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History of the Icon

The Formosa first opened its doors in 1939: making its new debut in its 80th year. Located across from the then-Samuel Goldwyn studio, stars like Frank Sinatra, Humphrey Bogart, James Dean, and Elvis Presley would pop into the legendary Formosa Cafe regularly for dining and drinks. On any given day, patrons might have seen Ava Gardner dancing past the old, red leather booths, or John Wayne nursing a late-night scotch (he was caught making scrambled eggs in our kitchen one morning, after reportedly passing out in a booth the night before).

Among the interior design restorations is the full reveal of the iconic and original red trolley car, dating back to 1904 and is confirmed to be the oldest surviving red train car in existence. Boxes of autographed celebrity photos and storage units of original memorabilia have made their way back into the Cafe.

We worked with local L.A. archivists and hospitality notables who are helping to inform the new food and cocktail menu: a retrospective of Formosa’s culinary evolution since the 1920’s. The new Formosa not only transports guests back in time to the glory days of Hollywood, but with its new menu, patrons are given another way to connect to a part of L.A.’s gastronomic history, too.

Because one of the most prominent decor themes in the Formosa is the old black and white headshots, we wanted to give the newer areas of the Formosa a part to play, too: to tell a storied history of Chinese Americans in Old Hollywood. To do this, the Formosa Cafe team collaborated with historians as well as the original family to procure all the original photos and artifacts and bring them back to their original home where they belong. With the new addition of the historic Yee Mee Loo bar area of the Formosa, we decided to tell a story about the influence of Chinese Americans in early Hollywood: from a collection of ephemera and photos, movie posters and headshots, it showcases major Chinese actors from a chronological standpoint from Hollywood’s golden age.