LAVA Salon at Musso & Frank – Raymond Chandler’s Underworld with John Buntin

Down These Mean Streets A Man Must Go. . .

On Monday, April 30, you are invited to join John Buntin, author of L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America’s Most Seductive City, for a fresh look at the Los Angeles underworld of the 1920s and ‘30s. This is the culture which informs noir master Raymond Chandler’s short stories and early novels. The corrupt civic machine (“The Combination”) fueled the biggest boom town this country has ever seen, and inspired the real life struggles between Good Guys and Bad Guys which in turn influenced much of the fiction and film of the mid 20th Century. At the Salon we’ll examine the crusading cop who was the real-life inspiration for Philip Marlowe, then shine our light onto other crusaders, prosecutors and policy makers, who through the decades shift from teetotalers to civil libertarians, but always retain those constants of every Chandler hero: a chance at redemption.

Also appearing at the Salon is Howard Prouty (Acquisitions Archivist at The Academy Foundation/Margaret Herrick Library and proprietor of ReadInk) with a talk on Jake Zeitlin, another in his ongoing Salon series on important booksellers in Los Angeles. And before and after the formal dinner and Salon presentations, guests will mingle with Hollywood historian Philip Mershon (proprietor of The Felix in Hollywood Tour Company) and actress Kasey Wilson, appearing in the character of the helpful female book clerk from The Big Sleep.


For much of the mid-20th Century, to rub shoulders with America’s greatest novelists and screenwriters, one needed merely to go to the corner of Cherokee Avenue and Hollywood Boulevard. Here, within the tight triangle of the Writer’s Guild offices, Musso & Frank Grill and the Stanley Rose Bookshop, flowed the commercial and social sap that nourished the tree of American letters. The famous minds who congregated still inspire awe: William Faulkner, Scott Fitzgerald, John Fante, Lillian Hellman, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, William Saroyan, John O’Hara, Dorothy Parker, Nathanael West and many more.

And at the center of it all was the famed “Back Room” of Musso & Frank, the oldest restaurant in Hollywood. Beginning in 1936, in response to the restaurant’s growing popularity, Musso’s expanded its operations into a small room tucked behind the Vogue Theater. A door was punched through the west wall of the dining room, and a haughty door man installed. His instructions were simple: the back room was to be the exclusive domain of Hollywood’s literary lions, their friends and romantic partners. It was called, informally, The Cocktail Room or The Round Table or the Algonquin West.

The party raged on, six nights a week, for twenty glorious years.

In 1955, Musso & Frank expanded to the east, and the contents of the “Back Room”—the long bar, chairs, light fixtures, coat racks—were moved wholesale into the “New Room.” The “New Room” was no longer the exclusive retreat of literary Los Angeles, but the writers kept coming. Today, Musso & Frank’s clientele still includes celebrated novelists, screenwriters, poets and songwriters, all of whom cherish the old world hospitality, traditional Continental cuisine and opportunity to soak up the same rarified air that nourished the greats.

In honor of this ongoing writerly tradition, LAVA (The Los Angeles Visionaries Association) is delighted to announce the January 2012 launch of The LAVA Salon at Musso & Frank, a quarterly literary salon and prix fixe dinner celebrating the great writers and personalities who have frequented the establishment. The LAVA Salon at Musso & Frank is the brainchild of Kim Cooper & Richard Schave, proprietors of literary tour company Esotouric—Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles, James M. Cain’s Southern California Nightmare, Charles Bukowski’s Haunts of a Dirty Old Man, John Fante’s Dreams from Bunker Hill—who for the past twenty months have been hosting a free cultural Salon on the last Sunday of the month at Clifton’s Cafeteria (recently moved to the Los Angeles Athletic Club). With this new Salon series, LAVA expands its congenial, intelligent and unpredictable cultural programming into Hollywood with a quarterly literary Salon event held in Musso & Frank on a night when the restaurant is closed to the general public. Seating is extremely limited, and this intimate gathering is sure to sell out quickly.

LAVA co-founder Richard Schave, the Salon host and co-curator, says “I would argue that along the bar in the old Cocktail Room, somewhere between the drinking, bragging, fighting and general hell-raising, the better half of the Hard-Boiled School of American Letters was hashed out and put down on paper. The purpose of the Salon is two fold. First, to set the record straight on some basic milestones: the rise and fall of the original Cocktail Room and its reincarnation as the “New Room” and the symbiotic relationship Musso & Frank shared with the legendary bookshop next door, Stanley Rose’s. Secondly, a more ephemeral aim: in these hallowed rooms, that still bear the nicotine stains from Raymond Chandler’s pipe and Charles Bukowski’s cigarettes, we want to seek out and amplify the spark which all those great souls have left behind. Musso & Frank is just bricks and mortar, but incredible ideas and connections were forged here, and we believe that spark is waiting to be reignited and make its impression felt in Los Angeles again.”

Each Musso’s Salon evening will focus on different aspects of Hollywood’s literary lore, feature fascinating speakers and special guest historians, and be hosted by LAVA co-founder Richard Schave.

Mark Echeverria, 4th generation General Manager/Proprietor of The Musso & Frank Grill, says “For 93 years The Musso & Frank Grill has been a keystone in Hollywood’s ever-evolving history. Some of the world’s greatest people have walked through our doors, sat at a booth or a bar stool, and dreamt the unimaginable. That is what makes Hollywood so unique: unimaginable things come true. Musso & Frank Grill has always been that inspiration in people’s lives to make the impossible, possible, and it is now time to tell the true story of the people who put Hollywood on the map, and the restaurant they did it in—The Musso & Frank Grill. We are extremely excited to work with LAVA to bring you living history in a setting where history continues to happen, even 93 years later. So please enjoy an authentic dinning experience you would have found in the early decades of last century, and bring yourselves back to the time era of the literary giants, and truly get a journey through the history of Hollywood, in the restaurant that Hollywood grew up around, The Musso & Frank Grill.”

Future Salons will focus on the life and works of Charles Bukowski, F.Scott Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, Nathanael West and other fascinating characters who’ve contributed to nearly a century of literary culture at Musso & Frank.