The City of Los Angeles' noted Brown Derby restaurant played host to many celebrities during Hollywood's 'Golden Age.' The restaurant was considered novelty architecture, as it was constructed to resemble a brown derby hat. The Brown Derby was the first eatery to serve chiffon cake, a recipe invented by an insurance salesman and later made famous by Betty Crocker. It is said that the greatest food legacy of the Brown Derby is Cobb Salad. The dish was invented by and named after Bob Cobb, one of the restaurant's owners. Bob's wife tells that he raided the fridge late one night and just chopped up some leftovers for a meal.
Later that night, some of his Hollywood friends visited the restaurant and joined Bob in partaking of his concoction. When several of them began to ask for it on later visits, the rest was history. The Brown Derby was named after a restaurant of the same name located in Malverne, New York that was a trendy vaudeville hangout. The initial Brown Derby in Los Angeles, known also as the Little Hat, opened its doors in February 1926, right across from the Ambassador Hotel. It was frequently the site of after-parties following shindigs at the Coconut Grove nightclub. This was the only Derby that was actually built like a hat.
A second Los Angeles Brown Derby restaurant was opened on Vine Street, near the famous Hollywood and Vine intersection, on Valentine's Day in 1929. Other Derbies were then built in Beverly Hills and in East Hollywood. The latter had a car cafe that followed the then-new drive-in trend. The Hollywood Brown Derby closed its doors in 1985.
The shell of the restaurant was restored and placed atop a Wilshire Boulevard strip mall. The structure is now colored orange and is home to the Cafe SheeRi. In mid-2004, the Derby and adjacent lots were purchased by a realty company and faced demolition to clear space for a condominium complex. A coalition of interested parties, called 'Save The Derby' sought to prevent the restaurant from being destroyed by having it designated as an official historical landmark. Due to their efforts, in May 2006 the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously to recognize the entire edifice as an official Historic Cultural Monument of the City of Los Angeles. In one 'I Love Lucy' show episode Lucy, Ethel and Fred have lunch at the Brown Derby.
During the show, Lucy accidentally causes a server to dump a plate of food on famed actor William Holden. Presently, there is a replica of the Hollywood Brown Derby at the Disney-MGM Studios in Florida's Walt Disney World Resort.
Matt Paolini is a food writer for CityBook.com, the family-safe online yellow pages, which carries an extensive directory on Los Angeles food and drink.