Over its two hundred year history, Los Angeles has risen out of the dry dust of the desert to become one of the largest metropolises in the world. The city’s initial success can be attributed to the discovery of oil and the development of railroad industries. However, L.A really started to boom when D.W. Griffith relocated his film company there to avoid patent fees in New York imposed by Thomas Edison. When other filmmakers discovered Griffith’s secret, they were thrilled to realize they could now make movies year-round due to Southern California’s mild climate and sunny weather.
L.A.’s entertainment business rapidly burgeoned into a thriving economy and many of the major studios that we know today began their empires in the then small farm town of Hollywood. With so many working studio executives, actors, and crew members there arose a new demand for places to feed people. While many restaurants were founded to simply fill hungry stomachs, a few became famous for entertaining celebrities and providing them with a gourmet meal before, after, or during work. Subsequently, people came from far and wide to these establishments not just to catch a glimpse of their favorite celebrities, but also to experience the contagious sense of glamour these star-studded restaurants exuded.
Not many of these old restaurants have survived the economic and architectural perils they’ve faced over the past eighty years, but there are a few that continue to serve celebrities and non-celebrities alike. Relatively unchanged since the studio era, these restaurants capture the romance and glamour of Old Hollywood within their venerable walls.
Musso and Frank’s (now Musso and Frank Grill)
The Musso and Frank Grill, established in 1919, is probably the most notorious Hollywood restaurant besides the three Brown Derby restaurants, all of which have unfortunately been closed for good. It is located at 6667 Hollywood Boulevard and was originally owned and operated by Joseph Musso and Frank Toulet before being sold to Joseph Carissimi and John Mosso in 1926.
This Mosso/Carissimi family business has survived ever since then, but unfortunately the same cannot be said for the original layout of the restaurant. In 1935, Musso and Frank’s infamous “Back Room” was leased from the Vogue Theater and became a hotspot for America’s literary elite. This included renowned names such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Falkner (who mixed his own mint juleps at the bar), and Raymond Chandler, who is believed to have used the room to write a large portion of his quintessential noir novel The Big Sleep. However, the lease was lost in 1954 and the restaurant was forced to expand into Stanley Rose’s Bookstore, another hangout for famous writers, and is now known as the “New Room”. Luckily, the owners were able to keep the bar that adorned the back room and now it sits prominently in the new room as a tribute to the literati hangout.
Musso and Frank’s was a favorite hotspot for other celebrities such as Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lawford, and the Warner brothers as well. It’s even rumored that in the restaurant’s earlier days, Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, and Rudolph Valentino once raced horses down Hollywood Boulevard, the loser agreeing to buy the other two dinner at the restaurant.
The HMS Bounty is located at 3357 Wilshire Boulevard in what is now known as Koreatown. The restaurant was originally built in 1948 as an addition to the Gaylord Apartments and named after Gaylord Wilshire without his prior consent. Better known as the land developer that donated the now famous “Miracle Mile” to the city of Los Angeles, Mr. Wilshire sued the owners of the apartments. As a settlement, the owners gave him a free room for life but he never got to use it as he died soon after.
The restaurant was originally named “The Gay Room” as Gay was Mr. Wilshire’s nickname, and since then has been known as the Golden Anchor and Dimsdale’s Secret Harbor. Although widely known as Winston Churchill’s favorite bar in the United States, it also has a more violent history associated with it. Before Mr. Wilshire bought the land it was used as the remote city dump and was notorious as a location to discard the bodies of murder victims. The area’s history purports the claim that a male ghost haunts the rooms and lobby of the Gaylord Apartments as well as the kitchen of the HMS Bounty, and many women have reported being supernaturally molested in the ladies’ room in the lobby across from the restaurant.
In addition to the supposed haunting, the HMS Bounty is located directly across the street from the Ambassador Hotel where Robert Kennedy was assassinated on June 5th, 1968; it is rumored that Kennedy’s killer, Sirhan Sirhan, ate at the Bounty before the murder.
Miceli’s (Hollywood location)
Although not quite as old as some of the other restaurants mentioned here, Miceli’s, located at 1646 North Las Palmas Avenue, is the first pizzeria opened in Hollywood. Opened in 1949 by Carmen and Sylvia Miceli as Miceli’s Pizza House, it used to be frequented by a long list of celebrities craving late-night Italian food as it was one of the few restaurants open until the early hours of the morning.
Reportedly, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin came to Miceli’s for the traditional food, Bugsy Segal and Sal Mineo would come after all the patrons had left for their spaghetti and meatballs, Marilyn Monroe came for the martinis, and John F. Kennedy came because of, well, Marilyn. Almost a decade later the Beatles would go there after recording sessions at Capitol Records for some late night pie and beer in Miceli’s basement, which exists to this day and can be rented out for parties.
Miceli’s is also famous for its live entertainment and singing waiters who will serenade you at your table or get up on stage and belt out a ballad, show tune, or even an aria. The restaurant is still family-owned and on some nights, if you’re lucky, you can catch the founder, Carmen Miceli, greeting guests at the front of the restaurant.
Located at 7156 Santa Monica Boulevard and established in 1939, the Formosa Café, like the HMS Bounty, has had a somewhat seedy and violent history, only with more glamour than grit. Built with an old trolley car as its foundation, this restaurant’s past has been closely tied to those in Hollywood with connections to the mob and other illegal activities. It’s said that the Black Dahlia, Elizabeth Short, ate there before she died, but with so much speculation about where she spent her time, the rumor has never been verified. Another unsubstantiated rumor is that Elvis once ate there and, when it came time for the tip, gave his waitress the keys to a Cadillac that was parked outside.
One viable story about the restaurant concerns the ties that the restaurant had to Jewish Mafioso Mickey Cohen. Cohen is known to have eaten there as well as those celebrities who were associated with him. It’s rumored that Frank Sinatra, while still married to his first wife Nancy, would visit the Formosa Café just to pine over actress Ava Gardner. It was one of the possible places where their extramarital affair would begin before they were married in 1951. The restaurant was also uneventfully visited by many celebrities in its heyday including Marlon Brando, Warren Beatty, Humphrey Bogart, James Dean, and Judy Garland.
These restaurants are still around today not only due to the patronage of yesteryear’s celebrities, but also because of quality food, service, and management; all things that every restaurant should aspire to and every diner should value. The names of these places may have changed over the years and the city may have grown drastically around them, but the one thing that hasn’t changed is their ability to please people. This star-quality is the reason that celebrities continue to visit these restaurants, as well as those who wish to be treated like their idols. Whether you hope to catch a glimpse of someone famous or if you just want to be treated like one, these classic restaurants will have you seeing stars.