Comedian Jerry Lewis Was Once a Restaurateur
Comedian, actor, singer, writer, and director Jerry Lewis, who died on August 20 at the age of 91, appeared in more than 60 movies — 17 of them as the comedy partner of suave Italian-American actor and singer Dean Martin — and countless TV shows, including The Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon, which he hosted for 44 years on behalf of the Muscular Dystrophy Association. It is often forgotten, though, that he and Martin had brief careers as competing restaurateurs on West Hollywood's Sunset Strip.
Martin and Lewis were the top American comedians of the early 1950s, not just in movies but on television and in nightclubs — but as the dynamic Lewis began to overshadow his "straight man" partner, the two feuded, and the partnership broke up in mid-1956.
In 1958, Martin opened a restaurant on the Sunset Strip, called Dino's Lodge. It offered such "Continental cuisine" as boneless trout sauté almondine and veal parmigiana, and stayed open all night, becoming famous for its steak and eggs breakfasts, served from 1 to 5 a.m. "If you can find better food anywhere, forget it…," read a note on the menu. "I'm a singer, not a cook. — Dino."
Martin's "Rat Pack" buddies — including Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. — frequented the place, and it was featured in the opening credits of the hit TV series 77 Sunset Strip. In 1961, jealous of his ex-partner's initial success as a restaurateur, Lewis opened his own place, three blocks from Dino's, on the site of what had been Bublichki's Russian Café.
He called it "Jerry's" and announced that instead of Continental cuisine, he would serve "American and Hebrew viands." That translated to such foods as, er, boned brook trout amandine and veal cutlet parmigiana. (An "After 11" menu, "For the Late Crowd," included cheese blintzes and lox and cream cheese on a bagel — presumably representing Hebrew viands.) Lewis even hired two chefs and a maître d' away from Dino's Lodge.
Lewis considered his establishment (according to ads for the place) "America's Most Beautiful Restaurant." A review shortly after it opened described Jerry's as having "a svelte decor, with dark walnut, purple and silver featured." Others called it garish or gaudy, however, for its black velvet upholstery, gigantic chandeliers, overstuffed chairs and banquettes, and huge stained-glass portrait of Lewis as a hobo clown. That early review complained that "There was a long wait to be seated Saturday night and it took two and a half hours for the complete dinner to be served."
Jerry's never achieved anything close to the success that Dino's Lodge saw in its early years, and he closed the place in 1964. The site later became a topless club called The Classic Cat, and then a branch of Tower Records. It is now a Chase Bank.
Martin had pulled out of his own restaurant two years earlier after disagreements with his business partners. (Martin reportedly announced on the courthouse steps after a deposition in the case that "Any actor who opens a restaurant should have his head examined!") Dino's Lodge stayed open into the mid-1970s, then closed, too. The building was razed in 1985 and replaced by an office tower.