To be a culinary star in the 21st century, restaurants must have a star chef. In the mid 20th century, it was not the chef, but the restaurant that was the celebrity. Los Angeles had many restaurants where movie personalities, the stars, producers, directors, publicists, and hangers-on of the industry spent their time. Paul R. Williams was associated with the interior design and architecture of two of the most famous of these celebrity watering holes—Perino’s and Chasen’s. While Perino’s was known as the glamorous society restaurant, Chasen’s was where old Hollywood dined.
Dave Chasen came to Los Angeles to perform in a Frank Capra movie after a successful career in vaudeville and on Broadway. He never made it in the movies, but his chili and barbecued spareribs were an instant success. Opening in 1936 at the corner of Doheny and Beverly Boulevards, the original Chasen’s with its bar and eight tables was a glorified hamburger joint attracting beautiful young starlets. Alfred Hitchcock, Groucho Marx, Grace Kelly, Greta Garbo and even J. Edgar Hoover ate there regularly, not necessarily for the food, but to spend time in a relaxed environment off-limits to photographers and the press. Chasen's was the place were the famous and infamous dined in privacy-- even table-hopping was frowned upon. (Collier's, July 16, 1949) While nurturing the cordial, friendly atmosphere was important to the success of his restaurant, Dave Chasen also knew that "people go to a restaurant primarily to eat." He was always open to the suggestions of his Hollywood clientele. "Put something else on the menu," the film director Capra complained to him one day, "we're all getting tired of eating chili and ribs!" (Los Angeles Times, April 14, 1968) A good listener and businessman, Chasen expanded his menu and renovated his restaurant.
In a series of renovations for the original Chasen’s, Paul R. Williams added paneling, plush fabrics, knotty pine, and stuffed leather booths, enhancing the restaurant's intimate clubby feeling. Maude Chasen's philosophy of design was "People like privacy but they also like the idea of being in on the action." Under her watchful eye Williams strove to "keep Chasen's looking the same... adding rooms but having them look the same and be comfortable." (Los Angeles Times, January 9, 1967) Together they succeeded in creating a restaurant of "comfortable elegance" where even the most casual of Hollywood personalities didn't mind wearing a necktie.
After Chasen died in 1973, Maude carried on until the original Chasen’s closed on April 1, 1995. Its demise was the result of an aging clientele, its perceived un-hipness and “arterially incorrect” food.