The Fish Shanty and old Kooky World of La Cienega
VINTAGE LOS ANGELES: FISH SHANTY AND THE KOOKY WONDERLAND THAT WAS RESTAURANT ROW
La Cienega and Beverly Boulevard used to be a playful pocket of themed eateries, amusement parks, and nightclubs
By Alison Martino
Established in 1950 by the Smith Bros., the Fish Shanty was classic West Coast kitsch. Located at the intersection of La Cienega Boulevard and Burton Way, it was known to Angelenos as "the restaurant that swallowed you whole,” and nothing thrilled me more as a child than walking through the jaws of the Shanty’s whale façade or hiding under his fin, which was made out of thousands of tiny, ocean-blue, midcentury mosaic tiles that sparkled during sundown like the crest of an effervescent wave. (It will be forever preserved on film after being used as the entrance to a British club in the 1965 black comedy, The Loved One.)
Photographs of the La Cienega Smith Bros. Fish Shanty restaurant interior. Handwritten descriptions by Birdie Smith in the Margin.
The kitchen served reasonably priced seafood in a nautical atmosphere that included a ship’s wheel, lavender leather booths, and an aquarium with turtles in the entryway. It was the first time I ever tried clam chowder and sand dabs, and I specifically remember ordering Shirley Temples with extra cherries. (I still have a couple of the plastic mermaids that the waiters stuck on the rim of my glass.) Believe it or not, this area of Los Angeles was once a playful pocket of themed restaurants, amusement parks, and nightclubs surrounded by an amazing landscape of kooky architecture. The fish shack was conveniently located across the street from a disco in the shape of a giant claw called Osko’s and down the road from several beloved cartoonish destinations, like Beverly Park and Ponyland. (Yes, you could actually ride a ferris wheel or jump on a pony where the Beverly Center is today.) Other nearby eateries included Tail o’ the Pup, the Islander, Alan Hale’s Lobster Barrel, and The Velvet Turtle. How appropriate!
Osko's (screen grab from "Thank God It's Friday")
Beverly Park, also known as Ponyland was a magical wonderland. Tragically it was torn down for the Beverly Center. Ponyland was next door. Both places were extremely popular for divorced fathers and birthday parties.
Beverly Park 1970. The Beverly Center is in this location now. Rexall is now a CVS. Smokey Joes cafe on the bottom right had just suffered a fire. This is the corner of La Cienega and 3rd looking West.
"Kiddieland" located on Beverly Blvd and "Ponyland" located next door.
The Fish Shanty fit in perfectly with these whimsical landmarks and blended right into so-called Restaurant Row on La Cienega, a section of trendy restaurants such as the original Lawry’s, Ollie Hammond’s, and Tail o’ the Cock. Most of these places are now just memories that helped shape my youth, and the Shanty was the captain that anchored them.
"Tail 'O the Pup" located on north west corner of La Cienega and Beverly Blvd. Recently brought back as a food truck and lacks everything that was once whimsical and magical.
"The Islander" located on La Cienega between Beverly Blvd and Melrose Ave.
Actor, Alan Hale had his own place called "Lobster Barrel" and Charo's husband also owned a Kitchy Mexican styled restaurant near by called, "Casa Cugat" located at the celebrity end of La Cienega's restaurant row.
The Original Lawry's when it was located on the west side of the street. This structure is now the Stinkin' Rose
The The Captain’s Table located above Melose on La Cienega next to Casa Cugat. Xavier always used his wife Pia in the advertisements. The Captain’s Table had a glorious history as one of the city’s best places to eat fish.
Alan Hale's, Lobster Barrel!
"The Velvet Turtle" not too far from La Cienega
And who could forget playing in that gigantic boot inside Standard Shoes just a few blocks away?
I always felt, growing up, that this was the way certain stores should be -- lively and fun. I look back fondly on the Judy's and the Joseph Magnins...and of course, Standard Shoes. Designed by Deborah Sussman.
And back to the Fish Shanty!
And during the 1950s and 60s you had La Cienega Lanes for blowing at the corner of la Cienega and Santa Monica. It later became Flippers Roller Boogie in the 1970s and 80s.
Alison is also currently a columnist for Los Angeles Magazine.