The Old Hollywood Restaurant Guide

16 classic spots indelibly tied to the golden age of tinseltown.
The Old Hollywood Restaurant Guide image

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

LA has its fair share of classic restaurants, and amongst them is a treasured subset: The Old Hollywood spot. These fabled places can be a bit hard to define—red leather booths, dimly lit rooms, and headshots on the wall are generally a given—but they also possess a tangible connection to the entertainment industry itself. Maybe they're where epic movie deals were signed, iconic TV shows were filmed, or legendary actors got hammered after set. Perhaps they're where that still happens. Either way, a night out at one of these spots is a glimpse into LA history—and always one hell of a time.   


photo credit: Matt Gendal


West Hollywood

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If your main priority is having an extremely fun restaurant experience, Dan Tana’s is your place. It’s an always-full, red-sauce Italian spot with sports memorabilia all over the walls, and nope, that’s not weird at all. You’ll start by loitering in the entryway as they figure out where to put you (and seat more important regulars ahead of you), before huddling around a probably-too-small table covered with a red and white checkered tablecloth. But comfort isn’t the point here. The point is to become best friends with your server, drink too much red wine, order dishes named after celebrities like Nicky Hilton, and overdo it on the chicken parm. Before the night’s over, you’ll already be plotting your return.

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Among Hollywood Blvd.’s vape stores and souvenir shops selling California license plates with your name on them is an unexpected piece of actual culture: Musso & Frank. This classic American grill has been open since 1919, and not much seems to have changed since then. The waiters still wear red jackets and bow-ties, crab louie is still on the menu, and there’s a vintage phone booth in a corner that you’ll absolutely want to take a photo in. And while the food here is mostly just so-so, it’s also impossible to have a bad time. Which is mainly due to the very strong martinis, and the general sense that you’ve walked off Hollywood Boulevard and into a time machine.

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Originally opened in 1966 with Frank Sinatra as an investor, La Dolce Vita’s Old Hollywood credentials are undisputed. But a great time at this revitalized Beverly Hills landmark doesn’t rely on nostalgia alone. You’ll find Italian American classics done right, elite service, and one of the best martinis we’ve ever tasted—all in a tiny, windowless room that feels like a boozy Oscars afterparty. In other words, take all the best elements of Dan Tana’s and throw in food so good it'll have your table fighting over the leftovers. That’s La Dolce Vita.

Located on Vermont Ave. in the middle of Los Feliz, The Dresden is broken up into two distinct areas: the main dining room and the bar/lounge. And while you can have a decent enough prime rib dinner here, the real move is to skip the dining room altogether and head right to the lounge. Sadly, Marty Roberts—part of the iconic cabaret duo Marty & Elayne—passed in January 2022, after performing there weekly for nearly 40 years. Even so, the iconic lounge is still a great place to drink old-school cocktails like the rum-infused Blood & Sand, catch a live jazz show, and get a little weird along the way.

Open since 1939, Formosa is one of the oldest bars in the city, with more Hollywood history than the bathrooms at The Beverly Hilton. And though it had fallen on hard times in the past, a massive refurbishment a couple of years ago brought it back to its glory days, complete with three separate bars, a dine-in train car, and a spacious rooftop. Our favorite area, though, is the back room: it’s usually the least crowded and feels the most like the kind of place you would’ve seen Frank Sinatra fall off his barstool. If you get hungry, there’s a very good Taiwanese bar menu filled with dishes like cold sesame noodles, dan dan mian, and dim sum. 

Tower Bar opened in 2005—a fact that feels like some Berenstain Bears-level simulation glitch. Somehow this iconic West Hollywood drinking den seems way older than it actually is thanks to its location inside Sunset Tower, an Art Deco landmark built in the 1920s as a luxury apartment building for the rich and famous. (Howard Hughes, Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, and Billie Burke all used to pick up their mail here.) These days, it’s a fancy hotel and one of the most chaotic industry scenes in town. Come for lunch and you’ll spot sobbing starlets, stressed-out attorneys, and screaming agents who just chucked their last burner phone into the pool. Don’t skip the sundae bar. 

Located exactly one crosswalk away from Warner Brothers Studios, Smoke House has been a  Valley legend since 1942 and a place where, on any given night, you’ll find celebrities, set designers, and security guards all swigging martinis and toasting to another day on the lot. The space is essentially a series of massive interconnecting dining rooms, each filled with various fireplaces, wood-paneled walls, and of course, hundreds of framed acting headshots. As for food, don’t get too cute with your order—this is the kind of place where if your table isn’t filled up with caesar salads, massive plates of meat, and several orders of their famous garlic bread, you took a wrong turn somewhere.

Tam O’Shanter in Los Feliz, which dates back to 1922, is one of the oldest restaurants in the city and is owned by the same family as Lawry’s. Though the menu is very similar to the upscale Beverly Hills steakhouse, The Tam’s aesthetic is somewhere between a medieval drinking tavern and the Seven Dwarfs’ cottage. That’s not a coincidence either, as it’s rumored that the building inspired Walt Disney —a Tam O’Shanter regular— when he was designing Snow White. But for however bizarre and whimsical the place is, the prime rib is still damn good and the waitstaff is set on making sure you have an excellent time.

As soon as you enter Dear John’s dining room, you’ll be transported to another era, one where servers wore tuxedos, martinis were downed like water, and restaurants were too dark to take pictures of your food. In other words, a much simpler time. This renovated Culver City classic feels like a perfectly preserved relic from the 1960s: you’ll see dark leather booths, red table clothes, and wood-paneled walls covered in retro paintings. The food is pretty interesting, too—think bone-in chicken parmesan, steak tartare served with everything crackers, and tater tots topped with creme fraiche and caviar. 

If you’ve ever owned a television or watched a movie, then you’ve probably seen the inside of The Prince. This Koreatown bar has been in everything from New Girl to Chinatown to Mad Men, but has resisted becoming a money-grubbing tourist trap. Instead, you’ll find a dark basement bar full of red leather booths and good Korean drinking food. Sure, the service is less than attentive and the house cocktails should generally be avoided, but you won’t care when you’re drinking beer, eating fried chicken, and sitting where Don Draper and Joan Holloway sat.

The Beverly Hills Hotel is a shining beacon of pastel pink luring tourists and their cameras, but while we recommend you stay far away from The Polo Lounge (the restaurant with the lowest rating in Infatuation history), the downstairs Fountain Coffee Room is another story. This 19-stool counter feels like someone dropped an old-school diner in the middle of a fancy Beverly Hills hotel. The crowd is a mix of whichever TV star is in-house on a press tour, European tourists celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, and local rich ladies popping in for their regular breakfast of half a grapefruit and the silver dollar pancakes. Sure, the food isn’t anything particularly special (and comes at Beverly Hills prices), but for a fun breakfast in the area, this place can’t be beat.

If eating dinner in an over-the-top replica of a Japanese palace, complete with courtyards, a 600-year-old pagoda in the garden, and giant fishbowl cocktails, sounds like something you’d be interested in, it’s time for you to pay Yamashiro a visit. In the Hollywood Hills, just above the Magic Castle, this giant building once was an art museum, before becoming a private club for important Hollywood people in the 1920s, an apartment building in the 40s, and eventually a restaurant. The pricey Japanese menu of rolls, fried things, and steak is fine, but not the main event—you’re here for the views and the kitschiness of it all.

If you’re a comedian or a friend of someone who considers themself a comedian, you’ve been to Boardner’s. The dim, moody bar on a Hollywood side street has been around since 1927 and is a go-to for post-show drinks in the area. But even if you aren’t supporting your roommate’s middling stand-up career, a night at Boardner’s is always a good idea. The drinks are cheap, the food menu is surprisingly solid, and the crowd-watching never disappoints. You know you’re in a true Old Hollywood bar when the guy who’s measuring his hands with a tape measure at the bar isn’t the weirdest thing you see that night. 

Not that long ago, having “lunch at the Chateau” wasn’t just a daytime activity, it was a full-on status symbol. The famously debaucherous patio is a bit more buttoned up these days, only allowing hotel guests to eat there with “sporadic availability on certain days” (a.k.a., if you’re famous enough). But if you want to experience the historic hotel in some capacity, do what we do and grab a nighttime drink at the lobby bar. The cocktails are strong (they make a particularly good Old Fashioned), the crowd is weird and over-the-top, and most importantly, you’ll always be able to walk right in.

To call The Magic Castle merely a restaurant would be doing it an injustice. It’s a private club, home to the best magicians on the planet, with a restaurant that’s better than you’d expect. Getting into this ancient Victorian mansion—it was built in 1909 as a private residence for one of Hollywood’s first real estate tycoons—takes some effort (you need to secure an invite from an actual club member), but once you’re inside, you’ll embark on a nostalgic-filled night of up-close magic, strong cocktails, and mechanical owls that’ll talk back to you. The fairly traditional steakhouse menu (think jumbo shrimp cocktails and beef wellington) isn’t going to melt your mind, but that’s what the magic is for.

You could argue that Rainbow Bar is more Grunge Hollywood than Old Hollywood and probably have a solid case. But we’re including it here anyway because LA wouldn’t be the same place without it. Frequented by rock ‘n roll heads, actors, and their assorted groupies since the ‘70s, you never know who or what you might see at the Rainbow. What we can guarantee is loud music (often live), people who are there to listen to it, and big, cheesy pizzas that will silence the whiny friend in the group who wanted to go to On The Rox instead. If you’re looking to drink stiff Jack and Cokes and smoke without judgment in leather pants, this historic Sunset Strip fixture is the place to do it.

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