There are plenty of places in Southern California where you can go if you want a guaranteed celebrity sighting. You could grab food at Craig’s or Sugarfish. You could journey to Malibu or the paparazzi-covered exits and entrances of LAX. And back in the golden age of Hollywood, stars were similarly predictable, frequenting the same old haunts that knew how to cater to the rich and famous. From the secretive Chateau Marmont to the tony Romanoff’s, here are 10 hot spots where Old Hollywood’s biggest names went to see and be seen.
The pivotal West Hollywood nightclub, which regularly hosted artists like Dorothy Dandridge and Eartha Kitt, served as the debut spot for two singular performers: Frank Sinatra, who was making his Los Angeles debut as a solo act, and Ella Fitzgerald, who only got a slot thanks to a bit of lobbying from Marilyn Monroe. “She personally called the owner of the Mocambo and told him she wanted me booked immediately, and if he would do it, she would take a front table every night,” Fitzgerald once said. “The owner said yes, and Marilyn was there, front table, every night. The press went overboard. After that, I never had to play a small jazz club again.
The Brown Derby
Clark Gable proposed to Carole Lombard at the Vine St. location of this much-loved restaurant chain. The spot was also home to quite a few scenes in I Love Lucy, most notably the one in which Lucille Ball stares agog at William Holden, who’s just trying to order a Cobb salad (so named after Brown Derby co-owner Robert Cobb) in peace.
The Chateau Marmont
Built in 1929, the gothic hotel nestled away on Sunset Boulevard has always been a bit more on the rock-and-roll side, thanks to its protective, camera-free atmosphere (well, before smartphones, anyway). It’s the sort of place where James Dean could leap out of a window during an audition for Rebel Without a Cause, or where Harry Cohn, then the president of Columbia Pictures, warned rising stars William Holden and Glenn Ford, “If you must get into trouble, do it at the Chateau Marmont.” But sometimes the trouble turns tragic, as in 1982, when comedian John Belushi died of a speedball injection while staying in Bungalow 3.
Lena Horne, Nat King Cole, and Barbra Streisand were frequent performers at this Wilshire Boulevard nightclub, which was part of the Ambassador Hotel. It was also the site of numerous Academy Award ceremonies in the 1930s and 40s. But, like many Old Hollywood establishments, the club also had a racist policy that strictly forbade black guests. When Gone with the Wind was up for numerous Oscars in 1940, film producer David O. Selznick had to call in a special favor to assure actress Hattie McDaniel could attend and accept her best-supporting-actress statuette. “I shall always hold [this award] as a beacon for anything I may be able to do in the future,” she said in her gracious speech.
The Beverly Hills Hotel
The pretty pink hotel off of Sunset Boulevard has long been a hideaway for Hollywood’s elite, a place where Howard Hughes could squirrel away in those famously private bungalows. (He favored Bungalow 4 and had staff deliver roast-beef sandwiches in the crook of the nearest tree.) Or where Elizabeth Taylor could spend six of her eight honeymoons. Or where Marlene Dietrich could sip a drink in the legendary Polo Lounge, the hotel’s restaurant. Fun fact: the actress was such a frequent guest that the hotel changed its “no slacks for women” dress code just for her. The hotel thrives still, though a protest of its current owner, the Sultan of Brunei, damaged its reputation for quite a while.
The Sunset Strip nightclub was the place to be, frequented by everyone from Marilyn Monroe to Katharine Hepburn to Rat Packers like Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. It was baroque chic, known for its red ceiling and red silk sofas, celebrities dripping from every table. The club eventually closed up shop after a time, then was reopened and rebranded in 1972 as the Comedy Store, a still-huge venue for comics on the rise.
Tom Bergin’s Tavern
Founded in 1921, this pub was an instant favorite of folks like Bing Crosby and Cary Grant, the latter of whom frequented it so often that he got a booth of his own. The homey pub also had a tradition in which patrons wrote their names on cardboard shamrocks and stuck them on the ceiling. Grant’s shamrock was still framed above his booth.
Founded in 1936, this West Hollywood spot was overflowing with stars of every stripe, from Howard Hughes to Dorothy Parker to Joan Crawford. Oscar parties were thrown there. Alfred Hitchcock could be seen falling asleep at his favorite booth. Marilyn Monroe would sneak in after a long day of filming, dining solo, too afraid to be seen in her casual after-work slacks. And Elizabeth Taylor was so fond of Chasen’s chili that she often had it flown to the set of Cleopatra. The restaurant was eventually closed in 1995, but not before its longtime employee
s and fans gathered together for the documentary Off the Menu: The Last Days of Chasen’s.
George Cukor’s house
The legendary director, who gave us My Fair Lady and The Philadelphia Story, among other classics, was also known about town for having fabulous parties at his Hollywood Hills home, bringing together a variety of famous cinematic and literary figures, from Greta Garbo to Noel Coward. Cukor, who was gay, also created a safe haven for the industry’s closeted community, often by throwing private Sunday afternoon pool parties.
Conveniently located next to the-then Samuel Goldwyn studio, stars like Humphrey Bogart and James Dean would pop into this narrow, neon West Hollywood spot for food and drinks. On any given day, patrons might have seen Lana Turner dancing past the old, red leather booths, or Elvis Presley nursing a late-night beer. “I always thought this is exactly what Hollywood should look like,” John Waters once said of the joint, which has since closed—but is reportedly on the verge of reopening.
Musso & Frank Grill
This classic steak spot, which is nearly 100 years old, was favored by Orson Welles, Humphrey Bogart, and Charlie Chaplin. It’s got such a pristine vintage aesthetic that it was featured in multiple episodes of Mad Men.
PROC. BY MOVIES