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Idle Hour, Highland Park Bowl owners to restore, reopen fabled Formosa Cafe

"You're sitting in those red banquette booths and getting sloshed because everyone from Frank Sinatra's to Orson Welles' to Marilyn's fanny has warmed that exact leatherette and sipped from those exact highball glasses with the red maraschino cherry, and therein lies the magic." -- Crime writer Denise Hamilton on Off-Ramp, 1-11-2017

In January, crime novelist Denise Hamilton helped us lament the downfall and closure of The Formosa Cafe on Santa Monica Blvd, a watering hole for generations of Hollywood stars and wannabes, and a location for "La La Land" and "LA Confidential."

I said back then there was talk that Bobby Green and his 1933 Group were hoping to secure a lease on the place, and this week LA Magazine's Chris Nichols got the scoop:

The ancient Chinese restaurant, known for its famous clientele and appearances in films including L.A. Confidential, will be restored by the 1933 Group and will reopen next summer. Owners Bobby Green, Dimitri Komarov, and Dima Liberman have signed a long-term lease with the owners of the West Hollywood Gateway shopping center, which owns the restaurant property.

The restaurant was opened by prizefighter Jimmy Bernstein and run by Lem Quon for generations. Quon’s grandson Vince continued the tradition in recent years. He eventually brought in an outside operator who remodeled the interior without permission, causing uproar among fans. “We’re gonna put it all back,” said 1933’s Bobby Green. “Vince has everything in storage: All the autographed photos, all the Elvis decanters, the lucky Buddha. He’s got everything.”

-- LA Magazine

I think we can say this is fairly unalloyed good news. The group's two latest projects, The Idle Hour ...

... and The Highland Park Bowl, treated neglected historic spaces with respect, and have been extremely popular.

Green says in architectural terms, the Idle Hour - one of the last surviving examples of programmatic architecture - may be just as significant as the Formosa, but in terms of Hollywood history, "Talk to the average person, and definitely the Formosa would be the most historic. This little bar is almost in a sense the Hollywood museum Hollywood always wanted but never really got."

Green told me by phone that the Formosa is not in bad shape. "I wouldn't call it gutted. The bones are still good. The ghosts are still living in it."

After a million-dollar renovation, Green hopes to have it re-opened by spring or summer of 2018. He plans to update the famous Formosa cocktails for the modern drinks palate, and will serve Chinese food ... although he points out it often served regular American fare, "so as far as sticking with history, really we could go anywhere."

Green gave me a lot more detail in our interview; listen to the whole thing in the audio player.