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.

47 Responses to The Brown Derby

  • Will Hamblet says:

    Over a decade ago I visited the Brown Derby in Florida. I innocently asked the waitress if they had grapefruit cake. She looked at me in surprise & said, “Of course we do.” Tasted pretty much like the one I remembered years ago in Hollywood.

  • Jesse Silver says:

    When I was ten, I was chosen to appear on Art Linkletter’s House Party. One of the day’s treats was lunch at the Brown Derby. I remember a cart on rollers that served as a traveling milkshake and dessert station, and something called a Luscious Lulu Burger. Pretty heady stuff!

  • Steve says:

    There used to be a coffee shop sized Brown Derby on Vine St. just south of Sunset…it was right next to my favorite 1940′s throwback bar, the Firefly.

  • The ChocolateDoctor says:

    I used to love the Brown Derby Cobb Salad—there was nothing like. Today a lot of restaurants claim they have the original recipe, but, if they do, they don’t use it. The only place in town that makes it like the original is Hillcrest Country Club—at least they did the last time I was there.

    During its first four years the original Little Hat Derby added only two items to its menu—Cobb Salad and Grapefruit Cake. Bob Cobb was growing weary of the steady hot-dog-hamburger diet. He found an avocado in the ”icebox;” chopped it up, along with some lettuce, celery and tomatoes, plus a strip of bacon and some salad dressing, and had that for his dinner. Several days later he tried it again, adding other ingredients—breast of turkey, chives, hard-boiled egg, watercress, and a wedge of Roquefort cheese for the dressing. Everything was finely chopped.

    So, you say you want to make it like the original—get ready to chop the following: 1/2 head of chilled iceberg lettuce, 1/2 bunch chilled watercress, 1 small bunch chilled chicory, 1/2 head chilled romaine, 2 medium-sized peeled tomatoes, 8 ounces breasts of roasted chicken or turkey (depending on what story you believe and the whims of the chef), 6 strips crisp bacon, 1 avocado, 3 hard-cooked eggs, 2 tbs. chopped chives, 1/2 cup fine grated imported Roquefort cheese, Plus, 1 cup Brown Derby Old-Fashioned French Dressing (see recipe below)

    Finely chop the lettuce, watercress, chicory and romaine, and arrange in a wooden salad bowl. Cut the tomatoes in half, remove seeds, dice finely and arrange in a strip across the salad. Dice the turkey meat and arrange over top of chopped greens. Chop the bacon finely and sprinkle over the salad. Cut the avocado into small pieces and arrange around the edge of the salad. Decorate the salad by sprinkling over the top the chopped eggs, chopped chives and grated cheese. Just before serving, mix the salad thoroughly with Original Cobb Dressing.
    Serves 4-6

    Brown Derby Old-Fashioned French Dressing
    .
    This is the French dressing which became so popular with the Stars. The cup of water is optional, depending upon the degree of oiliness or thickness desired in this dressing.
    1 cup water, 1 cup red wine vinegar, 1 tsp. sugar, Juice of 1/2 lemon, 2 1/2 tbs. salt, 1 tbs. ground black pepper, 1 tbs. Worcestershire Sauce, 1 tbs. English mustard, 1 clove garlic, chopped, 1 cup olive oil, 3 cups salad oil

    Blend together all the ingredients except oils. Add olive and salad oils and mix well again. Chill well and shake before serving.

    Some people couldn’t get enough of the Roquefort cheese. This was the roaring ‘20’s and many people had never tasted anything quite like this, so they either loved it or hated it. One day Gloria Swanson heard that someone didn’t want their blue-veined cheese. “What a waste,” she declared. Not wanting to waste anything, she had the waiter blend it into in her salad dressing before it was poured over her Cobb Salad. From that day on there were two choices of dressing—with and without.
    Makes 1-1/2 qts

  • Bob says:

    I used to be a regular at the Vine location. My boss liked to go there for lunch.

    The Society of Motion Picture & Television Engineers used to meet there.

    When family came into town, we would eat there. We had dinner there on Thursday, and the waiters were friendly as I was a regular. The next night it was on the news that they were closing that night.

    No one said anything while we were there the night before.

  • Connie Klem says:

    I worked at the Vine Derby in 1953. I loved the Grapefruit cake. Can I obtain the recipe? I have a hard copy BD cookbook copyrighted 1949 but the cake isn’t in it. Please let me know. CK

  • Claudia Benfield says:

    I love the site. I have always wanted to see what old hollywood sites looked like.Wish other sites had this much info.

  • angelatc (@AngelaTC) says:

    I wonder what happened to the famous caricatures that lined the walls of the original location?

  • Jeremy Elstein says:

    yes, this IS the brown derby that inspired the song by the cherry poppin daddys, it wasn’t just a random brown derby hat, it was an LA/Hollywood Icon…..

  • Joseph says:

    They’ve opened a Brown Derby in Disneyland :)

    http://allears.net/menu/menu_bd.htm

  • frank gentile says:

    Great site! We lived in s. calif. circa 1959-61 or so, I think I left my heart there, because I have been haunted by the place ever since. I auditioned for the Art Linkletter “Kids” show, but as I was almost mute at the time, wasn’t chosen. I still have the photo of me that his son Jack took. I met Lucy & Desi, and also remember seeing Jay North “Dennis The Menace” in a red convertible at the Hollywood Xmas Parade. I have a 1950s menu from The Brown Derby, if you’d like me to send you an image of it, let me know. Thanks for the great site. Frank.

  • J. Malcolm Dunn says:

    I have a large black & white photo of the Derby, I went once with my parents… back in the day.

  • Stephanie says:

    To Connie Klem:
    This recipe was published in the LA Times over twenty years ago. I had never heard of Grapefruit Cake before, so I was intrigued enough to clip it and try it. Luckily, I have held onto the clipping in my recipe files, so here you go:

    The Brown Derby’s Grapefruit Cake:
    1 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
    3/4 cup sugar
    1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
    1 teaspoon salt
    1/4 cup water
    1/4 cup oil
    3 eggs, separated
    3 tablespoons grapefruit juice
    1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel
    1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
    Cream Cheese Frosting
    1 grapefruit, peeled and sectioned or 1 (1-pound) can grapefruit sections, drained

    Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into bowl. Make a well in center and add water, oil, egg yolks, grapefruit juice, and lemon peel. Beat until very smooth.

    Beat egg whites with cream of tartar until stiff but not dry. Gradually pour egg yolk mixture over egg whites and fold in gently until just blended. Do not stir. Turn batter into ungreased 9 inch spring form pan and bake at 350 degrees 30 minutes, or until top springs back when touched lightly with finger. Invert onto rack and cool thoroughly. Loosen edges of cake carefully and remove cake from pan. With serrated knife cut cake crosswise to make 2 layers. Reserve a few fruit sections for frosting. Fill with part of Cream Cheese Frosting and grapefruit sections. Spread top and sides with frosting and decorate with additional fruit sections or small fresh flowers if desired.

    Cream Cheese Frosting
    2 (3 ounce) packages cream cheese
    2 teaspoons lemon juice
    1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
    3/4 cup sifted powdered sugar
    6-8 drops yellow food color, optional
    Reserved grapefruit sections

    Soften cream cheese at room temperature. Beat until fluffy. Add lemon juice and peel. Gradually blend in sugar and beat until well blended. Stir in food color. Crush enough grapefruit sections to measure 2 teaspoons and blend into frosting.
    Note: For a thicker frosting and filling, recipe may be doubled.

    Enjoy!

  • Jess says:

    Was the episode of Lucy, Fred, and Ethel real? We’re they actually there or was it a set?

  • The Management says:

    The interiors were a set on the Desilu stage.

  • jay sharpe says:

    I have a picture of my mom and dad, along with his brother and his wife at the Wiltshire brown derby a month before I was born in Jan 1945.

  • blueclad1 says:

    The original facade of the Brown Derby on Vine (south of Hollywood, adjacent to the Taft Building) is still standing. While new businesses & lofts were being constructed all over the area (including the property that TBD stood on), the facade remained standing, hidden behind scaffolding. When construction was complete, the facade was revealed and had gotten a facelift. You can see it on Google Maps using “street view”. It looks like some of the arches have been changed to accommodate entrances to current businesses, but the shape, windows, and the decorative elements are still there.

  • Tom says:

    I worked at the Rizzoli bookstore in BH when they were doing the Brown Derby Cookbook with Bob Cobb’s wife, Sally. She was considered a bit of a handful by the New York offices and I was tasked with “babysitting” her. She was an absolute delight- warm, funny, full of stories of the old days but completely and totally open to new things. She wasn’t afraid to stand up to the New York brass than she was to stand up to Errol Flynn (which she did.)

    I was young and stupid and didn’t want to “bother her” so I wasn’t as attentive to her reaching out to be friends. We’d meet for drinks or coffee every couple of months until she died. Her daughter came into the store to tell us and thank us for being so kind to her. It’s funny, because she had been so kind to me sharing her stories. She was fabulous. I miss her.

  • Bonnie says:

    The Brown Derby was one of those restaurants that was great for dates in the sixties. The food was so good, and reasonably priced. We also went for lunch there when I started working in the area of Wilshire.

    But I have one memory that stands out – I was attending a seminar at IBM on Wilshire, and it was three days long. The instructor promised a treat for us at the end of the three days, and the treat was going across the street to the Brown Derby for dinner. The most remarkable waitress worked there at the time, and he told us she would remember everyone’s drink without ever writing it down. We didn’t quite believe this, as there were thirty of us in the class…..but sure enough, that last day of class we went over there and this waitress took all of our drink orders without writing a single thing down, and then brought everyone the right drink!! And refills were also brought by memory. We thought this quite amazing!!

  • JANET SALTER says:

    I was born in L.A.CA.& remember so many wonderful restaurants & clubs. We’ve lived in Beverly Hills for 50 years & we especially enjoyed dining in the “actual hat” of the Brown Derby on the corner of Rodeo & Wilshire.
    Bulgari’s built on that spot & they designed a round, mosaic derby-shaped top on the building. My husband was Mayor of Beverly Hills in the 90′s
    & we miss the dozens of restauants that are “history”..like Romanoff’s
    Sugie’s Tropics & others on the Sunset strip & on La Cienega. Our favorite
    was Wil Wrights for the best hot fudge sundae ever!

  • Daniel "Keith" Hammock Founder says:

    I was a fortunate young man in my teens when I met a man by the name of Verner H, Seabury who owned a Advertising Specialties Company on La Cienega Boulevard in Hollywood, Ca. He jsut adopted me and virtually introduced me to a world of Wonder and Imaginazation. He passed in 1978
    after helping me to be able to Create ACU or Advertising Creativity Unlimited USA now a .com Co. in Northern California. Verner H. Seabury introduced me to the Brown Derby. I was told he passed playing cards with friends at The Brown Derby in Hollywood in 1978. Where he could be found on Wednesday nights, He bought me lunch there in 1975, I will never forget that day or his teaching me the Promotions Industry Inside Out. Thanks Verner. Thanks to to The Brown Derby for The Great Memories.

  • ArchiesBoy says:

    I believe there was a tiny one for just a short while on the street level in Beverly Center on the Beverly side. It never did get itself really established, more “died a-borning.”

  • Peggy Scheppler says:

    Would you please post a menu from the Brown Derby from the 40′s, 50′s, 60′s and 70′s.

  • The Management says:

    To Peggy: If I had them, I would.

  • Chris Nichols says:
  • Ted Giannos says:

    My great Uncle was the maitre D at the Brown Derby and whatever he left behind I now obtain. A couple signatures from celebrities that time and a lot I bar equipment with the brown derby emblem. I collect what I can and loved hearing everyone’s stories about this Hollywood icon.

  • veronica vasquez says:

    do you by any chance know who the chefs were at the brown derby my grandma told me and my father said that my grandfather was a chef there,they said he was a big man and used to say women have no place in the kitchen! lol!

  • Josephine Caillouet says:

    Hello, I am looking for info on my great uncle whom I ‘m told was a chef at the Brown Derby for many many years. (not sure of the location) His name was Louis Joseph Pertuit from Houma La. He lived 812 S Westlake Drive in Los Angeles . He died in 1970 Any info you have would be greatly appreciated.

  • Larry says:

    Recently found a 1947 luncheon menu from the Brown Derby. Has a map on the front showing the location of the restaurant and various Hollywood landmarks. Jumbo shrimp cocktail was $1.20 !!! Does this menu have any value? Thinking of putting it on eBay. Thanks.

  • Betty says:

    I have an original dinner plate from the Brown Derby, is it worth anything?
    It’s beautiful.

  • Mark says:

    Betty, interested in your dinner plate. can you contact me? thank you from Mark

  • Aunt Jenny says:

    Thank you for the recipe, Stephanie!

  • Teddy Ristick says:

    I have a picture of this cafe at night in the year of 1959
    I would like to share it.I don’t know how. ?

  • The Management says:

    If you have something you think should be on this site, send it to me@oldlarestaurants.com. Thanks!

  • Gregg Guenthard says:

    There is a Brown Derby in Arcadia CA, on Huntington Drive, somewhat near Santa Anita Race Track. Been there for years.

  • g hansler says:

    Enjoyed the information, pictures and posts. Ate there when I was 19 or 20, with an friend. We really thought we were in the big time really enjoyed it. We went to the hat. Did not know there were three until now or that there were others across the country
    .

  • D Rice says:

    The restaurant in Arcadia is just The Derby – no Brown. I believe it was named after the type of horse race by it’s original jockey owners, not after men’s headwear.

  • Veronica "crushed " says:

    I am “crushed” and very disappointed. This month soon me and my husband had already planned to go there (no refund no exchange) to eat take pictures of The Brown Derby Restaurant which we though was still there. I was overwhelmed to find out there were 3 in the area and couldn’t wait to go, now I find out not only that “none” is there anymore and that the only one is right here where I live here in FLORIDA…… :+{

  • Heather says:

    Hi I’m looking for a recipe for the crab appetizer that used to be on the menu in the 80′s and 90′s. it was served in a small foil cup like would hold a small pie or tart. Sort of like crab meat au gratin. It might have been a side dish to the prime rib dinner. Thanks to anyone who can help!

  • Christian Anderson says:

    The Spanish Colonial facade that remains on Vine is not from the Brown Derby. The original Derby burned down in 1966 and was completely destroyed. The facade that remains was from the same complex, however, but was several yards closer to Hollywood Blvd. next to the Taft Building. That’s why the archways look different. You can see both buildings in this photo from before and after the fire. http://alexshomefriedsyncopaterssociety.blogspot.com/2008/05/cobb-salad.html

  • Mark says:

    Like to hear from Ted Giannos, regarding the stuff you have. Mark

  • Larry says:

    Greetings, Do you remember or have any photos of the Duda Gang at the Brown derby in Hollywood? Thank you. regards, Larry

  • Johnala says:

    In 1961 after graduating from CSULA I went to work in Hollywood and the guys I worked with introduced me to Michael’s restaurant which was at the old Brown Derby Los Feliz location. At the time they had the most unbelievable $1.25 luncheon specials. My favorite was the Shrimp Louie. They also introduced me to El Coyote (if you are REALLY hungry order the Spanish omelet), and El Cholo on Western. Ask to be seated in the back by the fountain.

  • Carole Sidell says:

    Most delicious breakfast, salmon benedict, poached eggs cooked perfect, hollandaise creamy and just enough lemon. Got a jalapeño, cheddar, bacon scone to go, moist the best ever. Can’t wait to go back.

  • Charla B. says:

    I have a luncheoun menu from The Brown Derby No. 2 dated Monday Jan.3,1949. Would like to know if it is worth anything to anyone. Thanks

  • Guy says:

    I used to have dinner two or three times a week at the Hollywood and Vine Restaurant back in 1969-1972 after my acting classes at Theater of Arts on Wilshire Blvd. Tony was the best waiter ever ! I would always order the infamous Grapefruit Cake for desert. What Great memories of my youth !

  • Mark says:

    Always looking for items from The Brown Derby. If you have any please leave a reply. Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Recent Comments