Top 10 Film Noir and Movie-Glamour Hotspots in Los Angeles

Mike Hodgkinson, The Guardian, December 3, 2014

Millennium Biltmore Hotel

Created by the same architectural firm (Schultze and Weaver) that went on to design New York’s Waldorf Astoria, the Biltmore (established in 1923) set the grand standard of west-coast hotel glamour for decades. Although refurbished, it still offers reliable transportation back to the days when it hosted the Oscars (on eight occasions between 1931 and 1942) and prepared the presidential suite for actual US presidents. The mashed-up Spanish-conquistador slash Roman-mythological design scheme is overblown, to say the least, extending from Crystal Ballroom to cavernous Gallery Bar. Black Dahlia victim Elizabeth Short was reportedly seen in the lobby, in January 1947, shortly before she was murdered.
Doubles from around $280, +1 213 624 1011,

Pacific Dining Car


Pacific Dining Car, Los Angeles


Noir novelist James Ellroy was born a couple of blocks from this landmark on the fringes of downtown in 1948, and it remains one of his favourite restaurants. The 24-hour steakhouse is modelled on a train car and has been animated for the best part of a century by movie deal-making, city politics and countless shades of subterfuge. Original owner Fred Cook was once an understudy to opera legend Enrico Caruso, and oversaw things with his wife Grace (aka Lovey) until his death in 1947. The place is still under the same family ownership. Mae West was a regular in the 40s and only a short hop of the imagination is required to dial back the clock to the mid-20th century.
Open daily 24/7, +1 213 483 6000,

The Musso & Frank Grill


Musso & Frank Grill, Hollywood, CA

Photograph: Alamy

Few major Hollywood names have failed to make at least one appearance at Musso’s. And we’re not talking just the directors and actors (Chaplin, Bogart, Bacall, Monroe), either, but also the writers – who habitually used the excuse of its proximity to the long-shuttered Stanley Rose Book Shop to slide in for a quick freshener or two. Raymond Chandler knew his way around the bar blindfolded, as did F Scott Fitzgerald and William Faulkner, back in the days when glamour, literary talent and heavyweight boozing were inseparable. The red-jacketed bartenders will recommend a martini in the classic style (with gin rather than vodka), while the furnishings glow with original noir-era authenticity.
Open Tues-Sat 11am-11pm, +1 323 467 7788,

United Artists Theatre (at Ace Hotel Los Angeles)


The marquee of United Artists Theater, LA

Photograph: Kevork Djansezian/Reuters/Corbis

Downtown Los Angeles has a spectacular concentration of golden age theatres and movie palaces, all of them generously dusted with throwback charm, but relatively few of them can be seen outside of special tours (arranged by organisations such as the Los Angeles Conservancy). One of the more accessible is the freshly restored and retro-fitted United Artists Theatre, part of the Ace Hotel on Broadway. John Barrymore was master of ceremonies on opening night (Boxing Day, 1927), the pipe organ departed in 1955 but the iridescent 3,000-mirror-disc dome remains. Check listings for movie screenings and gigs (including Patti Smith on 29 and 30 January 2015).
Doubles from $250, +1 213 623 3233,

Park Plaza Hotel


John Turturro in Barton Fink

John Turturro in the Coen Brothers’ movie Barton Fink, parts of which were filmed at the Park Plaza. Photograph: Allstar/Cinetext/Working Title

Originally a neo-gothic lodge for the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, the Park Plaza Hotel near downtown LA has had its ups and downs: the pool was used for swimming events during the 1932 Olympics, and since the 60s it has been both a YMCA and a retirement hotel. It can currently be hired out for weddings, special events and movie shoots (including Barton Fink and the retro-noir Gangster Squad) and has been well looked after in recent years. The best way to enjoy the venue’s glamour is to check local listings: in 2013, for example, it hosted the 1940s-themed Golden Stag New Year’s Eve party.

Union station


Union Station, Los Angeles, California

Photograph: Alamy

Resplendent with its immaculate fusion of Dutch Colonial, Mission Revival and Streamline Moderne (late art deco) architecture, Union station, which opened 1939, is more than just a transportation hub: it’s an instant passport across terracotta tile and travertine marble to a time when all men wore trilbys and female passengers were commonly attired in evening wear. Check out Yvonne de Carlo in the 1949 noir, Criss Cross. Also seen to great effect in Union Station (1950, doubling as Chicago’s Union Station) and The Narrow Margin (1952). The building – arguably the last great railway station in the US – has an excellent bar and restaurant, Traxx., open Mon-Sat 9am-9.30pm, +1 213 625 1999,

The Prince


The Prince, Los Angeles

Photograph: Jakob N Layman

Tucked away in the residential heart of Koreatown, The Prince may sell itself as a brazenly overdressed Olde English theme restaurant specialising in deep fried chicken, but nothing can diminish the venue’s star turn as a location in Roman Polanski’s 1974 classic, Chinatown. Back then it was known as The Windsor, but looked no different, doubling as the long-gone Brown Derby where detective JJ Gittes (Jack Nicholson) meets client Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway). The mood of the movie soaks deep into every crimson booth, to which Dunaway matched her highly dangerous shade of lipstick. Sip on a signature lemon soju and dream up something nefarious.
Open daily 4pm-2am, +1 213 389 1586,

Formosa Cafe

Formosa Cafe, LA


Steven Damron/Flickr Creative Commons

There is a scene in the 1997 movie adaptation of James Ellroy’s LA Confidential in which crusading 50s cop Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) strides into a bar, mistakes movie star Lana Turner for a call girl, and gets a cocktail to the face for his wayward identification skills. That very bar – a West Hollywood landmark since 1925 when former owner Jimmy Bernstein, an ex-prizefighter, set up shop in a converted trolley car – remains just the way it appears in the movie: a low-lit, deep-red, A-list lush’s paradise. It’s been patronised through the years by the likes of Humphrey Bogart, Ava Gardner, James Dean and mobster Bugsy Siegel, whose safe remains buried in the floor.
Open Mon-Fri 4pm-2am, Sat-Sun 6pm-2am, +1 323 850 9050, no website

Cicada Club, The Oviatt Building

Cicada Club, Los Angeles

Formerly owned by west-coast haberdashery kingpin James Oviatt, this well-tended 1928 art deco high-rise, featuring original glasswork by René Lalique, hires out its rooftop penthouse for weddings and private events. No exclusive invitation is required to enjoy the former shop space on the ground floor and mezzanine, now the Cicada restaurant, though. At weekends, Maxwell DeMille’s Cicada Club takes over, featuring acts such as Dean Mora’s Latinaires, who’ll whisk you back through the decades in a blur of tango, rumba, salsa, mambo and other chilli-hot musical styles. Dressing up in suitable period attire is positively encouraged and pre-show dance lessons are complimentary.
+1 213 488 9488,, check website for events listings

Alex Theatre, Glendale

Alex Theatre, Glendale, California, USA

Photograph: AKM-GSI/Splash News/Corbis

Opened as a vaudeville house and movie palace in 1925, and still fronted by the 1940 addition of a 100ft-tall neon tower, the Alex offers a great excuse to head a little east of Hollywood, into Glendale, in search of prime golden age authenticity. A detour via Glendale railway station is recommended, as it’s pretty much unchanged since the prominent location’s appearance in the 1944-noir Double Indemnity. Classic movie screenings are organised by the Alex Film Society – in July 2014 it put on a noir double-bill: Gun Crazy (filmed in nearby Montrose) and The Lineup – and the live calendar for 2015 includes In the Mood, a 1940s Big Band Revue.
+1 818 243 2539,

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This article was written by Mike Hodgkinson from The Guardian and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.