The Dueling Restaurants Of Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis

“If there are any complaints, forget it . . . there is no management here.” —Quote from a Dino’s menu

In A Nutshell

After breaking up with comedian partner Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin decided to go into the restaurant business. The result was Dino’s, a popular LA joint that served Italian food and attracted big-name celebrities. But when Dino’s became famous, Jerry Lewis became jealous and opened his own restaurant . . . just down the street from Dean’s.

The Whole Bushel

Back in the 1950s, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were the uncontested kings of comedy. The duo killed it in nightclubs, starred in 16 hit films, and hosted a popular variety show on NBC. Sadly, the two eventually had a falling-out, and Martin and Lewis became rivals.

Dean was tired of Jerry getting all the glory while he was viewed as the sidekick in a two-man act. But when Martin struck out on his own, he ran into a bit of trouble. His first feature film without his crazy costar, Ten Thousand Bedrooms, flopped hard at the box office. In the meantime, Lewis was drawing in the crowds with his first solo film, The Delicate Delinquent.

Soon, Martin was in financial straits. According to his son, Ric, his dad was “in debt and desperate” so he “agreed to several business deals on the side in the hopes of something big would come along and reignite his career.” That’s when Martin and his business partner, Maury Samuels, discovered The Alpine Lodge.

Located along LA’s Sunset Strip, The Alpine Lodge was kind of like Dean Martin: fading away and in need of assistance. The owners offered Martin 50 percent of the profits if he loaned the restaurant his name. Martin agreed, and soon The Alpine was renamed Dino’s Lodge. Outside the restaurant was a huge sign of the singer’s face, and Dino’s was soon the classiest joint in the city.

With its wood-paneled walls and Italian cuisine, Dino’s attracted some of the biggest names in Hollywood. Martin would often bring in friends like Frank Sinatra and Shirley MacLaine, and on occasion, Dean would hop from table to table, greeting guests and signing autographs. The restaurant hosted female singers, many of whom were little-known actresses, but Dean never allowed any guys to get up on stage. He didn’t want any competition.

In addition to the music and its celebrity clientele, the restaurant was famous for its strawberry Melba and late hours. Between 1:00 AM and 5:00 AM, early birds were treated to a special breakfast of steak sandwiches and eggs, served by candlelight. Soon, Dino’s was one of the most famous restaurants in the country, popping up on movies like Kiss Me, Stupid and TV shows like Dragnet and The Andy Griffith Show. Most famously, Dino’s was prominently featured in the opening credits for 77 Sunset Strip, a crime drama that ran from 1958 to 1964.

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But as Dino’s grew in popularity, a certain screwball comedian became incredibly jealous. Wanting to put Martin in his place, Jerry Lewis opened his own restaurant, just a few blocks away from Dean’s. Using $350,000 of his own cash, Jerry opened Jerry’s in October 1961. Taking inspiration from his ex-friend, Lewis marked his turf with a giant neon sign that featured his own smiling mug.

Instead of serving Italian food, Jerry’s offered American and Hebrew cuisine, but unfortunately for Lewis, his restaurant wasn’t all that successful. Maybe it was thanks to the staff who were described as loud and incredibly slow. Or it might have had to do with the decor that was self-indulgent and over-the-top. Everything was decked out in black velvet and silver and purple highlights. There were plush arm chairs, humongous menus, and gigantic chandeliers.

Even worse, the whole restaurant was like a shrine to Jerry himself. In addition to the sign outside, the door handles were a huge “J” and “L,” and the “JL” logo showed up on all the menus. It was also hard to ignore the oversize portrait of Jerry Lewis as a hobo clown. And if there was any doubt Lewis opened his own restaurant just to spite Dean, Jerry put that skepticism to rest when he stole Dean’s business partner, maitre d’, and head chef. As one author put it, Jerry’s was “born of insecurity, petty jealousy, and narcissism.”

Of course, it wasn’t like Dino’s was a perfect paradise of foodie euphoria either. Dean had a lot of trouble with his partners and sued them for “mismanagement and fraud in the operation.” Bored and frustrated, Martin eventually decided to bail, but he wanted to take his name with him. Unfortunately for him, the courts said no, and Dino’s remained Dino’s, even though Dean never showed up anymore. Of course, with Martin gone, the restaurant could finally start hiring male singers.

But Dino’s had even bigger problems. Thanks to shows like 77 Sunset Strip, Dino’s went from hip and happening to mainstream and boring. Stars stopped showing up, and soon it was just another California attraction, like the Hollywood sign or Disney Land. Eventually, the restaurant fell apart, and Dino’s was bulldozed in 1985. As for Jerry’s, once Martin called it quits, Lewis suddenly wasn’t all that interested in running a restaurant. It probably didn’t help that the whole enterprise put the comedian in debt, but with Dean out of the picture, Jerry’s eventually closed its ostentatious doors for good.

Show Me The Proof

Featured photo via Wikimedia
Neatorama: Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis: Restaurant Owners
“The Rise and Fall of Dino’s Lodge,” by Kliph Nesteroff

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