Meet Me at Chasen’s…

Chasen's interiorWorking on Recipes For Rebels never fails to surprise me.  I learn so many unrelated, trivial things while doing research.  So in an attempt to free-up some precious hard drive space in my brain…I’m going to dump some of it on you!  This posting was inspired while digging up information on Chasen’s…the famed West Hollywood restaurant.  Dave Chasen opened his establishment in 1936, with the backing of friends, after perfecting his chili recipe in the kitchen of director Frank Capra.  Dave was a former vaudevillian who dabbled in movies (he was a stand-in for The Three Stooges), but was not having much success.  Chasen’s restaurant opened as a casual hangout spot for the entertainment industry.  Partly due to his fabulous chili recipe, and mostly due to Dave’s charismatic nature, it was successful.  It was the hangout for Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable, W.C. Fields, Scott Fitzgerald, and Alfred Hitchcock.  The ’40s were good, and by the ’50s it had transformed into the clubby go-to spot for “The Rat Pack” crowd.  The walls were paneled in dark wood, the booths were red leather, the bar sparkled in chrome and glass, the lighting was dim and a reserved booth was waiting if you were part of the jet-set.  James Dean ate here, chili was one of his favorite meals… but for those stories you’ll have to wait for the book…  It was a favorite of Ronald Reagan (he proposed to Nancy at Chasen’s, the booth is now in his presidential library), and Richard Nixon.  This is Onetta, Chasen's bathroom attendantEven Queen Elizabeth sipped gin martini’s there.

Perhaps Chasen’s biggest bragging rights came when Elizabeth Taylor called to have several quarts of Dave’s famous chili packed in dry ice and shipped to Rome where she was filming Cleopatra (1962).  Cleopatra was the most expensive production of it’s time, Liz earning $1,000,000 for the role, the highest salary paid to an actress up to that point.  They sent her a fresh supply every couple of weeks.

Donna Summer wrote She Works Hard for the Money (1984) on a piece of toilet tissue there.  It was written about Chasen’s overworked female restroom attendant, Onetta.  Donna included her in the photo on the album’s back cover.

In the ’30s, a young precocious star complained that her parents were indulging in pre-dinner cocktails, and she wanted one too.  The accommodating bartender invented the “Shirley Temple.”  Today, the non-alcoholic drink is usually made with Sprite, 7-up, or other lemon-lime soda and Grenadine.  Many variations exist, some using fruit juices.  The original recipe is this:


5 oz   ginger ale

1 oz   Grenadine

1   slice of orange

1   Maraschino cherry

The actress…

The drink…

In a highball glass, add a few cubes of ice.  Pour in ginger ale and grenadine, top with ice, stir.  Cut a slit 1/2 way through orange slice and hang off side of glass.  Float Maraschino cherry on top.  Serve with a straw.

For an adult version of this classic, you can make the “Dirty Shirley.”  To the above, add 1 1/2 oz of vodka or rum.  For an upscale version, my idea is this…make your own ginger ale.  This was my favorite refreshing drink of last summer.  It uses fresh ginger, which I’ve been growing in a pot off the patio for the last 2 seasons.  I won’t share a photo, because my plants haven’t been the most attractive…it’s been a challenge to find the best growing spot with the right amount of sun and protection.  Here in Greece, they go dormant for the winter, but any time you need fresh ginger you just burrow down a couple of inches and snap off a piece.  The flavor is remarkable!  Growing is not too difficult.  In the States, you’ll need to shop organic (in most grocery stores, commercial ginger has been sprayed with a chemical to prevent it from sprouting).  Small cuttings are covered in a couple of inches of soil…it takes a good while before you see the first sprouts, be patient.  It is a tropical, so those living in climates that freeze, will need to bring it in for the winter.  Here’s my ginger ale:


1   2″ slice of fresh ginger

1   lemon

2 T   honey

12 oz   carbonated water

Finely grate the ginger (if it’s fresh, I don’t even bother to peel).  Squeeze the lemon. In a tall glass, stir together the ginger, honey, and lemon.  Add a splash of the carbonated water and stir vigorously to incorporate the honey (you can add or substitute raw sugar if you want it sweeter).  Top off with remaining water and ice, stir.  It’s amazing!

Untitled166_Aladin_Light_SjuBack to the “Shirley Temple”…you can also make your own Grenadine.  Here’s a couple of photos from my batch last season.  It’s a messy chore to make, but the flavor is superior to the commercial bottled stuff.  I pureed the pomegranate seeds in a food processor, then strained, and added white sugar (the raw sugar ruined the color of my  first batch) and cooked until thickened.  You can add a couple drops of vanilla and a cinnamon stick for a more complex, but different flavor.  A homemade “Dirty Shirley” might have swayed a crabby and forgetful 60 year-old Shirley Temple Black’s opinion, when she told Scott Simon in an NPR interview, “The saccharine, sweet, icky drink?  Yes, well…those were created in the probably middle 1930’s by the Brown Derby restaurant in Hollywood and I had nothing to do with it.  But all over the world, I am served that.  People think it’s funny.  I hate them.  Too sweet!”

Back to Chasen’s…the delicious menu was rich and heavy.  By the ’90s it was not the trendy place for skinny starletts to go, and after 51 years of fabulous Hollywood history, Chasen’s shut it’s doors in 1995.  Film producer David Brown said, “People want to be thin and they think they’ll live longer.  But I don’t think they’ll live as well or have nearly as much fun.”  Several of Chasen’s top-notch recipes are featured in the upcoming Recipes for Rebels: In the kitchen with James Dean.  Until then, mix up your own version of a “Dirty Shirley”, live well and have fun!

  1. You make your own grenadine? Greg you are amazing! Love this post and I too can’t wait for the book to come out.

    Love the “Dirty Shirley” idea – here in the UK we have something called Crabbie’s Ginger Ale which is an alcoholic version of ginger ale. I’ve been meaning to try making a Shirley Temple with this for ages, maybe tonight?!

    If only we could travel back in time, but also have means of a teleportation system whereby you and I could say, “shall we meat at Chasen’s for a cocktail and some chili, say in 1954?”

    Jenny x

    • Thanks Jenny! Crabbie’s Ginger Ale sounds cool! YOU and your incredible postings at have been and continue to be such a huge inspiration to me! Our appointment books are going to be VERY full when those time/space teleportation devices come out…YES, let’s do lunch!

  2. Have been reading things that you have been posting , quite interesting and hope when the book comes out you will send me one. Take care of yourself and miss you. Love You Mom

  3. I want a copy you tell me when this sells I want to buy one!

  4. Sheryl Donnell March 10, 2015 at 8:11 pm

    Well again you held me captive for every word on the page. I can’t wait for your book to try the chili recipe now! And your recipe for fresh ginger ale will be made as soon as I can get to Whole Foods! I hate the canned stuff but I’ve had the homemade before and fell in love with it. I love your by the glass recipe!!! Again, I love your easy to read style and eagerly await more!!

  5. Sherri Fredrickson March 10, 2015 at 4:17 pm

    My parents growing up would let us order one of these. Never thought About adding rum

    • I was more the Roy Rogers type myself (Coca cola w/ grenadine)…Try the fresh ginger version, Sherry. It’s so delicious…you’ll love it! I haven’t tried it with rum, but the flavors of rum, ginger and lemon sound good to me!

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