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Ask Mr. Gold 

Thursday, Oct 28 2004
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QUESTION: I was driving down Sunset the other day, looking (as usual) for cheap parking near the ArcLight, when I passed a giant sign heralding the Hollywood glamour of Schwab’s. Schwab’s? Wasn’t that a drugstore over on one of the hooker-intensive blocks of the Sunset Strip? Didn’t it close down 20 years ago? What is it doing in what looks like an overpriced apartment building on Vine?

—Joe, Studio City

ANSWER: Schwab’s, of course, is central to the basic Hollywood legend, the Sunset Strip analog to the Broadway delicatessens that show-business heels and Damon Runyon characters were always gallivanting about in. Notorious Hollywood columnist Sidney Skolsky basically used Schwab’s as his office, and Schwab’s featured prominently in the movie Sunset Boulevard. Lana Turner was supposed to have been discovered sipping a soda there, although other sources claim she was discovered at a coffee shop near Hollywood High instead. Ava Gardner worked behind the soda fountain, and Harold Arlen may have written the tune for “Over the Rainbow” at the counter.

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The new Schwab’s, the kind of high-style diner that just happens to have cold meatloaf and $15 crab-cake sandwiches on the menu, seems to share little with the original beyond the Hollywood Regency-style logo, but the customer base seems unusually Industry-intensive (if the number of middle-aged men in baseball caps and $600 sweaters is any indication, which it usually is) and the servers seem unusually attractive; waiting to be discovered, one supposes. There is, of course, a gift shop stuffed with Schwab’s-logo sweatshirts, infant onesies, jackets and dolls.

I don’t remember much about the original Schwab’s beyond nursing Cokes at the counter when I was in high school, buffeted by the crowds of Iowa tourists that seemed to shuttle between the drugstore, Farmers Market and the forecourt of Grauman’s Chinese. Still, I am almost certain it served nothing like fried calamari, four-cheese baked macaroni, hand-cut potato chips or wedges of iceberg lettuce smothered in crumbled Maytag blue cheese. Score one for the new century, I guess. 1521 N. Vine St., Hollywood, (323) 462-4300.

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