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.

127 Responses to The Brown Derby

  • Brad Hall CPA says:

    I was the CPA for the Original Brown Derby and was there to announce the closure of the restaurant in 1980. We did save the hat. It was a very sad day as most of the employees had been there for 40-50 years.

  • PSO says:

    Mark, I have a Souvenir Menu for the 30th anniversary — 1959.

    Let me know if you would like it.

  • DOMINGO PHILLIP DELACRUZ says:

    MR.MARK, THAT FIRST WEEK OF JULY IN 2015 I DID SEND YOU THE MESSAGE THAT I WAS HAVING THE HARDEST TIME TRYING TO SEND YOU THE PIC OF THE “MINI BROWN DERBY SUV HAT”! WELL, JUS TO LET YOU KNOW, WE STIL HAVE IT BUT HAVE NOT FOUND OUT ITS TRUE WORTH. IF YOU STIL HAVE ANY INTERREST IN THIS, PLEASE CONTACT ME AT 562 318 5521. OR SEND ME AN ADDRESS/E-MAIL TO SEND THE PIC TO. THANK YOU AND I’D APPRECIATE YOUR ANSWER BACK. THANKS AGAIN MARK.
    SINCERELY, DOMINGO P. DELACRUZ.

  • Charri Strong says:

    I have a cookbook I bought in the 1970s, 50th Anniversary of the Brown Derby Restaurant. If anyone has a great desire for a specific recipe I can check my book. I loved the Vine and Sunset location with the drawings, photos etc. Growing up in the Los Angeles area during the 50s and 60s was the best. I’ve got some interesting encounters with various celebrities during those decades. Mom always said that I should write a book. Remember the yummy cakes? One of my favorites recipes is the French Pancakes! Aaahh, those were the days.

  • Charri Strong says:

    I purchased the 50th Anniversary Cookbook of the Brown Derby, Hollywood in the 1970s. it has the famous Grapefruit Cake recipe and I love the French Pancakes. If someone has a great desire for a specific recipe, I can check out my cookbook. I loved the place and the ambience there. Vine and Sunset. Growing up in the Los Angeles area in the 50s and 60s was the best. I’ve got a lot of interesting stories about various celebrity encounters during those decades. Mom used to tell me to write a book!

  • Kathi Ward says:

    The Brown Derby on Wilshire Blvd had the best Eggs Benedict I’ve ever eaten! In the 60’s we went there often for lunch as it was down the street from my husbands office. Good memories!!
    Kathi

  • Linda says:

    The link to the menu doesn’t work! Would you correct it please? Thank you! PS: Love your website providing us with The Brown Derby history. If anyone is sharing Derby recipes my family would love to have a copy.

  • Mary Butler (Duarte) says:

    It would be nice if you had a listing of ALL Head Chefs, the year, and Chefs that worked under them, and menu specials. My grandfather Thomas Franklin Duarte was a head chef throughout the 50’s & 60’s

  • Michelle Sobel says:

    I remember when my mother Becky Armstrong worked in the Brown Derby back in the early 60’s and she would sneak me into the bar area while she worked. My mother most likely in the year of 1963/64 dated Chris Shankles “sportscaster”. If anyone who remembers my mother Becky, I would love too hear from you. She was approx. 5’4, long blonde hair and had a look of Marilyn Monroe.

  • Linda Koynock says:

    I too along with Heather ^ would also like the crab meat appetizer receipe from the 80’s-90’s that came in a foiled shaped shell. It seemed to have a mild cheese flavor to it. Any ideas?

  • 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 !!! Any interest? Does this menu have any value? Thinking of putting it on eBay. Thanks.

  • Al Donnelly says:

    Brown Derby menus online at LAPL database: http://dbase1.lapl.org/dbtw-wpd/exec/dbtwpub.dll

  • Al Donnelly says:

    My “other” childhood neighborhood from Capitol Record to Music City. Aunts at the Derby. Dad at the Plaza, later Roosevelt. Mom at The Broadway. And what do I remember most? The train models outside the Santa Fe ticket agency just across and down Vine from Derby!

  • Doris Law Bagley says:

    Their Sardines and Sour Cream recipes was served in the 1940- My parents took me to the Brown Derby and we saw several 1930 film stars. The sardine side dish had white onions and the sour cream was fluffy.

  • C. J. Chesser says:

    Today: Feb 5, 2017…..Brown Durby Chili receipt …. please e-mail receipt to:
    [email protected]
    I lived on Oxford just a few blocks away….would like to have Brown Durby
    Cobb Salad, Crab and Shrimp Baked appetizer.

  • Al Donnelly says:

    Armida..use the Restaurantware Collectors Network (RWCN). If it is not already identified, they’ll go to work ferreting out the facts for you. There are lots of resources there to help you with restaurant china.

  • Armida says:

    Hi. I am a big fan of the brown derby. My father worked there when he was a young man. I bought an expresso cup and saucer on eBay from the royal porcelain co. And am wondering if it is authentic.

  • mark says:

    Hector, what you have is from the late 70’s

  • Hector Acuna says:

    When did the name change to , The Hollywood Brown Deby ., Instead of , The Brown Derby ?

    I have a dinner plate and want to know if it’s original or was it made once they started Franchising the restaurant ?
    My dinner plate has the image of the Derby Hat on top of the plate and inside it say’s , The Hollywood Brown Derby …
    Please Help Thank You ….

  • Mark says:

    Ben Judd, can you show me a photo of the painting.
    Thank you, Mark

  • Shirley Hatch says:

    I am looking for two recipes from the Brown Derby.One was a drink called a”Grogg”.The drink took a special created syrup mix.I am also looking for their bar cheese recipe.My husband reminisce about the foods often.If anyone can help,please do.

  • Ben Judd says:

    I have a painting of swans with a bamboo matte and frame painted by the artist Annette Honeywell. On the back my maternal grandmother had written that it was from the original Brown Derby on whilshire blvd. The back ground I have from my mother, who is now 83years young that connects with the Brown Derby is my grandfather’s sister Harriet Horton was married to Charlie Yager who opened the first auto garage on the corner of Hollywood and vine. They (charlie and Harriet ) lived in the same apt building as Gloria Swanson and at that time husband Wallace Beery. They were all friends and would play cards together. My grandfather would drive the cars back to the owners, He told of delivering Spencer Tracy’s car. My grandparents lived in Hawthorne all of my life and I am 59. I am positive that what my grandmother wrote on the back is true, But I am trying to authenticate somehow. The colors and framing match the décor of the bamboo room. Idon’t know how long it hung at the Brown Derby or if it was used for the opening. I am trying to locate any pictures from inside the bamboo room at that time that might have the painting in it! Does anyone have any of these photos? I have had a hard time finding any from the inside! I once spoke with chris Nicholes from LA Magazine and none of his contacts reconized it. My Grandfather loved history and passed that on to me. If this painting is from the Brown Derby I would hate for it to lose it’s place in history. Will be happy to send a photo to anyone interested. P.S. I spoke to one of Annette Honeywell’s granddaughters, who knew nothing of the painting, But had fond memories of her grandmother taking her to the Derby for lunch after the beach. Thanks and any help would be greatly appreciated!

  • Jean McGrath says:

    The recipe for chili was on the label of the Spice Islands chili powder. I have lost my jar and would appreciate having the recipe again.

  • Heather says:

    Christian Anderson, the entire bldg on Vine did not burn down in 1966. Most of it remained until the mid 90s (’93?) when it was demolished. The link you posted showed what it looked like after the 90s demolition. I lived in it in 1992- it was definitely there. ;)

  • Mimi says:

    I am very deeply sadden by this I never have money too go see it or other things there I’m not rich I support my Elderly Parents & my small puppy I would love too bye a used RV class c too take my Parents my Mother & Father on a trip before they pass on????????????????

  • Mimi says:

    Why in the world they took down the Brown durby why I though it was very sweet lovely too be there i never ever got too see it????????????????????????????????????????????????why did it leave why????????????????????????????????????????????this makes me very sad .

  • Cindy says:

    Hello there, I am DESPERATELY searching for the crab and shrimp bake appetizer/ side dish that can in the little foul sea shell. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE!!!

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