The Best Job in the World – Working at the Zebra Room in Los Angeles

“Herman was sure he had landed a job in one of the most exciting nightclubs in Los Angeles. The Zebra Room Cocktail Lounge, its tall chairs upholstered in zebra skin, hummed with action from afternoon until long after midnight.” – Immigrant Soldier, p. 141

Herman’s life was studded with serendipity. One of those moments, meeting the bartender from the Zebra Room, led to his job at that celebrated nightclub. Herman loved to remember his days working in this popular supper club. He was first assigned to the dignified Wedgewood Room restaurant at the Town House Hotel but was soon transferred to the Zebra Room.

The Town House, located across from Lafayette Park on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, was first built as an apartment-hotel in the late Beaux Arts architectural style with brick and terra cotta facades, embellished with Greek motifs and columns. Developed by oil magnate, Edward Doheny, and completed in 1929, it was advertised as “Southern California’s most distinguished address.” In 1937, just a few years before Herman’s arrival, the Town House was updated, redecorated, and re-launched as a luxury hotel featuring the Zebra Room, a swanky supper club.

As its name implies, the Zebra Room was a theme-motivated venue. The dining chairs and bar stools were covered in zebra upholstery, and zebra stripes decorated napkins, coffee mugs, and matchbook covers. The most striking feature of the room was a jungle-themed wall mural designed by Wayne McAllister.

Very quickly, the Zebra Room attracted film celebrities for social evenings with friends over drinks, dinner, and dancing. A big-band orchestra and good-sized dance floor made the nightclub very popular. It was located near the Coconut Grove, the most prestigious LA nightspot, especially for after-dinner dancing. Some Zebra Room patrons enjoyed going on to the Coconut Grove for more dancing after their meal. The supper club’s reputation was enhanced by clientele like Howard Hughes and Marilyn Monroe.

An excerpt from Herman’s letter to his mother, February 1, 1940: “I’m working from 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. . . This kind of work isn’t so easy because it must be done very carefully, and it is very exciting because our guests want everything right. They pay very good for it. And always the heat, the smoky room, the music and the noise. When I come home, I wash and I’m in bed about 4 a.m. . . . It is a pity that I don’t see the sun very much, but I get about $25.00 per week, so I don’t mind.”

An excerpt from Herman’s oral history: “I was a busboy in the Zebra Room where all the chairs had Zebra skin on them. And it was a very good job. . . . There were only three or four waiters in the whole lounge, and besides my salary, I got a share of their tips, which in those days was very good. . . . and I had a little racket on the side. I rented out neckties. Because nobody could come in without a tie, many customers needed a tie. So I rented them for a dollar a night. They could keep the tie, but they were so lousy, nobody wanted to keep them. I bought them at Woolworths for 25 cents. So I always got the ties back. It was a good business. . . .Like New Year’s Eve, you could make $200!”


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