Where Hollywood idols ate, drank, and played
A drive around Los Angeles will almost surely take you past any number of iconic locations. The Hollywood sign, Paramount Pictures, Mann’s Chinese Theater. All of those landmarks are easy to spot.
Sadly, many other iconic locations are long gone. Schwab’s Pharmacy, where a young Lana Turner was discovered at the soda fountain, is now a shopping complex. Chasen’s, where Ronald Reagan proposed to Nancy Davis, is a grocery store (although the booth they were sitting in is now on permanent display at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi, Calif.). And Romanoff’s, once known as the “supper club of the stars,” is now a real estate office.
Then and now
Gone too is much of yesteryear’s glamour. Back in Hollywood’s golden era, celebrities got dressed to go out. They anticipated and even welcomed photographers—having their pictures in movie magazines was a great career move.
“Stars don’t really do that today,” says George Geary, an award-winning chef and author. “It’s nothing like it used to be.”
Hidden behind enormous sunglasses and baseball caps, today’s celebrities can often be found dodging the paparazzi on their way to mostly anonymous restaurants.
“Today, when paparazzi take pictures, they don’t mention the restaurant. There really isn’t a main gathering place like there used to be,” says Geary. “Back then, you could walk into certain places and you really would see stars.”
In his book L.A.’s Legendary Restaurants: Celebrating the Famous Places Where Hollywood Ate, Drank, and Played (Santa Monica Press, 2016), Geary presents a detailed and fascinating tour of the places Hollywood stars went to see and be seen.
Packed with colorful anecdotes, vintage photographs, and historic menus, the book is as beautiful as it is interesting. In addition, Geary provides more than 100 classic recipes from the restaurants, giving readers an opportunity to recreate a bit of Hollywood glamour in their own kitchens.
Labor of love
Geary, a longtime Los Angeleno, says that seeing so many of the restaurants he once loved closed and the buildings they occupied demolished inspired him to write the book. He wanted to showcase the uniquely L.A. restaurant scene as it existed from the 1920s to the 1980s.
“We don’t eat like we used to,” he says. “So there was a lot of history that I think we were losing and I wanted to capture it.”
Many of the restaurants Geary profiles have been shuttered for decades which made finding the recipes and menus a particular challenge. He spent three years doing research on both coasts, hunting down many never-before-published photographs and ephemera.
Once he found the recipes, he had to act as an interpreter of sorts, modifying ingredients to appeal to contemporary tastes and preferences. “I sometimes had to change the recipes to make them edible,” he says. “Back then, they used a lot of MSG and things that people don’t necessarily want to eat anymore.”
Fans of classic Hollywood will revel in the numerous anecdotes Geary recounts, like the time Dave Chasen, proprietor of Chasen’s, actually shipped his restaurant’s world famous chili to Elizabeth Taylor while she was filming Cleopatra in Europe—making it “the most expensive chili in the world.”
And, while you may be familiar with Newman’s Own products on your grocery shelves, you may be surprised to learn that Paul Newman and a business partner had a restaurant named Hamptons that was known for its mouth-watering burgers. The restaurant, located on Highland Avenue in Hollywood, served as the original test kitchen for the Newman’s Own brand.
Pig ‘n Whistle is one of the few establishments in the book that is still in business. Originally a chain with over forty restaurants, its Hollywood Boulevard location was adjacent to the grand Egyptian Theater. When it opened back in 1927, movie theaters didn’t have concession stands so Pig ‘n Whistle’s soda fountain and candy shop were popular before or after movie stops for the likes of Clark Gable, Shirley Temple, and Judy Garland.
The restaurant fell on hard times, closing in 1949. In 1999, it underwent a full restoration and reopened. The original soda fountain is gone, as are the 25-cent ice cream sundaes—replaced by ahi tuna tartare and portobello mushroom sandwiches.
Thanks to Geary’s book, those looking for a genuine taste of the past can whip up one of Pig ‘n Whistle’s most popular and satisfying dishes, lentil soup with roasted pork.
Lentil soup with roasted pork (from the Pig ‘n Whistle)
This hearty broth was the Pig ‘n Whistle’s signature soup, selling for just five cents a bowl. Lentils were inexpensive, and the pork added a lot of flavor without the high cost.
8 strips Applewood-smoked bacon,
cut into ½-inch pieces
1 large onion, chopped
4 medium carrots, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp tomato paste
2 cups lentils, picked over and rinsed
¾ tsp dried thyme
46 oz chicken stock or broth
2 cups water
1 ½ tbsp red wine vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
1. In a Dutch oven (or other 5-quart pot with a tight-fitting lid) cook the bacon over medium-low heat until browned and crisp, 8 to 10 minutes. Pour off all but 1 tbsp of the fat.
2. Add the onion and carrots and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 1 minute.
3. Add the lentils, thyme, broth, and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook until the lentils are tender, 30 to 45 minutes; add more water if needed.
4. Stir in the vinegar, salt, and pepper. Serve immediately.
Recipe courtesy of L.A.’s Legendary Restaurants by George Geary