From its beginnings, Los Angeles attracted dreamers and schemers looking to devise new, more successful lives. Early leaders practiced hucksterism and hyperbole to draw Midwesterners and others to the golden, promised land of sunny Southern California and its budding metropolis Los Angeles. Umberto (Bert) Rovere arrived in Los Angeles and fashioned a successful life through his own boosterim and branding promoting his restaurant, The Paris Inn Cafe.
Born in Turin, Italy, in 1890, young immigrant Rovere sailed to New York in 1906, finding work as a waiter and employing his singing to help pay the bills. Gradually, he ended up as a busboy at the Waldorf Astoria, where he claimed to make $20 a week. Rovere worked as a singing waiter on San Francisco’s Barbary Coast, performed with opera companies as a grand baritone, and sang occasionally in vaudeville acts preceding film screenings before arriving in Los Angeles in 1922. When not working, he found time to compete in running, wrestling, and swimming matches. During the summer of 1922, he even sang in a production of “Carmen” at the Hollywood Bowl.
Tired of the touring life, he took over downtown Los Angeles’ Paris Inn Cafe in 1924. Opened originally by Madame Zucca at the U.S. Hotel at Main and Market in 1920, the Paris Inn closed for a short time before Rovere reopened it after she moved on to open a new restaurant. The Dec. 28, 1924, Los Angeles Times proclaimed Paris Inn Cafe’s new opening, acknowledging singer Rovere as proprietor.
Looking to create a popular tourist attraction and hot spot, Rovere introduced singing waiters as entertainment, claiming the introduction of the practice in the cafe. Singers and dancers also performed twice daily. Rovere played to taste makers as well, hiring chef Innocente Pedroli, formerly a chef in Rome, Milan, and St. Moritz before stints at Chicago’s Blackstone Hotel and San Francisco’s Fairmont. Pedroli claimed to speak three languages and cooking in them as well.
Paris Inn outgrew its original 110 E. Market location by 1929. In late November, the proprietors announced they would move next door to 210 E. Market, spending a combined $150,000 for land, construction, and furnishings for an elegant European cafe featuring its own miniature Eiffel Tower and Parisian street scene for its’ bohemian “lowbrow” side and more upscale furnishings for its’ “highbrow” three private dining rooms and 500 seat banquet hall. Per city permits, Amy Phillips was listed as owner, with S.N. Benjamin serving as architect. At the January 4, 1930, cornerstone laying, Judge Carlos S. Hardy and Eugene W. Biscailuz appeared.
A few weeks behind schedule, the glamorous new Paris Inn Cafe opened March 26, 1930, now claiming a combined $300,000 was spent in creating the fabulous nightspot. The March 20 Los Angeles Daily News stating that “the ‘lowbrow’ side is an exact duplicate of the interiors of Paris’ enticing cafes. Fantastic paintings adorn a wall, incredibly ancient looking with the cobwebs and delightful mustiness, so long associated with fast Parisian restaurants.” Artist Art Feigl updated the design and Muschi created the elaborate paintings.
Proprietor/manager Rovere served as master of ceremonies and singer, along with other acts like singing waiters, nine-piece orchestra, and dancers Julio Velasco and Miss Angeleno, Dorothy Granger, performing the tango, sparkplug dance, and Mexican hat dance. Opening night included apache dancers, “Spanish, French, and Italian street singers,” along with jazz orchestra and string orchestra. Ads proclaimed newsreels would film the opening, along with KTM broadcasting it on the radio. Always looking to remain hip, Rovere added electric organ that fall, updating his talent regularly.
Popular from the beginning, the Paris Inn attracted Europeans, vacationers, and even celebrities for its lavish entertainment. In the mid-1920s, the club featured motion picture nights and parties with regulars like Bull Montana.
Artful Rovere practiced skillful publicity and advertising, gaining mentions in society and cafe columns along with buying ads in newspapers and creating an elaborate lithographic postcard. Listings in the city directory stated, “Dine, Dance, Romance, Singing Waiters, Open Daily Except Sunday, Matinee Dansants, Suppers,” and a 1933 listing called the cafe “The House of Singing Chefs and Waiters.” In 1931, Rovere even added a fancy rooftop sign.
Broadening his reach and brand, Rovere landed a twice daily radio show on KNX in 1931, lasting six years. In 1932, Rovere composed the music for the “Paris-Inn Cafe” foxtrot along with F.P. Marini, with lyrics from C. Stedman. Fernando L. Cabello even composed a radio jingle titled “Paris Inn Is on the Air,” which acknowledged singing waiters and Rovere’s and Pedroli’s management. Columbia Radio Network took over broadcasting of the Cafe’s show in 1937.
Successful beyond his wildest dreams, Rovere purchased a part interest in Lucca’s in the mid-1930s before buying full interest in 1940. The Paris Inn Cafe remained in operation at 210 3. Market through the end of 1949, before construction of a jail on the block. The Paris Inn reopened at 845 N. Broadway in late summer 1950, without elaborate decoration or hipness. Rovere moved on as well, retiring to the Lake Elsinore area before dying in 1957.
Masterful in advertising, creative in design, Rovere devised one of Los Angeles’ earliest programmatic and theme restaurants with his cafe’s lavish decoration, along with creating one of the first jingles promoting his business. Rovere’s singing for his supper paid off, making him one of Los Angeles’ earliest celebrity restaurant owners.