The Classic, Opulent, and Art Deco of Tinseltown: Old Hollywood’s Best Bars & Restaurants

In a city where what is new and exciting often appears paramount, it can be a breath of fresh air to take a step back into the past and visit a restaurant or bar that is reminiscent of yesteryear. Like a fine wine, the institutions on this list have only gotten better with age. From the food, to the drinks, the service, and the aura: these places celebrate a time that is almost inimitable. And they do it very, very well.

The Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel

Since 1941, the Polo Lounge has entertained everyone from movie stars to royalty, Beverly Hills-types to celebutantes. Situated on the ground floor of what is colloquially known simply as The Hotel or The Pink Palace, this oasis amongst the mansions of Beverly Hills is where Hollywood goes to wine and dine.

With both an indoor dining room and the famous outdoor patio, there are plenty of places to watch A-listers and their management talk deals over a cocktail or two, maybe three.

The best time to go is Sunday brunch. The prix fixe menu is a steal at $67 a person. Sound a bit pricey? Considering it consists of a cocktail, appetizer, entrée, and dessert: it’s one of the most well-priced brunches in the area.

Brunch sees a mixed clientele of the aforementioned industry folks, Beverly Hills families, those wanting to catch a glimpse of fame and fortune, and hotel guests all ogle for the perfect table. Words of advice: go for one of the alcove tables that ring the patio area. They’re quiet, coveted, and the perfect vantage point for snooping.

Dan Tana’s

A favorite of the music industry, Dan Tana’s is celebrating 50 years on Santa Monica Boulevard this year.

Opened in 1964, this restaurant benefited greatly from neighbor the Troubadour’s rise to fame as a music venue in the late 60s and early 70s. As it gained recognition as a great place for a drink and a laid back dinner, its own cult of famous patrons began to grow. Frequented by celebrities such as Clint Eastwood, Dean Martin, and Leonardo DiCaprio: this restaurant’s famous clientele mingles with regulars on a nightly basis.

Never pretentious, Dan Tana’s is known for classic Italian dishes like their spaghetti and meatballs, Chicken, Parmigiana a la Nikola, and calamari. Red and white-checkered tablecloths grace the tables, Chianti bottles hang from the ceiling, and an old-school wait staff takes you back to a time when there were no cellphones, no Internet, and no TMZ.

Musso and Frank Grill

There are only handfuls of places in Hollywood that have been around for the long-haul and this place tops the list. Almost 100 years old (it was founded in 1919): this place has seen plenty of changes to its surroundings without changing too much about itself. The adage “if these walls could talk” certainly applies to this restaurant commonly referred to as Musso & Frank’s.

A favorite of everyone from Douglas Fairbanks to F. Scott Fitzgerald, Marilyn Monroe to Brad Pitt: this place is a star in its own right. Back in the heyday, legitimate movie deals were negotiated in the main dining area while secret trysts were being had in its infamous back room.

Today a mix of tourists, stars and neighborhood regulars frequent this place for its consistently great service (thanks to a wait staff that includes many that have been there for decades) and classic menu.

Speaking of the menu: it’s remained virtually unchanged for almost 100 years. Must-haves: any of their steaks, the Grenadine of Beef (three filet medallions in a light brown gravy topped with Béarnaise sauce), and Welsh rarebit. These kinds of throwbacks meals require an equally traditional choice of alcohol – stick with some red wine or a martini.

The Tower Bar at the Sunset Tower Hotel

Both a classic restaurant and bar, the Tower Bar on the ground floor of the Sunset Tower is straight out of the 1930s. With Art Deco lines, plenty of walnut wood paneling, sharply-dressed waiters and bartenders, and classy patrons: this place is sumptuous.

Housed in what was once Bugsy Siegel’s apartment, the menu is full of throwback classics including: roast chicken, strip steak and fries, and a rack of lamb that is absolutely astounding. The Tower Bar is also well-known for its seafood appetizers and entrees (go for the traditional shrimp cocktail.)

Of course, what is seafood without a stiff drink? Stick with the tried and true Dimitri (named after the bar’s famed maître d’ Dimitri Dimitrov), which packs a powerful punch of vodka, gin, muddled cherries and fresh lime. If all else fails, go for a martini.

The Avalon/Bardot

This Hollywood hangout has a very long and storied past. Historically this bar/club has seen the likes of The Beatles to Nirvana perform, was the filming location for President Nixon’s famous Checkers Speech, and the stage for “This Is Your Life.” Now, depending, on the night, it plays host to a cast of characters all looking for a good time.

The Avalon and it’s upstairs venue Bardot is where young Hollywood stars, gays, hipsters, and in-the-know tourists go to let loose in a very vintage setting. Though the schedule is constantly changing, be sure to make a visit to Bardot during the warmer months as its main room is open-air with plenty of comfy banquettes in case your dancing feet need a break.

Unless there’s a private event, either the upstairs, downstairs, or both parts of this two-story venue is open and ready to make you a strong drink, provide good music, and send you out on to Hollywood Boulevard at 2 a.m.

Frolic Room

They don’t make them like this anymore. This cozy joint next to the Pantages Theater was actually at one time a secret room that had no street entrance. During Prohibition, this little bar was where actors, performers, and special guests could have an illegal drink or two.

After Prohibition ended, the Frolic Room became a bar in its own right in 1934 and saw many a famous face from the traveling acts, Academy Awards, and other glamorous affairs that took place right next door.

The interior hasn’t changed much since it was last redone – way back in 1963. The drinks haven’t changed much either. Cheap, strong, and worth the hangover – go for the $5 whiskey sour. Further proof that this place is a time capsule is the fact that they have a cigarette machine. Yes, it’s true.

No website – because they’re that old-school!

The Dresden

Yes, you saw this place in “Swingers.” A popular watering hole for decades, The Dresden is the kind of place that screams 1970’s supper club – in the best way possible. It’s not outdated – it’s retro.

As in the scene from “Swingers,” Marty and Elaine still perform nightly except for a couple nights a week, which is a treat for anyone and everyone. Be sure to give them a tip.

As with most good bars, the more you order – the stronger your drink seems to be. Definitely give their signature Blood and Sand a try. It can only be likened to a very strong adult slushie. Food-wise stick with something you think would be appropriate back in 1976: like a chateaubriand.

The Roger Room

So small and hidden that it can be somewhat difficult to find, the Roger Room is a speakeasy-style bar made for this generation’s bar-goers.

Opened a few years ago in what was once the bar belonging to the Coronet Theater next door, this little place is crowded just about every night of the week. And for good reason.

A beautiful, long bar that extends the entire length of the interior serves some of the most delicious drinks in Los Angeles. Standout cocktails are: the Tijuana Brass (Tequila, lime, agave syrup, and cucumber foam) and their popular Four Aces (vodka, basil, green grapes, lime, and ginger liqueur on the rocks.)

An open secret for locals and those that like a good drink in an appropriately cultivated setting; try to get here before 10 or 11 o’clock as it gets crowded. Very crowded. Whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing, the seating aside from the bar is very limited so people tend to hold on to their tables for as long as possible.

Chateau Marmont

Few places conjure up such happy memories for industry folks as Sunset Boulevard’s famed Chateau Marmont. Meeting for drinks or a bite in the Garden (the outdoor dining area of the hotel) is a treasured pastime of just about anyone who’s made it, or wants to make it, in Hollywood.

Yes, most of the stories you’ve heard about this place are true. That’s what makes it so spectacular. But watch out: this place loves to keep the goings-on within the hotel private. Don’t take pictures, don’t fawn over the celebrity seated next to you, and ABSOLUTELY do not ask for an autograph from your favorite television star.

Trust, once you’ve entered this bastion of old Hollywood style and glamour, you won’t want to take any pictures. You’ll keep these memories always – and only for yourself.

Make sure to call and make a reservation to ensure entry, as well as dress and act appropriately. They have killer Bloody Marys, Moscow Mules, and dirty martinis. Food-wise the burger is an absolute must but if you’re feeling a touch fancier, go with the filet mignon.

The Gallery Bar at The Millennium Biltmore Hotel

As DTLA gets more and more popular with a new generation of foodies, partiers, and Angelenos in general – there’s one place that’s always been there. The Millennium Biltmore, commonly known as The Biltmore, has been a Downtown institution since opening in 1923.

Not surprisingly, its Gallery Bar is a wonderful throwback to an era gone by: lots of wood, a wonderfully intricate ceiling, and barmen that know what they’re doing. This bar reeks of history: just about anyone who’s anyone has stopped by for a tipple.

Must-haves are one of their martinis or Manhattans. Yes, they’re old-school, but this place does old-school best. Celebrating the persistent rumor that the Black Dahlia was last seen at The Biltmore before being found murdered, there’s a Black Dahlia Martini (sweet and tangy) while their Manhattan Menu features a multitude of options sure worth their $14 price.

Cole’s French Dip

LA’s oldest continually-running restaurant and bar (with the exception of a renovation a few years back) is still one of its most popular Downtown spots. Look around and you’ll realize that very little has changed in this place since the turn of not this century, but the last one.

Opened in 1908 on the ground floor of the Pacific Electric Building, Cole’s claims to be the originator of the French dip sandwich (beef, pork, turkey or pastrami on a French roll with au jus for dipping.) Whether or not this is true, their classic version is delicious and brings fans back time after time.

Apart from the obvious choice, they have other classic American comfort food such as: grilled cheese (with tomato soup of course!), tuna salad sandwich, a wedge salad, and chili. If you can stomach it, get a dessert afterward. Their banana cream pie is beyond words.

Best time to go: during Happy Hour. This blessed time takes place Monday, and Wednesday through Friday from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Tuesday all day. Get the French dip slider trio for $5 (pastrami, beef, and turkey with fries.)