This past weekend I dragged my boyfriend out to West Hollywood to grab drinks at a Los Angeles staple that I had yet to stalk – the legendary Formosa Cafe. The small cafe, located on the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Formosa Avenue in West Hollywood, was opened up in 1925 by former prizefighter Jim Bernstein. The original restaurant, which served only lunch, was built inside a former Red Line trolley car and went by the name of “The Red Spot”. In 1932 Bernstein partnered up with a man named Lem Quan, expanded his little cafe, and changed the name to its current moniker – “the Formosa Cafe”. Due to its close proximity to what at the time was known as the Pickford-Fairbanks Studios (now the studio is simply called “The Lot”) which was located right across the street, the Formosa quickly became host to a bevy of Hollywood stars. Today the restaurant, now owned by Vincent Jung (grandson of original partner Lem Quan), is still popular today with many Hollywood A and B listers.
Just a brief list of those who have frequented the Formosa over the years: everyone from movie stars of yesteryear like Marilyn Monroe, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, James Dean, Clark Gable, Bugsy Siegel, Mickey Cohen (the outline of a safe he used to keep in the floor of the restaurant is still visible to this day), Johnny Stompanato, Elizabeth Short aka the Black Dhalia, Eva Gardner, Natalie Wood, and Jane Russell, to the celebs of today like Laura Flynn Boyle, Luke Perry, Shannen Doherty (who used to be a regular), Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, Jodie Foster, Johnny Depp, Matthew Perry, James Woods, and Christian Slater (who is reportedly a bad tipper). Literally anyone whose anyone has eaten at this tiny cafe. The Formosa has also been the site of a few celebrity scandals. It was just outside the Formosa that Eddie Murphy picked up a transvestite prositute on the night of May 2, 1997. Just minutes before Eddie had been hanging out at Jones, a club across the street, when he spotted Ken Atison Seiuli just outside the Formosa Cafe and decided to give her/him a ride. Shannen Doherty also had a run in with the law outside the famous cafe when she was arrested for hitting a fellow patron’s car with a beer bottle in the Formosa parking lot a few years back. Besides being a celeb hot-spot, the Formosa has also appeared in several movies, the most famous of which being the “A hooker cut to look like Lana Turner is still just a hooker” scene in L.A. Confidential. The Cafe also appeared in Swingers, The Majestic, and Still Breathing.
I absolutely LOVED being at the Formosa. The restaurant has managed to preserve an old Hollywood vibe and you can feel it the second you walk through the doors. It’s like magic! All I could think while sitting in that old train car was that Marilyn Monroe had once sat in the very same restaurant. I was absolutely mesmerized looking at the 250 plus signed black and white headshots which wallpaper the restaurant. It’s amazing to think about all the history held within the red painted walls of the small hang-out. I must say that the food was excellent, too – especially the chicken pot-stickers! The service was also great, too, without any of the typical L.A. pretentiousness.
Until next time, Happy Stalking! 🙂
Stalk It: The Formosa Cafe is located at 7156 Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood. You can visit their website here.