By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin October 8, 2012 at 1:00AM
THE BACK STORY:
For much of the mid-20th Century, to rub shoulders with America's greatest novelists and screenwriters, one needed merely to go to the corner of Cherokee Avenue and Hollywood Boulevard. Here, within the tight triangle of the Writer's Guild offices, Musso & Frank Grill and the Stanley Rose Bookshop, flowed the commercial and social sap that nourished the tree of American letters. The famous minds who congregated still inspire awe: William Faulkner, Scott Fitzgerald, John Fante, Lillian Hellman, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, William Saroyan, John O'Hara, Dorothy Parker, Nathanael West and many more.
And at the center of it all was the famed "Back Room" of Musso & Frank, the oldest restaurant in Hollywood. Beginning in 1936, in response to the restaurant's growing popularity, Musso's expanded its operations into a small room tucked behind the Vogue Theater. A door was punched through the west wall of the dining room, and a haughty door man installed. His instructions were simple: the back room was to be the exclusive domain of Hollywood's literary lions, their friends and romantic partners. It was called, informally, The Cocktail Room or The Round Table or the Algonquin West.
The party raged on, six nights a week, for twenty glorious years.
In 1955, Musso & Frank expanded to the east, and the contents of the "Back Room" -- the long bar, chairs, light fixtures, coat racks-- were moved wholesale into the "New Room." The "New Room" was no longer the exclusive retreat of literary Los Angeles, but the writers kept coming. Today, Musso & Frank's clientele still includes celebrated novelists, screenwriters, poets and songwriters, all of whom cherish the old world hospitality, traditional Continental cuisine and opportunity to soak up the same rarified air that nourished the greats.
LAVA co-founder Richard Schave, the Salon host and co-curator, says "I would argue that along the bar in the old Cocktail Room, somewhere between the drinking, bragging, fighting and general hell-raising, the better half of the Hard-Boiled School of American Letters was hashed out and put down on paper. The purpose of the Salon is twofold. First, to set the record straight on some basic milestones: the rise and fall of the original Cocktail Room and its reincarnation as the "New Room" and the symbiotic relationship Musso & Frank shared with the legendary bookshop next door, Stanley Rose's. Secondly, a more ephemeral aim: in these hallowed rooms, that still bear the nicotine stains from Raymond Chandler's pipe and Charles Bukowski's cigarettes, we want to seek out and amplify the spark which all those great souls have left behind. Musso & Frank is just bricks and mortar, but incredible ideas and connections were forged here, and we believe that spark is waiting to be reignited and make its impression felt in Los Angeles again."
Each Musso's Salon evening will focus on different aspects of Hollywood's literary lore, feature fascinating speakers and special guest historians, and be hosted by LAVA co-founder Richard Schave.
Mark Echeverria, 4th generation General Manager/Proprietor of The Musso & Frank Grill, says, "For 93 years The Musso & Frank Grill has been a keystone in Hollywood's ever-evolving history. Some of the world's greatest people have walked through our doors, sat at a booth or a bar stool, and dreamt the unimaginable. That is what makes Hollywood so unique: unimaginable things come true. Musso & Frank Grill has always been that inspiration in people's lives to make the impossible, possible, and it is now time to tell the true story of the people who put Hollywood on the map, and the restaurant they did it in--The Musso & Frank Grill. We are extremely excited to work with LAVA to bring you living history in a setting where history continues to happen, even 93 years later. So please enjoy an authentic dining experience you would have found in the early decades of last century, and bring yourselves back to the time era of the literary giants, and truly get a journey through the history of Hollywood, in the restaurant that Hollywood grew up around, The Musso & Frank Grill."