Saturday, November 19, 2016

Eating Where Charlie Ate

Charlie still lives in Hollywood. At least he does at Musso & Frank Grill on Hollywood Boulevard. That restaurant opened in 1919 and is still going strong. A very classy place, delicious meals, an incredible staff with waiters in their time-honored red jackets, managers in coats and ties. You don't see that often these days.

I had the good fortune to have dinner at Musso & Frank last week. I had been there many times before, but that was in the 1970's, 80's and 90's, when I travelled to LA a lot on business (advertising, shooting commercials). Happy to say, the restaurant has aged gracefully with not a hint of wrinkles. I had phoned for reservations and requested the booth where Chaplin used to sit. Front room, front booth, by the window. The maitre d told me someone else had already reserved it, but if they didn't show, I would get it.

We (my wife and son and I) arrived at 7:00 and were immediately the Chaplin booth. That made my evening, regardless of the meal or service. 

This was one of Charlie's favorite places. He, along with a roster of Hollywood legends, would eat there frequently: lunch, dinner, brunch. Among the famous: Doug Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Rudolph Valentino, Budd Schulberg (glad they served writers there), Greta Garbo, the Warner brothers, Bogie and Bacall, Sinatra, Paulette Goddard with Charlie, and the list goes on through today: Depp, Clooney, Pitt, Hopper, etc.

I was told that the interior had not been changed, upgraded, "improved" in the almost 100 years since it opened, except for minor repairs and seat cover replacements. Here's what really hit home though. The wood around the back of the booth was the same as 1919. Not even painted or stained. Just the bare wood, worn smooth by decades of arms and hands and hats and coats being placed there during luxurious dinners and glamorous events. Which meant, when I put my hand on that wood behind where I was sitting, I was touching the same wood that Charlie had touched.

I closed my eyes, rested my hand on that worn wood, and reached deep into the past to touch Charlie. I think I did. Really. No great inspiration or idea for a new novel, but - this is a matter of faith - I knew I had touched him back in the 1920's, when he had become the most famous person in the world and still had many years and films ahead of him. Call me weird, but some things are possible, even in today's digital world.

The meal was outstanding. I had calves liver and onions, one of Charlie's favorites. I didn't have the courage to try the lamb kidneys, which was his favorite. Dedication can only take you so far. The waiters were absolutely perfect. I talked to one of the maitre d's, a fascinating guy named Bobby with a long resume' in the restaurant business, also a writer. I sent him a copy of my novel. He sent me 3 stories he's working on. He's a good writer.

They say you can't go home again. Wrong. You can. Just get the corner booth at Musso and Frank and you're home in Hollywood almost a hundred years ago.
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