Pigs, Pizza, and I Love Lucy: A Tale of Two Historic Hollywood Watering Holes

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.

Exterior of Pig 'n Whistle, in a gothic font "Pig 'N Whistle" is above a metal awning that reads "Pig 'n Whistle" in neon.

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.

Interior of the restaurant, which features dark rich wood covered walls, and a carved wood ceiling. On the right is a bar, on the left, curved booths.

The elaborate carved wood ceiling, and almost cathedral like stone work with a lighted niche.

A tile inside the restaurant that features an image of a pig playing the flute.

A large stained glass light feature featuring five different lamps that are made of multi-colored panes of glass.

A curved booth against a wood and upholstered wall.

Interior of the restaurant, looking toward the front, large windows floor to ceiling allow natural light to pour into an otherwise dark space. A stained glass light fixture hangs from the carved wood ceiling.

The side of the metal awning that reads "Pig 'n Whistle Restaurant" in neon.

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.

A green neon sign sits on the roof reading "Miceli's since 1949 Hollywood's Oldest Italian Restaurant"

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.

Exterior of Miceli's, a tanish, red building with green, red, and blue stained glass windows. A green neon sign juts from the side reading "Miceli's"

Countless wine bottles hang from the ceiling inside Miceli's.

Rich red leather upholstered carved wood seats sit below a dark wood staircase, red and white check table cloths are on the tables, a black and white checkerboard floor is below them.

A close-up of a the carved wooden pig with flute.

A large sign above the pizza ovens features a chef cooking, and "Miceli's" in green script.

A carved wood case houses the payphone. On the side a small pig with a flute is seen.

Dark wood seats upholstered in red leather sit against a half wall with a bar behind it. A red, white, and green strip awning sits over the seats. Red and white check table cloths sit atop the tables.

A large version of the Mona Lisa hangs above a booth, except she holds a pizza. Stained glass windows sit on either side of her.

A green neon sign juts out from a tan colored building. The sign reads "Original Miceli's Pizzeria" in neon

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.”

Screencap: A black and white image of Lucy, who looks in awe as a man in a large chef hat twirls pizza dough inside an Italian restaurant.

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.

Sources
About Us. Aldolino’s Italian Restaurant. Accessed: 7 Aug 2019
Bartholomew, Dana. “Carmen Miceli, founder of Hollywood’s oldest Italian restaurant dies.” Los Angeles Daily News, 7 Nov 2015. Accessed: 7 Aug 2019.
Cheng, Scarlet. “A Silk Purse Out of a Sow’s Ear.” Los Angeles Times, 26 April 2001. Accessed: 7 Aug 2019.
Darling, Michael. “Miceli’s 70th.” Discover Hollywood Magazine, Summer 2019 issue. Accessed 7 Aug 2019.
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