A tall, neon approximation of Dean Martin’s face once radiated a mysterious ambiance down on the Sunset Strip. The sign could be spotted in episodes of Dragnet, the Billy Wilder film Kiss Me Stupid, and even an episode of The Andy Griffith Show. Much of the time it was treated as if it were just a typical building facade that fictional characters would drive past without comment. But today, to see a giant neon Dean Martin face makes one arch an eyebrow. What in Lord’s name is that!?
Dino’s Lodge was a real-life Los Angeles restaurant that lasted twenty years. It is primarily remembered by fans of the television series 77 Sunset Strip. Ed Byrnes played the pseudo-hipster character Kookie, a kid working as a valet at Dino’s Lodge, which was a neighbor to the private eye headquarters of the program’s protagonists. When Dino’s Lodge first opened it was a happening nightspot frequented by the Hollywood elite. When 77 Sunset Strip made it famous to television viewers, it descended into a tourist trap and was abandoned by its celebrity clientele. By the early seventies, this restaurant that had once hosted parties for Frank Sinatra, was part of a cornball travel agency package that advertised a two-hundred and forty-dollar “guided tour of a motion picture studio, a full day at Disneyland, and dinner at Dino’s Lodge.”
From the very beginning, the weird-looking sign was one of Hollywood’s campiest icons. “Dino’s Lodge was immensely popular,” says Shawn Levy, “serving home-style Italian food and grilled entrees in a wood-paneled atmosphere meant to replicate the great roue’s den.” Behind those wood panels, however, hides a story of mismanagement, lawsuits, and vindictive Jerry Lewis’ spite. The project, in the words of Dean Martin himself, was one of “total regret.”