Hollywood landmark Musso & Frank Grill celebrates its 100th anniversary on September 27, 2019.
It’s also paying homage to longtime bartender Ruben Rueda, who passed away this past April. Rueda tended bar there since February 1967 and celebrated more than 50 years of service before he died of natural causes. When asked about his legendary role as “Hollywood’s Bartender,” Rueda would typically answer, “Mostly, I like to talk to people and make people happy. I don’t work at Musso & Frank because I want to work in a bar; I work here because I like these people, and because I know these people. I work in the greatest place on earth!”
“Ruben always knew just what a customer needed, whether it was an ear to bend or a joke to lighten the mood,” says Mark Echeverria, proprietor, COO, and fourth-generation family owner. “He brought professionalism and kindness to his work every day, and his loss deeply affected many guests and colleagues who long counted him as a friend. Our family has run Musso’s for four generations, and to us, Ruben was, without question, a member of our family.”
Today, diners still settle into one of the restaurant’s classic red leather booths, amble over to its famed mahogany bar, and gaze around in awe at the classic architecture. The city’s very first public phone booth is still on the premises. Offering a unique combination of Old World sophistication and contemporary warmth, Musso & Frank and its mysterious back room have been a home away from home for many artistic luminaries over the years. Gore Vidal once described Musso’s as like “like stepping into a warm bath,” a familiar atmosphere that makes people instantly feel comfortable.
During his tenure, Rueda served actors Bing Crosby, Raymond Burr, Ali MacGraw, Orson Welles, Steve McQueen, Rock Hudson, Quentin Tarantino, and Johnny Depp, along with musicians John Lennon and writers Jim Thompson, Gore Vidal, and Charles Bukowski. Other celebrity guests include Charlie Chaplin, Frank Sinatra, Clark Gable, Charlton Heston, Marilyn Monroe, Alfred Hitchcock, Jimmy Stewart, Lauren Bacall, Elizabeth Taylor, Jack Nicholson, The Rolling Stones, and literary giants Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Raymond Chandler, T.S. Eliot, John Steinbeck, Dorothy Parker, and William Faulkner. Musso and Frank itself has been somewhat of a celebrity, having appeared in dozens of films and TV shows, including Swingers, Ocean’s 11, Ed Wood, Mad Men, Ray Donovan, and will soon be featured in Quentin Tarantino’s forthcoming feature film, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, scheduled for release this summer.
Besides Rueda, several other staff members chose to make a career out of working at Musso & Frank. Mario Gurrola, the relief bartender, has worked at Musso’s since September 1980. His masterpiece is the Bloody Mary, a specialty he’s been mixing and serving throughout his long career. Manny Aguirre has tended bar for more than 20 years and was named Bartender of the Year for 2005 and 2006 by the Southern California Restaurant Writers. Aguirre explains the proper way to make a Martini, contrary to trends. “When you make a Martini, it shouldn’t be shaken,” he says. “It should be stirred. When you shake it, the drink gets all watery. When you stir, you get a cold, strong drink. To be a bartender, you have to like people. You’re like a doctor, lawyer, and priest in one. Customers know when they’re dealing with a person who cares.”
“Ruben helped define what Musso & Frank is all about by making guests feel both in another world, and yet at the same time, very much at home,” Echeverria says. “He was renowned for treating each and every patron like a star, just one of the many reasons he became such an integral part of our overall experience. I’m heartened that Ruben lived long enough to help us celebrate our 100th anniversary milestone. We will do everything in our power to honor his memory all year long, and for countless years to come. There are many [memories], but my favorite is likely when I was four years old, and he served me, my sister, and my cousins Shirley Temples in Martini glasses!”
Today, you’re likely to find Echeverria enjoying one of the favorites from the bar menu. “We specialize in classic cocktails—Old Fashioneds, Manhattans, Sazeracs, and the Ramos Fizz, but by far the most ordered cocktail is still our Martini,” he says. While things have remained unchanged for the most part, Echerverria did divulge that something new is on the horizon. “We have been receiving requests from our loyal customers about private dining rooms,” he says. “It took years to design and develop a unique private dining experience, and we are proud to be adding that experience in the near future.”
Be sure to check the Musso & Frank website for special celebratory events throughout the year. Then stop by to find yourself transported back to another time and place where every meal is a work of art, every patron is a cherished guest, and every moment is an instantly priceless memory.