Miceli’s opened in 1949 when Carmen and Sylvia Miceli, with the help of their brothers Tony and Sammie, and sisters Angie and Millie, put their funds together to start a restaurant. Carmen, a Chicago native, came to Los Angeles shortly after serving in World War II. He earned four Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star, and went from being a singing shoeshine boy to a World War II hero and ultimately owning the first pizzeria in Los Angeles. With the family recipes brought from Sicily by way of old Chicago, they opened what would become Micelis, Hollywood’s first pizzeria.
There is history on the walls, carved into booths, and in the fabric and fiber of every square inch. Hundreds of empty wine bottles filled with memories hang from the ceiling and a stained glass portrait of Carmen’s sister, Angie, who made 100 meatballs in less than four minutes in the ‘5os through the early ’80s overlooks the dining room.
The wooden booths come from another historic Hollywood haunt, the famous Pig ‘n Whistle restaurant located across the street , next door to the Egyptian Theatre. When that restaurant closed down in the ’50s, Carmen salvaged the wood from his neighbor. You can still sit in one of the booths that has a pig with a whistle carved into it from 1927.
Still a family-run business with sons Frank and Joe that also includes a Miceli’s in Universal City celebrating its 40th anniversary, the restaurant might be best known for its singing waiters, who can belt out an aria without missing a beat in between serving you a glass of chianti and plateful of carbonara.
“My mother was an opera singer and my father was a club crooner, so they both had a big love for music,” Joe tells L.A. Weekly, whose mother Sylvia at age 89 presided over the grand anniversary party this month.
“In the ’50s, all the wait staff that worked in Italian restaurants was Italian and all the big singers at the time were Italian — Frank Sinatra, Tony Vale, Dean Martin, Perry Como, Al Martino. All the waiters wanted to be the next big singer and would sing along with the jukebox. A couple of the waiters my father hired were actual opera singers and would just break out in a capella. When we opened the restaurant on Cahuenga Boulevard, being a singer was a requirement.”
Some of the waiters now are right off Broadway, including many that were in the opening cast of Jersey Boys, Beauty and the Beast and Phantom of the Opera.
“I’m looking for a singer first and then turn them into a waiter. One of my singing busboys tried to open a bottle of champagne with a corkscrew, but boy can he sing,” says Joe.
But the scene that cemented Miceli’s Hollywood footprint was immortalized in the first Terminator film, shot in the iconic bar. While Sarah Conner is being pursued in the chase sequence, she ducks into Miceli’s and runs upstairs to the bar. A news report is being broadcast on the bar’s TV, asking anybody with the name of Sarah Connor to call the police. So she goes over to the pay phone (which they installed for the movie and still lives there) which is out of order and she runs out.
Joe says that his father and his two brothers were tough in the early days of the pizzeria. While they spent some time breaking up brawls in the restaurant, the establishment was also a big hangout from the teens at Hollywood High. And yes, there was mafia lore as well, run-ins with the Cheese King, Angelo Anthony “Don Marino, notorious boss of the San Jose crime family.
“We had Hollywood stars and gangsters come into the Hollywood restaurant including Mickey Cohen,” says Joe. “When my father first opened, he wasn’t making any money and was behind in his payments to the California Cheese Company. The California Cheese Company was operated by Angelo Marino, who was the West Coast mafia chieftain. One day in 1951, Marino came in to bust up the place because he wanted his money. So my father had the car loaded getting ready to head back home to Chicago with my mom and brother Jim. He gets to the restaurant and Marino was already there with his boys. My father looks around and he says look, ‘I built this place, I’m not giving up.’ He goes up to Angelo Marino face to face and says ‘You want your money? You bust up this place and you’ll never get your money. The only way you’ll get your money is if I stay in business.’ So Marino helped him out and my father ended up opening seven restaurants. He was the largest purchaser of cheese of the California Cheese company and ended up being a pallbearer at Angelo Marino’s funeral.”