In August 1945, just weeks before World War II ended, the finest restaurants and nightclubs on the Sunset Strip were indicted by a federal grand jury for violating the meat rationing laws.
Among those questioned by investigators and by the grand jury were representatives of:
- The Players, 8225 Sunset
- St. Donat’s, 8351 Sunset
- The Marquis, 8420 Sunset
- Ciro’s, 8433 Sunset
- Temple of Heaven, 8711 Sunset
- Cafe Gala, 8795 Sunset
- Bubilchki, 8846 Sunset
- The Little Gypsy, 8917 Sunset
- Trocadero, 8610 Sunset
- Restaurant La Rue, 8633 Sunset
- Villa Nova, 9015 Sunset
- Bit of Sweden, 9051 or 9031 Sunset
It is unclear what became of these charges, but it’s likely they were dropped after victory was declared on Sept. 2.
Bobby Short, back in the day
Jimmy Dolan bought Cafe Gala in 1948. He brought in young Bobby Short, who played the main room, as well as Eadie and Rack, who played twin pianos in the salon. Bobby Short had a following among local tastemakers, which made his shows very popular. He played the Gala until 1951, and would later say that his favorite night there was when Lena Horne came in at closing time and sang for an hour to the delight of the club’s clientele.
But Robert Clary played at Cafe Gala the next year and, in his autobiography, From the Holocaust to Hogan’s Heroes, he recalled Short was still working at the Gala in 1952:
When I finished my engagement at Bar of Music, I was hired to work the very next day by Jimmy Dolan who owned a tiny, chic club on the Sunset Strip Called Cafe Gala. It had two pianos and no microphones. I worked for Dolan a whole year. I was paid a hundred and fifty dollars a week, and never got a raise. Sometimes the checks would bounce, even when business was good, and I would complain to Dolan who always said, “Put it back; it’s good now.”
The list of people who entertained there was impressive. Bobby Short had been a fixture for years, and was still doing his marvelous tasteful show tunes. Like Bobby Short, Portia Nelson sang romantic and witty songs from Broadway shows. Felicia Sanders sang like an angel. The breathtakingly beautiful Dorothy Dandridge had her night club debut there, with an act fantastically put together by Phil Moore. She stayed at the Gala for three months, and while she was there you could not get into the place unless you ade a reservations weeks in advance. It was great for us who were working with her, because we were seen by all the important people in Hollywood.
The gangster Johnny Stompanato lived here in the late 1940s. His boss, Mickey Cohen, owned a storefront building at the foot of Horn, at 8800 Sunset. Stompanato ostensibly worked at Courtley’s, a jewelry store next door to Michael’s Haberdashery, the men’s clothing store Cohen operated on the side. In reality, of course, Cohen ran illegal gambling and other rackets for his bosses back east.
Stompanato was different from the other guys who worked for Cohen. He was not Jewish, for one thing. For another, he was a Marine, who had seen action in World War II.
The reason Johnny Stompanato is remembered today is because of the way he died. He was killed by a stab wound in the bedroom of his girlfriend, Lana Turner. Lana’s teenaged daughter, Cheryl Crane, confessed to the crime saying she did it trying to protect her mother from Stompanato’s physical abuse. The killing was ruled to justifiable homicide.
For a while Stompanato lived on Horn Avenue, directly above the building that housed Cohen’s businesses. His apartment building happened to be directly across the street from Café Gala, the celebrity gay-straight lounge, which was also the site of the first Spago’s restaurant many years later.