While in Los Angeles we are often dismayed when historic buildings are gutted or torn down to make way for the new and modern, there are some exceptions that stand out, that are somehow saved from the wrecking ball. Clifton’s cafeteria is one of those landmarks. While not an exact replica of the original Clifton’s that opened in 1935, it is in the woodland spirit of the original that still evokes fond memories for original diners, while new enhancements will no doubt appeal to those wishing an eclectic after-hours flair among Downtown Los Angeles landmarks.
Upon approaching the building, you get a feel for its 1935 origins. During construction, parts of the original facade that had been buried under siding were revealed and freshened to once again greet hungry diners. The dates mentioned are very confusing. The neon sign outside says 1932, however this location wasn’t opened until 1935 (I’ve reached out to them to get the scoop on this and will update if I get clarification.) The dining trays say 1931, hearkening back to the origins of the Clifton’s chain of restaurants.
The lovely terrazzo inlays highlighting features of Los Angeles are still there. Upon entering, you are amazed by the whimsical detail within.
After having underwent an extensive multi-year renovation, Clifton’s still serves affordable meals in the cafeteria (though the evening I went there was no colorful Jell-o to be found.) With many choices to chose from, from carving stations to pizza, the cafeteria serves basic, hearty food. Eventually the building will house two restaurants and five bars, each with its own theme.
Looking around to try and find a seat while walking with your dining tray is an adventure. Where do you sit? Do you sit in that little alcove over there, dine under a tree over here, or on a terrace way yonder? Even if the restaurant were empty you’d want to wander just to find the right spot to savor your meal.
After you have had your fill, you can’t resist meandering around to see what could be viewed. With woodland murals, dioramas, antiques, taxidermy wildlife, a meteorite, dinosaur eggs, and neon, including a neon sign that has supposedly been continuously lit for over 70 years, it is a feast for the eyes. I will definitely need to come back when all of the bars and restaurants have been completely opened and update you.
Horns, heh, heh!
While we had our son with us, so didn’t feel we could enjoy a cocktail at the bar, I look forward to exploring the various ones to come. From beer to classic cocktails to tiki concoctions, I understand the bars will be an adventure and of themselves when all are opened. You could eventually do a pub crawl within the lone building itself.
Clifton’s is a fun venture among L.A. restaurants and is a colorful highlight to any visit to historic downtown.
648 S. Broadway
Los Angeles, CA