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'I've always seen Clifton's as its own little natural history museum,' says owner

By Hayley Fox
Published: Tuesday, October 16, 2012, at 10:59AM
Hayley Fox

The first phase of the renovated Clifton's is scheduled to open in five to six months.

As crews peel back layers of Downtown’s historic Clifton’s cafeteria during the 50,000-sqaure-foot building's retrofit and renovation, owner Andrew Meieran says the space is a gold mine of treasures.

"The wonderful things about Clifton's is that it has the most incredible history and there's artifacts from every era of its history," said Meieran.

In addition to the world's oldest neon discovered in one of the walls, crews have found old playbills from the Orpheum, advertisements for cabarets, medicine bottles, candy wrappers and silverware -- all from the building's many reincarnations over the past seven decades.

"I've always seen Clifton's as its own little natural history museum," said Meieran, and he plans on highlighting these items in an actual museum that's being built inside the renovated space. This "history room" will join the seven bars and restaurants slated for the multi-level Broadway building.

“The space is going to be very, very modular and flexible,” said Meieran, and will include everything from a soda shoppe to a tiki bar. All the locations will be loosely tied together by Clifton's theme which Meieran describes as, “where science meets nature.”

“The idea is to go and not have it be themey but …its going to be stylistically interesting and unique.”

Meieran, who also designed and owns the Edison, said crews are knee-deep in construction at Clifton's, updating the building to current code and opening up a few of the floors to create an internal atrium space. The new space is scheduled to open in phases; phase one will open in about five months and include a 24-hour-cafeteria and a basement bar. The other floors will follow, opening in three month intervals with the top-floor tiki bar slated to open last.

Some nights, select portions of Clifton's will stay open until 4 a.m. (although no alcohol after 2 a.m.), and the bars will all have “different levels of sophistication and exclusivity,” said Meieran. They'll range from a casual hang-out space with a jukebox to something more on par with the Edison and its curated cocktails and dress code. To staff this massive space, Meieran is planning on hiring at least 100 people.

Clifton's has been through multiple reincarnations since its creation in 1935; so everyone has their own idea of what Clifton's is and should be, said Meieran.

"It's a huge responsibility and I was a bit apprehensive going into it because everybody has taken almost an ownership of Clifton's," said Meieran of the beloved DTLA spot that's on its way to becoming a historic landmark.

So he decided to go straight to the source, and has been using Clifford Clinton's journals and original designs for the restaurant as his inspiration.

"In terms of doing that I believe I'm keeping the heart and spirit of Clifton's, as well as the historic fabric that was intact, and I'm adding and building within the spirit of the original Clifton's."

Meieran's decided to maintain the building's pre-1949 look, which means reconstructing a water wheel and keeping the cafeteria -- but getting rid of items including a plastic deer that was added to the building's exterior in the 1980s. One of the biggest discoveries Meieran made when reviewing original concept drawings for the space came as a surprise to even the Clinton family.

"There right smack in the middle of the thing is a bar," said Meieran. "He at one point, contrary to any possible belief otherwise that he was completely opposed to having a bar in the space, all of the original designs -- the three that I've seen -- all included a bar."

Meieran plans on constructing one of his bars in the same location that Clinton originally imagined.

Clifton's is located at 648 S. Broadway

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