When beloved Hollywood hangout the Cat & Fiddle closed its doors for good 2½ years ago, it left a void for Anglophiles, patio drinkers and pub dwellers alike. The family-owned bar and grill had one of the best outdoor hangout areas in L.A., and though that locale became legendary, owner Paula Gardner and her daughters were forced out of the property by a large rent increase. They vowed they’d be back in a new location, and this week they returned, soft opening at their new digs on Highland Avenue near Melrose, with the official grand opening set for June 5.
The Cat’s new home has a lot of history. Susan Feniger has housed a couple of dining concepts there over the last several years. But non-foodie types will remember the space before she took over: Highland Grounds, a family-owned coffee house, restaurant, music space and eventually bar, which, much like C&F, had a loyal, Cheers-like clientele who viewed the place as a second home for nearly two decades.
Already, Gardner says, her old regulars are returning, and she notes new customers living in the area have told her they hadn’t been in the space since the Grounds days.
“We're happy we're out of the old space now, ” she says, sitting in a booth on a packed soft-open night last week. “It’s a better neighborhood. And the energy is different in that part of town now.”
Gardner opened the original Cat & Fiddle with her British expat husband in 1985. In 1992, she became pregnant with her daughters (and now partners) twins Ashlee and Camile. When I interviewed her before the pub's closure, she and her girls weren't ready to leave the hospitality business and were already looking for a new space.
“We weren't ready to stop,” she says. “After being closed two years, it took us about six months to get this space ready.”
The new space definitely has the warmth and charm of the old one, and that's because 90 percent of the decor, art and fixtures was saved from the previous location. Gardner says the only thing different are the large lights and lamps that hang above the main room. “They're from churches and movie sets,” she says.
The owner designed the new furniture herself, but C&F fans will notice a lot of the old touches. The lantern as you walk in is the same one that hung at the entry to the old spot. Though some of the pictures and knick-knacks might seem new, they used to be housed in the old bar's private rooms, then known as the Casablanca and the Victoria. “Everything behind the bar is the same. The leaded glass lamps and windows [one with the signature cat emblem] are back. We kept everything in storage because we knew we were going to open again,” she says.
As for the menu, Gardner says it's basically the same but with some fun new touches. Chef Eduardo Silva, who's has been with her for 15 years, is still in the kitchen and together they've come up with some new dishes and spins on their old favorites.
They've added some salads, and appetizers such as Swedish meatballs and chicken tenders, plus some new desserts including lava cake and a pistachio raspberry tart. Gardner says a “delicious prime rib and mashed potatoes will be served every day.”
She says they're most excited about with the wood-burning oven that was left in the building from the previous establishments. “It's been a lot of fun. We'll be doing some Sunday roasts and roast specials with that. “
Still, for all the new stuff, it's the comfort and familiarity of their old food faves that people are asking for. “They want the fish and chips, our bangers and mash, and our pies.”
The same goes for the drink menu, where past favorites are still highlighted but new cocktails have been added, some named after the family's favorite places to visit in the U.K., including Brighton Beach and Notting Hill. They've added to the tap selection as well.
“We're catering to what people want,” Gardner says. “They don’t just want just British or Irish beers, they want craft beers now, too.” Still, she cites their signature cider, the Cat Cider (a traditional dry English cider), as an enduring favorite. “We plan on having some vodkas and scotches made specifically for us in the future as well.”
The new Cat & Fiddle is decidedly smaller than the original, both inside and outside. As a former regular of Highland Grounds, I'd venture to say the new pub melds some of the relaxed ambiance we loved at HG with the vim of the old Hollywood landmark. Most important, though, it clearly has the heart and soul of the Gardner family in every corner, table and crevice.
“It feels so good to be here because we brought a lot of energy from the old place,” Gardner says as her staff buzzes around taking orders and pouring drinks during the surprisingly packed soft opening. “We took it out of the old spot and brought it here. We're back for the regulars and trying to cater to this neighborhood, too. We're bordering Hancock Park now, not bordering Hollywood Boulevard. Big difference. Creative people, production companies, they're all right here. We're so glad we had to move now. It was a blessing in disguise.”
742 Highland Ave., Hancock Park; (323) 468-3800, thecatandfiddle.com.