The Famous Clifton Cafeteria History

Behold the Original Clifton’s Facade For First Time Since 1950s

By Adrian Glick Kudler

Pre-reveal pic via @viewfromaloft

The original facade of the Clifton’s Brookdale Cafeteria on Broadway was unshackled today after more than 50 years spent behind metal grates. Warning: she’s looking a little rough (KCET Food was livetweeting the unveiling and noted “Definitely NOT refurbished, as some thought yesterday”). Andrew Meieran of The Edison is giving the joint a post-gentrification rehab, adding an organic salad bar and a “mixology-oriented tiki bar,” according to Eater LA.

Clifford Clinton bought the lease at the Brookdale Caf in 1935 (it was originally a Boos Brothers Cafeteria) and its interiors were inspired by the area around the Brookdale Lodge in the Santa Cruz Mountains, according to the Clifton’s website. Esotouric has photos of workers doing their thing up on the facade last night and reports from today’s event that the terrazzo out front will be restored.

The Clifton’s revival is just one of the latest wins for Broadway, which is also getting an Ace Hotel, a Ross Dress for Less, and, one day, a streetcar.

Clifton’s downtown. Los Angeles 2017

The Clinton family’s five generations[13] as California restaurateurs began when David Harrison Clinton came to Los Angeles from Missouri in 1888 and purchased the Southern Hotel and its dining room in downtown Los Angeles. David’s son Edmond settled in San Francisco, where he and his wife Gertrude became co-owners of a group of cafeteria-style restaurants named Dennets.

Clifford, one of Edmond’s five children, learned the restaurant trade while working in his father’s restaurants. Along with two partners, he bought his father’s interest in Dennets. Due to differences in opinion over business practices, he relinquished ownership to his partners and moved to Los Angeles in 1931.

Establishing his restaurants during the height of the Great Depression,[3] and using knowledge gained from working in his family’s cafeteria chain in San Francisco,[14] Clinton made a point to never turn anyone away, even if they had no money, seeking to average only a half-cent profit per customer.[15] During one 90-day period, 10,000 people ate free[15]before he was able to open an emergency “Penny Caveteria” in a basement (hence the modified name)[16] a few blocks away to feed 2 million patrons during the next two years.Wikipedia

Clifton makeover

First Look Inside the Huge Makeover at Downtown’s Weird and Wonderful Clifton’s Cafeteria

By Adrian Glick Kudler

Photos by Wonho Frank Lee

Nearly four years ago, the Clifton’s Brookdale Cafeteria closed for a huge renovation that will make it into a hipster hotspot with multiple bars and restaurants tucked into its strange and whimsical space, which originally opened in 1935. There have been a few intriguing reveals since—metal grating was taken down to reveal the building’s brick facade for the first time since the 1950s and its neon sign was relit for the first time in decades—but otherwise the rehab has dragged on and on with no opening in sight.

But it’s finally here: in maybe about six weeks or so for the first restaurant (the cafeteria). Meanwhile, Meieran has begin letting in press and photographers to check out the space, which is as weird as it ever was.

Andrew Meieran, who created the Edison bulb boom with his The Edison club, bought Clifton’s in 2010 from the family that had owned it for more than 70 years, and began “by far the biggest undertaking the building has experienced since it was founded” in 1935, according to the Downtown News.

Back then, it was meant to be a fantastic distraction from the Depression, with a wooded wonderland inside with real trees and a running stream. The decor and their age made this an incredibly tough project; Meieran says “If I literally picked the most difficult project and populated it with the most difficult features, it would be Clifton’s.”

Meieran has kept many original features of the 50,000-square-foot cafeteria, but has also added a three-level atrium (made out of old storage rooms), now pierced with that replica redwood tree you see in the photos.

The new Clifton’s will house an old-timey cafeteria, a bar and soda fountain, a ballroom for private events and Sunday brunch, a Gothic Bar, a fourth-floor Art Deco bar and lounge, a tiki bar, a steakhouse, and a basement bar decorated with fossilized brontosaurus eggs. Damn. Eater LA has more on all the chefs and mixologists involved. The first openings should begin fall…..

2 thoughts on “The Famous Clifton Cafeteria History

  1. This reminds me of the Horn And Hardart cafeterias in New York City and elsewhere. I’m pretty sure that all of them are gone. I miss them.

  2. Hi Neil, I am not aware of Horn And Hardart at all. There are many great ideas that are emerging to keep these social, structural histories of cafeterias alive. Museums are the transformations. Your visits and support are truly appreciated Neil. Happy Wednesday! 🍮🍮☀️

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