The Brown Derby: Famous Hat-Wearing Patrons

by | Aug 1, 2023 | Food and Drink

The Brown Derby, a famous restaurant in Hollywood, was a hotspot for celebrities during its heyday. The restaurant was known for its unique shape, which resembled a derby hat, and its caricature-covered walls. It was a popular spot for Hollywood stars to see and be seen, and many famous patrons frequented the restaurant.

The restaurant’s most famous dish, the Cobb salad, was named after Robert Cobb, one of the restaurant’s owners. The salad was created by Cobb himself and became a staple on the menu. The Brown Derby was also known for its excellent service and its ability to cater to the unique tastes of its celebrity clientele. The restaurant’s famous patrons included Mary Pickford, Will Rogers, and Clark Gable, to name a few. The caricatures of these famous faces still line the walls of the restaurant today, although the original location has since closed.

Origins of The Brown Derby

The Brown Derby was a chain of famous Los Angeles restaurants that was founded in the 1920s by Wilson Mizner, Herbert Somborn, and Jack Warner. Mizner, a man-about-town, playwright turned developer, was the front man, while Somborn owned the property and Warner put up the money.

The first restaurant was a small café located across the street from the Hollywood hotspot the Cocoanut Grove at the Ambassador Hotel. The restaurant’s unique design was inspired by the owner’s love of hats, and it was shaped like a brown derby hat. The restaurant quickly became a popular spot for Hollywood celebrities, and its success led to the opening of several other locations throughout Los Angeles.

The original location on Wilshire Boulevard and Vine Street in Los Angeles became the most famous of the chain’s restaurants. It was a popular gathering spot for celebrities, and it was known for its caricatures of Hollywood stars that adorned the walls. The restaurant was also credited with inventing the Cobb salad, which was named after the restaurant’s owner, Robert H. Cobb.

The Brown Derby’s success continued through the 1960s, but the chain eventually began to decline. The original location on Wilshire Boulevard and Vine Street closed in 1985, and the other locations soon followed. Today, only the iconic Brown Derby hat-shaped building remains on Wilshire Boulevard.  It serves as a reminder of the restaurant’s storied past.

Famous Patrons

It was a favorite spot for Hollywood’s elite during its heyday. Many famous actors, actresses, and other celebrities frequented the restaurant, leaving their mark on the establishment. Here are some of the most notable patrons:

  • William Holden: The actor was a regular at the Brown Derby and was known to enjoy the restaurant’s famous Cobb salad.
  • Eve Arden: The actress was another frequent patron of the Brown Derby, often dining with her fellow actors.
  • Gloria Swanson: The former wife of one of the restaurant’s founders, Herbert K. Somborn, was a regular at the Brown Derby and was known to host parties there.
  • Carole Lombard: The actress was a fan of the Brown Derby’s food and often dined there with her husband, Clark Gable.
  • Hedda Hopper: The famous gossip columnist was a regular at the Brown Derby and was known to use the restaurant as a place to meet with sources.
  • Shirley Temple: The child star was a fan of the Brown Derby’s ice cream sundaes and often visited the restaurant with her family.
  • Clark Gable: The actor was a regular at the Brown Derby and was known to enjoy the restaurant’s steaks and cocktails.
  • Marlene Dietrich: The actress was a fan of the Brown Derby’s food and was known to dine there with her friends.
  • Cesar Romero: The actor was a regular at the Brown Derby and was known to enjoy the restaurant’s signature dish, the Cobb salad.

These famous patrons helped to make the Brown Derby a popular destination for Hollywood’s elite, and their presence at the restaurant only added to its allure.

Iconic Menu Items

The restaurant is known for its iconic menu items that have stood the test of time. One such item is the Cobb Salad, which was created by the restaurant’s owner, Robert Cobb, in 1937. The salad is made with lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, bacon, blue cheese, and a hard-boiled egg, all chopped into small pieces and arranged in neat rows. The dressing is a mix of red wine vinegar, olive oil, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, and mustard.

Another popular menu item is the Lobster Bisque, which is a creamy soup made with fresh lobster meat, cream, and spices. The soup is served in a small cup and is often paired with a side of bread or crackers.

For those with a sweet tooth, The Brown Derby’s Grapefruit Cake is a must-try. The cake is made with fresh grapefruit juice and zest, and the frosting is a mix of cream cheese and whipped cream. The result is a light and refreshing dessert that is perfect for any occasion.

In addition to these iconic menu items, The Brown Derby also offers a variety of cheese plates that are perfect for sharing. The plates feature a selection of cheeses from around the world, including cheddar, brie, and gouda.

Overall, The Brown Derby’s menu is a testament to the restaurant’s commitment to quality and tradition. Whether you’re in the mood for a classic dish or something new and exciting, The Brown Derby has something for everyone.


Pixlr Brown Derby

The Brown Derby in Popular Culture

The Brown Derby has been a staple of Hollywood’s history, and its presence in popular culture has been significant. The restaurant was frequented by famous stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood, such as Mary Pickford, Will Rogers, Rudolph Valentino, Charlie Chaplin, the Barrymore brothers (John and Lionel), and Jean Harlow, to name a few.

In 1950, “I Love Lucy” featured an episode that was set in The Brown Derby. It brought more attention to the restaurant. The episode titled “The Celebrity Next Door” featured Lucy, Ethel, and Fred sneaking into the restaurant to catch a glimpse of their celebrity neighbor. The episode’s popularity helped cement The Brown Derby’s status as a Hollywood landmark.

In 1947, The Brown Derby was also featured in the Disney film “Mickey and the Beanstalk”. The film ends with Willie the Giant walking through Hollywood, looking for Mickey Mouse. Before the scene closes, Willie notices The Brown Derby restaurant and picks it up, looking for Mickey. The scene is a testament to the iconic status of the restaurant in Hollywood’s history.

The Brown Derby’s popularity also led to its inclusion in various Disney theme parks. At Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disney World, the Hollywood and Vine restaurant is designed to evoke the glamour of The Brown Derby. The restaurant features caricatures of Hollywood stars on its walls, much like the original restaurant. The Brown Derby was also featured in Disneyland’s Buena Vista Street and Disney California Adventure’s Carthay Circle Restaurant.

Overall, The Brown Derby’s impact on popular culture is undeniable. Its status as a Hollywood landmark and its inclusion in various Disney theme parks prove that The Brown Derby will always be remembered as a symbol of Hollywood’s Golden Age.

Caricatures and the Brown Derby

The Brown Derby was known for its caricatures of famous Hollywood stars, drawn by resident artists. Eddie Vitch was one of the most famous artists who worked at the Brown Derby, drawing hundreds of pictures of Hollywood stars during his time there. The caricatures adorned the walls of the restaurant, and for aspiring actors, having their caricature on the walls of the Restaurant meant they had ‘made it’ in Hollywood.

Another artist who contributed to the Brown Derby’s collection of caricatures was Jack Lane. He provided caricatures to the Brown Derby from 1947 to 1985. He even wrote a book called “A Gallery of Stars: The Story of the Hollywood Brown Derby Wall of Fame,” describing his many years as the resident caricaturist there.

The Brown Derby’s caricatures were not only a source of entertainment for its patrons but also an important part of Hollywood history. Many of the caricatures were drawn by Jack Lane between the years of 1947 and 1985, and some of the original caricatures are still displayed in the restaurant today, distinguished by their gold frames.

Both Brown Derby locations were home to hundreds of celebrity caricatures. They became synonymous with the Golden Age of Hollywood. The chain was started by Robert H. Cobb and Herbert K. Somborn in the 1920s, and the first and best-known location was shaped like a derby hat. The Brown Derby advertised their famous patrons by covering the walls with their caricatures. The  preservationists tried to stop the building from being bulldozed when the restaurant abruptly closed in September 1980.

Overall, the caricatures at the Brown Derby were an iconic part of Hollywood history. They continue to be celebrated today.

The Brown Derby Legacy

The Brown Derby was a Hollywood legend that embodied the Golden Age of Hollywood. The restaurant chain was founded in 1926 by Robert H. Cobb and Herbert Somborn, and quickly became a hotspot for celebrities and Hollywood elites. The Brown Derby had four locations. It includes the iconic Hollywood Brown Derby on North Vine Street, which was shaped like a derby hat.

Over the years, it became synonymous with Hollywood glamour and sophistication. The restaurant was known for its elegant atmosphere, impeccable service, and delicious food. Many famous stars were regular patrons, including Mary Pickford, Will Rogers, Rudolph Valentino, Charlie Chaplin, the Barrymore brothers, Jean Harlow, George Burns, Gracie Allen, Jane Wyman, and Ronald Reagan.

Despite its popularity, it eventually fell out of favor and closed its doors in 1985. However, the legacy lives on. In 1996, a replica of the Hollywood Brown Derby was opened at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida. It continues to be a popular attraction.

Additionally, The website features a collection of photographs and memorabilia from the restaurant’s heyday, preserving its legacy for future generations. The chain’s former locations have also been repurposed. The original Beverly Hills location now home to a restaurant called The Derby. The Los Feliz location is now a nightclub.

Overall, The Brown Derby’s legacy continues to captivate and inspire. It is a testament to its status as an icon of Hollywood’s golden age.

The Brown Derby Today

Despite its closure in the 1980s, The Brown Derby remains a legendary restaurant in Los Angeles. The original location on Wilshire Boulevard was demolished in 1980. The last remaining location on Los Feliz Boulevard was closed in 1985. Today, the site of the original Brown Derby is home to a parking lot. The Los Feliz location has been replaced by a strip mall.

While the restaurant itself may no longer exist, its legacy lives on. The Brown Derby was a favorite spot of Hollywood’s elite during its heyday.  Its famous patrons included Clark Gable, Lucille Ball, and Marilyn Monroe. The restaurant was also known for its signature dish, the Cobb salad. It was created by owner Bob Cobb in the 1930s.

Today, visitors to Los Angeles can still get a taste of the Brown Derby experience at the Rizzoli Bookstore. It is located in Beverly Hills. A replica of the famous restaurant’s Spanish mission-style façade is on display. The display also includes a replica of the famous Brown Derby sign, complete with the iconic derby hat.

While the Brown Derby may no longer be serving up its famous Cobb salad,  its legacy lives on.  It was a symbol of Hollywood’s golden age. The glamorous dining experience it provided to its famous patron.

For more articles, click HERE


Pin It on Pinterest