The Los Angeles icon Formosa Cafe will be born again as a “living memoir” of Hollywood’s glamour days, the multiconcept operator 1933 Group said on Monday.
Originally built in 1925, the landmark restaurant in West Hollywood was known as a celebrity hangout for the likes of Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne and Elvis. It has also been featured in many movies, including, most notably, “L.A. Confidential.”
In 1991, developers threatened to tear down Formosa Cafe, but patrons fought to preserve the restaurant, and city officials protected the building. Still, the restaurant closed in December after multiple iterations over the years.
Dimitri Komarov, one of 1933 Group’s owners, said the group acquired the restaurant in a bidding war with many potential suitors, including some large restaurant chain operators and celebrity chefs. But landlord Clarion Partners chose 1933 Group because of its experience with restoring other important Los Angeles landmarks, including the barrel-shaped bar Idle Hour and Highland Park Bowl, the city’s oldest bowling alley, which is also a bar and pizza joint.
“Seeing what we’ve done in the city, we seemed to be a more natural fit,” said Komarov, whose partners include Bobby Green and Dmitry Liberman. “We want to bring it back to the way it was — the golden era.”
The original Formosa Cafe was opened by prizefighter Jimmy Bernstein, who built the restaurant around a 1902 streetcar. Although it is not officially a historic landmark, remaking the restaurant will be a challenge, Komarov said.
Over the years, efforts to reinvigorate the 3,700-square-foot restaurant have involved layering on disparate spaces that have hindered the flow, including an “awkward” 2,000-square-foot patio and a roof deck, according to Komarov.
The 1933 Group acquired the concept from the family of Lem Quon, who operated Formosa for decades and has a wealth of memorabilia in storage that will be available for the redo, including the original Chinese lanterns, the “lucky Buddha” statue, and signed photos of the many stars that frequented the joint.
The menu will be Chinese, and will likely include dim sum, as well as contemporary versions of throwback dishes, like lo mein, Komarov said.
It’s not clear yet whether the restaurant will keep its secret rooms where celebrities — and infamous guests like Bugsy Siegel — once enjoyed a certain privacy. But the restaurant will be designed as a place where celebrities can feel free to relax, Komarov said.
“Our group has been known to shelter that and create places where celebrities can come and know there’s no TMZ waiting for them,” he said.
Construction is scheduled to begin in a few weeks, and the new-and-improved Formosa Cafe is expected to open in the second quarter of 2018.
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