Venerable Hollywood pub the Cat & Fiddle closed its doors for good last week. The cozy drinking establishment and restaurant had been one of Hollywood’s most iconic destinations for over 32 years, a favorite among locals, expats and entertainment industry folk for its charming patio and Anglophilic, wood-paneled interior.
For many, the closure is just another example of a bigger problem: Hollywood’s swankification and L.A.’s gentrification in general, provoked by greedy property owners and developers' quest for trendier, wealthier clientele. The changes are tranforming — and, some would argue, improving — Los Angeles' urban landscape. But they are also killing its culture, with nightlife suffering one of the biggest blows.
The Cat & Fiddle joins a growing list of historic, gritty L.A. bars that have been swept aside for something shinier: the Spotlight on Cahuenga Boulevard, Ye Coach & Horses on Sunset, Le Barcito in Silver Lake. Even Burbank isn't immune; kitschy karaoke bar Dimples just announced that it will be closing next month, replaced by a condo development and a Whole Foods.
Heightened property values and the sky-rocketing leases that follow appear to be driving many of these closures, including the Cat & Fiddle's. When owner Paula Gardner tried to negotiate a new lease agreement, building owner Jesse Shannon (who purchased the property in 2005) wouldn't talk to her.
“He had already made up his mind that we couldn’t afford the new rent,” says Gardner, who opened the pub three decades years ago with her now-deceased husband Kim. “And he had made a deal with someone else.”
On the “Let's Save the Cat & Fiddle” Facebook page, fans of the pub have speculated that the new tenants will be a “chain restaurant,” but Gardner says she’s doesn’t know who is coming in. Shannon could not be reached for comment, but in October, he told the L.A. Times that Gardner had been “paying less than half of market rent for a long time.”
“The greed of these landlords is killing the character of the city,” says Allison Martino, L.A. historian and creator of popular Facebook page "Vintage Los Angeles." “And it seems to be having a domino effect. Just this year we’ve lost The Palm, Kate Mandelini, and now it looks like Yamashiro might be losing its lease too.”
She says the Cat & Fiddle announcement was particularly upsetting because of its popularity with locals and entertainment types (Morrissey was a regular) and because it’s a family business. “The feeling inside of these buildings can never be duplicated… that patio hosted so many amazing parties over the years.”
Iiad Mamikunian, owner of one of Hollywood's oldest bars, the Burgundy Room (in business since 1919), says he has no desire to succumb to the remodel rage that’s transformed his stretch of Cahuenga Boulevard. His bar became the last Cahuenga “dive” standing when the Spotlight closed in 2011 to make way for a new velvet-roped nightclub.
“We still have Torrance” – the bar’s legendary doorman – “out front and we’ve kept the bar mostly the same inside. Hollywood doesn’t need another ‘Restoration Hard Bar’ clone,” he says. “Burgundy was my favorite bar for years, so when I had the opportunity to buy it, I felt like I had to be a caretaker for what it was and what it provides.”
Damian Windsor, manager of the recently remodeled Power House near Hollywood and Highland, has a different take. He thinks the bar's recent upgrades, which included velvet seating, brass embellishments and a pricey new mixology-driven cocktail menu, were necessary for its survival. “The neighborhood has changed,” he says matter-of-factly.
But even if Hollywood has gotten too gentrified to support a Cat & Fiddle, don't count the venerable pub out just yet.
“The outpouring of support has been incredible,” says Gardner, who kept the Cat open past its December 15 closing date so regulars could stop by to purchase its fixtures, furniture and other memorabilia. Meanwhile, she's looking for a home for a new Cat & Fiddle, so her customers will be able to enjoy a pint of ale and their famous fish and chips again, sooner rather than later.
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“This is a very magical place and we are taking the magic with us. The magic isn’t about the building — it’s with the staff and more important, it’s with the customers.”