Photo by Virginia Lee Hunter

“There are two kinds of people in the world,” a wise friend once noted, riffing on the pithy axioms delivered by Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. “Those who round up and those who round down.” Unfortunately, there seem to be more of those who round down, especially when dining in large, no-host groups. And, to add to my pal’s observation, the round-downers also seem to be the ones to leave first. At least that’s what I learned — the expensive way — one New Year’s Eve at Musso & Frank, where friends, friends of friends, acquaintances, and acquaintances of acquaintances had gathered early for a righteous repast and a few laughs before scattering to see in the new decade.

What had started a couple of years earlier with just a few friends getting together to celebrate before heading off to various parties had taken on a mighty life of its own. But the more the merrier, right? And so there we were, jammed and crammed around table pushed into table pushed next to the booths, a loud and lively lot, downing martinis (which here are indisputably the best in L.A. and make me wish I could still drink ’em) and hollering out suggestions: Try the grenadine of beef (superb, by the way). No, you have to get the lamb with mint jelly (another winner). Who wants to split a creamed spinach? (I will, every time.) Don’t forget the potatoes lyonnaise (divine). Can’t decide between the sweetbreads and brains Milanese (a conversation stopper — while both dishes are quite tasty, perhaps they’re better appreciated by the more sophisticated).

And so we ordered — by the way, the menu is à la carte, and I do mean à la carte — and got jollier in the dining room with the bar, which was originally located in the room that is now just red-leather booths and a counter (perfect for that solo flapjack breakfast) when Joseph Musso and Frank Toulet first opened the restaurant in 1919 and then sold it a few years later to John Mosso and Joseph Carissimi, whose families still own it. The bar was moved in the ’50s to the other dining room, the one with the faded pastoral murals, or so they seem in their moss-green splendor. Perhaps the colors have been muted by the smoke from cigarettes dangled from the lips of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dashiell Hammett, Dorothy Parker, William Faulkner, John O’Hara, Nathanael West and Raymond Chandler.

The bewitching hour was drawing near, and so the friends, friends of friends, acquaintances, and acquaintances of acquaintances started to drift out. Now I’m not saying that they didn’t all put in money; however, some of them seemed to base their contributions on the prices from the 1926 menu posted in the back: New York steak went for a buck, a prime-roast-beef sandwich for a mere 40 cents, and a glass of Maier’s special on draft for 10 cents. Somehow, I ended up being the cashier — the curse of being organized, I suppose — and when we came up considerably short of the bill, I had to toss in most of the difference. My advice: Always round up, and be one of the first to leave. 6667 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; (323) 467-5123.

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