Legendary Celebrity Haunt Formosa Cafe Reopens in Los Angeles

Formosa Cafe, an iconic former mobster den and longtime celebrity hangout in West Hollywood, reopens on Friday after an extensive restoration that took more than a year.

This is a bar and restaurant that dates back to 1939 and has stories to spare. It’s where Elvis Presley tipped a waitress a Cadillac. It wasn’t uncommon to see Ava Gardner dancing around the red leather booths. Brad Pitt liked to come by dressed like a “homeless person” and often sat at the bar drinking without being recognized by other customers, says Bobby Green of 1933 Group, the hospitality firm that acquired Formosa Cafe in 2017.

Formosa Cafe is across the street from the location of what was the Samuel Goldwyn Studio, which became the Warner Hollywood Studio (also gone now). Countless superstars, including Frank Sinatra, Lana Turner, James Dean, and Humphrey Bogart, visited over the years. A lot of this has been well-documented publicly, and Green also worked with a historian and ended up getting a diary of a bartender who worked at Formosa Cafe for 40 years. The diary was full of information about who came in, what they drank, who got kicked out, who fell asleep in the bar.

“One of my favorite stories is John Wayne; he was a mad regular here,” Green says. “A lot of these guys would be regulars for like a year straight if they’re filming a movie across the street. John Wayne was notoriously a whisky drinker, and he would just get completely blotto. So in this diary, it talks about how John Wayne on several occasions got passed-out drunk and was in the booth asleep. They would just lock him in at the end of the night and close the door and leave him. They’d come back the next morning, and he’s making eggs in the kitchen.”

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