Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Cliftons Cafeteria!

I'd heard of Clifton's,  but never got a chance to eat there until recently..  It's a  cafeteria.  Not the catered- food- courty cafeterias you'd find at the airport or on college campuses.  It's the fiberglass pastel tray kind.   The cups of tapioca pudding kind.   Cubes of red jello..  Meat 'n' starch.   Mac 'n' cheese.  No brand name bags of chips or cookies or pretzels here.  It's the kind of cafeteria I remember when I was little.  By my teens, they'd vanished.
Clifton's (actually Clifton's Brookdale) survived.   It's very much like an old cafeteria, with some exceptions, including
  • has a rocky stream running through it, which is
  • Tinted with colored lights and
  • Fed by a waterfall which is
  • Surrounded by fake pine trees and bushes and ferns, where
  • A moose, an animatronic raccoon, a fishing bear and other wildlife frolic..
That's right, it's a cafeteria in the woods.
To reinforce the theme, back lit photos of coniferous forests adorn the walls, as do  antique saws and knotty trunk cross sections.  A two story mural of a forest covers one wall..   I always knew the place had a rep for being a  loony with the decor, but was still floored.   This place made a casino look like a waiting room at the dentist.   It made a Thomas Kinkade painting look like a memo pad.  It made a screensaver look like a test pattern!.

So kitschy! So Tacky! I loved it!
 It's been around since the 1930s.  At one time it even sported an organ player and live canaries for ambiance.   I'm rather surprised it lasted.  So many cool and unique places have been demolished in Los Angeles. .   More cynical owners might have thought This place is too passe for [insert decade here] and stripped away the fun.   
The third story of the cafeteria sports Victorian decor.   It's not as crowded as the woods.
Notice the diners at the end, viewing traffic on Broadway below.  Decades ago you went to this part of town when you wanted to go shopping or watch a movie.   I bet people had fun watching the streetcars (when we had them) and the lights of the movie marquees.
Sadly, my camera was being cranky so some pictures didn't make it.  I can't show you the spread of food.  Nor can I show you the mini chapel-grotto-cave (and what was inside!)  I can't show you the waterfall.
Sounds like a good excuse for me to return.


stray said...

What fun!

Namowal said...

Hi Stray,
Between cafeteria nostalgia and dang, this place is goofy! it made my day.

Sally said...

I have some wonderful postcards- some are black and white photos- of the Hawaiian themed Clifton's. I got on an old cafeteria obsession for a while.

Namowal said...

Hi Sally,
I've heard of the Hawaiian version. It was called "Clifton's Pacific Seas" or something like that. It was torn down in the early sixties. Judging from the old photos I've seen, it looks even cooler (and crazier) than the one that's still around!

booda baby said...

Fabulous times .... times FIVE! Where is it? What did you order? And, out of what you ordered, what did you actually eat?

(Was this part of the Disney tour of LA?) For whatever reason you went, I'm really grateful that you shared it.

Namowal said...

Hi Boodababy,
Yes, this was part of the downtown "Disneyland" tour, and probably won the prize for being the most "Disneylandish" place (even though it predates Disneyland by 20 years).
I got an enchilada and Spanish rice, and a cup of red jello cubes.
Clifton's is near the intersection of Broadway and Seventh.
The food is similar to what you'd find in a cafeteria back in the day, but salsa and jalapenos are now available to spice things up.
Here's the map. (Marker "A".)

booda baby said...

You scored on the terrific tours, didn't you? Downtown LA is a gold mine of history preserved and, while only a few want to take on these projects, I've yet to meet anyone who doesn't get a little creative sizzle just seeing them.

Linda said...

I love this place too, I can tell, and yes you will have to go back with your camera! Did you really get a cup of red jello cubes?

Namowal said...

Hi Linda,
You'd better believe I got my cup of red Jello cubes! I'm not much of a Jello person, especially the kind with sugar, but I couldn't resist.
After all, I was in a cafeteria time warp!
Actually I'm surprised the business doesn't capitalize on the fame and kitsch factor and sell T-shirts, snow-globes or other goofiness.
Then again, perhaps the lack of the "let's rook these dumb tourists for all they've got" attitude is what's kept them afloat all these years.