Six months after the Formosa Café on Santa Monica Boulevard unexpectedly shuttered, the West Hollywood landmark is coming back to life. 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.”
Coming off of two groundbreaking historic preservation projects–The Idle Hour in North Hollywood and the Highland Park Bowl–the 1933 Group is making a name bringing back old landmarks. “In a time when beloved establishments are closing throughout Los Angeles,” says 1933 co-owner Dimitri Komarov. “It’s important for us as a company to breathe new life into places that can be saved.”
The group plans to keep the neon façade, the bar, and the 1902 train car dining room, and it will use vintage photos to guide the restoration of the original red vinyl booths and Chinese lanterns that longtime patrons remember. “I want it to have the feel of the 1930s to 1960s,” said Green. “They kept adding and adding to it. I probably don’t need a photo of Johnny Depp on the wall.”
A rooftop deck and other additions made in 2001 will be Benjamin Buttoned to look like they’ve always been there. A back room recently used for comedy nights and karaoke will become an additional dining room featuring classic Chinese cuisine. “We’d love to do dim sum. We’ll probably do some modern takes on lo mein,” Green said. “It won’t be your grandmother’s lo mein.”