The Brown Derby

The one on Wilshire near the Ambassador Hotel

At one point, there were several of them in Los Angeles but only one (the one on Wilshire opposite the Ambassador Hotel) was constructed so that when you walked in the front door, it looked like you were walking into a giant hat.

That was the original Brown Derby, which opened on Valentine’s Day of either 1926 or 1929 (accounts differ) and moved one block away in 1937.  The other main locations were (1) near Hollywood and Vine, (2) near Wilshire and Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, and (3) at Los Feliz Boulevard and Hillhurst in the Los Feliz area.  There were also a few short-lived ones in other spots.  All served mostly American fare in a semi-plush manner with very attentive service.

Apart from the gimmick of the name and pretty good food, they had two things going for them.  One was the Cobb Salad, which was invented at the Brown Derby, which was owned by the Cobb family.  As the delicacy caught on in other eateries, there was much publicity as to where it had begun, and many people wanted to go and try the original.  Many people also wanted to dine where the stars ate, and that was an even better reason to dine at the Derby.  Like many restaurants where the big attraction is celebrity clientele, the proprietors advertised their famous patrons by covering the walls with their caricatures.

The one near Hollywood and Vine

The Brown Derby near Hollywood and Vine was situated in area from which many network radio shows were broadcast, so stars were always eating there.  It was not uncommon for the cast of a program to do a performance for the East Coast, then repair to The Derby for food and libation before returning to the studio for the West Coast transmission.  This caused the Brown Derby to be mentioned often on their shows.  When TV shows began to emanate from some of the same studios in the fifties, there were occasional live remotes from that Brown Derby.  The Ralph Edwards show, This is Your Life, always began by surprising some celebrity, often in a location very close to the studio from which the program was telecast.  During the years that This is Your Life came from the Pantages Theater on Hollywood Boulevard, they often used the Derby, which was right around the corner.  The night Edwards surprised Harold Lloyd there, Groucho Marx was in the next booth (on a break from filming You Bet Your Life at NBC’s nearby Sunset and Vine studio) and Marx began heckling Edwards as the latter attempted to hustle Mr. Lloyd across Vine Street.  Well, who wouldn’t want to eat in a place where that kind of thing happened?

The Sunset-Vine Brown Derby also had a lovely banquet room and courtyard so it was the scene of many wrap parties and show biz press gatherings.  All that “in” spot mystique spilled over to the Beverly Hills location and gave it a similar rep.  On I Love Lucy, when Lucy, Fred and Ethel arrived in Hollywood and wanted to go somewhere to see the stars, they went to the Brown Derby…where Lucy caused a plate of food to be dumped on the head of Brown Derby regular William Holden.  That was probably good for another five years of tourists flocking to the place.

The one on Wilshire in Beverly Hills

Eventually though, business declined and Brown Derbies began closing down.  I was an occasional patron of the Hollywood/Vine one in its last years, largely because I was working on a TV show that taped at the Sunset-Gower Studio a few blocks away.  I recall being impressed with the history but unimpressed with the food…and somewhat bothered by the obsequious service.  The host and waiters fawned over everyone who walked in the door like they were royalty and it seemed awfully antiquated and phony, at least to me.  In any case, it was no longer the kind of place where Groucho and Bill Holden might drop by for a bite, so its main attraction was gone.

That Derby closed in ’85, the same year the Los Feliz branch turned into a night club.  In the last few decades, much effort has gone into preserving the giant hat from the Wilshire location as a historical landmark.  The only remaining Brown Derby is located at the Disney-MGM Studio theme park in Florida.  I don’t know why they don’t buy the big hat and just ship it on down there.

93 Responses to The Brown Derby

  • Nancy Patterson says:

    Hello. I have a couple of Wine Bottles from The Brown Derby. I am looking to sell them. There are 3 Brown Derby 1982 California Savignon Blanc. On the back it has A Cartoon pic of Carole Lombard, 1934,and a little story from benny Massr.
    Thank you

  • Larry K says:

    Reply to Mark re your posts of April 22 and June 30 looking for Brown Derby items: See my post of October 10, 2013 — I have a 1947 luncheon menu you might be interested in. Not sure if this item is common or if it is rare and worth something. Pls let me know if you are interested in it. Thanks.

  • Mark says:

    Larry thanks for the post regarding your menu, but I have most menus. Looking for harder to find items. Thanks again.

  • tracy Morin Hart says:

    My grandfather was Joseph nelson Morin he was an executive chef at one of the brown derbys in LA , the last night before he passed away he was supposedly catering for lucial ball.. Would love to find more info on him, he left my mom and her brothers when they were very little and headed south then out west where he had 9 more kids whom which I have been in contact with.
    I am a natural cool. Any info anyone has or pictures of him would be so great.
    Thank You,
    Tracy Morin Hart

  • tracy Morin Hart says:

    I’m a natural cook*

  • Marie Escamilla says:

    @ Nancy Patterson: Hi Nancy, I am a Hollywood hobby collector. How much are you looking to sell your wine bottles from TBD for and are they from the actual restaurant not the Disney replica?
    Thank you,
    Marie

  • Lesley says:

    I have an original Brown Derby luncheon menu dated Wednesday,Feb 9,1938
    It’s not in perfect condition but all the available selections and prices are very clear . Also the wine selection and prices on the back of the menu .
    Trying to find a value and possible buyer.

  • Jeanie Schroeder says:

    I wished I could have seen the brown durby.
    I was born in West Holley wood.

  • Brian McCague says:

    I was the General Manager of the Brown Derby at Hollywood and Vine during the late 70’s. Even at that late date, we still had a number of famous Hollywood crowd coming in the Derby, like Lucile Ball and Sammy Davis Jr. It was a great experience!

  • Bob Massi says:
  • Denice Kennedy says:

    I have an antique Brown Derby Hat in the original box and wondered if anyone nows it’s value? I can send pictures if interested.

  • Clancy Mullins says:

    I have two postcards from the Brown Derby Circa 1940/1950. We are settling an estate and found the photo postcards. We would be happy to donate them to your organization. Please let me know if you would be interested.

  • Syvia, Lady Dhenin says:

    When I was little we lived in the Hollywood Hills and my father said he could walk to the Hollywood Derby in 8 minutes. We went there often. The men had to wear a jacket and tie. If we were returning from the beach the head waiter, Mr. Chilios, would find him a jacket and tie so we could go in. Mr. Chilios also told me I needed an autograph book and he would then take me around to get autographs of all the movie and radio stars. I wish I still had the book.
    When I was in university friends and I would go to the Derby in Beverly Hills and split a client salad. Dividing it into 4 we could afford it and have a lovely lunch. Mr. Chilios had moved to the Beverly Hills Derby and still treated me as if I was the little girl he known most of her life. It was a lovely and fun atmosphere.

  • Luis Torres says:

    Hello my dad worked at The Brown Derby for over 20 years. He name is Rafael but he was known as Jimmy. If any one has any pictures of the staff inside the restaurant I would love to see them, please share. We are having a surprise 80 th birthday party for him this September and I would like to display them, for theatre theme is The Brown Derby. Thank you.

  • JOANNE says:

    Have one of the old candy box derby hats in original box – hat is great but box has some aging on it. Any interest or where else I might look? Thanks

  • Luis Torres says:
  • tracy Morin Hart says:
  • Patricia Mechling says:

    So cute of “Stephanie” to publish here in May 2013,the wonderful Grapefruit Cake recipe. The revised (1962) ed.”The Brown Derby Cookbook” does have this recipe. My favorite dessert there. I ate there with family as a teenager. Years later, my television production office was just up the street from the Hollywood restaurant. I could eat lunch anytime I wanted to. Joy! I was crazy for the Shrimp Louis salad, then, with cake to follow. I have since made this cake from my Br.Derby Cookbook; I reduced the sugar to 1/2 cup and just 2 eggs. Also, the book asks for 2 PKGS OF SIX OUNCE cream cheese in the frosting recipe.

  • Lisa Gillen says:

    My step great-grandfather was a chef at the Brown Derby (original). His name was John Andrew. My Dad said his grandmother wouldn’t let him cook at home because “he didn’t cook as good as her”. Too funny. It’s great to know there is a website for all of us to connect.

  • jeff mills says:

    I worked in LA as a cook and sous chef in the 90s….i moved back to my hometown in the suburbs of kansas city and i found 2 dinner menus and a lunch menu from 1957 in a box in a house i rented 10 years ago…
    i love having these treasures

  • Luis Torres says:

    Hello Jeff did know my dad he worked at the Sunset and vine location. His name is Rafael but he was know as “JIMMY”.

  • DOMINGO PHILLIP DELACRUZ says:

    I MYSELF HAVE NOT HAD THE PLEASURE OF DINING
    AT EITHER OF THE BROWN DERBY RESTAURANTS FROM
    WHAT I UNDERSTAND TO HAVE CLOSED DOWN. SUPPOSEDLY THERE STIL MAY BE ONE OPEN IN FLORIDA
    AND IF I AM EVER IN THAT AREA I’LL BE SURE AND DINE.
    HOWEVER, MY GIRLFRIENDS FATHER HAD BEEN ONE OF THE FIRST 100 CUSTOMERS IN WHICH THESE FIRST 100 CUSTOMERS WERE GIVEN A MINI BROWN DERBY SUVENEIR.
    RECENTLY MY GIRLFRIEND TOOK IT TO AN ANTIQUE STORE STORE TO ASK WHAT IT WAS WORTH. THE GENTLEMAN CAME BACK AND TOLD HER HE HAS A BUYER FOR IT AT$27,000.00. SHE DECLINED TO SELL FOR THE SIMPLE FACT WE WANTED TO KNOW ITS WORTH WE NEVER MENTIONED SELLING IT. WE WOULD LIKE TO KNOW ITS TRUE WORTH BEFORE ANY DECISIONS ARE MADE. CONTACT ME AT 562 417 5644 THANK YOU!

  • Mark says:

    Just reading the last post would like to see a picture of said item. What is it? Are you talking about the Florida location opening or the original opening in Hollywood in 1929?

  • DOMINGO PHILLIP DELACRUZ says:

    MR. MARK
    THAT WOULD BE THE ORIGINAL OPENING IN HOLLYWOOD IN 1929. IT IS A MINI BROWN DERBY HAT. I DONT HAVE A PIC BUT I WILL TAKE AN ACTUAL PICTURE OF IT & POST IT WITHIN THIS WEEK A.S.A.P. FOR YOU MARK. THANKS FOR YOUR INTERREST.

  • Mark says:

    Domingo
    thanks for the fast reply, look forward to the picture. Mark

  • Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos (NM) says:

    RE The Cobb Salad: Alas, had nothing to do with Ty Cobb of early pro Baseball Fame around the time.
    Here’s a tidbit: Bob Cobb, the owner of Hollywood’s famed Brown Derby, invented the Cobb salad in 1937 with his friend, Sid Grauman, the owner of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, which was “up” the street. Too tired to cook one night, the men raided the refrigerator to see what leftovers they could find: avocado, bacon, a hard-boiled egg, cheese, and chicken made their way into a salad with French dressing. (Reference: http://tinyurl.com/osqwdv7)
    Given it was 2 Guys, seems Legit to me (given Who hasn’t invented similar things! E.g. frustrated with always tearing white Wonder Bread while trying to put peanut butter on it, someone decided to toast it which gave it strength. As such and for variety from the usual…getting tiresome?….. PB&J, seemed reasonable to use that strength to spread some marshmallow Fluf, another bread tearer, on the other piece and thus easily slop some Welch’s Grape Jelly on either! Also e.g. I’m thinking it must’ve been how my Mom must’ve seen in Ladies Home Journal, while waiting in a doc’s office, that it was proper to serve mint jelly with lamb as Easter. Given it was WWII when things were rationed and, per my Dad off to war in the Philippines, economics were tight. Ergo, for Easter she served meatloaf instead and added a dollop of Grape Jelly on the side!!!!)

  • Mark says:

    Domingo still waiting, any chance to get a photo off to me thanks.

  • Kathy Senese says:

    This is a long short, I’m aware. My great uncle worked at the Brown Derby, original location, I believe, in the 1940s (?). I’m looking for an employee list or any evidence of his employment, website with staff photos that I can scroll through – anything. If anyone has any information, please advise. Thank you in advance.

  • Kathy Senese says:

    Apologize. I neglected to give his name: Anthony “Tony” D’Auria (bartender, 1940s). Thank you.

  • Jim M. says:

    I read the reference to that “Hollywood at Last” episode (Season 4, #16, originally broadcast on CBS February 7, 1955) of “I Love Lucy” when “Lucy Ricardo,” who was sitting in the booth next to William Holden (one of two guest stars in that episode, the other being Eve Arden, who also made a cameo at “The Brown Derby” and was the star of another Desilu-produced series at the time, “Our Miss Brooks”), accidentally bumped into a waiter who spilled the infamous plate of spaghetti that landed in the lap of guest star Bill Holden.

    But what needs clarification is “which Brown Derby” were “Lucy” and “Fred & Ethel Mertz” dining at in that episode? Was it supposed to be the original “Brown Derby,” the one on Wilshire opposite the Ambassador Hotel, that was represented in that “I Love Lucy” episode? Or was it one of the other “Derby” locations, possibly the Beverly Hills or Hollywood & Vine venues, at which “Lucy” and her friends lunched?

    I read this on another website: “the fictitious Beverly Palms Hotel that ‘Ricky’ [Ricardo] is seen pulling into is actually The Avalon Hotel-Beverly Hills.” So does that mean “The Brown Derby” at which “Lucy, Fred & Ethel” lunched was the Beverly Hills location?

    According to IMDB dotcom, the Hollywood & Vine location of The Brown Derby at 1628 North Vine Street was actually used for the “Hollywood at Last” filming. But can anyone reading this actually confirm that was the case? Does anyone recognize that being the real Brown Derby in the “Hollywood at Last” episode?

    One would assume Desilu Productions would have re-created a “Derby” set for that “I Love Lucy” episode, which at that time was filmed at Desilu-Cahuenga, located at what is now Ren-Mar Studios – 846 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, USA.

  • Todd McDonald says:

    I have a deck of cards (with box) from The Brown Derby Hollywood California. Think they are from 1929. If anyone is interested in them I would sell.

  • Mark says:

    Regarding last post The I love Lucy episode “Hollywood At Last” was filmed at Desilu studios (Paramount).

  • Kat says:

    Hello everyone.. does anyone know what happened to the Nicholas Volpe originals that were at the … Sunset-Vine Brown Derby .. thanks

  • Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos (NM) says:

    Yo Kat…check out the Comments here http://tinyurl.com/nf86b5l and the Ebay suggestion.

  • Neil Heron says:

    North Hollywood is a nice place.I sometimes wonder how many of the film and music stars want to leave.One other thing,that crosses my mind is how well a non English speaking person can do in Tinsel Town even if they are deemed to be attractive and devoted to their work.PS I had no post when I was in town.

  • Heather says:

    The I Love Lucy episode was filmed at the Hollywood and Vine location. I lived in the restaurant after its closing in the early 90s and am intimately acquainted with its inner architecture. I recognized the room in which they dined as being in the Vine Derby (known to us then as the “Vine Squat”. :)

  • The Management says:

    Heather, I beg to differ. The I Love Lucy episode was shot at Desilu Studios on Cahuenga. They duplicated a small part of the Brown Derby on their soundstage. (You’ll notice there are no other tables in front of the tables where Lucy and William Holden are seated. There were in the real restaurant.)

  • Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos (NM) says:

    Lucy and Holden: http://tinyurl.com/qcqw6q5

  • Phil Ankofski says:

    Hi Bob,

    It’s fun to greet you over here. Thanks for the Lucy link.
    You are a nice asset to Mark’s sites.
    I am curious what your career path was after college.
    Phil

  • Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos (NM) says:

    Phil:
    Blush

    Career Path? Alas, back in the day, no one mentored us(?)/me at home or in high school that the purpose of going to college was choosing a “major” as to how to MAKE money…LOL.
    As such, I “became” a Clinical Psychologist and “practiced” that in a “community mental health center” for eons here. Lest you ask: How/why? Somehow around 12(?) I saw and became intrigued with a rerun of The Snake Pit (a classic in its time http://tinyurl.com/plmcdhn) and read (Reader’s Digest Condensed Books?) /saw Three Faces of Eve amongst several things.
    Be all that as it may, wonder, retrospectively, what life would be like if, I’d gone to the U. Hawaii in Restaurant/Hospitality Management as Mr. Wood “bugged” me about a couple of times, to be then followed up by his (presumably) mentoring after. What a wild ride that would have been…LOL. Alas, wouldn’t want to have missed a wonderful Chica I had had here for a “few” years.
    And so…yourself?

  • Phil Ankofski says:

    Good morning Bob,

    Your career path is an interesting jump from a Woody’s burger flipper.
    All I can say is that with your extensive clinical background, you must find me an interesting subject pertaining to my addiction to these Woody’s sites.
    The handwriting has been on the wall for a very long time regarding the diminishing number of veteran commenters. Looks like you and me Bob.

    My work ethic was applied in the food service industry as an outside sales rep for a grocery distributor. The company was similar to the SE Rykoff Co. in LA
    which serviced all the Woody’s units. The company I worked for had several additional divisions ; tobacco and candy, beer, plus an Rx division.
    Many days seemed difficult because as I walked in the door, I had to wear four different hats to cover all the respective divisions.
    When all the independent drug stores and grocers finished consolidating
    into CVS and Rite Aides , well that’s when 90 % of the distributors went out of business and I retired.

    I have no way of tying all this in with the Brown Derby, so I do hope Mark gives me a pass.

    Phil

  • Edward inchausti says:

    Does everybody here still live in the LA area would like to here some stories from the brown derby

  • Mark says:

    Edward what type of stories. I am interested, did you work there? or just dinned there? Thanks from Mark

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