Hollywood’s 15 minutes of fame aren't just for people—restaurants and bars in this city are equally ephemeral. Gone are old favorites like the Brown Derby, Ciros, Romanoff’s, Scandia, Perino’s, Le Dôme and Chasen’s. In the past month, Los Angeles lost Trader Vics in the Beverly Hilton, and Morton’s—the famous home of the Oscar night Vanity Fair party—will soon be converted into a private club.
But as adventurous newcomers and well-traveled denizens have found, there are a few classic spots in Los Angeles where old memories lounge in dark corners, and where patrons can relax and enjoy a taste of Hollywood history.
“There’s a generational difference that’s happened in the past thirty years,” says Frank Mulvey, author of "101 Best Bars of Los Angeles".
“Bars didn’t differentiate between the old and the young. People used to go to neighborhood hangouts and then suddenly everyone was going to places they called ‘meat markets.’ Now, I guess people are looking for places to ‘meet and greet.’ Me, I like the history of these older hangouts.”
As for why Mulvey prefers the classic establishments, he says it’s the atmosphere and the clientele. “The drinks don’t vary that much—a Bud’s a Bud. But in those places, its about the personality on both sides of the bar. People go to the classic hangouts because of the kind of people they will come across there.”
Locals and tourists alike know know about the nightly shenanigans at the bars at Chateau Marmont, Tower Hotel and the Roosevelt. But there are other beloved institutions with their own charm—places where one can saddle up to a booth or a bar and drink in a little history, with a chaser of Hollywood glamour. These places don't sizzle so much as simmer with ease and allure.
, open since 1942 and sitting just blocks from Syd Grauman’s famous theaters lining Hollywood Boulevard, declares itself the “local hang for the Who’s Who and Who Cares.” While one might find stars there—and many of the walls of these establishments offer photographs of nights gone by where there were plenty of celebrities—this where everyone can relax, hang out and be treated like a local.
With its red checkered tablecloths and wine-colored walls, is where old and young patrons alike find themselves comfortable... and comfortably charmed by their surroundings. Many of their waiters and bartenders have been serving up the tasty Italian food and perfectly mixed cocktails five nights a week since Dan Tana’s opened in 1964. The bar, placed in the middle of the restaurant, serves as a gathering spot for old timers, music lovers (the famous Troubadour is just two doors down), and film industry types who are looking to relax and unwind.
Janet Feldstein, a non-profit fundraiser, started hanging out at Dan Tana’s with her friends when she first moved to the city five years ago. Over the years she’s catched sight of quite a number of celebrities in among the usual customers. One night, there were even three, each at their own table: Johnny Depp, Harry Dean Stanton and Rudolph Guliani.
What Feldstein loves about Dan Tana’s is the neighborhood feel. “The maître’d, the bartender, the waiters, yes, they know the stars who are regulars, but they also know the non-stars who are regulars. And they treat them all equally. Thankfully, it’s not a pick-up scene. But you end up casually chatting with fun and interesting people not just when you are sitting at the bar, but in the booths, too.”
Hollywood’s oldest eatery, , established in 1919, still brings in a steady flow of visitors and regulars. If you are looking to relive a little of more Hollywood’s past after your meal, the American Cinematheque’s restored Egyptian Theater shows classic and art house films only a block away.
But for those who truly want to spend a perfect summer night hanging out under and among the stars, nothing could quite compare to . Every Saturday night, all summer long, Cinespia hosts screenings of classic films on the lawn at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. And what could beat a night of hanging out watching movies with Douglas Fairbanks, Cecil B. DeMille, Janet Gayner, Tyrone Power and Rudolph Valentino?
John Wyatt, L.A. native, devoted film buff, and founder of Cinespia doesn't believe in ghosts but hopes that if they do exist, they're present for the screenings. “If there's an afterlife, these people from Hollywood's past are having the time of their lives—or rather deaths... What fed them when they were alive were the crowds cheering. Cinespia is bringing the audience back to them.”
It often seems like Hollywood only worships the young and the new. But the people and places that last are the true stars in this city.