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Cafe Montmartre: Hollywood’s First Nightclub

Café Montmartre was the one place where you could see Hollywood just as you believed it to be: Joan Crawford dancing on a tabletop, Rudolph Valentino dining with Natacha Rambova (and her little dog), rivals Lupe Velez and Lilyan Tashman fighting in the powder room.

Montmartre Cafe Hollywood
Montmartre Cafe in 1926 (USC)

Opened in 1923, Montmartre was Hollywood Boulevard’s first nightclub and the latest venture from Adolph “Eddie” Brandstatter, one of the most prominent restauranteurs in Los Angeles.

The Frenchman, who had previously worked in Paris, London, and New York, leased the top floor of the two-story building, designed by Meyer & Holler (Grauman’s Chinese and Egyptian Theatres, First National Bank) in the style of an Italian Renaissance palazzo, with Spanish tiling and Mexican wrought-iron grilled doors.

6757 Hollywood Boulevard
Montmartre entrance in 1926 (USC)

The six arched windows across the second floor were originally dressed with striped awnings. In the late 1920s, they were replaced by a new set bearing an “M” emblem that was visible when closed.

Through the main entrance at 6757 Hollywood Boulevard (just east of the Hotel Hollywood, at the busy intersection of Highland Avenue), a delicatessen-coffeeshop was open 24 hours a day. Up eight marble steps, the Montmartre awaited through the double doors.

Montmartre entry
Montmartre's first-floor entry (SCMFT)

The main dining room was done in Art Nouveau, with imported Belgian carpeting and Czechoslovakian chandeliers. Three banquet rooms each had their own design theme — French, Russian, and Chinese — and could be rented for private parties.

To serve his classy clientele, Brandstatter imported a 2,400-pound silver set of a hammered pattern not used at any other cafe in the world. The glassware’s design was so unusual it had never before been seen in California.

The rendezvous of the cinema world, Montmartre was frequented by Charlie Chaplin, Joan Crawford, Rudolph Valentino, Mary Pickford, Pola Negri, Cecil B. DeMille, Viola Dana, and Leatrice Joy—all of whom had gold and silver name plates reserving their favorite tables.

Every celebrity patron signed their name to the guest book, which unsurprisingly was stolen. Downstairs on the sidewalk, eager fans would wait for hours in the hopes of scoring an autograph from their favorite motion picture player.

Leatrice Joy Monmartre Hollywood
Leatrice Joy and Raquel Torres sign the guest book

“It seems to be almost the heart of Hollywood,” remarked a tourist from Tulsa to Motion Picture magazine after visiting the Montmartre in 1929. “The conversation that goes on there seems to be the tongue of Hollywood. One catches phrases of movies and teas and contracts and clothes and gossip that is the spice of the town.”

Montmartre fans on sidewalk
a crowd gathers outside Montmartre

The possibility of seeing stars was half the allure: Nightly entertainment included a live band, dance contests, fashion shows, art exhibits, boxing matches, and vaudeville programs. Montmartre’s afternoon luncheons were just as popular — and Brandstatter added daytime dancing to the menu per Gloria Swanson’s request. 

Montmartre banquet room
1929 banquet hosted by Louella Parsons (Huntington Library)

Some of the Montmartre’s most famous clientele even had their own sandwich on the menu:

  • The Clara Bow, 50¢: jumbo sardines sprinkled with vinegar mixed with chopped hard-boiled egg on rye

  • The Charles Chaplin, 60¢: Camembert, Roquefort, and Sierra cheeses on well-buttered rye

  • The Gloria Swanson, 40¢: egg and sweet corn cooked in a sort of flat omelette and put between two slices of buttered toast

  • The Pola Negri, 75¢: creamed chicken on toast sprinkled with parmesan and paprika, served piping hot

  • The Virginia Lee Corbin, 65¢: sliced chicken covered in mayonnaise on toast with slices of tomato which have stood in French dressing, served very cold

Montmartre celebrity sandwiches
celebrity sandwiches at Montmartre

A star in its own right, the Montmartre made a handful of film cameos. The building doubled as an exterior in Paris for Bow’s 1927 film Get Your Man [watch clip].

In 1930’s Showgirl in Hollywood, Dixie (Alice White) stops by the cafe for lunch while on a break from filming at Burbank’s First National — and bypasses the velvet rope to talk to the real-life Brandstatter. The scene starts at 39:24:

To create a more exclusive hotspot for his celebrity clientele, Brandstatter broke through a wall and built the adjoining Embassy Club in 1929. But with the spotlight off Montmartre, as well as the catastrophic impact of the Depression, it spelled the end for Hollywood’s first nightclub.

Not long after celebrating its eighth anniversary in 1931 — with Lilyan Tashman, Constance Bennett, Hal Roach, Bebe Daniels, Jack Warner, and more — the Montmartre took its final bow. 

Montmartre Art Deco Hollywood
Montmartre's Art Deco remodel

The space was renamed Cafe Boulevard in 1932, but the very next year it was back to The New Montmartre and with a third proprietor, Eugene Starke. By then, Brandstatter had moved on — down the street to 6315 Hollywood Boulevard, where he opened the popular Sardi’s.

The Montmartre Building still stands today, and retains much of its unique exterior from a century ago. In recent years, the space has housed the Museum of Dream Space, Museum of Selfies, and Medieval Torture Museum.

On the other side of the country at Universal Studios Orlando, a replica of the Café Montmartres facade can be found along the theme parks Hollywood Boulevard area, near other landmarks such as Hotel Hollywood, Mels Drive-In, Brown Derby, and Hollywood Roof Ballroom.

Montmartre Universal Studios Orlando
Montmartre at Universal Orlando


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