The Smoke House is the sort of place where old-timey execs sip their nightcaps as they wait for their retirement (“I gave the best years of my life to this place”) and where awkward co-workers carry on as if they are passing through town for work, treating their affairs as fleeting, one night romances. The dimly-lit bar, dance floor, bartenders and waiters who’ve seen it all, and the over-sized, over-stuffed, over-used, red pleather booths contribute to the discreet mood of the joint.
Though it lacks the sophistication of Musso and Frank or Dan Tana’s, it causes the old cliché, “They don’t make ‘em like this anymore,” roll off of your tongue with authenticity (and they don’t). The Smoke House wouldn’t play the “hero” in a movie, it would be cast as the stoic, observant father figure of few words, occasionally peppering pearls of wisdom throughout, which culminate in an apt allegory that sums up the true meaning of the story, and well, life really.
Established in 1946, the menu is a ripe amalgamation of all the old school comforts: jumbo shrimp cocktail, garlic bread, avocado stuffed with crab, Chinese chicken salad, prime rib, chicken piccata, fish and chips and so many potato side dishes it would make a 19th century Irishman blush (seven different kinds!).
I slid into the freshly vacated booth, still warm from the patron sitting in it before me and ordered a Jameson on the rocks while I scoped out the menu. My drink arrived and the candle-lit votive backlit my perspiring glass looked like it Kathleen Turner in Body Heat, momentarily causing me to feel as if I’d wandered into a nameless dive to escape the summertime Florian heat.
Back in Burbank, I ordered quickly, garlic bread, wedge salad and a petit filet, medium rare.
The wedge salad arrived as I washed my last, gluttonous bite of the house favorite garlic bread, down with the remnants of ice and Jameson. Nearly every piece of the crisp iceberg lettuce was covered in the mild, home made blue cheese dressing, which paired perfectly with the flavor of bacon fat.
I ordered another drink and soaked in the ambiance. Halfway through the whiskey, my petit filet arrived plated with sides of mashed potatoes and potatoes au gratin. Though the mashed potatoes were a bit dry, most likely due to the fact they were made in bulk earlier that day, the steak and au gratin were really good--better than I anticipated.
Feeling full and fuzzy, I thought about the long history of the restaurant that fed old Hollywood heroes like the Brothers Warner and Bing Crosby to new Hollywood slashie archetypes like George Clooney (who incidentally named his production company after the Smoke House) and the countless hungry starlets, tourists and families in between.
It’s true they don’t make ‘em like they used to and how can they? Part of what makes Smoke House such an awesome and comfortable place is the layered and multi-faceted history and mythology that waltzed, walked and stumbled through the doors and into a booth.
You know what, I think those kids just might make it.