Clifton’s Cafeteria is back and in a big new way. It originally opened in 1931, by Clifford Clinton, as a chain of cafeteria’s that ensured no one went hungry regardless of ability to pay. For decades, Clifton’s fed Angelenos, among them Ray Bradbury when he was barely scraping by, Jack Kerouac when he was in town, and plenty of Hollywood luminaries who had the cash. Now, its sole remaining location has been saved and improved by Andrew Meirean, the creative force behind hotspots like The Edison. It’s got live music, private dining and event spaces, and multiple bars to satisfy virtually anyone.
It’s hard to describe Clifton’s and do it any kind of justice. The overall feel is otherworldly and utterly awesome, like stepping into a bygone era and you essentially get to pick your era.
A massive fiberglass redwood tree anchors the multi-story place, stretching up to the ceiling and paying homage to its original woodland theme. The first floor has a real waterfall slipping through the tables, just outside the cafeteria. Breakfast, lunch, or dinner: Clifton’s has your meals covered. Meirean even found the original tray designs and reproduced them. This level has a very 1950s feel to it.
Upstairs, the Brookdale Ballroom is light and airy, like you climbed the stairs into the early 20th century. Architectural details cover every inch, but they’re easy to miss when focused on the taxidermied lions, bears, and buffalo staring out at you from their dioramas. You can use your smartphone to learn important facts about nature and animal conservation, because at Clifton’s you get to feed your brain and belly. It’s got amazing views of downtown and is the perfect spot for brunch.
Scattered throughout the massive space are several bars: one offers craft beers and even classic soda drinks. The Gothic Bar contains a gorgeous altar salvaged from a church, which now holds up a meteorite and craft cocktails instead of communion. The drinks menu changes with some regularity, but if the Goldrush is available, order it! It’s a magical concoction of lemon juice, honey, and whiskey. The Map Room has a very 1940s-adventurer feel with huge murals of maps painted on the walls, or go to the Tiki bar just beside it. Feeling more 1920s? Go to the basement and enjoy a drink in Shadow Box, Clifton’s speakeasy.
All this and we haven’t even mentioned the food yet! It’s your traditional cafeteria grub: Pizza, mac n’ cheese, rotisserie meats at carving stations, salads, even fish and chips. Turkey and stuffing available everyday. Even the the Jell-O desserts have made the transition into today’s incarnation of the cafeteria. It’s all reasonably priced given the trendy place it’s become.
Clifton’s is the the place to bring out-of-town family and friends, suggest for a date, or hell, to find a date in a fantastically bonkers atmosphere.