Restaurant Review: Cafe La Maze once hosted celebrities and held some upstairs secrets, including an illegal gambling establishment.
In a sentence: every night this dive celebrates Throwback Thursday.
As you enter, you’ll notice the newspaper clippings, including a 1949 picture that says: “Closed by Internal Revenue Service agents of the Treasury Department yesterday was Cafe La Maze, 1441 Highland Avenue, National City. The night club and restaurant had not yet opened for the day when agents, accompanied by Owner Lyman Lucore posted a notice at the front door and sealed the entrance. Seizure was made for alleged non-payment of taxes.”
Even their menu has a kind of throwback feel. When I visited, their specials were ossobuco and pork chops. They have a classic cocktail list that includes the Ginger Rita, The Perfect Gentleman and the Millionaire. Prime rib with horseradish sauce is their best seller, which makes sense since quality steaks were what brought celebrities to the cafe in the 1940’s, among other things.
To add to the lore, oversized pictures of celebrities hang above plush red leather booths. On one wall, Marcel Lamaze himself sits at a table with Marlene Dietrich and Fritz Lang:
The menu at Cafe La Maze also tells the history of the place: Our long and interesting history begins in 1935 when the founder and name sake of Cafe La Maze, Marcel Lamaze, who was a legendary and influential Restaurateur & Maitre D in the Los Angeles area during the Golden Age of Hollywood, founded the Original Cafe La Maze in 1935.
The location was at 9039 Sunset Blvd. Hollywood, CA. The hollywood location was a Movie Star Hangout, where Marcel was well connected with the movie star crowd. Marcel was known to be a good friend of Jimmy Durante and loved to play poker with the Marx Brothers. Subsequently Marcel would receive many requests from a large number of his influential Hollywood friends to scout a 2nd location near the Mexican border.
At the time Caliente Racetrack in Tijuana, Mexico was the playground for the Hollywood crowd ever since Prohibition. Marcel recommended this current location which was built in 1940 as a stop along the way for the Hollywood crowd and a last chance to gamble at the restaurants hidden gambling room located above the restaurant.
The new Cafe La Maze National City’s grand opening attracted a who’s who of legendary actors such as: Bing Crosby, Clark Gable, Errol Flynn and Johnny Weissmuller celebrating their new hangout. Cafe La Maze’s atmosphere mirrors the “Golden Era of Hollywood” as portrayed in many of the old classic films of the 1940s and 1950s.
Jennifer Mahal in a San Diego Union-Tribune article did some sleuthing and found that, as a matter of fact, Lamaze wasn’t the founder. A man by the name of Jimmy Thompson opened Cafe La Maze on December 24, 1940. Nobody knows when Thompson left and Lamaze began to run the restaurant. Since then, the restaurant had changed owners numerous times.
One waitress who has worked at the establishment for many years says if you hang around long enough, old timers will come in and tell you their wild stories about the “golden days.” Those stories include not only music, mafia, Hollywood celebrities, politicians and gun fights, but the upstairs apparently wasn’t just a gambling house; it was also a brothel.
Where: 1441 Highland Avenue, National City, CA.
When: Open Daily at 11:00 a.m., Sunday thru Thursday kitchen closes @ 9:00pm Bar @ 11:30pm, Friday & Saturday kitchen closes @ 10:00pm Bar @ 12:30pm
Prices are competitive: Anywhere from $17.95 for a petite sirloin to $36.95 for the Alaskan King Crab.
Notes: Old Timers and motorcycle enthusiasts seem to be largest clientele. They have live music every night that begins around 7 or 8. The names on the entertainment list include Ron Bell, Sandy Chappel, Take Two and Kolors.