The City of Angels has seen waves of history flood through its streets. Like any other American city, you can expect a bustling corner of L.A. nightlife to be replaced the next week by an entirely new establishment. But some centers of entertainment withstand the test of time.
These historic spots have been around for so long that they have been elevated nearly to the point of institutions, with many of them receiving official recognition from the City of Los Angeles. Amidst the shifting urban landscape, these landmark establishments persist with the glory of having been graced by the stars of yore, ready to be explored by curious souls looking to glimpse into eras past.
The Pantages was first opened in 1930 as a lavish venue for vaudeville, alternating between stage performances and motion pictures. Grand carpeted staircases spiral on each side of the lobby beneath Art-Deco chandeliers. However, extravagant visions of The Pantages was side-tracked by the Great Depression when the venue converted strictly to a movie theater.
It was these same concerns that saw the building change ownership twice from Alexander Pantages before it was acquired by Howard Hughes in 1949, when it served as a theater circuit as well as his personal office on the second floor. Currently, the theater is operated by the Nederlander Organization as one of the city’s highest-grossing venues for live stage performances.
The Golden Gopher
Originally the Golden Gun Saloon, the Golden Gopher draws its history back to 1905 when it was opened as a dive bar by none other than Theodore Roosevelt. Though the late United States president did not retain ownership through his family line for the past century, the liquor license of the establishment is so old that it can subvert normal legal ordinances, including sales near the front door or the retail purchase of liquor. It still doubles as a bar and liquor store. Today the bar stands with dark exposed brick as a kitschy reminder of its glorious past, complete with sculpted gophers adorning the lamps of its interior and a bathroom that smells oddly of bubble gum.
Cole’s French Dip
Cole’s frequently boasts of being the oldest continuously operating restaurant in Los Angeles with convenient exception of a brief shutdown for remodeling in 2007, but there’s no doubt that it’s a relic of Los Angles history. The building was constructed in 1908 at the main terminal for the Pacific Electric Railway with table tops made from the doors of Red Cars from the railway.
Cole’s also sits in contention with Phillips as the birthplace of the French Dip sandwich. Like a number of establishments that ran though prohibition, Cole’s also served as a secret entrance to a speakeasy, the Varnish, back in its heyday.
The Del Monte Speakeasy
Beneath the welcome mat of the Townhouse, you’ll find the original tile of the building still adorned with the title of its first owner, “Menotti’s Buffet.” The restaurant was first opened in 1920 by Cesar Menotti as a modest front to a seedier income stream. Menotti’s buffet sat atop the Del Monte Speakeasy, a popular nightlife spot during the prohibition era. The underground tunnel network built during the construction of L.A.’s Venice canals became an ideal traffic route for the import of liquor away from the eyes of authorities. Though the establishment no longer operates its elevator shaft with ropes, it still has one of the few remaining entrances to the tunnels. These days, Del Monte’s is a low key rock club.
Cover image credit: Kirk Wester / iStock