Since 1930 the Frolic Room, on Hollywood Boulevard, off the corner of Vine, has been doing its dive bar best to keep not only the hordes of celebrities who occasionally visit happy (the joint is attached to the Pantages Theater, after all) but, more importantly, to placate the actual people of Hollywood (tourists included).
Belly up to the bar, there’s not much room to do anything else. Affable Bartenders Ruben and Joel, who have each been behind the stick 25 years and are celebrities in their own right, will quickly attend to your inebriate needs. My need is for a whiskey-Coke (hard pours $7) or a “White Russian” ($10). A bottled beer ($6). BTW: the only thing they got to munch on is Jiffy Pop Popcorn, cooked up on an ancient burner they got near the storeroom. A lifesaver!
In front of you check out the wall behind the boys, witness the deluge of autographed 8×10 publicity stills that the stars used to sign and pass out, mail to fans, or hang on the wall of the restaurants and bars they hit. A young Sly Stallone back in the day. Arnold. Bruce. Alan Hale (“Skipper” from “Gilligan’s Island”). Mickey Rourke. Johnny Depp. Lyndsey Wagner (“Bionic Woman”). Countless others. And lording above them all is Charles-fucking-Bukowski, the writer.
Keep in mind this is Hollywood, and film productions have rolled through, including “LA Confidential” and “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”. The bar bourgeoned during the 30s, the infancy of the golden era of tinsel town, hence caricaturist from the New Yorker Magazine, the late Al Hirschfeld has captured in glamorous detail in the mural behind you the denizens who had once haunted the Frolic. Installed in 1963 it is a beautifully grotesque scene of debauchery featuring stage and screen legends Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Laurel & Hardy, The Marx Brothers, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Abbot and Costello, Charlie Chaplin, W.C. Fields, Lucille Ball, Carol Channing, Albert Einstein, et al. Amazing. It is a bonafide tourist destination.
As for “the people” of the Frolic, you have “industry” folk, cable pullers, lighting, security, whatnot, but also artists, writers, essential workers, caterers, baristas, and then you got the cast of characters straight out of “The Day of the Locust” (1933) by Nathaniel West inhabiting the bar stools. That literary classic about the nightmare of trying to make it big in Hollywood during its golden-hued heyday. The joint reeks of history.
The grizzled, mischievous “cowboy” in full western gear. The “actress” perhaps not as talented as her friends back home thought she was, and still looking for her big break. But time is catching up. The ‘illustrator”. Wayward and lost from the mid-west, starry eyed, naïve to a fault. The brooding “loner” with oversized hands. The “old timer” who has seen it all. And of course “The Mexicans”. Plenty of those. Me included. At first glance one mid-weeknight I thought this was a casting call for a remake of the film version of “Locust”, on dinner break, spread throughout the bar, but; no these are the folks that come here. I wonder if they themselves know this. That these “types” do exist and are not merely narrative contrivances.
You can chat it up with a buddy there, drink on your own, quickly make friends at the bar, the women are exceptionally kind, relaxed, take your photos of the artwork (nobody minds), trip out on the theatre goers from next door at intermission make a mad, bug-eyed dash for the bar, or sit quietly and scribble out a few words of your own forthcoming literary masterpiece.
The Frolic Room is a dive bar in the truest sense. Tiny. Dark. Cheap. Character-driven. With an edge. A hint of menace, perhaps? Maybe. Go and see it. Feel it. For it is a sly den of iniquity.
6254 Hollywood Blvd.
Los Angeles Calif.