Carmen Miceli, the owner of Miceli’s, Los Angeles’s oldest Italian restaurant, has died in Arcadia at 92. The Chicago-born restaurateur opened his first pizzeria on Las Palmas Avenue in Hollywood in 1949 with his wife and brothers. The young entrepreneur furnished the place by installing the lavish interior from the recently closed Pig ‘n Whistle café around the corner. Those original carved wood booths and iron chandeliers remain today.
The dim and beautiful recesses of Miceli’s are so warm and comforting; its salvaged stained glass and inscribed Chianti bottles have become a sacred cornerstone of the city. Miceli’s is a rare and beautiful time machine of the highest degree, and when Carmen was around, he was the king. Having him drop by your table to check on you felt like being anointed by some high ranking cardinal, one that might also be a member of the Rat Pack. The jazz fan brought live music to Las Palmas Avenue decades ago, and the tunes continue seven nights a week.
Miceli served under General George S. Patton and fought on the beaches of Normandy and in the Battle of the Bulge. He was awarded four Purple Hearts and won a Bronze Star for carrying a medic across a field while being chased by machine gun fire. He raised funds for a WWII memorial and until recently, he visited vets in the hospital. What’s the Italian word for mensch?
The original restaurant is still going strong, as is a second location Miceli opened near Universal City in 1980 staffed with singing waiters. Family members opened other restaurants in Burbank and Beverly Hills that have since closed.
The last time I saw Carmen was at the bar at Musso & Frank Grill. I have been a customer at his restaurant since I was a kid and we had a casual friendship, but I didn’t expected him to invite me over to join him. He bought me a drink and we talked about the races at Santa Anita. Goodbye to Carmen.