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.

172 Responses to The Brown Derby

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

    Ooopsy Bebe…one more thing! A picture of you?
    https://tinyurl.com/ycvkbvad

    [OMG…I’m starting to feel like old Ralph Edwards on This is Your Life!]

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

    Bebe! Too funny!
    I tried that this am at Cracker Barrel by calling in on my cell and asking for me…Alas, none of the other patrons even looked up as I walked to the Hostess’ podium for her phone!

    Elsewise, are you really not Mildred Ames? Click https://tinyurl.com/ycsb3eo4 Here’s an old radio episode, the Babysitter… https://tinyurl.com/yc6ah9aw…albeit you aren’t in it. Sorry, I don’t have time to check all these https://tinyurl.com/yb2l9lo8 but they look from TV. I.e. didn’t know if ya made that transition.
    In any event, Blessings on hanging in there to 92…Best Wishes for years to come!

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

    Was David Niven an example of Big Hollywood Celeb Spenders “of an age”, e.g. https://tinyurl.com/ycwz67wl?  As a “courtesy”, did the Derby fill in its name as Payee when ya wrote a check to them? [Pic was found on alisonmartino.com, a blog of old LA.]

  • Bebe Young says:

    I am 92 now but when I was a teenager worked in Hollywood Radio and we went for lunch at the Vine st. Derby . Big deal was to have yourself paged so you could hear your name called and they brought a phone to your table. It wa s often a publicity stunt by RATE the telephone exchange to make you sound busy and hoped some director would hear your name. Mine was Bebe Young I was a regular on many shows during the mid 40’s.

  • Christopher Stone says:

    I was House Manager for “Dames at Sea,” at the Ivar Theatre, Hollywood. On opening night, March 10, 1970, there was a big party at the Brown Derby after the performance. I was about the only person there who wasn’t famous. Busby Berkeley and Ruby Keeler were there, as was Joan Blondell and Zasu Pitts. Caesar Romero, Ross Hunter, Rudi Valee, Ann Miller, Nancy Sinatra Senior, and so many more. Oh, what a night for a kid newly moved to Hollywood and still shaking the Fresno raisins out of my boots!

  • Pat House Bennie says:

    For what it is worth, I had a newspaper stand for the L.A. Times outside the Drive In area of the Brown Derby at Los Feliz and Hillhurst. They had the cutest outfits for the car hops and the best Hamburgers and Chocolate Malts ever made. I lived and grew up just a block away. It must have been in 1944 or 1945. My spot was located just outside the bar and guys would leave me tip larger than the paper cost. My dog was always at my side. Those were the days. The last time I ate there was in the 1960s and the name was changed but I can’t remember it. I think it was a Woman’s Name.

  • David W.Amm says:

    I have an original 1935 photo of the big hat Brown Derby taken by my stepdad and his buddies were down from Canada in their 36 Ford coupeD

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

    While searching here https://tinyurl.com/yd6jgj8c about old chains that still hang on, I ran across this sentence, “But thanks to a licensing deal, one “Hollywood Brown Derby” restaurant is in business today — at Disney’s Hollywood Studios park within Walt Disney World in Florida.”  As such, https://tinyurl.com/y7bhlkcn to check out the gallery of the interior per your memories and check out “Signature Dishes”!!!

  • Brandon Paul R New says:

    hi,i lived at the Ambassador hotel on wilshire blvd..my dad Joseph J New managed it..Don Dean ran the pool club which back in 1953/56 many stars went there as it was health club and a pool..I used to putt putt on a green they had as you left the pool area..I was there when Steve Allen had the original tonight show before Johnny..He would do a week at the pool every year..Thats when I met Don Knotts,Louie Nye,Steve Lawrence and Edi before they we married..I played putt putt golf with all of them..I did my homework in the Coconut Grove became a good friend of Harry Belefonte who played there back then..I went to school up by Wilshire and La Brea called John Burroughs Jr. High then went to high school at Hollywood high for a year and Ricky Nelson was in my class–they were filming Ozzie and Harriot and Skip Young became a friend of mine..He was Wally on the show..I went by the brown Derby everyday and was in the once with my dad..Don’t know why they tore down both places..the Ambassador and across the street the Brown Derby..Great days looking back and why do we in America eventually tear down what I call Landmarks..sad..my brother was a great swimmer,went to LA High then on to Loyola before it, became a boy/girls school and graduated at SC..Was the head of la county parole till he passed on and now his daughter has that same job..He would race Ester Williams in the pool and beat her every time…Loved those day just got back from Seal Beach where I was taking a 4 month break from performing and lived with his daughter and her husband..He married into a Lebanese family and one of the members is very rich.He invented the X-BOX GAME “CALL OF DUTY” Wish the Derby was still there drove by when I was out there in SEPT/DECEMBER…A GREAT NAME/TRADITION AND DAMN I MISS THOSE DAYS OF CLASS…

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

    Too funny Mitch! Herein this blog are several ‘pages’ about what was a local, SoCal ‘chain’ called Woody’s Smorgasburger. While not of the genre of The Derby, as a burger joynt it was of its own class as being a step-above McDonald’s, IMHO. Besides its Tyrolean ambiance, its uniqueness, and especially for its era, were self-serve condiment bars for its burgers (e.g. The Alpine, The Matterhorn etc.) as well as its D-i-Y Sundaes. As such, staff then Guests quickly learned to bedeck their burger not only with Thousand Island Dressing, but spooned some chopped nuts from the sundae bar. I’d venture to say, as I’ve never heard otherwise, that perhaps Woody’s came first and was copied by The Derby with its Cashews vs us with our Peanuts! LOL Elsewise and per doing a “road trip”, did you “do” Route 66 to enjoy the construction per the building of I-40?Anyways, Thanks for the heads-up RE the Cashew Burger.

  • Mitch Bienia says:

    After college graduation in 1965 I took a 6-week road trip out west, and on my itinerary was a meal at the Brown Derby. Didn’t know about the cob salad then, so I ordered a “cashew burger,” which had some whole cashews on a regular burger. Does anyone remember the cashew burger?

  • Carole Caven says:

    I am trying to remember the name of the former Brown Derby located on Las Felix during the late 70’s. It was such a great restaurant and Sunday nights would find many of the seniors enjoying dinner. It holds wonderful memories for me and for the life of me I can’t remembere the name.
    Thank you, Carole

  • jan says:

    when my husband and I were dating in the early 70’s, we would go to a place called Michael’s on Los Feliz. Years later, Michael’s was gone, but they were constructing a new restaurant. When they broke through the ceiling, imagine their surprise to find a curved dome within. (how could the Derby have been forgotten?). The Derby on Los Feliz was the only location to also have been a drive in. See details and pics here: https://waterandpower.org/museum/Early_LA_Drive_In_Restaurants.html (if you start at the bottom of the page and scroll upwards, you’ll save yourself a lot of time…although all of it is fascinating!)

  • Crystal Jade Bustamante says:

    Hello, I know this is a long shot, but based on what my grandmother, who is still alive at 90 yrs. old, has always claimed that her father (my great grandfather) worked at The Original (first) Brown Derby located on Wilshire Blvd. My grandma says that he was either a cook, or a sous chef, or chef or baker for many years. I’m trying to find documentation of my great grandfather working their to know exactly what his name was. We know of him as Carlos Lopez Coronado. He was a full blooded Native American, which at the time was difficult for him and my grandma and possible siblings. I’m desperately looking for at least one picture of him!!! He took care of my grandma, but there’s an understory that even she is unaware of because of how she was treated by the person who raised her. My grandma has told me that there is a picture possibly out there of my great grandfather and a young John Wayne. He, of course, met him at The Brown Derby. This photo apparently was hung on the wall in the house my grandma grew up in. That’s why I say that the picture good be out there or perhaps there’s a copy of it. My grandma was born in California and they lived in a house (she can’t remember the address) located in the original layout of Bunker Hill in Los Angeles.

    If anyone knows any possible information about my great grandfather or most importantly have a photo of him, I would deeply appreciate a lead or suggestions on how I could find info on him. I’ve tried for more than 10 yrs. on Ancestry.com to find information but due to the fact that he was a full blooded Native American, not much documentation is available. He would’ve worked at The Brown Derby most likely before 1960 just to give a timeframe. I would be forever grateful if someone could help me out. Again, he may not of been in the kitchen, he may have done something else, but I know for sure that he worked at The Brown Derby. I also understand that for him being a Native American working in a place like that was a huge deal and very rare. Please if you have any information, contact me at camtig@aol.com. My grandma and the rest of my family lives in San Antonio, TX.

    I appreciate y’all’s help in advance!!
    -Crystal Jade Bustamante

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

    Yo Terry,
    Catch a glimpse of The Derby with Phil https://tinyurl.com/y34p7h2b .
    Hear your Dad’s name get a shout out in the opening here https://tinyurl.com/y47jyq57
    As a kid, I really don’t remember watching, but do remember Phil had a recognizable voice.

  • Terry Chevillat says:

    My father was a comedy writer with an office in the Taft Building at Hollywood & Vine and, with his partner, was the writer of the “Phil Harris/Alice Faye” radio show broadcast from the NBC studios at Sunset & Vine. The Derby was smack dab between the two. My brother and I were lucky enough as kids to be taken there for dinner fairly often. When it was demolished, I grabbed some bricks from the pile and have them on my shelf to this day. A crying shame it didn’t survive, because it would now be right up there with Mussos as a not-to-be-missed Hollywood legend.

  • Max Pierce says:

    This probably has been called out, but the first BD (shaped like a hat and across from the Ambassador) opened in 1926.
    The Vine Street Derby opened Valentine’s Day, 1929. Bob Cobb worked at this location, and which is where he created the Cobb Salad.

  • Douglas J. KIRKHAM says:

    Why was the Los Angeles Brown derby Closed?

  • Richard says:

    I have Menu’s of the Brown Derby from tuesday August 16, 1949, Dinner menu.
    Also have Luncheon menu from Brown Derby for Wednesday August 17. 1949

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

    Seriously?
    Seriously Yolanda?!!!! Can you share a bit more about the Cocktail(s) [I’m betting a Frozen Strawberry Daquiri & U weren’t of age!)/Salad (either Ceasar’s or with Green Goddess Dressing)/Entree (no kind of Club Sandwich per the awkwardness of eating them)/Dessert you were impressed with? How ‘long’ were “lunch dates” back in the day? Of course…lest you may not know…we all eagerly await a run down on how ya met the “gentleman”, what was his ‘line’, and details of subsequent “dates”.

  • Yolanda says:

    I remember the Brown Derby with fond memories. I worked st the Tishman building across from the Equitable building and I met a gentleman who took me on one of our first lunch dates to the Derby. I was impressed with the restaurant as well as with my date.

Leave a Reply

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

Recent Comments