Chapter 1 ~ Welcome to Musso & Frank

It was starting to come down hard. The man and the woman had been driving from the desert since early morning. By the time they turned on to Hollywood Boulevard, the rain was bouncing off the windshield of their sedan. The heater was broken and the man rubbed his knuckles while the woman clutched her coat around her neck. They listened to the radio, waiting for a bulletin. The sun had gone down hours earlier and they watched the rain puddles turn from green to yellow to red from the traffic signals. They were on their way to meet a man with a brief case at the oldest restaurant in Hollywood. The driver looked at his watch as he pulled over to the curb. They were right on time.

He parked the car and opened his door. The woman let herself out and they both rushed through the rain to the front door of the restaurant. It looked warm inside. They stepped in and the maitre ‘d greeted them.

“Welcome to Musso and Frank,” he said.

~ “The Man with the Brief Case,” 1948 radio drama

Chapter 2 ~ The Early Years

Well before their 20th anniversary, Musso and Frank advertised itself as “the oldest restaurant in Hollywood.”  90 years after they opened as Frank’s Francois Cafe in 1919, Musso and Frank is still going strong. In the intervening years, Sardi’s, the Brown Derby, Chasen’s, Mike Lyman’s, the Seven Seas, Edna Earl’s Fog Cutter, the Gotham, Fred Harvey’s, the Cock and Bull, Scandia, Nickodell’s and many other historic restaurants have come and gone. Musso’s is still the oldest restaurant in Hollywood.

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Joseph Musso and Joseph Carissimi opened their first restaurant, Progress, in Portland, Oregon in 1910. Later, they moved to Los Angeles, where they eventually teamed up with Frank Toulet, who had opened Frank’s Cafe, on Hollywood Boulevard  in 1919. The name was later changed to Frank’s Francois Cafe. In the early 1920’s, Joseph Musso became a partner and the name was changed again, this time to Musso-Frank Grill. Frank Toulet sold his interest in the restaurant in 1927. John Mosso and Joseph Carissimi purchased the restaurant in the same year. The restaurant survives today, much as it did in the early years, with the exception of the move from 6669 Hollywood Boulevard to 6667 Hollywood Boulevard in the mid 1930’s, and the addition of the New Room in the 1950’s, which occupies the space that once belonged to the Stanley Rose Bookstore. Rose died in 1954, and the bar in the back, where so many great writers ate and drank in the 1930’s, closed and moved to the New Room around the same time.

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In the 1920’s, when movies were silent and Hollywood was dotted with cafeterias and grills, Jean Rue, Musso’s most tenured and famous chef, created the menu that exists today. He was with the restaurant from 1922 until 1976. He worked for 53 years and trained John Hellman and Michele Bourger, his successors. There were others, but Jean Rue and John Hellman, who served under him for thirty years, and Michele Bourger have been the three main chefs since 1919.

Perhaps the most famous head waiter at Musso and Frank was Jesse Chavez, who worked for over 50 years, beginning in the 1920’s. Jesse started as a dishwasher and moved up to baker, pantry man, busboy, waiter and finally headwaiter. In the 1970’s he became one third owner for a brief time. He ran a tight ship and roamed the restaurant putting out fires as he saw fit. Once, he told Charlton Heston that there would be an hour wait for his party of eight. When asked by Heston if he knew who he was, Jesse replied, yes, and Heston and party departed, never to return.

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In the 1920’s, 1930’s and 1940’s, the golden years in Hollywood, almost everyone in the entertainment business dined or drank at Musso and Frank.  Through the years, waiters served Mary Pickford, Greta Garbo, Edward G. Robinson, Claudette Colbert, Bette Davis, Cesar Romero and many more.  But the restaurant was also known for it’s clientele of famous writers. The famous back room was home to William Saroyan, John Fante, Scott Fitzgerald, Nathaniel West, William Falkner, Thomas Wolfe, Ernest Hemingway and many more.

In 1935, Grace Wilcox of Screen and Radio Weekly, reported that, “- Dan Ilich, the head waiter, is probably as well known as either of the proprietors, if not better known, and has served enough of the famous Musso-Frank flannel cakes to sink the Italian steamer Rex.”

The article went on to say, “Charlie Chaplin dines here more often than anywhere else.  He is fond of broiled lamb kidney and lamb currie and rice.  Also Irish stew and a salad of lettuce with Roquefort cheese dressing.  In season he likes duck.”

Wilcox wrote, “Sandra Shaw is partial to salads, but Gary Cooper likes a tenderloin steak baked potato and a green salad with French dressing.

“Ginger Rogers prefers steaks and rum cake for dessert.

“Joel McCrea orders a New York cut steak, rare and a chiffonade salad.”

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In 1964, writer Bob Thomas talked with Jean Rue, who recalled his early days at Musso’s in the 1920’s.  “They all used to come here.  :Rudolph Valentino was a regular customer; he loved the Italian spaghetti.  Charlie Chaplin had lunch here almost every day; his favorite was the boiled lamb with caper sauce.  There were many others – Douglas Fairbanks, Bebe Daniels, Alan Hale.  I remember when Hale first brought in his little boy – the boy who is an actor today.”

The Families

The current operators of Musso and Frank are the descendants of earlier owners from the 1920’s. Frank Toulet and his family opened the restaurant, Frank’s Cafe in 1919. Later the name changed to Musso-Frank Grill. In 1927, John Mosso and Joseph Carissimi purchased the restaurant. When John Mosso died in 1974, his daughter, Rose, and Joseph Carissimi’s daughter-in-law, Edith, ran the restaurant.

Years later, in 2009, the Carissimi family sold their interest to the descendants of  John Mosso. Today, John Mosso’s great-grandsons, Mark Echeverria and Jordan Jones are proprietors, while Mark is restaurant manager. Their families are passionately involved in maintaining the Hollywood institution known around the world as Musso and Frank.

Chapter 3 ~ The Mayor

“Mayor” is an honorary title, bestowed on one patron by fellow patrons, who recognize that this is the ambassador who best represents them to the management and customers.

Jimmy “Doc” Pappas, also known as the “Swashbuckler,” is the current Mayor of Musso’s. Jimmy is a regular in the dining room and at the bar and is well known by staff and customer alike. Always a genial host to new and old friends, Jimmy took over the reins when Nelson Hower, the previous mayor, moved on to Palm Springs and Venice Beach. The Doc, who has a long legacy in Hollywood, is the son an Ambassador Hotel lifeguard in the glory days. He resides at a historic address in Hollywood and drives a classic Cadillac.

Chapter 4 ~ Writers & Philosphers

By the late 1930’s and early 1940’s, a number of serious writers from the east coast and elsewhere settled into life in Hollywood. Most of them complained as they cashed bigger checks from the studios than they did from their publishers. Hemingway refused to write screenplays but sold his books to the movies. Faulkner worked for the studios, but when told he could write from home, instead of on the studio lot, he headed back to Mississippi.

Others stayed, and almost at the same time, they began to see a story of Hollywood worth writing. F. Scott Fitzgerald, who browsed at Pickwick Bookshop, west of Musso and Frank and at the Stanley Rose Bookstore a few doors east of the restaurant, spent time at the bar. He immortalized Irving Thalberg as Monroe Starr in The Last Tycoon, his 1940 unfinished nod to the decadence of Hollywood.

Raymond Chandler, screen writer of The Blue Dahlia, also sat at the bar. He mentions Musso and Frank in his 1939 novel, The Big Sleep. His book was later made into the classic film, starring Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe.

In 1938, John O’Hara’s Hollywood story, Hope of Heaven, hit bookstores. The author, best known for Appointment in Samara and BUtterfield 8, tells the story of a studio rewrite man, Jim Molloy, who sounds like the same disillusioned characters that O’Hara’s contemporaries created. Says Molloy, “Maybe I am not the man to tell this story, but if I don’t tell it no one else will, so here goes.”

Nathanial West’s Hollywood masterpiece, The Day of the Locust, arrived in 1939. In the book, West takes the reader around Hollywood, including his own home at “Chateau Mirabella” on Ivar Street, or as he calls it, “Lysol Alley.” A friend of Fitzgeralds, he also drank at Musso’s.

Another friend of Scott Fitzgerald’s, Budd Schulberg, wrote a timeless story of power and greed in Hollywood with his tale, What Makes Sammy Run, published in 1941. Another devotee of Pickwick and Stanley Rose, Schulberg wrote of Musso’s too: “As usual I browsed around Stanley Rose’s until I had an appetite and then as usual I went next door to Musso’s.” He even mentions his favorite employee: “Amelio was the restaurant’s indisputable forensic star.”

Yet another friend of Fitzgerald’s, Princeton pal Edmund Wilson, wrote his book, The Boys in the Back Room: Notes on California Novelists in 1941. The title referred to the Musso and Frank-Stanley Rose crowd that floated from the back room of the book store to the back room of the restaurant.

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Through the years, most of the writers associated with Hollywood in one way or another made their way to Musso and Frank. In the 1960’s, crime novelist Jim Thompson, who had already written The Getaway, The Killer Inside Me and The Grifters, was down on his luck. He lived a few blocks away on Whitley and nearly every day he made the trip down the hill to the bar, now in the New Room. With all of his books out of print, he worked at his typewriter in the morning and made his way to Musso’s in the late afternoon. Ruben remembers him, just as he recalls Charles Bukowski, who, like Jim Thompson, often couldn’t make it home without help.

In his book, Hollywood, Bukowski wrote, “I was leaning against the bar in Musso’s. Sarah had gone to the lady’s room. I liked the bar at Musso’s, bar just as bar, but I didn’t like the room it was in. It was known as the ‘New Room.’ The ‘Old Room’ was on the other side and I preferred to eat there. It was darker and quieter. In the old days I used to go to the Old Room to eat but I never actually ate. I just looked at the menu and told them ‘Not yet,’ and kept ordering drinks.”

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John Fante, author of Ask the Dust, and other books, wrote “[it] was a glorious beginning to the new day, a rekindling of the will to survive, a renewal of one’s faith in mankind.  A great charcoal fire roared in the grill, and a highhatted chef tended bacon, sausages and small steaks, the fetching aroma hitting your nostrils the moment you entered the room.  You sat at the counter in a comfortable swivel chair, as close to the fire as you could get.  The waiter brought coffee as soon as you sat down and French bread, but gave you a couple of minutes to pull down some hot coffee and smoke your first cigarette, before he asked what you wanted.  He put the morning paper before you…You were content…You lingered on, watching the charcoal flames slowly falling into a profound lethargy.  No doubt it was bad for you, all that coffee, all that cholesterol, all those cigarettes, all that time consumed.  But it was beautiful and unforgettable.”

Chapter 5 ~ John Barrymore & Company

The stories of the early days of Musso and Frank have become the stuff of legend and myth. Most of the tales can no longer be substantiated, but they sound good, nevertheless. Rudolph Valentino ate at Musso’s, where he could talk to the Italian waiters in their native language. There is the oft repeated, but unverified story of Valentino and Douglas Fairbanks racing each other on horseback down Hollywood Boulevard to Musso’s. Charlie Chaplin and John Barrymore were regulars, each having his own favorite booth in the Old Room. Booth number 1, which is in the corner next to the sidewalk, is known as the Chaplin booth, but it was also Rudolph Valentino’s booth before his death in 1926, according to Jean Rue, his friend. In more recent times, the front booths have been occupied by Martin Sheen, Millie Perkins and many other celebrities. Booth number 1 is the only booth or table with a window view.

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Only twice have telephones been installed in the booths at Musso and Frank. Radio and television legend, Ralph Edwards, creator of Truth or Consequences and host of This is Your Life, was provided a telephone hookup at his regular table in booth 24. The other telephone was installed for Mrs. Carissimi at booth 35. The telephones were connected when they occupied the booths, and removed afterwards. Ralph Edwards was a daily patron and held in high praise by the staff. In the 1950’s, his offices were directly across the Boulevard and Mr. Edwards was a regular customer at lunch time. He began the tradition of sending Poinsettias to the restaurant for the holiday season. Today, the management continues the custom of decorating the restaurant with Poinsettias.

Camera girls, or restaurant photographers, were never allowed at the restaurant, in deference to celebrities and diners who preferred privacy.

Chapter 6 ~ The Staff

Gary Lukey, General Manager, has a long career in the industry, beginning in New Jersey in the early 1970s, when he worked at the famous Lily Marlene’s White Lantern. When he moved to the Bay Area in California in 1978, Gary was hired as food and beverage manager at the Oakland Airport. In San Francisco, he tended bar at the Blue Boar Inn. He opened Maxwell’s Plum, the second location of the famous Manhattan eatery, in San Francisco in 1980. In 1984, he returned to New York and worked at the original Maxwell’s Plum. In the late 1980’s, Gary was director of the old Jockey Club at the Ritz Carlton, Central Park South. He has received many honors and awards as a wine expert, including recognition for creating the selections that won the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence. Now, Gary is introducing a new wine list at Musso and Frank, which is already gaining accolades from patrons.

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Manuel Alvarez, captain since 1974, has a long career in the restaurant business. He was a member of the staff at the famous Hollywood eatery, Edna Earl’s Fogcutter on La Brea Avenue, and later as a captain in the Banquet department at the Music Center in Los Angeles. Prior to Musso and Frank, Manuel worked for many years at Scandia on the Sunset Strip.

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The Bartenders

Ruben Rueda has tended bar at Musso’s since the February 4, 1967. A native of Durango, Mexico, he worked at the La Brea Inn, Fog Cutter, Paprika and Small World in Hollywood before beginning his career at Musso and Frank. He remembers Bing Crosby, Phil Harris and Alice Faye sitting at his bar. Raymond Burr drank vodka gimlets and ate cheese stuffed celery at table #38. Ruben served Manhattans to Ali MacGraw and Lowenbrau to Steve McQueen. Writers Jim Thompson and Charles Bukowski were regulars at the bar . Ruben poured drinks for Rock Hudson the week before he died. Gangster Mickey Cohen was a frequent diner, but didn’t order liquor. Ruben would notice his bodyguard, Tony Colleros entering the New Room to give it the once over before escorting Cohen to table #37.

Manny Aguirre has tended bar at Musso’s for over twenty years. He came from Ecuador to the United States in 1953. He worked as a bus boy at the Statler Hilton Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, where he served James Dean coffee during a break in filming of Giant in 1955. Manny, well known for his martinis and specialty drinks, worked at Nickodell’s, near Paramount Studios. He worked for years at Scandia, home of the “Club of the Vikings” (Erroll Flynn & Victor Borge, etc.) on Sunset Strip. He has counted many celebrities as his customers at Musso’s, including James Wood, Randy Quaid, Francis Coppola, Nicholas Cage, George Hamilton, Drew Barrymore and Oscar de La Hoya.

Before Musso’s, Manny served Ricardo Montalban and Caesar Romero at Scandia and Nat “King” Cole and Delores Del Rio at Dublin’s Food and Fun on West Third Street in Los Angeles. At Nickodell’s on Melrose, Manny served the cast members from the television series, The Brady Bunch, The Mod Squad, Mission Impossible and Happy Days.

Manny was named Bartender of the Year for 2005 and 2006 by the Southern California Restaurant Writers. Manny explains the proper way to make a Martini, contrary to trends:  “When you make a Martini, it shouldn’t be shaken. It should be stirred. When you shake, the drink gets all watery. When you stir, you get a cold, strong drink.” Manny has often said, “To be a bartender, you have to like people. You’re like a doctor, lawyer and priest in one. Customers know when they’re dealing with a person who cares.”

Mario Gurrola, the relief bartender, has worked at Musso’s since September 15, 1980. The consummate mixologist, Mario, along with Ruben and Manny, is one of the three Masters of the Martini at Musso’s. Mario’s masterpiece is the Bloody Mary, a specialty he has been mixing and serving throughout his long career at Musso and Frank.

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The Waitstaff

Sergio Gonzalez, who has the first section at the front of the New Room, began his career at Musso and Frank in 1972. His first customer was Buddy Ebsen. Among his repeat customers are Gore Vidal, Johnny Depp, Keith Richards, Tim Robbins and David Spade. Sergio is the recipient of the coveted California Writers Association Waiter of the Year award for 2008. He served Christian and Cheyenne Brando the night that Dag Drollet was killed. The family later held a wake for Drollet at Musso’s.

Juan Ramos, who has worked at the restaurant since 1970, has his own section in the old room. In the early years, Juan and the other waiters moved from section to section, but for decades now, he can be seen near Table 10, the Mickey Rooney Booth, in the rear of the old room.  Over the years, Juan has served many celebrities, including Elizabeth Taylor and Warren Beatty.  At Table 10, Juan has waited on Mickey Rooney, Steve McQueen, Ali McGraw, Nicolas Cage, Patricia Arquette, John Travolta and Robert Blake, to name a few. 2010 is Juan’s 40th anniversary with Musso’s, where he is a clientele favorite.

Craig Vallone started with Musso’s on April 28, 2007. He has a rich background in the restaurant business, including the Russian Tea Room on West 57th Street in New York. Craig also worked at the Playboy Mansion and at Club Med.

Alfredo Marin began his career at Musso and Frank in January, 1991. He works in the New Room, assisting Sergio in the front section.

Jesus Martinez started at Musso’s in April, 2001. He also works in the New Room.

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Manny Felix, counter man at the grill in the Old Room, began his career at Musso and Frank in 1974. Manny has transformed the counter from an unassuming section to a vibrant place where repeat customers revel at Manny’s magic tricks tales of old Hollywood. They also appreciate his discerning service, where every customer is treated with respect. Manny’s favorite customers include Fay Wray, Mary Carlisle, Terri Garr, Julia Roberts, Anita O’day and Peter O’Mally, who keeps in touch with Manny year round. Before Musso’s, Manny worked at the Villa Capri in Hollywood and at the Statler Hilton in downtown Los Angeles. He was also a regular audience member and dancer at Lawrence Welk’s television show at the Hollywood Palladium.


Ignacio Soriano works side by side with Manny at the grill. He started at Musso and Frank in 1981. Prior to Musso’s, “Nacho” worked at Chasen’s, where he served Frank Sinatra, Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford. At Musso’s, one of his favorite customers was Antonio Aguilar, the famous Mexican actor, singer and songwriter, who died in 2007.


Oscar Fuxa Balarezzo, a veteran of thirty years at Musso’s, has a long and legendary career in restaurants. Oscar worked in the main dining room at the Vine Street Brown Derby from 1970 until they closed in 1978. Among his customers at the Derby over the years, were Montgomery Clift, Natalie Wood, Frank Sinatra, Paul Newman, Burt Lancaster, Charlton Heston, Lucile Ball and Ann-Margaret. Oscar, a waiter and a bartender, was honored in Beverly Hills in 2002 at the Academy Foundation’s Brown Derby Exhibition, where memorabilia, photographs and caricatures of movie stars were displayed.


At the Grill

Another fixture at the grill, is broiler chef Indolfo Rodriguez, who started at Musso and Frank in 1984. Prior to Musso’s, Indolfo worked at Schwab’s Drugstore at Sunset Boulevard and Crescent Heights Boulevard in Hollywood from 1970 until 1984.

Leonard Rueda, son of bartender Ruben Rueda, is the current waiter serving at the counter in the Old Room.

Chapter 7 ~ Chicken Pot Pie & Other Stories

Sitting at the counter one afternoon, Joyce told the story of her father, who was on leave from the army during World War II. He spent a few days in Los Angeles and found his way to the Hollywood Canteen and eventually up to Hollywood Boulevard for dinner. He and a buddy stepped into Musso and Frank for the first time and sat in a booth. They both ordered the Thursday special, chicken pot pie. He told his family over the years how it was the first time in months he felt like he’d had a home cooked meal.

Time moved on and he never forgot the dinner. When his granddaughter was married in 2003, he returned to Hollywood for the first time since the war. He had told his family the story so many times that when they arrived at the airport a few days before the wedding, his wife suggested they look for the restaurant he mentioned so often.

The next day they found themselves on Hollywood Boulevard, and after asking a few locals for directions, they found Musso and Frank, much the way the two soldiers saw it in 1945. They went inside, checked the menu, and since it was Thursday, they happily ordered the special, chicken pot pie. He told them it was just as he remembered.

As his daughter remarked, many upscale restaurants brag about changing their menus every six months. But, as Joyce said, “when you do it right the first time, you don’t need to make changes.”

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Raymond Burr, who played Perry Mason on television, had long since passed on when Barbara Hale, who played his secretary, Della Street came into Musso’s one evening. The New Room was almost full, with diners, including TV personality Tom Snyder, sitting with his family in a booth and cowboy actor R. G. Armstrong dining with friends at a table in the middle of the room. Barbara walked in from the front of the restaurant by herself, looking for her friends. Suddenly the room was silent, and as Barbara located her friends in the rear of the room, applause broke out as she made her way between tables to her group.

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Jack La Lanne, the fitness champ, was another popular personality at Musso’s. He was given a big birthday party in the new room one night, with a dozen tables put together for friends and family. It was his 88th birthday and people from all over the room went to shake Jack’s hand and to congratulate him. His friends toasted him all evening and Jack lifted his glass of wine to them.

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Millicent Clarke was the Pepsodent Girl in the 1950’s. Billboards all over town displayed her face along with the claim, “You’ll wonder where the yellow went, when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent.” She was a regular at Musso and Frank and still tells the story of when the New Room was opened in the mid 1950’s. According to Millicent, the single booths that run along the bar were once exposed to the bar, but after too many tipsy drinkers crashed into diners, Musso’s moved the wall that faced the room to the other side, creating a separation between diners and drinkers. Today, tipplers bump into the wall, not the diners.

Millicent also says the original bar was much smaller and not as well known to customers walking in from the Boulevard. Ernest Hemingway and Gary Cooper sat at the bar, entering from the rear door, as did other famous people who tried to avoid the public. One day, Millicent says, two sailors came rushing in from the Boulevard entrance to the restaurant and approached the bar. Millicent was surprised to see them, but since Marilyn Monroe was sitting at the bar, she suspected they were going to fawn over her and ask for her autograph. Instead, they ignored her and crowded around Joe DiMaggio, her date. As far as Millicent could tell, they never even glanced at Marilyn. Not long after, The Stanley Rose Bookstore closed and Musso’s took over the space and created the New Room, moving the bar from the back to the more public location.

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Today, once a year a group of Marilyn fans, including lookalikes, hold court at Musso’s to celebrate her life. And once a year or so, the Bukowski fans meet at the bar to sit with Ruben and hear the old stories again. The Robert Benchley Society met at Musso’s, as did the former employees of Louie Epstein’s Pickwick Bookshop.

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Elizabeth Short, also known as the Black Dahlia, lived at 1842 North Cherokee Avenue in Hollywood in 1946. She frequented Bradley’s 5 and 10, a bar at the corner of Cherokee and Hollywood Boulevard, half a block from Musso’s. She was also seen at Steve Boardner’s, another bar, just south of the Boulevard on Cherokee. The staff at Musso’s do not claim that she dined there, but some will say, “she must have.” After all, she lived a block and a half away. She could look out her fifth floor corner apartment and see Musso’s rear entrance. And, she was reportedly a fixture on Hollywood Boulevard before she was murdered in January, 1947.

Happy Retirement to Manny Felix

Our best wishes go out to Manny Felix, who retired from Musso and Frank in June, 2011 after 37 years of service.

As a waiter and captain, Manny was a fixture in the Old Room for many years and will be missed by his many regular customers. Over time, Manny entertained his customers with stories and  magic tricks at the grill counter. Generations of  fans will miss his presence.

Best wishes, Manny!

Gore Vidal 1925 -2012

The passing of Gore Vidal, writer, playwright, politician and commentator, saddens those who remember him from Musso and Frank. He was a regular customer since the 1940’s and entertained fellow guests and staff with his humor and stories. In recent years, he was served by Sergio Gonzalez, his favorite waiter.

Mr. Vidal once remarked that entering Musso and Frank “is like stepping into a warm bath.”

Rest in Peace