A Noir Tour of the City of Angels

BY: Collin Brennan |Jul 8, 2015
A Noir Tour of the City of Angels

A dark fog descends on the street. The silhouette of a man—his fingers wrapped around a revolver—emerges from the shadows. The gun goes off, a stranger gasps his final breath, and everything fades to black. This is not a scene one typically encounters on Los Angeles tours, but it’s built into the city’s DNA. From the seedy short stories of Raymond Chandler to the Hollywood crime dramas of the 1950s, from pulp fiction to Pulp Fiction, noir has long made its primary residence in the City of Angels. 

Ask anyone who’s lived in Southern California long enough, and they’ll tell you that this place isn’t all sunshine and starlets. It’s a place of delusional, win-at-all-costs ambition, a place of cutthroat competition, a place where crossing the wrong person can mean the kiss of death. If you know where to look, it’s easy to see this shadowy side of LA for yourself—and live to tell the tale. Follow us on a brief tour of Los Angeles attractions that speak to the city’s long history as the capital of noir. Oh, and try not to attract any unwanted attention.

Museum of Death

6031 Hollywood Blvd. 

What better way to start our tour than on a morbid note? With a large portrait of a bug-eyed skeleton out front, Hollywood’s Museum of Death is an entertainingly frightful place. Highlights at this old-house-turned-museum include the decapitated head of the French serial killer Henri Landru (known as the Bluebeard of Paris) and photos of dismembered bodies. You’ll get all the gore you can handle for only $15.

Formosa Cafe

7156 Santa Monica Blvd. 

You might recognize Formosa Cafe from the neo-noir film L.A. Confidential, which was shot here. The brick-red building stands in one of the seedier parts of Hollywood, and it used to be a favored haunt of Humphrey Bogart, who starred in such classic noir films as In a Lonely Place and The Maltese Falcon. Stop in for a quick snack before heading to our next destination.

The Millennium Biltmore Hotel

506 S. Grand Ave. 

If you believe in ghosts, you’re probably better off visiting the Millennium Biltmore than staying there overnight. Built in 1923, this downtown institution is famous for both its Jazz Age opulence and its spectral residents. The Black Dahlia herself, Elizabeth Short, was sometimes seen at the bar. In fact, it was the last place she was seen.

Musso & Frank Grill

6667 Hollywood Blvd. 

Open since 1919, this Hollywood establishment is famous for two things. First: its clientele, a list that includes Charlie Chaplin, Raymond Chandler, and Johnny Depp. Second: its execution of the classic dry martini. Longtime bartenders garnish this perfectly accomplished cocktail with olives, onions, or lemons.

The Mandrake

2692 S. La Cienega Blvd. 

If you’re in a literary mood, stop into this Culver City watering hole on a night when it’s hosting acclaimed reading series “Noir at the Bar.” Readers tend to include some of the top current noir writers in the City of Angels, so this is a good place to go if you’re trying to spot the next Carver or Bukowski.

Hollywood Forever Cemetery

6000 Santa Monica Blvd. 

It seems fitting to end the tour the way we began it: with a strong dose of death. But the Hollywood Forever Cemetery isn’t all about mourning stars who’ve passed on. It also hosts frequent movie screenings and concerts, some of which run late into the night and make good use of the cemetery’s spectral air.

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