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Iconic Neighborhood Restaurants: Hollywood & Hollywood Hills

Like many of Los Angeles County's neighborhoods, Hollywood is rife with film locations and star sightings, but Hollywood has the distinction of once being the beating heart of the entertainment industry. Hollywood only became the hellish tourist destination and traffic nightmare that is it today because once upon a time, it really was the place the famous went to eat and get drunk.

It all started in the early 1900's, when Thomas Edison made a bunch of filmmakers unhappy by suing them over patent rights every time they tried to make a movie. So they took a page from English Separatists (aka the Pilgrims) and escaped Edison's tyranny by fleeing New Jersey and going as far West as they could. If ever one of Edison's henchmen was headed their way, they could halt production and make a quick escape to Mexico to hide out.

The influx of filmmakers shaped the area, with the first movie studios opening in 1911, followed by a boom that lead to film's Golden Age. That glittering boom drove the studios' need for upscale, classy spots to woo a star and starlet like he or she was the most important person in a crowded room full of important people.

Today, many of the area's most beloved restaurants of the early 20th century are still standing, despite the fact that the only movie studio remaining in Hollywood is Paramount. However, while vacationing gawkers are much more likely to get a photo with an impersonator on Hollywood Boulevard than to ever see an actual star, there are still some places with such a strong draw that even the meandering tourists can't keep the important people from coming back.

 
Photo: 101 Coffee Shop

Photo: 101 Coffee Shop

101 Coffee Shop: Designed by arhictects Armet & Davis, who were also responsible for Googie diners Norm's, Bob's Big Boy, and Pann's, this one is situated unassumingly in a Best Western Hotel. It's been a film location for both Entourage and Swingers, and is where you'd find an equal mix of old men reading their papers while slowly chewing their toast and movie stars chewing their -- well, whatever celebrities are eating these days.

The food doesn't veer too far from standard meatloaf, sandwiches, and breakfast all day. But the ways in which they do them up are remarkable, with mushroom taquitos, Cuban corn on the cob, and a large selection of vegetarian offerings. With their first-come-first-serve "you'll sit where I tell you to sit and not a moment before I clean off the table" policy, they manage to be sassy and classy, making the diner the perfect place to try to eat away a hangover. 6145 Franklin Ave., (323) 467-1175.

MussoFrank

Musso & Frank Grill: The epitome of Hollywood's Golden Age, Musso & Frank was the original spot for Southern California's literary elite to throw back perfect martinis and discuss their radical communist ideas. Many die-hard Angelinos are dazzled to know that Charles Bukowski spent many nights not-so-gracefully gracing the booths and the barstools. However, Bukowski was drinking there in the first place because he wanted to emulate his writing role model, John Fante.

Steve McQueen also once got thrown out by the bartender after drunkenly yelling at his wife to eat her dinner. The bartender who told him to hit the road, Ruben Rueda, has been working there since 1967 and still puts his pouring hand to use to this day.

The American upscale classic menu hasn't changed since chef Jean Rue ran the kitchen in 1919, but the menu isn't the only thing that's remained the same. The original décor remains completely untouched. And while being the "oldest" restaurant in a neighborhood doesn't automatically make a place iconic, Musso & Frank's dedication to tradition coupled with ensuring all patrons get the star treatment make this Hollywood's ultimate iconic neighborhood restaurant. 6667 Hollywood Blvd.; (323) 467-7788.

 

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Photo: Yamashiro Hollywood

Photo: Yamashiro Hollywood

Yamashiro: While this may not be an obvious choice on where to dine in Hollywood, Yamashiro's history is deserving of a starring role in a film. Initially a mansion built by two German brothers with a taste for lavish Asian decor, the property has been reinvented many times for better and for worse.

It seems the greatest transitions were both brought about by wars. In World War I rumors abound that the patron Bernheimer brothers were engaged in espionage and using their residence as a German stronghold. They sold the property, which became a social club for the Hollywood elite, until World War II brought about a distaste for anything Japanese, and Yamshiro was painted and turned into unsightly apartment buildings.

The Yamashiro of today, a 500-seat restaurant with a view unmatched even by that of the Griffith Observatory, only came about when the property was purchased with demolition in mind. Once Thomas Glover began the tear-down and found the beautiful tapestries and woodworking, he reconsidered by restoring it and building another iconic local --The Magic Castle. 1999 N Sycamore Ave. (323) 466-5125.

 

micelis

Miceli's: Carmen Miceli was no slouch of a man. He started working as a shoe-shine boy in Depression-era Chicago. He went on to earn a bronze star in WWII, then moved himself and his siblings to Los Angeles where they pooled their money and opened what is now the oldest Italian restaurant in Hollywood.

While it has a simple Italian menu, it's Miceli's larger-than-life atmosphere that's likely the reason the doors have stayed open since 1949. Where else could you be in the midst of telling your waiter you'll have the Vermicelli Pomodoro only to have him tell you to hold that thought while he runs off to the piano to sing a show tune?

The ceilings of the main dining room are lined with chianti bottles covered in messages from thousands of previous patrons, the walls are a stunning mishmash of word work and decoupage. In the second dining room, large cast iron chandeliers hang from a high, ornate ceiling. Up a wooden staircase is yet another seating area overlooking the festivities below. From the brick walls and the stained-glass windows to the checkered table cloths and faux balcony, there is always something drawing one's attention. 1646 N Las Palmas Ave, (323) 466-3438.

 

Birds: This simple bar and restaurant opened its doors in 1994, making it an infant in comparison to others on this list. The Franklin Village hot spot is well loved by local regulars, but even a first time visitor will get the feeling that they've been going to Birds for years.

Co-owners Mary and Henry Olek opened Birds long before that area was anything more than what Mary refers to as "modern Mayberry." It was a row of struggling store fronts and restaurants fighting to keep their doors open while supporting their neighbors. At the time, the couple experienced a financial rough patch. In trying to figure out how to make the mortgage payment, they did the reasonable low-risk thing and opened a restaurant and bar into what is now a no-frills place to get a stiff drink and a roasted chicken.

Ever animal lovers, they donate heavily to local animal rescues, heartily encourage patrons to bring along their dogs, and even provide a special menu item -- chicken for your dog. And though their marriage didn't withstand the demands of restaurant ownership, their mutual love for the place allowed them to stay best friends and continue running Birds together.

Today, Franklin Village is trendy and always bustling with life, especially at night. UCB shows bring in long lines of comedy fans stopping in for a bite after a show. The nearby bookstore, eateries, and bars are all beloved. However, it is Birds that shines as the heart of the neighborhood. It is a place that feels familiar, warm, fun, and comforting. While the youngest on this Hollywood list, becoming "iconic" can happen any time and that defines the Hollywood dream completely. 5925 Franklin Ave., (323) 465-0175.

Honorable Mentions:
Pig N Whistle
The Hungry Cat
Doomies
Kitchen 24

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