Los Angeles has a long track record of eating its own history.
But sometimes, great historic things survive against all odds.
Take Clifton’s Cafeteria, for example. It’s old, it’s in the heart of downtown, and it was founded during the Depression by a man more concerned with feeding hungry people than making a profit. In the ’70s and ’80s, when downtown was a truly terrifying neighborhood, junkies used the restrooms (use your imagination).
And yet, Clifton’s remained open.
Following a change in ownership and a years-long restoration project, Clifton’s has been back open for business for a full year.
I notice when a building has true “old bones” and can usually tell when they’ve been faked. Renovation shows give me headaches. I’d seen pictures of the “old” Clifton’s – would the refreshed building live up to the hype?
In fact, it looks amazing.
(I should note that Clifton’s had several renovations prior to “the big one” – worst of all, in 1960, when the metal facade was installed, the woodwork was painted gray, and many 1930s elements were ripped out. Clifton’s isn’t a time capsule, but it looks and feels eclectically vintage.)
There are a few nods to modernity.
As far as modern technology goes, credit cards are accepted and there is a Coke Freestyle machine.
Most notably, there is a giant artificial (but realistic) redwood tree in the middle of the second-floor dining area, stretching three stories through an atrium that is not original to the building.
Inside the hollow of that huge tree is another surprise: a cozy fireplace with seating.
The food is pretty good, too (at least that’s been my experience).
And, as you can see, I had to get a souvenir mug (there are also souvenir bear mugs in black or brown, but I love the Maltese Falcon-esque look of this one). The mugs are specially made for Clifton’s by Tiki Farm.
The third floor is gorgeous. The building was originally a furniture store built in 1904, and on the third floor, it’s quite a bit more apparent than downstairs.
I feel like a little kid exploring Disneyland every time I come here. That feeling is priceless.
I loved my first visit so much I knew I’d be back for my birthday.
But that’s an entry for another time.
The long-awaited Pacific Seas tiki bar is slated to reopen soon. I’m looking forward to visiting (after the crowds die down, of course).