Mark Echeverria, the COO, CFO and proprietor of Musso & Frank Grill, shares a story that has become part of the lore of the nearly-century old Hollywood fixture. Back in the early days of the Musso & Frank, Charlie Chaplin would come here with his colleagues. To get to the restaurant, they would race down Hollywood Boulevard by horse and the loser would pick up the tab for lunch. As they ate, they kept an eye on the horses from the only booth with a window view. "It's still known as the Charlie Chaplin booth," says Echeverria by phone, "and it's still, by far, the most-requested booth that we have."
The surrounding neighborhood has changed a lot since Joseph Musso and Frank Toulet opened their restaurant on Sept. 27, 1919. For starters, Hollywood Boulevard is no longer conducive to horse racing. But for 99 years, this steakhouse has remained a constant, low-key fixture on a street that's in a continuous state of hustle and bustle. Outside, the latest tunes blast from cars and sidewalk cafes as street performers try to catch your attention and trendy t-shirts pour out of souvenir shops. Inside, dark wood booths come with coat hangers on the side, a rarity in warm and casual Los Angeles. A bartender in a red jacket makes change at a register that looks as if it long pre-dates the digital age.
Even the menu hasn't been drastically altered over the years. "We've done a few little tweaks to the menu," says Echeverria, " All those tweaks are to bring the recipes and the food to a modern day palate… In 1919, the recipes that we have are rather bland by today's tastes." Their current executive chef, J.P. Amateau, is only the third person to hold that position in the restaurant's history. He's also a local who used to frequent the restaurant as a child. "J.P. has really been able to walk an extremely fine line and do it extremely successfully," says Echeverria.
The most ordered item here is filet mignon, cooked over an open-fire mesquite grill that has been seasoned for more than 30 years. Also popular is the Grenadine of Beef, which has been on the menu since the early 1920s. "We've got regulars that have been coming in for 40 years that have never tried anything else," says Echeverria.
Echeverria, who grew up in Northern California, remembers traveling to L.A. at least once a month and visiting the restaurant when his grandmother was running the show. In 2009, he took over the day-to-day duties and was impressed with how much of the clientele is local. Not only are the diners here mostly Angelenos, they are quite often regulars. "It shocked me to know how many regulars we have and how little of the tourist business we do," says Echeverria. "It's not that they don't want to come, it's just that they have a hard time finding a table because our regulars are sitting in them." He adds that, ordinarily, people can book tables for Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays "a couple days in advance." Otherwise, you might want to call for reservations weeks before your date. As for the holidays, Musso's gets packed fast - Valentine's Day can be booked two months in advance.
Musso and Frank's reputation was sealed during the Golden Age of Hollywood. Over the years, they've served Hollywood royalty and literary titans, everyone from Marilyn Monroe and Humphrey Bogart to F. Scott Fitzgerald and Charles Bukowski. While Echeverria will discuss the past, he's not one to reveal the restaurant's current celebrity clientele. Discretion is key here.
Echeverria says that the restaurant's motto is, "We treat locals like celebrities and celebrities like locals," and shares a story to that point. A few years ago, Echeverria was at the front of the restaurant with a server who had been with the restaurant for more than 50 years. When a customer asked who the server's favorite guest was, he replied, "I've served tens of thousands of customers throughout the years and every one was special."