Formosa Café Is Back–with All the Kitschy Old-Hollywood Vibes Intact

Peek inside the results of a multi-year restoration by nightlife experts 1933 Group
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The Formosa Café, an iconic hangout from Hollywood’s Golden Age, has been reborn. The retro restaurant is back–and it’s redder, swankier, and more delicious than ever.

The 1933 Group, owners of La Cuevita, Bigfoot Lodge, and Idle Hour, spent two-and-a-half years and a reported $2.4 million resurrecting the landmark property. The team brought in master craftsmen to meticulously restore what remained of the original Formosa–which operated from 1945 until 2016–while staying true to the look from the spot’s mid-century heyday. They kept many of the most memorable bits of decor, from the autographed black-and-white photos, to the silk lanterns, to that green neon script along Route 66.

Photo by Chris Nichols

Treasures line every corner of the newly restored Formosa Cafe

Photo by Maxim Shapovalov

Photo by Maxim Shapovalov

It was a dark day in December 2016, when Formosa Café closed down after decades. The ultimate shutter followed a brief run under new operators, who undertook an ill-fated renovation which tore the vintage soul out of the place, leaving a behind a sad gray shell and bartenders who couldn’t mix a drink. When 1933 Group took over the property, they were committed to not repeating that mistake.

Bobby Green, a co-owner of 1933, and his crack team of fabricators brought back the missing mahogany interior of the 1902 Pacific Electric streetcar which was converted to a luncheon counter and placed on the site in 1925. That trolley car luncheonette, The Red Post Cafe, would later be expanded to become Formosa.

Photo by Maxim Shapovalov

Revelers toast the opening of the Formosa Cafe

Photo by T.J. Roque

Artist Gary Baseman captured the preview night vibe in his sketchbook

Courtesy Gary Baseman

The crew also restored faded photographs, and plussed every surface with picture perfect period luxuries that add even more depth to the history of this beloved haunt. Look for the button-tufted upholstery under the bar, a new bronze and black terrazzo floor, and the famous Formosa logo girl toasting you from the custom flocked wallpaper.

This place unfolds like a maze (or a ride!) as you transition between the interlocking rooms, and there are maybe a half dozen of them crafted out of underutilized spaces tucked all around the joint. Take time to explore–tiny wall plaques in one room accompany an exhibit showcasing the history of Chinese cinema in Hollywood, a bakelite telephone triggers a red lamp signaling the bartender, and the famous “Bugsy Siegel safe” now even has its own plaque, special lighting in the floor, and a wad of cash tucked inside.

Sarah Fuller and Paper Moon Vintage owner Nicole Loretta Marsak at opening of Formosa Cafe

Photo by T.J. Roque

Hatmaker Cody Wellema (R) and friend at opening of Formosa Cafe

Photo by T.J. Roque

Emi Suganuma, Carole Moore, Mooneyes owner Shige Suganuma, and artist Makoto

Photo by T.J. Roque

Photographer Larry Niehues (R) and friend at opening of Formosa Cafe

Photo by T.J. Roque

A special preview party earlier this week brought together preservationists, vintage lovers, and the artists that rebuilt the place toasting the landmark with crispy egg rolls and blue drinks made famous by Yee Mee Loo. In fact, the entire back bar from that long-gone Chinatown landmark has made its way to the Formosa.

Well-wishers made sure to collect the custom drink umbrellas and swizzle sticks; a whole line of souvenirs, from elaborate throwback matchbooks to pagoda tiki mugs is on its way. You can join in the fun at a soft opening starting this Friday. The official grand opening is set for Friday, June 28.

Decorator Kimberly Biehl Schmidt, chef George Geary, musician Greg Boaz, Alison Martino of Vintage Los Angeles, and DJ Rodney Bingenheimer

Photo by T.J. Roque

Carole Moore and Bobby Green

Photo by T.J. Roque

The 1902 streetcar at the back of the Formosa Cafe

Photo by Maxim Shapovalov

Formosa Café, 7516 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood.


RELATED: Formosa Café Returns with Chinese Comfort Food and a Piece of L.A. History


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