Visiting An Iconic Hollywood Restaurant and Our Encounter With A Stranger On A Train
Restaurant Type: Classic American
Little did I know when we started out on our journey to The Musso & Frank Grill in Hollywood, what an adventure we would be undertaking.
As it turned out, our evening would be fraught with danger and excitement. Tracy and I were to go to this historic Hollywood restaurant that opened in 1919 with our friends Doug, Jackie, Leslie and Andy. In a cosmopolitan moment, we decided we would take the Metro Gold Line from Pasadena to Los Angeles’s Union Station, and then transfer to the Metro Red Line that would deposit us a few blocks from The Musso & Frank Grill, hopefully in time for our 7 o’clock reservations.
Maybe we should have taken it as a portent of things to come that Andy and Leslie missed the 6:00 p.m. train. Doug and Jackie were already on board when they reached our stop at 6:05.
At about 6:30, we got off the train at Union Station, and tried to reach Leslie and Andy, who we found out were on the next train. The four of us decided to go ahead without them, but as we arrived downstairs at Union Station, the Red Line was just leaving. Due to a breakdown, the next train did not arrive until 6:50. We were going to be late. Andy and Leslie were going to be later.
I don’t know how Jack Bauer gets such good reception at CTU Headquarters on 24, because none of us could get a cell signal at the metro station. We called Musso & Frank when we finally arrived upstairs and onto Hollywood Blvd. They had held the reservations for us. I could already taste one of their famous martinis as we started our walk along Hollywood Blvd.
We strolled the few blocks to the restaurant and, looking at my watch, I realized it had taken us nearly two hours from the time we left our house to arrive at Musso & Frank. It’s about a 25-minute car ride. So much for Los Angeles Rapid Transit. Of course, had we known what was to occur on our return trip a few hours later, we might have hailed a cab immediately after dinner instead of heading back by the metro.
Walking into Musso & Frank, the oldest restaurant in Hollywood, is like stepping back in time. As it says in their little history sheet on each table, “When prohibition ended in 1933, the owners wasted no time in opening a bar at Musso’s. The stools quickly filled with an exclusive clientele who struck deals while sipping Musso’s famous martinis. It was not uncommon to see Greta Garbo discussing a new script with Gary Cooper, or Humphrey Bogart dining with Dashiell Hammett or Lauren Bacall. From Orson Wells to Jimmy Stewart, a star-studded cast filled dining room and bar.”
Supposedly Raymond Chandler wrote much of The Big Sleep here, while William Faulkner was known to be pretty handy behind the bar making his own Mint Juleps. This was the favorite restaurant of Charlie Chaplin.
On previous visits, the staff at Musso & Frank had been a little on the surly side, but the gentleman who greeted us along with our wait staff were more than cordial on this night. Even better, they quickly served Doug, Jackie, Tracy and me one of their famous martinis. Before I could say, “hold the olives,” Andy and Leslie walked through the door.
There are red leather booths in both large rooms at Musso & Frank, and the old-style bar was the place where Hollywood celebrities met during the city’s heyday. This is old school, baby!
Virtually every item on the Musso & Frank menu is a la carte, which means if you dine here, you’re probably not going to get out cheaply. Jackie had the Roast Lamb with Mint Jelly and Baked Potato (one of the few dishes that includes a side). For her $31 meal, Jackie now also had leftovers for Sunday lunch.
Andy and Doug both got the New York Steak ($31) plus salads (Dinner Salad was $5.75 while the Hearts Of Lettuce was $7), Asparagus ($7.50) and Baked Potatoes ($5), which upped the ante a bit. Leslie opted for the Prime Rib Sandwich ($30) that she said was “excellent along with being very tender and very tasty.” She added that the Au Gratin Potatoes ($6) were “super rich,” which we wish we were later when we received the bill.
Tracy decided (with a slight push from me) to try the Beef Strogonoff ($28.00) and Dinner Salad. She said she thought the sauce was “bland” and said the one I make at home is better. Much as I love her for saying it, I thought it was terrific.
Finally, I eschewed a dinner salad for my third martini, which might have led to my momentary lapse of good judgement an hour later that would lead me (and the others) into the dangerous predicament we found ourselves. But first, back to dinner.
I ordered a very tasty Grenadine of Beef with Bearnaise Sauce ($30), served with enough Peas for the English Army (when I was a kid, I would try and slip my mom’s peas to my beagle, but even she wouldn’t eat them). Fortunately, Tracy loves peas, and soon my plate was devoid of those green, little monsters.
I also had a side order of mutant French Fried Potatoes ($4.50) that were so huge that we figured they were formed by the same nuclear accident that awoke Godzilla from his centuries-old sleep. They were quite good.
We ordered only two desserts; the Bread-Butter Pudding ($5.25) that others liked (I did not). Leslie ordered the other dessert, which was a Napoleon Layered Cake that was not on the menu. I seemed to enjoy it more than the others.
Then we got the bill. All those little additions, large french fries and smooth martinis had added up. When all was said and done, the dinner cost $170 per couple (including tip), but we all had a good time and we got this chance to dine at a Hollywood iconic landmark. We had a great time at The Musso & Frank Grill, but our story is just beginning.
We hurriedly walked back to the Red Line. We believed we needed to catch the next train because we thought the last Gold Line train from Union Station left at 11 p.m. Doug and Jackie had missed that train once and paid a hefty cab fare to get back to Monrovia.
As we waited for the Red Line in the bowels of the Hollywood/Highland stop, we heard one man’s voice rise up above the all the others. The voice was definitely angry, and his profane-laden speech was interspersed with one word that he used over and over again. It’s a word one doesn’t hear too often in day-to-day conversation. The word was “Whitey.”
Now I was hoping he was talking about Beaver Cleaver’s friend Whitey on the old Leave It To Beaver show, but as were soon to find out, this 35-40 year old African-American man had a distinct grudge against Caucasians. Oh yeah, he also carried a crutch in one hand, and he enjoyed waving it around in a rather menacing manner. Another interesting fact was that he didn’t seem to be limping, but you have to remember I had three martinis.
In any event, I didn’t pay too much attention to his rants, because there are a lot of crazy people in L.A., and he seemed like just another harmless character that one runs into every so often.
After a few minutes of listening to his barrage of verbal assaults directed at no one in particular (although Jackie later stated that he was looking at her rather intently during part of his monologue), the train arrived. This is where my martini haze caused the evening to go a little sideways. As the train doors opened, Tracy, Jackie, Doug, Leslie and Andy all smartly boarded a car further away so as to not be on the same car as our angry black friend, who I will now refer to as Mr. C (as in Crutch).
Not paying attention to my wife and friends, I inadvertently stepped in the same car as Mr. C, and as the doors closed I quickly realized my error in judgement. I certainly did not want to show any fear, so I just stayed standing as Mr. C deposited himself next to a lovely African-American woman. As soon as the train started rolling, he began his rant against “Whitey” once again and looked directly at me as he continued his tirade. I felt sort of like Farley Granger in Strangers On A Train, but at least he hadn’t asked me to kill anyone for him. Criss-cross!
Discretion being the better part of valor (and also the fact that I was now feeling a tinge of fear), I slowly walked back to another part of the train. The African-American lady quickly followed suit. This guy was not making friends easily. OK, people on this train did not like him, and for good reason. Just about every five words was “effen this” and “effen that” and, his favorite phrase, “effen Whitey.”
There were few empty seats, but I felt like standing (easier to, in the words of King Arthur in Monty Python and The Holy Grail, “run awaaaaay!”) Soon, Mr. C got up and moved a little closer to me, all the while shouting profanities. I thought about going to the other car when the train stopped at the next station, but before I could say “Get me the hell out of here,” in came my posse to make sure an incident had not taken place.
Mr. C also got up and was now occupying a spot very near all of us. Since we thought we had to be on this train to catch the last Gold Line train, we decided not to get off. Well, we could of departed, but our fear of confrontation was less than our fear of wasting money on a cab. Every person Mr. C sat next to on our car soon left their perch in a hurry to get away from this guy, who seemed pretty fixated on our party.
By now, Mr. C was in full verbal attack mode, blaming virtually every problem in the world on “Whitey.” Interestingly, in this packed car was a mini-United Nations of individuals from African Americans to Latinos to Filipinos to Chinese and Japanese, but looking around we were the only “Whiteys,” so Mr. C had a captive (literally) audience (well, Leslie is Asian, but tonight she got lumped in with the “Whitey” crowd).
A young Hispanic guy in a security guard jacket (not an L.A. Transit security guard, however) motioned me back a couple of rows and asked, “Is this guy bothering you?” I said I thought he was harmless, but thanked him for his concern at our plight.
By the time I got back to my standing area, Mr. C was now looking straight at Doug and Jackie as he went into another verbal blast pointing his finger at them as he continued the rant. By this time, people on the train were all giving this guy the wary eye, so we never felt in real danger, because I think someone would have had our backs had he decided to use his crutch as a weapon of destruction. Andy was giving him “the eye,” but Mr. C seemed harmless. Crazy, but harmless.
The verbal lambasting continued for several more minutes and several more stops, and I think the only event in history he didn’t blame on “Whitey” was the U.S. soccer loss to Ghana, but that’s only because as the train slowed down, he got up and headed for the door. This was (finally) going to be his stop. The security guard got up, looked at me and laughed. He said, “Crap this guy is getting off at my stop.” I wished him luck.
The train stopped, but Mr. C did not go quietly into the Los Angeles night. As he stepped through the door, he turned to us, pointed his crutch in one last semi-threatening manner and hurled out a few more choice, entertaining obscenities directed at our group. I realized at this moment what it must be like to play for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
However, he saved his most dramatic move for last. Right before the doors closed, in a Charles Bronson Death Wish Moment, he stuck out two fingers on his right hand and pretended to shoot all of us. He even used sound effects as he pumped our group full of imaginary lead. I thought of Sheriff Bart and what he said to The Waco Kid in Blazing Saddles, “I’m glad those fingers aren’t loaded.”
When the train pulled away and Mr. C was a not-so-distant memory, I turned to our group and said, “Now that was unusual.” It got a big laugh from the rest of the people still on the car. Whether the guy was just crazy or actually a threat, thankfully we will never know. We didn’t know exactly what to make of it, but it certainly proved to be an eventful and interesting addendum to our evening out.
The Gold Line ride home was uneventful (of course, Mr. C was a tough act to follow), and as I found out the next day, those Gold Line trains run later now, so we actually could have just gotten off the Red Line to let Mr. C rant on without us. Since no harm was done, it made for a more interesting night to be sure. In any event, though, I think next time we go to The Musso & Frank Grill, we’ll drive there and consume less martinis.
MaiTaiTom Rating Food + Ambiance + Value = 3.4 maitais (out of 5)
The Musso & Frank Grill
6667 Hollywood Blvd.
Hours: Open Daily 11:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m.
(bar open Friday & Saturday until 2:00 a.m.)