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Clifton's unveiled: Forest-themed cafeteria to become tiki bar, speakeasy and bakery

By Hayley Fox
Published: Wednesday, February 08, 2012, at 03:53PM
Hayley Fox

The original face and sign of Clifton's Cafeteria on Broadway.

Clifton's Cafeteria, the aged forest oasis in the midst of Broadway bustle, showed its true face today as the building's original facade was unveiled in front of a crowd of press, preservationists and curious onlookers.

Metal gates had been installed on the front of the building in the 1960s to "modernize" the restaurant at the time and they were recently removed as a large first step in the building's restoration process. Clifton's was covered with a large tarp that was dramatically hoisted upwards, off the face of the building as everyone watched from across the street.

What was revealed was a blast from the past; peeling paint, exposed brick and the weathered letters of the original "Clinton's Cafeteria" sign.

Clifton's new owner Andrew Meieran said his vision for Clifton's is an attempt to bring back the spirit of Broadway; "the adventure, exploration and imagination" of its past, he said. This process delves deeper than opening new business or renovating old buildings - it's about resurrecting the area's "golden era" when 7th and Broadway, where Clifton's is located, was one of the busiest intersections in Downtown.

"As such, the reveal of the original facade envisioned by Clifford Clinton is an important symbolic beginning to truly bringing back the Broadway of invention, hope and wonder," Meieran said.

Meieran, of the Edison, said he's sticking to the tradition of the cafeteria's original owners by making the new Clifton's a family affair (evidenced by his two young daughters clinging to his legs during his speech.) Clifton's was family-owned and run since 1935 and is the last original Clifton's in the restaurant chain. The business model used to be "pay what you can," a heartfelt effort to help get families through the Great Depression while transporting them to a fantastic, imaginative place.

Meieran seems to be taking this sense of creativity to heart in his plans for the future Clifton's. The renovated 47,000-square-foot building will include seven bars, a full-service restaurant, the original cafeteria set-up (with an updated menu) and full-service commercial bakery. The cafeteria will be open during days and evenings, and the upstairs bars and sit-down restaurants will be open during later hours to attract a nightlife crowd. There will be a speakeasy downstairs where the bathrooms are now and a tiki bar upstairs inspired by another Clifton's branch dubbed the Pacific Seas.

As of now, the cafeteria's interior looks comfortingly similar to the olden days; there's still deer perched on stairwells, flowers sprouting from the wall, quaint waterfalls and an overall dim, pinkish hue to the lighting in the dining room. The large, welcoming bear that stood in the foyer is gone - but not for good. Many of the woodsy decorations that dotted the floor have been put into storage temporarily but I was assured they'd return with the redecorating.

Councilman José Huizar credited Meieran for being one of the first entrepreneurs to commit to substantial improvements on Broadway and contribute to the momentum of the "Bringing Back Broadway" initiative as a whole. Besides the Clifton's overhaul, recent plans have been released for an Ace Hotel, Ross Dress for Less and Tarina Tarantino jeweler that will be coming to Broadway as well.

The entire Clifton's building, except for the sit-down restaurant, is expected to be up-and-running over next 18 months. The bars, lounges and restaurants will open in phases, with the cafeteria being the first to open. Soon after will come the downstairs bar and eventually the rest of the five-story historic building.

Meieran said they also expect to create over 100 new jobs, some of which will be filled through a job training program ran in conjunction with the Midnight Mission.

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