CHASEN’S – Dave Chasen’s legendary Hollywood restaurant to the stars didn’t allow credit cards or “celebrity chefs”!

Ava Gardner and Mark Evans depart from Chasen’s – a far cry from Dave’s first restaurant, which featured only chile and spareribs.

Vincent Minnelli and Judy Garland, with the Oscar Levants.    Mrs. Levant looks at Mrs. Minnelli…  No credit card?

American Social History:  CHASEN’S – the famous Hollywood restaurant lasted into the 1990s and no credit cards were honored.   Chasen’s was a glamorous world – “Celebrity chefs” will never replace stylish hosts and personalities such as Dave Chasen or Vincent Sardi or Mike Romanoff.   Thank the Gods these “chefs” are in the kitchen and not at the front door greeting you!

Dining out at Chasen’s in 1951: George Alpert, maitre d’hotel, serves famous cracked crab as the risibilities of William Holden; his wife Brenda Marshall; Jane Wyman and her agent, Lou Wasserman, are tricked by the wit of Dave Chasen.

(Left) Alfred Hitchcock the bar; Marilyn Monroe and Joe Dimaggio in a corner booth.

After 59 years as a prime celebrity hangout, the legendary Chasen’s finally closed its doors on April 1, 1995. The original building was eventually torn down and replaced by a Bristol Farms market.

At one time Chasen’s was the most famous celebrity restaurant in town, the Spago of its day, renowned for its long list of movie stars and other celebrity diners. Clark Gable, Errol Flynn, W.C. Fields, Cary Grant, Gary Cooper, Jack Benny, Howard Hughes, Marilyn Monroe, William Powell, Joan Crawford, Alfred Hitchcock, John Kennedy, Groucho Marx, Jackie Gleason, James Cagney, Barbara Stanwyck, Alan Ladd, and F. Scott Fitzgerald were all regulars at Chasen’s, along with most of the Hollywood elite.

Burt Lancaster, writer Cy Bartlett, director Frank Capra hit Chasen’s sauna with Mr. Chasen.

At one time, the restaurant even included a sauna and a full-time barber!

And its tales of Old Hollywood are legendary. Humphrey Bogart & Peter Lorre once got drunk together at Chasen’s bar, and made off with the restaurant’s immense safe, which they rolled out the door and abandoned in the middle of Beverly Boulevard. Bing Crosby took the entire Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team to Chasen’s for dinner in 1949.

“Suddenly Last Summer” premiere party at Chasen’s Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and Lawrence Harvey

Jimmy Stewart had his bachelor party at Chasen’s in 1949, complete with two midgets dressed in diapers. Orson Welles fired John Houseman at Chasen’s and threw a flaming can of Sterno at his former partner.

Elizabeth Taylor and Eddie Fisher “hiding out” at Chasen’s.

As the legendary restaurant aged, newer, flashier restaurants stole some of its star clientele, but Chasen’s was still going strong in the 90’s. It was said to be Ronald Reagan’s favorite restaurant (he proposed to Nancy in Booth No. 2, and brought former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher there as his guest four decades later).

Maude Chasen at Chasen’s Restaurant (photographer Wallace Seawell seated at the far right).

Groucho Marx is welcomed by Bernice Kinzel, had-check girl at Chasen’s for years.  The painting at left portrays not Harpo Marx, but Dave Chasen in costume during his professional funnyman days.

Old-timers such as Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Gregory Peck, and Kirk Douglas were still regulars, as were George Burns and Jimmy Stewart just before they died, along with newer celebrities in the 70s, 80s and 90s, such as Sharon Stone, Quentin Tarantino, Jack Nicholson, John Travolta and Warren Beatty. Disco diva Donna Summer wrote her hit song “She Works Hard For the Money” after hearing the line from a ladies’ room attendant at Chasen’s.

(Left) A movie and a book – all about Chasen’s.

Like Spago, it had its special tables. The stars were seated in the small room to the right of the entrance. The rest of us ended up in the back room.

Opened in 1937 by owner Dave Chasen (at the suggestion of director Frank Capra), it was just a humble shack named “Chasen’s Southern Pit ” (because of a barbecue pit in the back); its chili quickly became popular with the show biz crowd, and Chasen’s rapidly grew into Hollywood’s premier restaurant. Chasen’s stuck with the American/Continental fare that brought it success, serving it in a warm, clubby atmosphere of heavy wood paneling and red leather booths. They still served the chili that made them famous (although it wasn’t listed on the menu anymore), as well as their hobo steak and deviled beef bones. In fact, when Elizabeth Taylor was making “Cleopatra ” in Rome, she had their chili flown out to her.

(Left) The menu – no credit cards please.

A meal at Chasen’s could also take a sizable bite out of your wallet: about $90 for dinner for two – and about $60 for lunch.

To be a culinary star in the 21st century, restaurants must have a star chef.  In the mid 20th century, it was not the chef, but the restaurant that was the celebrity.  Los Angeles had many restaurants where movie personalities, the stars, producers, directors, publicists, and hangers-on of the industry spent their time.

Paul R. Williams was associated with the interior design and architecture of two of the most famous of these celebrity watering holes—Perino’s and Chasen’s.

From Chasen’s to the White House: Don De Fore,Brenda Marshall, William Holden, Nancy Reagan and Ronald Reagan.

While Perino’s was known as the glamorous society restaurant, Chasen’s was where old Hollywood dined. Dave Chasen came to Los Angeles to perform in a Frank Capra movie after a successful career in vaudeville and on Broadway.  He never made it in the movies, but his chili and barbecued spareribs were an instant success.

Journalist and JFK speechwriter, Vincent X. Flaherty, dines out with the men who dined the stars: Mike Romanoff (Romanoff’s), Charlie Morrison (The Mocambo) and Dave Chasen (Chasen’s).

Opening in 1936 at the corner of Doheny and Beverly Boulevards, the original Chasen’s with its bar and  eight tables was a glorified hamburger joint attracting beautiful young starlets. Alfred Hitchcock, Groucho Marx, Grace Kelly, Greta Garbo and even J. Edgar Hoover ate there regularly, not necessarily for the food, but to spend time in a relaxed environment off limits to photographers and the press. “Put something else on the menu,” the film director Capra complained to him one day, “we’re all getting tired of eating chili and ribs!” (Los Angeles Times, April 14, 1968) A good listener and businessman, Chasen expanded his menu and renovated his restaurant.

Top hatters Bert Lahr, Herbert Marshall, Robert Benchley, David Niven & Dave Chasen celebrate.

In a series of renovations for the original Chasen’s, Paul R. Williams added paneling, plush fabrics, knotty pine, and stuffed leather booths, giving the restaurant a clubby feeling. Maude Chasen’s philosophy of design was “People like privacy but they also like the idea of being in on the action.” Under her watchful eye Williams strove to “keep Chasen’s looking the same… adding rooms but having them look the same and be comfortable.” (Los Angeles Times, January 9, 1967) Together they succeeded in creating a restaurant of “comfortable elegance” where even the most casual of Hollywood personalities didn’t mind wearing a necktie.

Dining at Chasen’s.

After Chasen died in 1973, Maude Chasen carried on until the original Chasen’s closed on April 1, 1995.  Its demise was the result of an aging clientele, its perceived un-hipness and “arterially incorrect” food – and, maybe, because no credit cards were accepted.

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About Michael L. Grace

MICHAEL L. GRACE is part of the award winning team that created the internationally performed award winning musical SNOOPY, based on PEANUTS by Charles M. Schultz. SNOOPY continues to be one of the most produced shows (amateur & stock) in America/Worldwide and has had long running productions in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and in London's West End. There are over 100 individual productions every year. He has written movies for TV, including the award-winning thriller LADY KILLER, various pilots and developed screenplays for Kevin Costner and John Travolta. Besides co-writing and co-producing SNOOPY, he wrote and produced the one-man play KENNEDY. He produced P.S. YOUR CAT IS DEAD by pulitzer prize winning author James Kirkwood. He wrote the stage thriller FINAL CUT which had productions in the UK, South Africa and Australia. His one-man play, KENNEDY - THE MAN BEHIND THE MYTH, was developed for HBO and has starred Andrew Stevens, Gregory Harrison and Joseph Bottoms. He has recently been involved in European productions with CLT-UFA, Europe's leading commercial television and radio broadcaster. He wrote MOWs THE DOLL COLLECTION, THE BOTTOM LINE and LAST WITNESS for German television. While in college and graduate school he worked as a foreign correspondent for COMBAT, the famous leftwing Paris daily, and as a travel writer. He visited more than 50 countries. He struggled as an actor, then joined the enemy and entered the training program at William Morris. He became a publicist and worked for Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Presley's manager, at Paramount and MGM. He followed with a brief stint as a story executive, working in the frantic horror genre period of the early 80s and wrote THE UNSEEN. He went onto write for episodic television and develop series pilots. He was a continuing writer on such series such as LOVE BOAT, PAPER DOLLS, and KNOTS LANDING. He developed screenplays for such major award winning directors as Nicolas Meyers, Tony Richardson and J. Lee Thompson. He has written for all the major networks and studios. He has been hired numerous times as a script doctor, doing many uncredited rewrites on TV movies and features. He is currently writing A PERSON OF INTEREST, a thriller novel, and, IT'S THE LOVE BOAT... AND HOW IT CHANGED CRUISING BY SHIP a non-fiction book dealing with how the hit TV series as a major cultural phenomenon and altered the style of cruising by ship. He was raised in Los Angeles. He attended St. Paul's, USC and the Pasadena Playhouse. He received a B.A from San Francisco State University where he majored in theatre arts and minored in creative writing. He is listed as a SFSU leading alumni. He also apprenticed at ACT - The American Conservatory Theatre. For a brief period he had intentions of becoming an Episcopal(Anglican) priest and attended seminary at Kelham Theological College in the UK. When "the calling" wasn't there, he left seminary and did graduate work at the American University of Beirut. He has guest lectured at USC, UC San Diego, McGill, Univ. of London and the Univ. of Texas on the business aspects of making a living and surviving as a writer, focusing on development hell, in the Hollywood entertainment industry. Grace is a lifetime member of the Writers Guild of America, the Dramatist Guild and former regional chairman of the Steamship Historical Society of America. He resides in Palm Springs.

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