Take a Sip Down Memory Lane: The Cocoanut Grove Signature Cocktail

Did I mention that I am going to Panama to lead a cooking demonstration highlighting recipes from some of the grandest restaurants of the Hollywood mystique? I am practising these recipes here before I go, hoping to get your feedback. I started yesterday with an iconic 1980s Plantains and Caviar with Black Bean Puree appetizer from the restaurant that defined the outsized egoism of Hollywood in the 1980s– Trumps. I am looking back to the glamorous beginning of the restaurant tradition in Hollywood today by featuring a cocktail from The Cocoanut Grove.

You see, I was invited to Panama by a group of rather glamorous ex-pats (Boquete Gourmet) who get together and learn about food by inviting chefs and other food-obsessed freaks like me to come to the beautiful town of Boquete, near the Costa Rican border and cook. I am doing an evening of small plates highlighting recipes from several legendary Hollywood restaurants.

map of panama

As I said, today my focus is on the world famous Cocoanut Grove, which flat out epitomizes the symbiotic relationships that certain restaurants have with the Hollywood elite. Never before and never again would style and substance meet so squarely with the fantasy elements that defined Hollywood’s Golden Age.

In its day The Cocoanut Grove was filled to the tippy-top of its palm frond filled rafters with beautiful people decked out in their very finest. It opened in the early 1920s, at a time when the stars of Hollywood were beginning to permanently define glamor for the entire world.

And speaking of glamor the room itself was as elaborate as any Hollywood movie set. In fact the room’s most famous features– towering artificial palm trees with paper mache cocoanuts and stuffed monkeys actually came from the set of the Valentino movie The Sheik.

The party at The Grove lasted through the 1930s and 1940s. Live radio broadcasts from the era’s biggest Big Bands originated right on the dance floor of this night-club. The Academy Awards took advantage of the grand staircase designed for the sole purpose of grand entrances and spent 6 years there as well from 1930 to 1936.

It was easily the most important meeting place in a town filling up with more and more hot spots. It become the place to be on Tuesday nights when stars like Charlie Chaplin, Carole Lombard, Claudette Colbert, James Cagny, Jack Benny and Dorothy Lamour hosted extravagant dinners for their friends.

The entertainment was always first rate with talent like Fanny Brice, WC Fields, Nat King Cole, and Judy Garland performing nightly. Who better to keep the elite entertained than well… the elite!

The room was modernized in the 1950s and never regained the allure of its early days. The mid-Wilshire neighborhood began to fall out of fashion and then on June 5, 1968 a tragedy altered the history of America and sealed the fate of this historic nightclub.

The 1970s saw Sammy Davis Jr. attempt to remake the place with top talent like Sonny and Cher and Diana Ross. But sometimes it’s impossible to recapture magic. The hotel limped along until 1989 when it closed for good. Donald Trump bought the building and the lands around it but has since sold it to the Los Angeles school board. Frankly I have been so de-moralized by the long slow demise of the place that I have not paid much attention to what’s going on now. Los Angeles can be cruel to its landmarks.

cocoanut groveBut I can imagine the day when the chicest of folks would meet at the bar under the palm trees and order the Cocoanut Grove Signature Cocktail of gin with lime, grenadine and maraschino liqueur completely oblivious of the hangover to come.

Cocoanut Grove Signature Cocktail serves 1 CLICK here for printable recipe

  • 2 oz London dry gin
  • 1⁄2 oz limejuice
  • 1⁄2 oz maraschino liqueur
  • 1 ds grenadine

Shake all the ingredients together with crushed ice. Strain into a cocktail glass, and serve with a lime wedge for garnish.


Greg Henry