Bringing back Formosa Cafe, a beloved Hollywood night spot

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Bobby Green and Dimitri Komarov of the 1933 Group. Photo by Frances Anderton/KCRW

If you’ve ever seen the movie L.A Confidential, then you’d be familiar with a certain classic noir 1940s-style streetcar that served as a Chinese restaurant, seamlessly packed with celebrities and cops.

Off the silver screen, that red car trolley actually did serve as a dive bar for tourists and Hollywood locals alike. The Formosa Cafe had been one of Hollywood’s most beloved restaurants since its inception in the mid-20s.

Now, following closure last year, the Formosa Cafe is being restored to its former glory by The 1933 Group, known for their period recreation and restoration work on historic LA venues like the The Idle Hour, Thirsty Crow, and Bigfoot Lodge and the Highland Park Bowl.

Formosa Cafe is located across the street from the old United Artists studios; notable past patrons included Marlon Brando, Judy Garland and Elvis Presley and later, punks and rockers.

Trouble began to brew in the late 90’s, when the West Hollywood Gateway shopping mall began construction. Meanwhile hip new hangouts emerged that drew customers away. The Formosa struggled to keep up and was almost torn down to be made into a parking lot.  

Following a failed renovation a couple years back the Formosa Cafe officially closed in January 2017. Bobby Green, Dimitri Komarov and Dmitry Liberman, co-owners of The 1933 Group stepped in with a proposal to rescue it, at a level that would satisfy preservationists like Chris Nichols.

“I'm hoping that they will use their tremendous talent and ability to make it appear as we remember it,” Nichols told DnA. “You know maybe our memories are rosier than it really was and they'll make it rosier which is great. I hope that every historic piece of fabric that's remaining will be intact and will be brought back.”

DnA went to check out the work in progress, and find out how the team plans to restore its character, while keeping it current, in readiness for opening in spring 2019.

They are working with Vince Quon, grandson of the cafe’s longtime owner Lem Quon.

“He's saved every artifact that was ever in the place,” Green explained. “So we're getting everything back and putting it all back. I'm going to great lengths to find photographs of the interior prior to things coming out. And we're going to put every picture back exactly where it was.”

The team often get letters and photos from people who frequented the cafe in years past. “I’ve had people send me pictures of themselves as little kids actually sitting right here where we are now at the Formosa. You know, ‘we came here in the 70’s or the 60’s.’ So it just adds this really deep layer of love and appreciation to a place and we are thrilled to bring it back”, Green said.

DnA also talks to Green and Komarov about the Prohibition-era origins of their name, about the creative process behind the Highland Park Bowl, and how they feel about their work being described as “hipster Disneyland.”