More than 60 years ago, it was known as the Red Griffin, a smokey hideaway in the basement of Santa Monica’s grand dame hotel, The Georgian. It has been painstakingly restored as the Georgian Room, sustaining all the same mystique, minus the smoke.
The hotel was built in 1931 and the underground restaurant first opened its doors in 1933 during the prohibition era and Hollywood’s Golden Age, attracting the likes of Carole Lombard, Clark Gable, Bugsy Siegel and Marilyn Monroe.
The entrance is hidden away on the side of the legendary hotel, which has seen good and bad times, once serving as the home of Kennedy matriarch Rose during the ‘60s. Upon arrival, you make your way to the side of the hotel’s south end, where you will find non-descript double doors with brass mermaid handles. You press the brass bell button and state the name of your party’s reservation. When answered by the host, you will be admitted into the first anteroom — a Disney-esque closet-sized station with matching custom carpet and wallpaper.
There’s a strict no picture, no video and no phone call policy. Your phone will be fitted with The Georgian Room privacy sticker upon arrival, which needs to remain on during the duration of your visit. Once that’s all sorted out, a second set of doors opens to a staircase that leads to an opulent scene downstairs of oversized green booths and burgundy walls, seeped in the soft sounds of a Frank Sinatra playlist.
Developers Jon Blanchard and Nicolo Rusconi of BLVD Hospitality worked off vintage photos to restore the space, which features a secluded L-shaped layout. Tom Parker, co-founder at design firm Fettle, resurrected the vibe of a classic era with meticulously curated seating arrangements and a 1918 ebony polished Steinway & Sons piano built into the rose marble-topped bar. Prints of The Georgian Rooms’ original menus from its initial opening dot the walls and the custom-designed carpet with a mermaid sipping a martini leads to a small live music performance nook in the intimate 65-seat den.
“For the custom carpet and wallpaper that we designed in partnership with Fettle, we wanted to showcase both the magic and history of The Georgian,” Blanchard tells L.A. Weekly of the entry room. “You’ll find secret mermaid designs inspired by the tales of sirens off the end of the Santa Monica Pier as well as silhouettes of the old Southern Pacific Railroad train that would run up and down the California coastline, which was later replaced by the Pacific Coast Highway.”
The menu is standard steakhouse fare, elevated to perfection by chef David Almany. All of the meat including a selection of prime dry-aged porterhouse, ribeye and New York strip steaks is sourced from the Pat Lafrieda meat company in New Jersey.
“I think the ingredients and the simplicity of preparation make these dishes authentic,” the former head chef at nearby Shutters at the Beach tells L.A. Weekly. “My job as a chef is to find the best ingredients possible and let them shine on their own. I think beef tartar needs to be made with the best quality beef just as the Caesar salad is made with the best quality anchovies and eggs I could find.”
So will the jellied madrilene in avocado halves from the 1950s menu make a comeback?
“There’s always a high possibility of that,” says Almany. “I would bring back some of the iconic pasta dishes. I’m a very nostalgic chef with an old soul and do cherish the ways of the past.”
Cocktails are an homage to Santa Monica’s history, like the SS Rex margarita, named after the notorious mafioso-run offshore gambling ship anchored off Santa Monica in the late ‘30s. There’s also a Bye, Bye Birdie whiskey sour in honor of the film’s star and current regular, Dick Van Dyke. The legendary actor and comedian actually performed in the restaurant and has told staff that the space is just as he remembers it from the ‘50s. And for purists, the martinis with blue cheese-stuffed olives make the mark.
The iconic turquoise art deco hotel on Ocean Avenue reopened this year after extensive renovation by the London and Los Angeles-based boutique design firm, Fettle, with 84 guest rooms, including 28 suites. The property also has a cozy oceanview terrace restaurant and lobby bar, as well as a gym, gallery space and library.
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