Simanaitis Says

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CELEBRATING THE BROWN DERBY(S)

I WAS VERY WELL connected at Hollywood’s Brown Derby restaurant, albeit only briefly. A recent mention of this restaurant on SiriusXM “Radio Classics” rekindled the memory.

There were actually four classic Brown Derby restaurants: the original derby-hatted one on Wilshire (opened in 1926), the Hollywood Brown Derby (1929), the Beverly Hills Brown Derby (1931), and the Los Feliz Brown Derby (1940). None remains; there is a Hollywood Brown Derby replica in Walt Disney World Resort, Orlando, Florida.

The original derby-hatted Brown Derby celebrated California whimsy of restaurants resembling giant hot dogs and the like. This Brown Derby on Wilshire Blvd. was a tourist attraction for more than 50 years until September 1980, when it closed without warning. Later that year, it was replaced with a parking lot.

The original Brown Derby moved in 1937 to a second Wilshire Blvd. location across from the Ambassador Hotel. This photo, c. 1968., and a following image from oldrestaurants.com.

The Hollywood Brown Derby opened on Valentine’s Day, 1929. The restaurant may be the birthplace of the Cobb Salad.

A Cobb Salad. Image by Ryan Kellman for kcet.org.

So the story goes, owner Robert Cobb assembled the first Cobb Salad for theater owner Sid Grauman. Gossip journalists Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper were also Hollywood Brown Derby regulars. Clark Gable is said to have proposed to Carole Lombard there.

The Hollywood Brown Derby, at 1628 N. Vine St. near Hollywood Blvd. Photo c. 1950.

According to Wikipedia, “Despite its less distinctive Spanish Missions style facade, the second Brown Derby … was the branch that played the greater part in Hollywood history. Due to its proximity to movie studios, it became the place to do deals and be seen.”

In fact, this was “my” Brown Derby.

It was the early 1980s. R&T editor John Dinkel gave a plum assignment to Dorothy Clendenin and me: Attend a holiday reception at the Brown Derby, followed by a musical at the Pantages Theatre just around the corner from the restaurant.

Dottie (not yet Wife Dottie) and I got appropriately dolled/duded up, left work early, and headed for Hollywood with enough time to cope with notorious freeway traffic.

Wonder of wonders, we got through clean and green, and arrived at the Brown Derby an hour ahead of time.

No problem. The place had a quiet bar, and a waiter brought two properly chilled martinis, Bombay Sapphire, please, with a twist.

We nursed them for an hour, paid our tab, and the maitre’d pointed out the reception. Oddly, we didn’t immediately see any journalist colleagues, but the hostess was warm in her holiday welcome.

Then she said cordially, “Ah, just what is road and track?”

We were a day early. Our hostess was wonderfully kind. “This is a little holiday affair my husband and I put together each year. Please do stay….”

We thanked her, wished her a happy holiday, and hit the road back to Orange County.

Sure enough, our invitation was for the next day. Once again, Dottie and I left early, amazingly beat the odds again, and arrived at the Brown Derby an hour early a second time.

Same bar. Same waiter. He said, “The usual, sir?”

Within a decade, the Hollywood Brown Derby was gone: Ultimately, its locale was razed following the 1994 Northridge earthquake. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2019

4 comments on “CELEBRATING THE BROWN DERBY(S)

  1. billkempwriter
    April 26, 2019

    Wasn’t one of the Brown Derbies the location for the gathering after Dottie’s brother’s wedding? Or do I have family lore wrong?

  2. simanaitissays
    April 26, 2019

    Indeed, Dottie recalls seeing a photo taken after their wedding of your mom and dad in a fancy Hollywood restaurant. I’d conjecture “their” Brown Derby is “Dottie’s and my” Brown Derby.

  3. Gary Perser
    April 27, 2019

    They were an iconic part of LA history and at least one should have been preserved. I remember the one on Wiltshire. The photo of the Spanish style one in Hollywood reminded me of another LA landmark restaurant, El Coyote at 7312 Beverly Blvd, where our daughter and her husband regularly take us when we come to visit. Now as I look at photos of each, they are very different. White stucco and red awnings, I suppose.

    • Gary Perser
      April 27, 2019

      “Wilshire” Damnned Autocrorrect!

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