Los Angeles is not a city known for dwelling on the past. So if a restaurant or bar can last more than 10 years, it’s automatically designated as a “local icon.” Stick around for three decades, and it’s assumed that your doors will be open until somebody dies or retires.
I thought that would be the case with Hollywood’s beloved the Cat and Fiddle Pub. But the building’s owner recently gave them notice to pack up and get out. Apparently they’ve found a tenant who’ll pay double the rent proving once again that Commerce and Sentiment do not make good bedfellows. In fact, they don’t even make good roommates.
On social media, the mourning and the remembrances are underway. People are fondly recalling dart tournaments, Tuesday Trivia night, and lazy Sunday afternoons spent out on the garden patio. Not too many people mention the food; Scotch eggs and mushy peas are an acquired taste. Rather, everyone loves how the place can be so big–with high ceilings and a long bar–but still feel so intimate. There are plenty of shadowy corners for a couple to disappear into.
But it wasn’t always like that. The original Cat and Fiddle was opened in 1982 by British musician Kim Gardner and his wife Paula. They found a small space on Laurel Canyon Blvd. just below the famous Country Canyon Store. The original pub was tiny and cramped, but that didn’t stop fellow Brit musicians like Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton, and Ron Wood from dropping by for a pint or three. That was the Cat and Fiddle that I first remember going to.
It was 1984 and I was sharing a Van Nuys apartment with two roommates. I was only 22 years old and working as a performer at the Universal Studios Theme Park. That summer, a guy named Dominic got hired and we immediately hit it off. Besides a shared love for good music and bad horror movies, we both wanted to make it as writers in the film industry.
Once a month, we’d take Laurel Canyon into Hollywood and blow our paychecks at the Tower Records on Sunset Boulevard. He’d moved here from England less than a year ago, so when he noticed the British-themed pub, he insisted we stop for lunch. When the bartender served me and didn’t serve Dominic, who was still a few years shy, Dominic let out a colorful, quintessentially English insult. The bartender immediately yelled across the bar at us. “Oi. Watch your language, son. This is a family establishment.” That line became a catchphrase between us that still makes me smile 30 years later. The Cat and the Fiddle became our go-to place for lunch whenever Dominic got homesick for London.
Shortly after we started going to the Laurel Canyon location, the Gardners moved their pub on Sunset Boulevard in the heart of Hollywood. We followed. Before hitting places like the Cathay de Grande, Club Lingerie, and the Anti-Club–darker, edgier places than today’s hipper-than-thou crowd on Cahuenga Boulevard would frequent–my friends and I, including a now happily legal Dominic, would start the night at the Cat and Fiddle. As it grew more popular, we often had to wait in line to get in.
I remember one night in particular standing out front for over an hour. The guy behind us tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I had been here before. Turns out, he and his friends were visiting from Israel and didn’t know anything about Los Angeles. I asked him if that was the case, how he knew about the Cat and Fiddle.
“Because,” he answered, “it’s in here.” He was holding up an Israeli travel guide book to Los Angeles. The Cat and Fiddle was one of only three places they recommended for tourists looking for some nightlife.
That’s when I knew the place was getting maybe a little too popular. As time went by, I didn’t make it to the Cat and Fiddle that often. I was living in the Valley and going to Hollywood seemed like too much of a hassle. But in 2004, I had a good reason to return.
I had met a woman online and after a month of e-mails and phone calls, we agreed it was time to meet. We got together one Sunday morning at Amoeba Music, poked around there for a bit, and then went to the Hollywood Farmer’s Market for lunch. That was supposed to be it. But it was such a nice day, the notion of a bloody mary on the Cat and Fiddle’s patio was just too tempting. One round led to a second. We got married a few years later.
All of that was a long time ago and things have changed. Tower Records is long gone, as are records in general. There’s a nice Italian restaurant under the Country Canyon store now. And it will be six years this August since Dominic passed away.
But last April, my wife and I decided to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of that first date. Once again, we headed to Hollywood on a warm Sunday morning. After stops at Amoeba Music and the Farmer’s Market, we found a patio table at the Cat and Fiddle and ordered a round of bloody marys with a traditional English breakfast.
We couldn’t get the same table as last time, but we watched the young couple sitting there stumble through what we guessed was their third date. At the table behind us, half-hidden in the shadows, was another couple. He was thin, pale, middle-aged, and dressed as if he’d just stepped off the stage after his band’s third encore. She was blonde, also thin and pale, and far too young. As they paid and left, I caught a snippet of his British accent. Rod Stewart would have been proud.
The owners are looking for a new location, but before this chapter of the Cat and Fiddle closes on December 15, I plan to go back for one last pint. But it’ll be hard to beat that last lazy Sunday afternoon spent on the patio. The sun was shining, the beer was cold, and Led Zeppelin was playing on the jukebox. It may have been a British pub, but that was a true Los Angeles moment.
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