Back in Time: Clifton’s Cafeteria, Los Angeles

Back in Time: Clifton’s Cafeteria, Los Angeles

img_0567

Looking down from Clifton’s third floor

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?

Yes.

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.

Proof you have not, in fact, gone to 1935 in a time warp

Proof you have not, in fact, gone to 1935 in a time warp

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.

It's way too big to fit into one picture, so I hope this gives my dear readers a good idea of what it looks like.

It’s way too big to fit into one picture, so I hope this gives my dear readers a good idea of what it looks like.

Inside the hollow of that huge tree is another surprise: a cozy fireplace with seating.

It looks even better lit up later in the day.

It looks even better lit up later in the day.

The food is pretty good, too (at least that’s been my experience).

The vegan meatloaf is hands-down one of the best things I've ever eaten anywhere. Bring your plant-eating friends.

The vegan meatloaf is hands-down one of the best things I’ve ever eaten anywhere. Bring your plant-eating friends.

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.

It feels more like a mansion's ballroom than a cafeteria dining area.

It feels more like a mansion’s ballroom than a cafeteria dining area.

I feel like a little kid exploring Disneyland every time I come here. That feeling is priceless.

Hi-ho, hi-ho, it's off to lunch we go...

Hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to lunch we go…

I loved my first visit so much I knew I’d be back for my birthday.

But that’s an entry for another time.

Note to self: my future dining room needs a water feature.

Note to self: my future dining room needs a water feature.

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).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *