In my previous post about the stunning Egyptian Theatre, I mentioned the neighboring restaurant of Pig ‘n Whistle. Today I’m here to dive more the story of Pig ‘n Whistle, its ties to Hollywood’s oldest Italian restaurant, Miceli’s, and the classic show I Love Lucy.
In 1908 a man by the name of John Gage opened up a small candy shop in downtown Los Angeles, and named it Pig ‘n Whistle. In 1927 he wanted to expand, and on July 22 he opened up a combination restaurant, soda fountain, and candy shop next door to the Egyptian, which conveniently served the movie goers by way of a door that connected the outdoor forecourt and the restaurant. The interior was designed by Morgan, Walls & Clements (who had done the gorgeous El Capitain movie palace) and feature elaborate carved wood furniture featuring the restaurant’s icon, of a pig playing a flute. Soon it became one of the watering holes for movie stars, including Cary Grant, Clark Gable, and Shirley Temple.
Pig ‘n Whistle’s fame was short lived, and for one reason or another it closed (oh, yes, it’s quite open now, but we’ll get there in a bit) shortly after World War II, which is when Miceli’s enters the story.
As you can see, the whimsical furniture mentioned is no where to be found at Pig ‘n Whistle today! So, what happened to it? Well, when Pig ‘n Whistle shut its doors, Carmen Miceli stepped in and purchased almost everything he could get his hands on to furnish his restaurant around the corner, Miceli’s.
It’s unclear what year Pig ‘n Whistle closed, most seem to say it was in the 50s, which would mean Miceli’s had at least some furnishings when it opened in 1949. But the point is, when Pig ‘n Whistle was no more, all of it’s furnishings, down to the payphone niche, went to Miceli’s.
Carmen Miceli was born in 1923 in Chicago to Sicilian immigrants, and fought in World War II. After returning home, he longed for a warmer climate, and moved to Los Angeles, where he worked as a waiter. One day he served a woman by the name of Sylvia Wexler, and the two fell in love, eventually marrying. Miceli, Sylvia, and Miceli’s siblings soon pooled their money together and opened Miceli’s on Las Palmas Avenue, just off of Hollywood Boulevard.
Like Pig ‘n Whistle, Miceli’s became a hot spot for celebrities, attracting clientele like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Marilyn Monroe, Sal Mineo, and Elizabeth Taylor, along with presidents John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon.
It is here that one day writers for the hit show I Love Lucy walked by. In passing by the window of Miceli’s they spied the chef tossing pizza dough, and thought it would make for a perfectly hilarious situation for America’s favorite redhead. Lucille Ball met with the pizza chef, Aldolino Formica, at Miceli’s Beverly Hills location (as it was closer to Ball’s home) and was taught how to sling dough. Formica is also the man who spins dough so masterfully in the episode that resulted from the simple walk by Miceli’s, “Visitor from Italy.”
Image Source: Screencap from I Love Lucy DVD
Formica was an Italian immigrant who arrived in the United States in 1952, and after working at Miceli’s, he went on to open his own restaurant, Aldolino’s in Azuza. While Formica passed away in 1994, the restaurant is still owned and operated by his family.
Now, let’s fast forward to 1999. As mentioned in my last post, American Cinematheque had now taken ownership of the Egyptian Theatre, and restored it. That is when business partners Chris Breed and Allen Hajjar stepped in and took over the old Pig ‘n Whistle. Since the old chain was now defunct, they were able to secure the name and after $2 million in renovations, they reopened in 2001, including recreating the gothic neon sign out front. But, sadly without their original furniture. During a “Haunted Hollywood” tour I took a couple months back, our tour guide took joy in pointing out all sorts of non-spooky Hollywood history, including the tale of Pig ‘n Whistle, and Miceli’s, and according to him, there was an attempt to get the original furniture back, but Miceli’s declined.
Dine at Pig ‘n Whistle next time you’re at the Egyptian at 6714 Hollywood Boulevard, or walk around the corner to Miceli’s at 1646 Las Palmas Avenue, in Los Angeles.