These days, Bradley Jacobs has been haunting Musso & Frank, the classic chophouse that opened on Hollywood Boulevard in 1919. Jacobs, who works in talent relations for the popular athleisure brand Alo Yoga, could easily be eating at some trendy hot spot, such as Nobu Malibu or Craig’s. Instead, he opts for this beautiful—but low-key—stalwart where the waiters still wear red suit jackets with black lapels. “It’s quintessential Hollywood and evokes that cool, nostalgic feeling of how business and pleasure used to be conducted in the age of one-to-one relationships,” Jacobs says. “It’s reminiscent of that Mad Men–like era of holding court and closing deals over Manhattans and martinis.”
“It’s not sterile and modern, which a lot of places these days are,” Jacobs adds. “The place has been lived in and has character.”
The new big thing in the Los Angeles dining scene is not some novel ingredient (sunchokes!) or fussy technique (remember foam?). For lack of a better word, it’s a vibe—an ambiance that’s unmistakably nostalgic, a look and feel that conjures a certain midcentury spirit of Chanel-clad ladies picking at Waldorf salads and Rat Pack types making illicit deals at no-frills red-sauce joints.
Now that Los Angeles is finally old enough to actually have a history, the city is lovingly gazing at its own navel. Influencers and It Girls are flocking to Old Hollywood places, cosplaying their fantasies of Los Angeles before Instagram ruined it. Spirit yourself away from Lululemon leggings and Erewhon macrobiotic bowls, and slouch toward something dreamier and more decadent, like pearls, twinsets, and shrimp cocktails.
Young people such as Jacobs are increasingly booking the Musso & Frank booths that once hosted Charlie Chaplin, Rudolph Valentino, and Steve McQueen. They’re returning to 1950s glamour at the Chateau Marmont, where Rebel Without a Cause director Nicholas Ray rehearsed with James Dean and Natalie Wood. Closer to Beverly Hills, Dan Tana’s—where the penne arrabbiata is “à la Michael Kane” and the veal Milanese “à la George Clooney”—is hip again.
On the Eastside, there’s the buzzy Los Feliz watering hole Little Dom’s, the offshoot of Dominick’s, which was once a favorite of Frank Sinatra’s. (Call Mom, a hospitality group, is reportedly reviving La Dolce Vita in Beverly Hills, Sinatra’s other go-to.)
The young people of L.A. have been satisfied with resting on the city’s culinary laurels. “You’re going to Musso’s and Dan Tana’s on a much more frequent basis than you would hit the like in New York,” Manhattan publicist Kaitlin Phillips says.
“It’s reminiscent of that Mad Men–like era of holding court and closing deals over Manhattans and martinis.”
The trend is more than a return to restaurants with particularly long shadows. Horses and Gigi’s, new entrants that lovingly mimic throwback aesthetics, are two of the hardest reservations to get in Los Angeles right now.
Liz Johnson and Will Aghajanian, the husband-and-wife team behind Horses, opened the restaurant last October, in a former British pub on Sunset Boulevard. Its two dining rooms lean heavily on bistro-style clichés: grainy wood, checkerboard tile floors, patinated brass accents, and red banquette seats. With its easily identifiable Yves Klein–blue walls and recent New York Times rave review, the restaurant has been raking in both the cool kids of L.A. (Supreme creative director and Denim Tears designer Tremaine Emory, stylist Lotta Volkova) and industry insiders (Madonna, Jay-Z, Beyoncé).
Sad sack that I am, I could snag only a first-seating reservation, for 5:30, earlier this spring. The food was creamy, fatty, and rich—the exact opposite of the depressing grain bowls and “superfood” smoothies beloved by Instagram models and the Kardashians. Better yet, Bette Midler strolled in mid-way through my meal and ordered oysters.
Meanwhile, Gigi’s, which opened in November of 2020, has made its name along Sycamore Square, a hipster-dominated stretch of West Hollywood. It’s a moody, familial restaurant—moss-green banquettes, a large central bar, and the Instagrammable pièce de résistance: an oversize mural by Andie Dinkin featuring references to co-owner Samantha Ressler’s coterie of fabulous pals.
Ressler, an actress and co-founder of the production company We the Women, meant to capture the soulful energy of Hollywood at Gigi’s, which she runs with her business partner, Alex Wilmot. “The interiors and atmosphere were probably the most important things to me,” Ressler says. She tapped the designer Drew Cosbie, and looked to classic hotels, such as Sunset Tower and the Chateau Marmont, for inspiration. Because Gigi’s is a French bistro, old haunts like Bar Hemingway and Chez l’Ami Louis were also spiritual forebears.
“The restaurant was named after my maternal grandmother, Gigi, and I really just wanted it to feel like her,” Ressler says. “She has excellent taste and was an interior designer, and her style was always timeless.”
“Maybe timeless is trendy,” she adds.
That’s exactly why Pia Baroncini, a Pasadena-based artist, dines only at Gigi’s and Horses. “I’ve been to both a million times,” she says. “There’s, like, four restaurants in L.A.”
“Our generation is so ‘classy-oriented.’ Like we were in our 20s when Instagram started, and everything was so trendy, and what was cool changed every two seconds … it’s a relief to go somewhere that just feels chic and elevated and cool.”
“Everything is hyper-digital,” Jacobs says. “Even in the way we work—Zoom, Slack, et cetera—which removes personal connection. So there’s a yearning for spaces like this that are intimate, dark, cozy, unpretentious, and just … simple.”
Max Berlinger is a Los Angeles–based journalist