This town has always embodied glamor and fame. Unfortunately, in 2015, glamor and fame usually mean plastic surgery and half a season of reality TV. That’s not to say the Hollywood of Marlene Dietrich and Cary Grant, of Gilda and Casablanca, is forever gone. Indeed, it still lingers … if you know where to look.
Sure, the fabled Walk of Fame is a cliché of vaguely familiar names, but there’s always a moment when one looms up out of the array—someone who actually meant something to you, like Lon Chaney or Lena Horne. Or Leslie Nielsen. Savor a moment of pensive silence in their honor—and move on before one of the fake Spider-Men starts hassling you.
A mandatory stop is Musso & Frank Grill, the oldest restaurant in Hollywood. Through the years, it has been the hangout of Greta Garbo, Orson Welles and Raymond Chandler—and, more recently, George Clooney, David Lynch and Charles Bukowski. The dining rooms seem bathed in a perpetual “magic hour” golden glow, and Peggy Lee purrs through vintage wood-veneer speakers. The waiters and bartenders are old-school pros in jacket and tie who can shake a martini and spin a story. They’re so cool, in fact, that Keith Richards (another regular) has been known to fly them to Stones shows.
It seems every wall in every Hollywood neighborhood is covered in amateurish murals of Marilyn and Chaplin, but there are also more refined tributes. At Sunset and Vine, a spectacular mosaic by Millard Sheets honors such revered stars as Bette Davis and Douglas Fairbanks. Nearby, the “Four Ladies of Hollywood” sculpture pays homage to Dolores Del Rio, Anna May Wong, Dorothy Dandridge and Mae West; it was created by Catherine Hardwick years before she directed Twilight.
And, of course, the Hirschfeld-style murals of golden-age celebrities that adorn the walls of the Frolic Room are worth visiting even if you don’t want to have a drink—although, given that this is one of Hollywood’s last remaining classic watering holes, you probably do.
How to get there
Your choice: quick and convenient (LAX by air; Interstate 15 by land), or slow and scenic, be it via flight to Long Beach Airport (a remarkably maintained and updated art deco structure, but a bit of a trek to Hollywood) or the backroads of the Mojave (think Route 66).
Where to stay
Once frequented by Rudolph Valentino, today the Hollywood Hotel draws a string of up-and-coming (and a few already-there) comics to its comedy club and bar. The well-appointed rooms include a mini-klieg lamp and freestanding vintage clothing rack for that dressing-room vibe. … The Hollywood Historic Hotel, near Paramount Studios, offers an on-site café/hair salon. The
rooms are decorated with vintage black-and-white photos, and many offer views of the famed Hollywood sign.
Where to dine
The Pikey was once the legendary Ye Coach & Horses, a bar where champion drinkers such as Robert Mitchum and Richard Burton tied one on. Today it’s a British-themed gastropub, where you’re more likely to see Dave Grohl and Bryan Singer chowing on English comfort food and a bottle of Cristal. … Slightly outside of Hollywood is the Dresden: Sit on a white leather banquette, dining of filet mignon like Don and Megan in Mad Men. Or hit the lounge and groove to the swingin’ sounds of Marty and Elayne as they work their inimitable way through the Great American Songbook.
What to do
The Los Angeles Conservancy also tends to cinematic history in their Broadway Historic Theatre and Commercial District Walking Tour, which guides you around (and occasionally through) almost a dozen decrepit-yet-dazzling movie palaces. … Stroll through the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, where the first Academy Awards was held, Clark Gable and Carole Lombard shacked up and Marilyn Monroe is rumored to haunt. Sip one of their artfully made cocktails in the palatial lobby or the elegant Public Kitchen & Bar, or head out to the Palm Beach-style, poolside Tropicana Bar.
Scores of famous names—from John Huston to Jayne Mansfield to Bugsy Siegel—have made the Hollywood Forever Cemetery their final home. During the day, the 60-acre grounds invite visitation and contemplation on the lush lawns; on weekends from May to October, Cinespia hosts film screenings and concerts. Upcoming: flicks Vertigo, Do the Right Thing and Showgirls, and concerts by Laura Jane Grace and Modest Mouse.