to its place in Hollywood’s film and literary history. There’s a great line in his piece from one of the restaurant’s owners, who says they’ve resisted cleaning the murals because they’re “painted with Humphrey Bogart’s cigarette smoke.” Reading that quote reminded me of the first time I ate at Musso’s. I’d known about it—I went to high school a few blocks away—but my middle-class family dined at Sizzler for dinner, not white-linen steak houses. Musso’s was mysterious and therefore worthy of exploration, so at 19 I finally went inside with a friend. The wood paneling and the hat racks, the dim lighting and the phone booth in back enchanted me. As I sat before my avocado half and iced tea (seriously, that’s what I ordered), I felt a connection to the many diners who had been in that booth before me. I knew I would become a regular. The walls talked, and I loved what I heard. I’m still listening.