These old-school Hollywood haunts are still great places to eat, drink, and—of course—people-watch. Plus, they’re steeped in motion picture history.
Beaches and juice bars aside, there’s one main reason people visit Los Angeles: the movies. But while being fame-adjacent in the audience of Jimmy Kimmel Live! has its own thrill, what many travelers really seek is to step back in time, be immersed in the glamour of the silver screen, and to witness mythology come to life as we imagine ourselves poolside with Clark Gable or sipping cocktails with Mary Pickford. Although Hollywood has evolved since those golden days, some of the stars’ old haunts still exist. Here are five restaurants and bars that capture the heady allure of Old Hollywood.
A classic martini in a historic setting
Don’t be intimidated by Musso & Frank’s bow-tied waiters in red boleros. Embrace them when they non-judgmentally serve you an 11 a.m. martini—one of the best in L.A.—along with chunks of bread and a menu featuring consomme and classic alfredo sauce. That is, the original recipe for alfredo sauce, created in Rome by Alfredo di Lelio and brought overseas to the restaurant by silent movie stars Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford. Hollywood’s oldest restaurant is almost 100 years old, a charming throwback joint with red leather booths, coat racks, and a vintage telephone booth. Charlie Chaplin came so often he had his own section, William Faulkner liked to mix his own mint juleps behind the bar, and among countless others, Joe DiMaggio, Orson Welles, and Janis Joplin came to, well, drink. Sidle up to the mahogany bar and let the ghosts inspire you.
David Hockney artwork and Marilyn Monroe’s ghost
Take some time from ogling the names on the Walk of Fame to pop into the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, the oldest continually operating hotel in L.A. and the site of the first Academy Awards in 1929. Fresh from a $25 million room renovation by Yabu Pushelberg, a plain facade belies the ornate Spanish Revival decor inside. Since the hotel’s original opening, it’s been steeped in glitz and lore and deemed a place to see and be seen. After marveling at the interior, step over to the palm tree-lined pool. David Hockney didn’t paint his famous swirls on the bottom until 1988, but celebrities have always been drawn to it: Marilyn Monroe kept a poolside cabana for nearly two years and had her first magazine photos taken beside it. Today you can capture her spirit with potent cocktails and an extensive all-day brunch at the 1960s-inspired Tropicana Pool Café. And spirit works more ways than one: Monroe’s ghost is said to still roam around the property.
Ground zero for wild parties
Perhaps you’ve heard about the time James Dean jumped through a window to audition for Rebel Without a Cause. Or maybe that Led Zeppelin caused a ruckus riding their motorcycles through the lobby. The notorious bad behavior at the Chateau Marmont, perched high above Sunset Boulevard, is no accident. Shortly after the hotel opened in the 1930s, studio heads, sensing the need for their stars with pristine reputations to have somewhere secluded to shed responsibility, turned to the Chateau. Its thick walls and fortlike presence became a natural ally. Today if you dine in the hotel restaurant (with a surprisingly affordable menu; we recommend the fried chicken bites for $10) you’ll still be held to secrecy: The small print at the bottom of the menu prohibits taking any photographs. But it says nothing about people-watching, which is amazing and free.
A dive bar with a star-studded past
Though its fanciful neon sign promises grandeur, you’d be lucky if you can squeeze 30 people into the Frolic Room, the oldest bar in Hollywood, which has no website. But what the cozy dive bar lacks in size it makes up for in location and storied history. Right on Hollywood Boulevard and next to the landmarked Pentages Theater, one wall of the bar is bedecked with photos of movie stars while another is covered by a full-color mural by Al Hirschfeld, with characters including Clark Gable. That neon sign was added by former owner Howard Hughes, and both Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland have sipped a cocktail or two there. A dark space with a jukebox in the corner, it’s been used as a set in such noirish films as LA Confidential and The Black Dahlia—and it’s actually reputedly the last place Elizabeth Short, the real Black Dahlia, was seen alive. Because it’s a dive bar, you go for the shots or beer. But it does also make a mean martini. This is Hollywood, after all.
A Japanese mountain palace in the Hollywood Hills
Plant your feet on Hollywood Boulevard and look up at the hills, and you’ll see a building that might strike you as a little out of place. Yamashiro, meaning “Mountain Palace” in Japanese, was completed in 1914 by German-born Asian art aficionados as a replica of a palace in the mountains of Yamashiro province near Kyoto, complete with courtyards and a 600-year-old pagoda. The ornate space has gone through several incarnations: In the 1920s it was “Japan” in numerous Hollywood films, then became home to the Hollywood A-list 400 Club, and later made appearances in movies from Memoirs of a Geisha to Gone in 60 Seconds. The restaurant opened in 1948, and in 2016, the new operators added a sushi bar, robata grill, teppanyaki grill and a new lounge, providing plenty of opportunities to dine in opulence, with a spectacular view.