Sunday, August 16, 2015

Finally, Clifton's Cafeteria is Set to Re-Open, With an Elaborate Makeover

Los Angeles magazine

We've been waiting for years... and years.. for the re-opening of downtown's iconic Clifton's Cafeteria. Opened in 1935 as Clifton's Brookdale, we visited the forest-themed eatery several times (read our 2006 account here) before new owner Andrew Meieran (who previously created downtown's famed Edison bar) shut it down for what was supposed to be a brief renovation in 2011.

Cut to nearly five years later, and rebuilding Clifton's has become a labor of love for Meieran, who has kept the fun and the kitsch but added so much more to the place. As downtown's Broadway continues its slow pace of revitalization, it sounds like Clifton's will be a true focal point and place of interest.

Los Angeles magazine's Lesley Bargar Suter has the first look at the completely renovated Clifton's. Highlights:
Former customers who visit the new Clifton’s will pass through the double glass doors to find a place both familiar and entirely different. There’s still a bakery—albeit with high-end coffee and house-baked breads—along with the cascading waterfall, the animatronic raccoon, and the original log pillars. Meieran also uncovered a series of small grottoes for kids that Don Clinton, Clifford’s 88-year-old son, vaguely remembers running through in the ’30s.

The cafeteria is inspired by the trend of European-style food halls. The tray line has been divided into a series of “action stations,” not unlike the cafĂ© portion at any Whole Foods, with a few fussed-up versions of Clifton’s classics thrown in.

“I promise you’ll like our mac and cheese even more than the stuff they were serving before,” says Meieran. He’s added a retail shop that focuses on California goods—dates, Ghirardelli chocolate, craft beer, and wine—and kept the faux-stone chapel.

As for the missing neon cross, rather than reading it as another sign of divine interest, Meieran insists that a painter broke it. “Everyone is going to think I took it down,” he says, bracing for the backlash.

His signature design move might be the “aha moment.” At the Edison it’s the grand two-story descent into a turn-of-the-century power plant, with its artful rust and plasma globes. At Clifton’s it’s what visitors encounter up the stairs from the restored ground floor: a 40-foot-tall artificial redwood tree that alludes to the redwoods Clifford Clinton put into the original space.

While the founder was inspired by the Santa Cruz Mountains, Meieran was moved by a part of the California wilderness farther north: Muir Woods, just over the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County. The faux tree is the centerpiece of an atrium overlooked by four levels of bar, restaurant, and event spaces.

Per the LA Times, Clifton's will soft open starting Sept. 17, with elements phased in over the following two months.

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