One reason I was so lucky my parents never left me with babysitters when I was a child? They ate at the city’s finest restaurants. Scandia, an extravagant global cuisine spot at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Doheny Avenue, was one of their favorites.
But Scandia wasn’t just high-end—it was happening. In its heyday, customers would beg, borrow, and steal for a reservation before 11 p.m. It’s where Frank Sinatra kept an office upstairs complete with a personal shower; Jack Webb held his wedding reception in the main dining room in 1958; and James Garner ate brunch on Sundays while filming The Rockford Files. The restaurant was even name-dropped in American Gigolo, and visited by five American presidents.
Scandia was an experience from the moment you pulled up to its huge driveway—on any given night, Warren Beatty or Natalie Wood could emerge from a sleek black town car on their way to or from the mid-century modern building.
The entrance was dark and moody, and to the right was a Rat Pack-style wooden bar. Inside, Scandia chefs served Swedish meatballs on silver platters and mugs of beer embellished with the names of notable Scandia “Club of the Vikings” guests like Errol Flynn. Sports coats were required, but employees would supply one at the front desk to anyone who asked.
Opened in 1957, Scandia was originally owned by Ken Hansen. Along with his wife, Tova, he turned the restaurant into a culinary landmark with elegant decor, impeccable service, and delectable Scandinavian and French cuisine. Ken’s sister-in-law, Teddy, served as hostess.
The restaurants specialties were “Lammesaddel,” “Viking Sword,” “Hamlet’s Dagger” (fresh lobster pieces fried and served with exquisite tartar sauce), and Danish pastries. The Veal Oscar and Lobster Thermador were to die for. In the ’80s, Scandia also had an award-winning wine cellar with more than 30,000 bottles. From 1950 to 1980, the restaurant received a number of awards and this write-up in the Los Angeles Times: “No one is very sure of the definition of a great restaurant, but everyone is sure that Scandia is one… It has appeared on every award list that was ever made of Los Angeles restaurants. It may be one of the few cases of record on which the experts agreed.”
I remember settling into the regal red leather chairs in Scandia’s bright, glass-walled dining room. High up on Sunset Strip, the space seemed to float over the twinkling lights of Los Angeles. It wasfull of paneled wood, copper and brass fixtures, royal blue and white china, and crystal vases. The principal decorations were coats of arms.
The Hansens sold Scandia to Margi and Robert E. Petersen of Petersen Publishing fame in the 1970s. The restaurant served its last meal on May 4, 1989. Other restaurateurs launched other concepts in the space, but none stayed open long.
Because the building, built in 1947 by the world-famous architect Edward H. Fickett, has been sitting intact (albeit unoccupied) for years, I dreamed of a perfect Scandia resurrection. Unfortunately that won’t happen. The structure will soon be razed and replaced by an 11-story Marriott Hotel. A representative from The Whitkoff Group, which is developing the new project, declined to comment or provide more details for this article.
Personally, I’m concerned the city is suffering an architectural meltdown. I don’t think we need any more massive glass iceboxes replacing charming and culturally historic structures. Just last October the Palm Restaurant lost its lease; it will soon be replaced by a mixed-use structure that includes a Walgreens.
Thanks to the Sunset Strip Association I was able to photograph the Scandia building’s interior before the wrecking balls arrived. I’m happy to share them here along with a few relics I’ve tracked down over the past several years for posterity.
May the ghost of Frank Sinatra haunt the new hotel’s rooms “from here to eternity.”
PLUS: How Vintage Los Angeles Members Remember Scandia
“My dad took us to Scandia every Sunday night. The Dover Sole was flown in fresh from Dover and delicious. The restaurant always had a jacket and a tie waiting for me. I wasn’t the jacket and tie type. Neither was Sonny Bono. They wouldn’t seat him and Cher because they were wearing blue jeans. Many years later I was married there. The marriage, like Scandia, is only a memory now of things that are no longer.”
“My girlfriends and I used to take a limo there for birthdays and ended our by dinner smoking cigars, much to [restaurant’s] amusement and tolerance! The stuffed cabbage and Daggers of Hamlet were the best!”
“In the early ’80s a well known agent who was a collector of fine wines dine. In his will, he stipulated that ten people who he liked be invited to drink his wine in the Scandia wine seller. He invited his business partners, clients, and pool man (but not their spouses if he didn’t like them), and paired his very expensive wines with the meal Scandia prepared for his guests. He pre-paid for the meal when he knew he was ill. By all accounts, it was an amazing send off.”
“My dad, Edward Brown, was a sous-chef at Scandia when I was a little girl. I was too young to remember it, but he has a lot of fond memories and good stories about the movie stars he would meet there. They had a hamburger that had shredded beets and capers in it and was topped with a fried egg. He met George Fisher, who hired him to be the chef at the Witchburners Restaurant, at Scandia.”
“My family lived in West Hollywood from 1963-1967. My mother worked at Scandia during that time. I can remember her coming home saying “Diana Ross came in for dinner tonight. She was dripping in white furs even though it was summer.” She met many other celebrities during her time there. I miss her coming home every night telling us who she had met. Ah, the good old days.”
“My husband’s father was a bartender at Scandia for many years. One night the phone rang at home and my husband (he was just a kid then) picked it up. On the other end was Liza Minnelli, asking if Johnny could tend bar for one of her private parties. Apparently, my husband’s father was a great bartender, tight-lipped about his customers, and very respectful of their privacy.”
Alison Martino is a writer, television producer and personality, and L.A. pop culture historian. She founded the Facebook page Vintage Los Angeles in 2010. In addition to CityThink and VLA, Martino muses on L.A’s. past and present on Twitter and Instagram