Formosa Café (West Hollywood)

 
(1950s)* - View showing the Formosa Café located at 7156 Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood.  

 

Historical Notes

Designated a local cultural resource by the City of West Hollywood, the Formosa had the good fortune of being located just steps from the Pickford-Fairbanks Studios, which was founded in 1919 and was later known as United Artists Studio, Samuel Goldwyn Studio, Warner Hollywood Studios, and currently The Lot since 1999.

 

 

 

 
(1933)^ – View showing the interior of the Formosa Café located at the SE corner of Santa Monica Blvd and Formosa Ave.  


Historical Notes

The Formosa was founded in 1925 by 1920s prize-fighter Jimmy Bernstein. Bernstein operated his establishment initially in a Red Car trolley located just east of The Lot Studios. In 1945, Lem Quon went into partnership with Bernstein, taking full ownership in 1976 when Berstein died. The restaurant remains in the family with Quom's grandson, Vince Jung, managing it.^

 

 

 

 
(2007)*^ - Dusk view looking at the SE corner of Formosa Ave and Santa Monica Blvd, showing the Formosa Café.  

 

Historical Notes

Icons like Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Humphrey Bogart, James Dean, and Elvis Presley would pop into the Formosa, adding to its reputation as one of Hollywood's most infamous and longest-running celebrity hangouts.

 

 

 

 
(2008)*^ – Daytime view of the Formosa Cafe in West Hollywood. Note the high voltage overhead lines in the background. They go on to feed the studios down the block on Formosa Avenue.  

 

Historical Notes

Generations of movie stars such as Humphrey Bogart and Clark Gable have eaten meals at The Formosa. Frank Sinatra is reputed to have spent many nights at the Formosa in the 1950s, pining over Ava Gardner.^

 

 

 

 
(2010s)* – Night view showing the Formosa Café neon lights on face of building.  

 

Historical Notes

During the filming of Some Like it Hot, Marilyn Monroe frequented the legendary haunt and her photo still graces the restaurant's walls.

 

 

 

 
(2019)^ – Interior of the Formosa Café after a $2.4 million renovation.  

 

Historical Notes

In 2015, the restaurant's original red-and-black 1940s interiors were gutted and a "modern" interior was installed, despite clientele who enjoyed the nostalgic ambience.  After negative reactions to the change, much of the original interior was rebuilt. Less than 18 months after the gutting, just before Christmas of 2016, the Formosa Cafe closed without advance notice.^

 

 

 

 
(2019)^ - Main bar of the Formosa Cafe | Photo by Maxim Shapovalov  

 

Historical Notes

The red vinyl booths along the front bar area are all originals that have been recovered and restored to their original glossy style. Each booth is named for the legendary figure who once claimed it as a Formosa regular - Ava Gardner, Bugsy Siegel, Lana Turner, John Wayne, and Elvis. Bugsy Siegel’s floor safe is exposed and illuminated in its original location, embedded under his favorite table.*

 

 

 

 
(2019)* – View looking north on Formosa Ave showing a vintage streetcar as part of the Formasa Café with the Domain WeHo Apartments seen in the background (NE corner of Santa Monica and Formosa). Note the bicycle in the lower-right.  

 

Historical Notes

Located just beyond the main bar, the fully revealed and restored Pacific Electric Red Car trolley dates to 1904 and is confirmed to be the oldest surviving Red Car in existence. Like the main bar, the 36-seat trolley is lined with celebrity photos installed above two- and four-seat banquettes.

 

 

 

 
(2019)^ - Interior of the Pacific Electric Red Car trolley at the Formosa Cafe | Photo by Maxim Shapovalov  

 

Historical Notes

A discreet VIP room at the rear of the Red Car can host an additional 20 guests. Mickey Cohen reportedly ran his operations and called bookies from this back room, which has its own entrance. As an homage, Green installed a vintage rotary phone for guests to call in drink orders, which are served through a private window.

 

 

 

 
(n.d.)^.^ - Formosa Café, 7156 Santa Monica Boulevard, West Hollywood.  

 

Historical Notes

The Formosa is a star in its own right - in a memorable scene from L.A. Confidential (1997) set inside the Formosa, Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) mistakenly accuses actress Lana Turner (Brenda Bakke) of being a prostitute “cut to look like Lana Turner.” The Formosa has also appeared in Swingers (1996) and more recently, the Season 3 episode of Bosch, "Blood Under the Bridge."*

 

 

 

 
(2019)^^ – Oil on linen painting of the iconic Formosa Café by Gregg Chadwick.  

 

Historical Notes

In 2019, the Formosa Café underwent extensive rehabilitation. That same year, the City of West Hollywood designated the Formosa as a local cultural resource/landmark. The rehabilitation project earned a Conservancy Preservation Award in 2020.*

 

 

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