It's perhaps the very definition of a classic Hollywood experience: a coctail at the Formosa Cafe', dinner at Musso and Frank's, and a late-night stop at Pink's for a hot dog. This year all three of these Los Angeles legends are celebrating a major anniversary, so it's the perect time to experience Hollywood history.
As soon as you go through the leather door, Formosa Café hits you like a blur. Black and red throughout, the dark atmosphere feels welcoming, romantic and just a little illicit. Movie fans will already have recognized it from Swingers, The Majestic and LA Confidential, and it’s been a favorite for movie stars and mere mortals alike for decades – the walls are lined with endless pictures including Bogart, Gable, Monroe, Dean, Sinatra, Newman and Brando. Keep your eyes open though – it’s still a favorite celeb hang out today.
It's been a Hollywood favorite for movie stars
and mere mortals alike for decades
Split into two parts, the first a lengthy green fluorescent lit bar and, further back, a club car – a restored train car – for a more intimate dinner. If you choose one of the sumptuous red booths, look carefully and you might find the floor safe of former owner and mobster Mickey Cohen, who once ran a bookie operation out of here. A family business since original co-owner Lem Quon first opened the doors, Vince Jung now runs things - and he loves to talk about his late grandfather:
Lana Turner and her gangster boyfriend
Johnny Stompanato were actually regulars here
“He loved celebrities, loved hanging out with them, and he’d even bring them home to party. He was also a huge Elvis fan. Elvis’s manager Colonel Tom Parker hung out here and the owner of the record studio where Elvis recorded – just up the street – hung out here too.”
• • •
Up on Hollywood Boulevard is Musso & Frank Grill, which is celebrating an amazing 90 years in Tinsel Town. Manuel Felix has worked here for 35 of those years, and Jordon Jones, great grandson of the original founder and fourth generation co-owner, noted that “Manny” is as famous as some of the celebrities that have made the booths – or the bar – their regular spot:
“He was given the Cultural Icon Award by the International Restaurant and Hotel Association last year, and people often come in and ask: “Is Manny at the counter?”
With the air of an elegant film noir club, Musso & Frank has played host to great writers like Fitzgerald, Bukowski, Faulkner, Hemingway, Dorothy Parker and Raymond Chandler (who mentions the restaurant in The Big Sleep), and many of the veteran red-coated waiters have their own personal stories about them.
A never-ending list of movie, music and television stars have known Musso & Frank intimately too, but Jones added that many locals have come here for decades too:
“One of the most fun things for me is when people introduce themselves and say that they’ve been coming in for decades – two or three generations of a family. A woman in her 90’s recently came in, and she had first been here as a little girl when she was 11 years old!”
Musso & Frank Grill is celebrating an
amazing 90 years in Tinsel Town
Known as “the Oldest Restaurant in Hollywood”, Musso and Frank’s menu may not have changed much since the 1920’s, but that never stopped Douglas Fairbanks racing Charlie Chaplin here on horseback, and while many other restaurants have come and gone, Musso & Frank’s has remained - and many want it to stay that way:
“I have some ideas for the future – some improvements for our anniversary – but so many customers say, “Don’t change a thing” that change is a bit of a four-letter word around here.”
The Thursday special – chicken pot pie – is highly recommended, and with so many loyal staff (the three bartenders have well over one hundred years of service between them), it seems that Jones and his customers will get their wish:
“I want Musso & Frank to go on for another 90 years – and beyond that!”
• • •
Back outside, and whether it’s from a street vendor or at a baseball game, the American love affair with the hot dog seems never-ending, and Pink’s hot dog stand is arguably the most famous of them all – certainly here in town.
Even though the country was still suffering from the Depression, Paul Pink started pushing his large-wheeled pushcart around an area of rolling hills and open spaces – hard to believe that it was the corner of La Brea and Melrose
Pink's hot dog stand is arguably
the most famous of them all
– selling his chili dogs for just 10 cents. Around 10 years
later he retired his wagon and built a small building on the same spot – and the customers have kept on coming ever since.
Featured in commercials, pop videos, stories, songs and television programs, Pink’s is a virtual icon for the delights of the dog and attracts everyone from tourists to celebrities, from late night clubbers to families. This explains the everpresent lines (especially in the wee small hours), so if you’re
tempted by the smell wafting down the street, be prepared to
wait a while for your L.A. experience.
Chili cheese dogs are their #1 seller (singer/songwriter James Taylor said Pink’s was the inspiration for his 2007 song “Chili Dog”), and there are even Super Specials celebrating movie Lord of The Rings (a 10” dog with six onion rings round it) and dogs named in honor of stars like rocker Ozzy Osbourne and Rosie O’Donnell – there’s even one designed by Martha Stewart!
The latest dog was named after the new conductor of the LA Philharmonic Orchestra, as owner Gloria Pink explains: “When Gustavo Dudamel was last over here, he came to Pink’s every night, so we named one in honor of him – “The Dude”. It’s a stretch dog with a fajita mix, guacamole and chips standing up – like the sails of his ship coming from Venezuela to Los Angeles!”
It’s a democratic place too: everyone joins the line no matter how famous (or infamous) they are, and judging by the photos plastered all over the walls, Pink’s has served pretty much everyone at one time or another. In fact, Orson Welles still holds the record for most chili cheese dogs in one sitting – a gutbusting 18!
Gloria Pink reckons that they serve around 700,000 dogs a year, 5000 lb
of mustard and 72,000 lbs of chili – and their celebration is from November 7th
for at least seven days, when at 7pm for 70 minutes, their famous chili dog will
cost just 70 cents. “When Pink’s started it was during the recession. They were
tough times, but people still wanted a good meal. Now its 70 years later, and
we’ve kind of come full circle.”