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.

(Retired)

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.

(Retired)

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.

(Retired)

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.

11 Responses to “Chapter 6 ~ The Staff”

  1. Columbine Quillen Says:

    What warm stories about being a career bartender.

  2. Jae Young Says:

    Would love to see info on Juan (John) Garcia who has been running Musso’s since the earlier 70’s. The heart, soul, and backbone of this great place!

  3. Maria Aguirre Says:

    Jose Martinez is also noticeably missing from this wonderful profile. He has worked at the restaurant for over 30 years now.

  4. PRICE COETZEE Says:

    MY LATE WIFE [GAIL NEELY] and I had our reception at M & F ~ wonderful, cherished memory ~ still have the gift from M & F.

  5. Robert DeJernett Says:

    In the late 1930s through the 1940s the man who really kept the place running smoothly was the Maitre d’ Dan Illich. He set the standards of excellence that gave the restaurant its golden reputation. He insisted that waiters not rattle dishes or make noise. His knowledge of food and wines was superb. He was a kind and generous human being.

  6. Kim Munson Says:

    Years ago, I was a regular at Musso’s and I always sat at the counter in Manny’s section. I was young and trying to start my career. Manny was always sweet, funny and protective. He even came to my wedding in Griffith Park. I’m going to stop at Musso’s for lunch on 5/28, if he’s working it would be amazing to see him again!

  7. Geneva Fox Says:

    My name is Geneva Fox and I was sitting here going through the website with my mom because she remembers her father, my grandfather Joseph Plazola working here. We were going through to see if maybe any members of the staff remember him. He worked there as a young boy washing dishes and he eventually became a cook. He worked there until his passing in November of 1969. If anyone has any information or any memories of him it would be neat to hear a reply!!

  8. Jim Quackenbush Says:

    Wonderfull staff, but I miss maitre d’ Velli. What happened to him???

  9. Luis Sanchez Says:

    My dad Epifanio Sanchez “Epi” worked at Musso’s for over 50 years, during the 40’s until the 90’s, met alot of good people and enjoyed it. He was a good friend of Alan Hale. Alot of the old time waiters like Joel Salas and Ralph Sanchez are gone but not forgotten. I hope some people will remember the days when these guys were smiling, laughing, singing and talking about the good old days of Hollywood movies, music and theater. Keep serving good food, drinks, and providing a fantastic atmosphere.

  10. J.C. Says:

    Yes, what happened to Velli?

  11. Vince Rojas Says:

    Before Manny Felix the amazing Ewing waited the end counter with Manny as his right hand.We missed Ewing who was a great personality when he passed but now we miss The Greatest Manny Felix The Cat. We took our sons to M&F before they were born and now they take us. Mark you now have the key, I’m sure you will do great! God Bless Musso’s.

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