Looking back at Planet Hollywood, the celebrity hangout that wasn’t

Planet Hollywood is the movie-themed restaurant chain where walls are filled with props from blockbusters. The first one opened in Midtown Manhattan in 1991, then a few years later in the heart of Beverly Hills, at Wilshire Blvd. and Rodeo Dr. Its star-studded grand opening included Jean-Claude Van Damme, Brooke Shields, Cindy Crawford, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, who were the biggest names of the 1990s.

But let’s be honest — Planet Hollywood was always tacky. The kitsch was the point. And like a lot of excess from that era, it didn’t last. It went through multiple bankruptcies, theme restaurant infighting, and lots of knockoffs.

Kate Storey chronicled the restaurant’s 30-year saga for Esquire. 

She says the idea started with production assistant Bryan Kestner, who was reading through a script for “The Flintstones” movie. Struck by “Hollyrock,” the fictionalized (and prehistoric) version of Hollywood in the film, he reached out to his boss, producer Keith Barish. Alongside a restaurateur, they made that dream a reality. 

“The public was promised that [celebrities] would be at the next table over when they went out to dinner. And that was some of the excitement for the public — a Planet Hollywood that is a celebrity hangout,” Storey says. “You could have your burgers and be next to the star of your favorite movie and there'd be memorabilia on the wall. That didn't really come to fruition. … They did go for the big events, but they weren't really hanging out there.” 

Storey says one particular celebrity liked to frequent Planet Hollywood, however: Stevie Wonder. 

“He liked to eat along with everybody else in the main dining room. And if it was somebody's birthday, he would go sing with all of the servers singing happy birthday to the patron, which was a huge hit.”

By the late 1990s, the concept of celebrity restaurants began to proliferate. Storey says Planet Hollywood expanded nationwide and had to compete with new eateries launched by Steven Spielberg and Hulk Hogan.  

“It really started to crumble. Keith Barish, one of the co-founders, stepped away. ... Then the company went bankrupt twice. And they had to kind of rethink everything at the end of the decade.” 

Today, a handful of Planet Hollywoods still exist, including the casino in Las Vegas. And this year, an all-inclusive Planet Hollywood resort opened in Cancun. 

Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas is one of the few locations of the chain that still exist today. Photo by Kobby Dagan/Shutterstock. 

Looking back, Storey says the institution was a product of its time. She notes Planet Hollywood was where people could try to find a glimpse of celebrity culture in whatever way they could.

“Today we have reality TV. We have social media. So we’re seeing kind of the private side in some ways of celebrities, and the way that we weren't seeing in the early 90s,” she explains. “It really kind of captured this excitement about celebrity culture and dining out that made it work for those years and makes it not as much of an exciting thing today.”