Back in 1982, British-born rock and roll bass player Kim Gardner and his wife Paula had some European friends who owned a restaurant in Laurel Canyon but wanted to move back to Europe. The friends asked Kim if he knew anyone who wanted to buy the business’ lease and liquor license. Thinking it would be fun to open a friendly, British-style pub, Kim, Paula, and two other friends (another musician and an actress) decided to invest. But while Paula owned a West Hollywood shoe store at the time, none of the others had any previous small business experience, and, as Paula told the Buzz this week, “They didn’t know what they were doing.”
This was quickly obvious, she said, when it came time for the new Cat and Fiddle to have its soft opening…a celebratory occasion with everyone in formal attire. The only problem, Paula says, was that no one noticed until the last minute that the beer hadn’t been delivered. So the tuxedo-clad owners had to rush off to Ralphs and Thrifty to stock their bar in time for the party.
In addition to running her own business at the time, Paula recounts that she was also eight months pregnant when the Cat & Fiddle opened, and gave birth to twin girls just a month later. But not too long after that, when someone stole the pub’s safe (with $10,000 in it), that Kim and his partner left on a desk in the pub’s office, Paula said she realized they needed some more expert management. So she closed her store, found someone to help with the kids (older daughter Eva and twins Ashlee and Camille), and went to work at the Cat. And the rest, as they say, is history.
This month, the Cat & Fiddle is celebrating its 40th anniversary, with Paula still helping to run the business and daughter Ashlee beside her at the helm (Kim passed away in 2001). (Daughter Eva, following in different footsteps of her father’s, is now the bass player for rock star Pink, while Ashlee’s twin Camille has also been involved with both the restaurant and the music business.)
When the first iteration of the Cat & Fiddle started to catch on at its original location, however, neighbors complained about the establishment’s late night noise and lack of parking. And then, Paula says, they discovered the building had been permitted in 1949 for either a cleaners or a sandwich shop that would serve only 18 customers…and the pub was forced to close. But despite those initial missteps, Paula said the business was by then keeping its bills paid (though not yet making a profit), so the owners went looking for a new location.
After 18 months or so, they found a new home at 6530 Sunset Blvd., where the Cat & Fiddle stayed for more than 30 years. The Sunset location was bigger, Paula said, with a dart room, and a large, beautiful patio, where they were able to host live jazz on Sundays.
In 2014, however, the building’s “great landlord” sold the property, and the new owners pushed the business out. So Paula and her daughters went looking for yet another location, and in 2016 re-opened at 742 N. Highland Ave. (See our previous profile of the business here.)
Paula says the new building (formerly home to local favorites Highland Grounds, The Mud Hen Tavern, and Street) has everything they need, except for the dart room. But the family did bring the stained glass light fixtures from the old dart room, which now hang over the dining area adjacent to the open-air patio space.
Of course, the recent years on Highland haven’t been without their own challenges. Paula says the business “barely” survived the early COVID-19 shutdowns in 2020, and only hung on by pivoting to takeout food service (Ashlee’s idea). In fact, said Paula, the first shutdown came just before St. Patrick’s Day that year, which is a huge holiday for many restaurants, including the Cat. But Paula said that thanks to Ashlee’s quick thinking, they were able to offer a takeaway tea service for Mother’s Day. And although “that was hard work,” Paula said, because everything had to be made to order, it kept them afloat.
Paula says there have been some other changes over the years, too. Their original clients are now 40 years older, and in some cases she has watched their children grow up…and bring their own new families to the restaurant. And the overall vibe of the place has also evolved, Paula says – going from a rock-and-roll hangout for the likes of Ronnie Wood, Eric Clapton, and other famous friends of Kim’s, to a more community-oriented venue, where you’re more likely to run into all kinds of neighborhood families with their kids and even dogs. “So our values have changed,” said Paula. “Which they should do in 40 years. We’ve all changed.”
One thing that hasn’t changed, though, Paula says, is the friendly, welcoming nature of the pub that Kim always dreamed of. “Any person is welcome here. Any person in the world.”
Today, Ashlee Gardner is the main on-site manager at the Cat & Fiddle, but Paula still works every weekend (actually Friday-Monday – “long weekends”). Paula says she and her daughter work well together, and complement each other’s strengths. In fact, she said, it’s an easier working relationship than partnering with her late husband, who had less formal business experience (though Paula says now that she realizes he was right about some things).
The Cat & Fiddle is open from noon to 10 p.m. daily, serving food (including a classic British breakfast) all day, and hosting a popular happy hour every evening, weekly trivia nights, and – starting just about a month ago – an afternoon tea service on Saturdays and Sundays. Paula says they also do a lot of parties and catering (which she enjoys because it lets her get a bit more creative than the restaurant’s traditional British menu…though that, too, has evolved over the years, and now includes vegetarian and vegan options, as well as a special doggie menu.)
Paula said she and Kim used to joke that they opened the pub to get all their friends out of their living room, and that kind of camaraderie – “like a real-life “Cheers” – remains today. It brings the neighborhood together, she says, and it’s what she loves about the business. “That’s what we really enjoy doing, and people have fun here.”
And looking over the last 40 years, she says, “I feel that we brought a lot of joy to a lot of people.”
The Cat & Fiddle’s 40th Anniversary Celebration will take place from October 20-22, with food and drink specials ($12 Shepherd’s pie, $16 fish and chips (with peas), and $6 Harp Lager and Guiness Stout). There will also be music from DJ Randy on Thursday, October 20, live music from Miranda Lee Richards and Miss Marquez Burlesque on Friday, October 21, and music from the Hailers on Saturday, October 22. Afternoon tea will also be served on Saturday from 12-4 p.m. (reservations required).
About Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN but has lived in LA since 1991 - with deep roots in both the Sycamore Square and West Adams Heights-Sugar Hill neighborhoods. She spent 10 years with the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, volunteers at Wilshire Crest Elementary School, and is the co-owner/publisher of the Buzz.
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