The Formosa Cafe, the onetime Hollywood industry haunt so iconic that it played itself as a celebrity venue in L.A. Confidential, has quietly closed. According to the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, the venue's license was suspended in October at the behest of the state Board of Equalization as a result of unpaid taxes.
Preservationist Kim Cooper of Esotouric history and culture tours says it appears the West Hollywood bar and restaurant, a Chinese eatery known for its old-school booths and banquettes, has been closed for about two weeks. The closure likely slipped under the radar because it happened just as the holidays approached, she said.
According to the city of West Hollywood, the cafe was designated as a landmark in 1991 (the West Hollywood Heritage Project says on its website that it is “widely understood” to be a “Local Cultural Resource”). It was built in 1934, according to the city; the Formosa's website says it opened in 1939.
Its neighbor was the Mary Pickford– and Douglas Fairbanks–owned studio complex, later known as Samuel Goldwyn Studio, then as Warner Hollywood Studios and finally as Lot Studios. A group called Friends of the Formosa saved the structure from demolition in the early 1990s, though five nearby studio buildings ultimately were razed. The West Hollywood Gateway project next door, which includes a Target and a Best Buy, towers over the Formosa, but its street-clogging traffic doesn't appear to have nourished the eatery with sustainable business.
Cooper says the building's city status wasn't ever “codified into law,” an apparent oversight. Nonetheless, it appears that anyone who might take over would be prohibited from modifying the outside of the building, which includes neon signage.
An interior redux, loathed by history buffs including Cooper, took place in 2014. That same year owner Vincent Jung joined Umami Burger founder Adam Fleischman and a pair from the late Red Medicine, chef Jordan Kahn and manager Noah Ellis, to create a new menu. But the partnership was short-lived.
Cooper is optimistic about Formosa's future. The location is prime. And although the alcohol license stays with the owner, unless he sells it, it's a prime space for a classic cocktail bar. “It can be brought back,” she says.