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Inside Old Hollywood’s Most Iconic Celebrity Hot Spots

If walls could talk, we’d love to listen to the ones at Hollywood’s most iconic hangouts. Just imagine the stories they could tell about the glitzy hotels, bars, and clubs frequented by the movie stars of days gone by. The history of Hollywood is littered with tales from these celebrity hot spots — some iconic, others infamous. Ready? Let’s dive in.

1. Whisky a Go Go

When it comes to Hollywood hot spots, they don’t come much more iconic than the Whisky a Go Go! This historic venue has been a proving ground for just about every rock music sub-genre from the ‘60s onwards, from folk rock to psychedelia, punk, and metal.

In the ‘60s, celebs such as Steve McQueen, Cary Grant, and Jayne Mansfield all rocked out there. The Doors were its house band in 1966! Since then, a Who’s Who of legendary bands have gone on to grace that same stage: Led Zeppelin, Beach Boys, Fleetwood Mac, and KISS, to name but a few.

2. Dunbar Hotel

The Dunbar Hotel was the place for Black Hollywood to dance the night away and listen to the legendary jazz artists who jammed there in the ‘30s and ‘40s. Los Angeles was segregated at this time, but the Dunbar was open to Black guests, and it made a point to book Black musicians including Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson, and Count Basie for its Club Alabam.

Actor Wren T. Brown told The Hollywood Reporter, “It was the most celebrated Black club in the history of Central Avenue.” Yet it wound up closing its doors in the ‘70s and is now an old folks’ home!

3. Cocoanut Grove

The Cocoanut Grove was the Ambassador Hotel’s nightclub, and it functioned as a playground for the stars from 1921 until 1989. After this, it turned into a sought-after filming location for Tinseltown until the hotel itself was torn down in 2006!

Barbra Streisand, Lena Horne, and Nat King Cole all sang in the club, and several Academy Award ceremonies were held there too. An uncomfortable fact: as the club didn’t become integrated until 1959, Black Oscar-winner Hattie McDaniel had to be given special dispensation to even be in the building to accept her Best Supporting Actress award in 1940.

4. Frolic Room

According to website Thrillist, “If you wanted to catch Frank Sinatra chatting up Judy Garland after a long night of award ceremonies, The Frolic Room would’ve been the place.” Amazingly, although this tiny hole-in-the-wall bar opened back in 1934 it is still going strong today.

It was one of the legendarily well-oiled writer Charles Bukowski’s favorite spots, and his photo still takes pride of place above the cash register. It also has a macabre celebrity connection: L.A.’s most famous murder victim Elizabeth Short, better known as the Black Dahlia, was last seen exiting the Frolic Room.

5. Yamashiro

For Hollywood’s elite from the ‘60s onwards, eating at the Yamashiro Asian-fusion restaurant wasn’t just a meal: it was an experience. Originally built in 1914 the hilltop mansion was designed as a replica of a mountain palace found in Yamashiro province, Japan.

In the ‘20s it was purchased by mogul Frank Elliott and his “400 Club” — a selection of the industry’s biggest actors and directors — for $1 million to use as their own private party venue. The club included such luminaries as Charlie Chaplin, Rudolph Valentino, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Sam Goldwyn, Louis B. Mayer and the Warner Brothers!

6. Jewel’s Catch One

When Jewel Thais Williams opened Jewel’s Catch One on West Pico Boulevard in 1971 she created a place for LGBT people of color to dance and socialize without fear of judgment — or arrest — by the LAPD.

It wound up becoming somewhere celebrities including Luther Vandross, Madonna, Sharon Stone, and Donna Summer loved to pass through. As 9-1-1 actress Beverly Todd told The Hollywood Reporter, “It was the first place where everybody who was whatever they felt they wanted to be could go and have a good time and not be ostracized.”

7. Pandora’s Box

Pandora’s Box was the purple-and-gold nightclub which hosted a plethora of ‘60s rock greats such as Sonny & Cher, The Beach Boys, and The Byrds; it later became infamous thanks to the 1966 Sunset Strip riots. When 1,000 youthful music fans protested outside the club about the LAPD’s harsh enforcement of a 10:00 p.m. curfew, the demonstration escalated into bottles and rocks being thrown and windows being smashed.

Interestingly, Hollywood stars-on-the-rise Jack Nicholson and Peter Fonda were at the scene of the riots. In fact, Fonda was arrested, but managed to talk his way out of any charges by saying he was simply filming the protest.

8. Romanoff’s

Have you ever seen the infamous photo of Sophia Loren looking decidedly unimpressed about Jayne Mansfield’s, um, assets? Well, that snap was taken at Romanoff’s, a Beverly Hills restaurant run by Michael Romanoff, a man who swore up and down he was royalty: part of the Russian House of Romanov, no less.

Naturally, everybody knew this was nonsense, but they loved his restaurant anyway! Of the pic, in 2014 Loren told Entertainment Weekly, “In my face you can see the fear. I’m so frightened that everything in her dress is going to blow — BOOM! — and spill all over the table!”

9. Total Experience

Writer Steven Ivory told The Hollywood Reporter that Total Experience “was the premier club in the ’70s where you could listen to all the big Black acts: Teddy Pendergrass, Billy Paul, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, Archie Bell & the Drells. The Gap Band used to play there because their manager, Lonnie Simmons, owned the place.”

Simmons — who also owned Total Experience records — ran the club from 1972 until 1990. Rumor had it there was a recording studio hidden within the depths of the building. Sadly, a devastating fire razed everything to the ground in 2021.

10. Formosa Café

When it comes to restaurants in Hollywood, there are few boasting a better location than the Formosa Café. After all, when it opened in 1939 it sat right across the street from the Samuel Goldwyn studio lot! Countless stars have popped in for lunch over the years, including Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, and Humphrey Bogart.

According to its official website, “On any given day, patrons might have seen Ava Gardner dancing past the old, red leather booths, or John Wayne nursing a late-night scotch. He was caught making scrambled eggs in our kitchen one morning, after reportedly passing out in a booth the night before!”

11. Maurice’s Snack n’ Chat

On the eve of Maurice’s Snack n’ Chat closing in 2004 actress Betty Jones told the Los Angeles Times all about its legendary owner Maurice Young, who had been 87 at that time. She revealed, “Maurice has fed L.A., and I’m so sad to see it go. It was always a party in here. I’ve seen her host Gladys Knight, Denzel Washington, James Brown.”

She added, “One time Elizabeth Taylor had a surprise party here for her husband, and I walked into the kitchen and saw Elizabeth Taylor eating out of the pots. She was stealing a piece of chicken and she looked at me and said, ‘You didn’t see that!’”

12. Miceli’s Italian Restaurant

Miceli’s Italian restaurant can make a unique claim among Hollywood eateries. Incredibly, owner Carmen Miceli has served its delicious pizzas to no fewer than three different Presidents: John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and Richard Nixon!

Aside from the leaders of the free world, though, Miceli also taught Lucille Ball how to toss pizza dough for an episode of I Love Lucy and fed Italian delicacies to the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Dean Martin, The Beatles, and Joe DiMaggio. To this day, waiters and waitresses burst into song when the jukebox plays: something Frank Sinatra reportedly inspired them to do.

13. George Cukor’s house

George Cukor’s homosexuality was an open secret in Hollywood; the My Fair Lady director’s home became a refuge for the gay community. He lived in a 6-acre estate overlooking Sunset Plaza and would regularly throw incredible shindigs for famous friends including Greta Garbo and Henry Miller.

But after those get-togethers had run their course, they would transition into pool parties with an exclusively male guest list. Patron of the arts Baroness d’Erlanger joked, “Mr. Cukor has all these wonderful parties for ladies in the afternoon. Then in the evening naughty men come around to eat the crumbs!”

14. Clifton’s

Clifton’s Cafeteria opened in 1931 and the five-story eatery was notable for its unusual policy regarding payment. Owner Clifford Clinton was a devout Christian who would never refuse a hungry person a meal, and if a customer genuinely couldn’t afford to pay, they ate for free!

It makes perfect sense, then, that iconic sci-fi author Ray Bradbury practically lived there when he was a penniless writer, and Charles Bukowski even shouted out the joint in his novel Ham on Rye. He wrote, “Clifton's Cafeteria was nice… It was owned by some very nice rich old man, a very unusual person.”

15. Chasen’s

It’s not every restaurant in the world that can say the “Master of Suspense” Alfred Hitchcock regularly nodded off in one of its booths, but Chasen’s of West Hollywood can make that very claim! Elizabeth Taylor reportedly loved the establishment’s chilli enough to pay for it to be flown to Rome while she shot Cleopatra.

Oh, and according to general manager Ronald Clint, “Marilyn Monroe was a regular… She would film all day and wear slacks on the way home. She would sneak in through a side door and eat in a corner booth because she wore slacks. Nowadays, she'd be considered dressed up!”

16. Climax II/Osko’s

In the late ’60s, Climax II was a psychedelic disco club where famous and non-famous Black folks would boogie the night away. It changed owners and became Osko’s in the ‘70s, before being torn down in the ‘90s and replaced with a Loehmann’s store.

The Wire and Fargo star Glynn Turman waxed lyrical about its glory days, though, recalling, “You never…[knew] who you’d stumble over in the basement sitting on a beanbag chair. With the disco lights flashing, all of a sudden you’d look, and you’d be dancing next to Pam Grier or Fred Williamson or Jim Brown.”

17. Mocambo

This West Hollywood nightclub introduced the world to not one, but two legendary crooners: Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald! And amazingly, it had been Monroe who was instrumental in getting Fitzgerald her first gig there.

The “Dream a Little Dream of Me” singer revealed, “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. 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.”

18. The Beverly Hills Hotel

“The image people have in their heads of Los Angeles lined with palm trees comes from The Beverly Hills,” revealed UCLA film professor Jonathan Kuntz to Vogue magazine. Indeed, the “Pink Palace,” as it is nicknamed, has played host to just about every Hollywood icon you can think of over the past 100 years.

Elizabeth Taylor spent six honeymoons there, while Marlene Dietrich’s refusal to wear a dress in its Polo Lounge restaurant forced the hotel to change its “no slacks for women” rule. These days celebs including Beyoncé, Jennifer Aniston, and Chris Pine frequent the hotel, which still has a timeless feel to it.

19. Famous Amos Cookies

Famous Amos Cookies founder Wally Amos — a former talent agent at the William Morris Agency — opened his first store on Sunset Boulevard in 1975. Celebrity involvement was baked — sorry — into the brand from the beginning. After all, the $25,000 investment he initially raised had come from Helen Reddy and Marvin Gaye!

Famous faces loved Amos’ sweet treats. As Wren Brown told The Hollywood Reporter, “You would go into the store and invariably find three or four very notable people — Berry Gordy, Sidney Poitier, Billy Dee Williams — in there along with the regular customers.”

20. Tam O’Shanter Inn

The Tam O’Shanter Inn opened in 1922 and is still serving delicious prime rib, Yorkshire puddings, and fish n’ chips to hungry Loz Feliz residents today. The hearty British fare became so popular with Walt Disney and his animation crew in the ‘30s that the inn was nicknamed the “Disney Studio Commissary.”

Table 31 was Disney’s regular spot, and to this day the same table — complete with crude pieces of art scratched into the wood by hungry animators — takes pride of place in the dining room!

21. Millennium Biltmore Hotel

Even if you’ve never been to Hollywood, you will recognize the Millennium Biltmore Hotel. After all, it’s where Slimer the ghost attacks Bill Murray in Ghostbusters, and it is also the hotel Eddie Murphy hilariously talks his way into in Beverly Hills Cop!

On a more prestigious note, though, industry legend goes that MGM production designer Cedric Gibbons designed the Academy Award statue — yes, Oscar himself — on one of the hotel’s napkins in 1927. The ceremony itself was then hosted by the hotel in 1931, from 1935-39, and again in 1941 and 1942.

22. Rainbow Bar and Grill

This Sunset Strip bar became synonymous with a hard-partying group of rock stars in the ‘70s. Alice Cooper told NME magazine the group was “a drinking club, a last-man-standing kinda thing. You’d go over to the Rainbow Bar & Grill in Hollywood every night and there would be myself, Mickey Dolenz from The Monkees, Bernie Taupin, Keith Moon, and Harry Nilsson. If John Lennon was in town… he’d come by too.”

He added, “People started calling us the ‘Hollywood Vampires’ because we’d never see daylight. We figured instead of drinking the blood of the vein, we were drinking the blood of the vine!”

23. Barney’s Beanery

The amusingly named Barney’s Beanery opened in 1927 and has always benefited from its centralized location between the major movie studios and Beverly Hills. In the Golden Age of Hollywood, Rita Hayworth, Clark Gable, and Clara Bow drank there. As New Hollywood rolled around, Jack Nicholson and Dennis Hopper pulled up a pew.

Then, in the ’60s, rock star Jim Morrison urinated on the bar; he was rewarded with a plaque that still hangs on the wall today. Barney’s was also allegedly where Janis Joplin downed her last drink before passing away in a nearby motel in 1970.

24. Tom Bergin’s Tavern

It almost goes without saying, but everyone loves an Irish pub — including Hollywood movie stars! Tom Bergin’s Tavern on Fairfax Avenue is arguably the most famous in America, as it has been a regular haunt of luminaries including Bing Crosby, Kiefer Sutherland, John Wayne, and Julia Roberts.

Heck, Cary Grant frequented the spot so often that he had a booth named in his honor, with a framed shamrock with his name in it taking pride of place on the wall. Interestingly, the spot claimed it was the first place in America to serve Irish coffee, although San Francisco’s Buena Vista Café would beg to differ.

25. Café Trocadero

This Sunset Boulevard black-tie supper club opened in 1934 and was owned by The Hollywood Reporter head honcho William R. Wilkerson. Naturally, it attracted celebrities like moths to a flame because they knew their photographs would appear in the magazine the following day!

Henry Fonda, Lucille Ball, Jean Harlow, Fred Astaire, and Nat King Cole were regulars, and it even found its way onto the screen in 1937’s A Star Is Born. The club’s most controversial legacy relates to the death of Three Stooges creator Ted Healy, though; he passed away the day after he claimed he’d been beaten up by “three college boys” in the Trocadero.

26. Ciro’s

Ciro’s was a nightclub on the Sunset Strip which, in its pomp, frequently welcomed the likes of Cary Grant, Judy Garland, James Stewart, Henry Fonda, and Katharine Hepburn. According to the Los Angeles Times, “The club’s simple, sleek exterior belied its over-the-top baroque innards — red ceilings, red-silk wall sofas and pale, green-ribbed silk draped over everything that didn’t move.”

It was open for business from 1940 to 1960, and then re-opened in 1972 as The Comedy Store — the legendary comedy club that launched the careers of Richard Pryor, Jay Leno, and David Letterman among others.

27. Maverick’s Flat

When Maverick’s Flat opened in 1966 the very first musical act to hit the stage was The Temptations. Over the years a host of legends also played there, such as Ike and Tina Turner, Marvin Gaye, and Earth, Wind, and Fire.

The club was incredibly important to the Black community, with writer Steven Ivory telling The Hollywood Reporter, “We called it the Black version of Whisky a Go Go.” Glynn Turman added, “The thing that was cool about Maverick’s was it was in the ‘hood, in South Central, so it was solely ours.”

28. Musso & Frank Grill

Jimmy “Doc” Pappas is a regular at Musso & Frank Grill — the oldest Italian restaurant in Hollywood. In 2019 — the joint’s 100th anniversary — he told The Hollywood Reporter, “I’ve seen more A-list celebrities at Musso & Frank than I have in all my years working at three major motion-picture studios: Joe Namath, Jack Nicholson, Michael Douglas, Kathy Bates, Anthony Hopkins, Florence Henderson, Nicolas Cage.”

Interestingly, back in the day it was also a haven for writers: F. Scott Fitzgerald and Raymond Chandler would work on novels there, while William Faulkner drank mint juleps that he mixed himself!

29. Brown Derby

Brown Derby was a chain of restaurants that became closely associated with the Golden Age of Hollywood. Its franchise at 1628 Vine Street was where matinee idol Clark Gable got down on one knee to propose to screwball comedy queen Carole Lombard.

It was also where Ralph Bellamy, Spencer Tracy, and Pat O’Brien — a group of actors nicknamed the “Irish Mafia” — often met up to sink some cold ones and swap stories. The restaurant also gave birth to the Cobb Salad, an off-the-cuff creation invented by owner Bob Cobb when he threw together whatever he had left in the refrigerator!

30. Chateau Marmont

Sunset Boulevard’s Chateau Marmont is a truly iconic Hollywood location. Due to its reputation for privacy, countless stars have gotten into mischief there over the years. So much so, in fact, that president of Columbia Pictures Harry Cohn once remarked, “If you must get into trouble, do it at the Chateau Marmont.”

Sadly, it played host to tragedy when John Belushi died there in 1982. The hotel is still a fixture in more modern times: Red Hot Chili Peppers singer Anthony Keidis and guitarist John Frusciante recorded a portion of the band’s 2002 album By The Way in a seventh-floor suite!