• "One of my first customers was this Jewish gangster, Mickey Cohen. He used to give me 10 bucks - back then it was a lot of money"

    - Mr Sergio Gonzalez

  • This image: Chef Mr Domingo Pule, whose speciality is flannel cakes. 

    Left: Mr Rueda served his first Martini at Musso & Frank's in 1967.

    Bottom left: The chairs and the bar in the New Room are from the Back Room, which was occupied from 1934-1955 when the New Room was being built as its direct replica.

  • This image: The Old Room remains unchanged from its original design, while the phone booth is said to be the first public telephone in Hollywood. 

    Top right: Musso & Frank Grill is known for its Martinis, which were voted the best in the US by GQ.

    Bottom right: "I served Orson Welles in the 1970s for a little while. He was a strange guy - he didn't want to talk to nobody"

    - Mr Ruben Rueda

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Photography by Peden + Munk | Words by Mr Mike Hodgkinson

For anyone who enjoys seeking out the great literary, cinematic and epicurean traditions of 20th-century America - a country hallmarked by its obsessive pursuit of the new - no establishment in the world marks a more satisfying gateway to old Hollywood than the Musso & Frank Grill in Los Angeles.

"Everybody has come through here, at least once," says Mr Ruben Rueda, the restaurant's longest-serving bartender. "Steve McQueen, he was a very quiet guy. He used to drink Löwenbräu. He wanted a fight one day; we kicked him out, because he got so drunk. The next day he came back and apologised. In those days a bunch of actors lived in the Montecito [apartments] about a block away. So at night, sometimes I got John Huston, John Carradine, Raymond Burr. I served Orson Welles in the 1970s for a little while. He was a strange guy - he didn't want to talk to nobody. Actually, the only person I ever saw talking to him was Charlton Heston."

Mr Rueda served his first Martini in 1967, but the restaurant has been a fixture on Hollywood Boulevard since 1919. On a European scale, that's the equivalent of a millennium. Original owners Messrs Joseph Musso and Frank Toulet sold the place to Italian immigrants Messrs John Mosso - similar surname, no relation - and Joseph Carissimi in 1927, who moved next door in 1934 to the current location. The establishment is now run and owned by Mr Mosso's third- and fourth-generation descendants. The Old Room looks no different than it did in the mid-1930s; the New Room, where you'll find the bar, was last fully refitted in 1955. At Musso's, as regulars call the place, even the "new" is old. Almost half a century old.

Steve McQueen wanted a fight one day; we kicked him out, because he got so drunk. The next day he came back and apologised

The original furnishings anchor the place to the past like steel halyards. The English countryside wallpaper, untouched in the Old Room for the best part of 80 years, has been seasoned with nicotine huffed out by great novelists, golden-age actors, gangsters, agents, producers... any patron who lit up a cigarette in the days when tobacco smoke was a film noir cameraman's lighting tool. From wooden booth to bar top, these are the same surfaces leant on and propped up by Messrs Charlie Chaplin, F Scott Fitzgerald, Raymond Chandler, Charles Bukowski and Ms Marilyn Monroe.

There's a solid wooden divider between the bar and the dining tables in the New Room, installed to dampen the havoc wrought on human balance by booze and gravity. The low dining counter in the Old Room has original wooden chairs that swivel. The bar stools are held neatly in place by brass shackles. These details can be found only at Musso's. The whole place has been marinated in the essence of Hollywood. Writer Mr Gore Vidal once said that entering the restaurant is like "stepping into a warm bath".

At Musso's the past truly comes alive, with a little help from Mr Rueda and a stiff draught of Martini, made the old way: one part vermouth and five parts gin. "Raymond Burr used to drink doubles," he tells MR PORTER. "Vodka gimlets. He was a big guy. He could put away several. He used to sit at the table next to the bar. He was a nice guy - a beautiful guy. I used to make a drink for Bing Crosby, in the 1970s, called Picon Punch. Matter of fact, after he died, we had the bottle here for many years: nobody ordered it."

Mr Rueda has been serving drinks at Musso & Frank Grill since 1967 and is its longest-serving bartender

Mr Rueda will tell you that the precise names and dates have started to become a little sketchy, but he never seems to run dry of stories. Besides tending the bar at Musso's, he has worked as a chicken wrangler for Mr Sam Peckinpah - who shot Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid in 1973 in Mr Rueda's hometown, Durango, Mexico - and was hired to roll down a flight of stairs during a fight scene in the 1971 Mr Burt Lancaster movie Lawman.

"Charles Bukowski - I used to give him rides home, once in a while. Matter of fact, he was here once with two girls. Cupcake and... I forgot the name of the other one. And he told me: 'Ruben, what do you think I do for a living?' I said 'Well, you're not a nice-looking guy, you've always got money, and always beautiful girls. You must be a pimp.' You know, sometimes I like not to know what people do. Because I think everybody's equal. You can have a lot of money. I don't care. As long as you pay for the drinks. I like everybody."

Mr Sergio Gonzalez started at Musso's in 1972, as a green-jacketed bus boy. He was promoted to waiter, earning the right to a red jacket, after just one year. "I came from Mazatlán, Mexico; [I was] 19 years old," he says. "It was my first job and I think it's going to be my last. When I became a waiter, one of my first customers was this guy, he was a Jewish gangster: Mickey Cohen. And I didn't even know who the guy was. I used to put two hot towels on his knees. He was kind of crippled because I think he was beat up in jail. He used to come with two bodyguards, and he used to give me 10 bucks - back then it was a lot of money."

People are people, it doesn't make a difference to me. I have a lot of friends, like my good pal, Johnny Depp. Keith Richards from the Rolling Stones, Charlie Watts, Ron Wood

Mr Cohen - portrayed in the 1991 film Bugsy by Mr Harvey Keitel and by Mr Sean Penn in 2013's Gangster Squad - died in 1976. "I read the obituary in the LA Times. He was like any other customer, you know. Really. It's none of my business. You're my customer, you're my customer: that's it. People are people, you know, it doesn't make a difference to me. I have a lot of friends, like my good pal, Johnny Depp. Keith Richards from the Rolling Stones, Charlie Watts, Ron Wood."

The Stones, who favour booth 24 to the left of the bar, flew Mr Gonzalez to Mexico City in 2006. "Keith Richards' assistant called me: 'You're going to the concert, so get your passport, go to LAX.' I stayed with the band in the Four Seasons hotel like a big shot."

Mr Johnny Depp makes no secret of his affection for Musso's, says Mr Gonzalez. "When he had no job, before he became famous, he stayed here, drinking coffee. We used to have a phone booth on the other side. He waited for one of his agents to call for a job. He's one of the guys, you know. He became famous and he really, really loves Musso & Frank."

Mr Ruben offers a similar testimonial, from an English actor, whose name he can't remember. "Some of the guys tried to buy him a drink. He said: 'No guys - I'll buy you a drink.' He told me in 1952 that he came to Hollywood, but with no luck, he didn't get any jobs. He said 'Those days, I came but I didn't have any money. The only thing I ate was a cheese omelette. Now I've got money but I cannot eat because I am too old.' I can't remember his name."

Then, the mists clear, as they so often do at Musso & Frank Grill, to reveal the actor's identity.

"You remember Lawrence of Arabia?" says Mr Rueda. "Peter O'Toole. Yes, that's the guy I'm talking about."

mussoandfrank.com

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