Town & Country (USA)
Some things will never—and should never—be disrupted out of existence. Case in point: the L.A. Power Lunch.
‘‘We could fill another six dining rooms right now, and we’re booked weeks in advance,” says Peter Landroche, maître d’ of Musso & Frank, Hollywood’s oldest restaurant and the darling of the old guard (Jack Nicholson has his namesake booth), the middle guard (Quentin Tarantino used it as a location in Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood), and the new guard (it has become a destination for Netflix execs and producers). Similarly, the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel has also seen a flood of activity. “It’s been busier than ever,” says Pepe de Anda, longtime director of the restaurant. “There is more excitement.”
In 2020, as the city of Los Angeles mandated lengthy restaurant shutdowns, the blackouts caused panic in those of us who consider old guard places like Musso our natural habitat. There was the terrible possibility that some of these longtime crown jewels would be permanently shuttered. In a few cases those fears were merited. (RIP, Greenblatt’s.)
For regulars of the surviving restaurants, reunions this past winter have often been tearful. The allure of Hollywood’s golden age past remains a draw, but there is also a new appreciation for the familiarity these places provide. “People have an emotional reaction when they come back in,” says Landroche of Musso—an especially stalwart boîte, having survived two world wars.
“We’ve shed a lot of tears, and so have our guests,” says Gabé
Doppelt, maître d’ of the Tower Bar in the Sunset
Tower Hotel, which was founded in 1929, on the eve of the Great Depression. As for the dealmaking dining scene, she says, “It’s all back.”
“Everyone seems in a celebratory mood, because not only had you survived, Musso had also survived,” says filmmaker and Los Angeles native Matt Tyrnauer. “Places like it are essential, because L.A. needs a heritage.”
Yet the owners of these institutions say giddiness alone is not a sustainable business plan, and several have taken steps to ensure a next chapter. At the Tower Bar, owner Jeff Klein and Doppelt saw fresh currency in their Terrace Room and poolside area, which, frankly, “used to be Siberia,” Doppelt says. They added furniture around the pool, hired a jazz duo, and created an outdoor mecca. Today it’s as big a draw as the Tower Room. At Musso, the team briefly flirted with takeout but decided instead to stay dark and accelerate a longplanned addition of private dining rooms, which are now open and booked solid.
Not only have regulars returned, say the maître d’s, a new generation of producers, directors, and actors have begun flocking to historic restaurants. For Polo Lounge’s de Anda, the old scene is “certainly back, but it’s also changing. We are seeing a lot of new faces coming in for meetings.” Doppelt concurs, noting that one of last year’s headlining Hollywood deals, Amazon’s acquisition of MGM, was partly brokered at the Sunset Tower. “We watched that all happen.”
And when you think about it, grande dames are actually well positioned for continued survival. After all, they’ve been battling newbie starlets for the spotlight for decades, and more often than not,