From the moment Herb K. Somborn, a movie producer turned restaurateur, opened the Brown Derby on Wilshire Boulevard in 1926, his bowler hat-shaped restaurant was the dining room of the stars. The swanky Cocoanut Grove, in the Ambassador Hotel across the street, may have been where celebrities went for publicity photos, but the Derby was where they came to eat; the 24-hour kitchen served dishes like French onion soup, pot roast, and the famed Cobb salad, invented by the longtime manager and eventual owner Robert Cobb, who opened three more Derby locations around town. (All have since closed.) The clubby vibe, in a room where everyone could easily see and be seen, introduced a casual, stylish approach to dining that continues to define the city’s restaurant scene today.
The hat-shaped Brown Derby was the dining room of Golden Age stars.