There were two Nickodells at one time. The less-famous one, which closed before the other, was at Argyle and Selma in Hollywood. No one noticed when that one went away…but everyone in town lamented the closure of the one at 5511 Melrose Avenue, built into the side of a movie studio. The studio was at one time RKO Studios…then it became Desilu…then it assumed its present identity as Paramount. Whatever the studio was called, Nickodell was the place folks working on the lot escaped to for a mid-day cocktail, and many important deals were made at its tables. When I Love Lucy was casting and they needed someone to play Fred Mertz, Desi Arnaz got a call from an actor named William Frawley and they arranged to get together and discuss the role over drinks…at Nickodell Melrose.
Also right down the street was a studio with a lot of history. The building at 5515 Melrose started life as the Consolidated Film Studio and later became the West Coast home of NBC Radio. It went through a dozen tenants after that before becoming the home of KHJ channel nine, a local TV station which now broadcasts (from elsewhere) as KCAL. It was said that in the fifties and sixties, the KHJ News Crew practically lived at the bar at Nickodell and wrote their copy on its napkins.
I only ate there twice, maybe three times. The food was pretty straightforward American — steaks, chops, chicken — and you got the feeling that for most diners there, the cuisine was of secondary importance to the libations. But the meals were served efficiently by real, professional waiters (no aspiring actors allowed) and the whole place had a cramped, wonderful sense of Old Hollywood history.
Nickodell’s closed with some fanfare in November of 1993. News crews showed up the last week, as did everyone who’d ever eaten there and wanted a last meal and a souvenir ash tray. But then it suffered the ignominious fate of completely disappearing. Paramount just moved some fences around and suddenly, not only was Nickodell not there but you couldn’t even see where the building had been. When I drive by now, I think I know where it used to be…but I’m not sure.