I last ate at Clifton's Cafeteria in Downtown Los Angeles when I was a teen in the 1970s. The place is frozen in time. Nothing has changed. I took my wife, son, and new daughter-in-law Leslie out for dinner there as nod to L.A, history. It was an interesting experience. Downtown L.A. is a forbidding place for visitors from orderly Orange County suburbs. The chaos of traffic, people, and odd looking street people is enough to drive anyone to distraction. I felt safe enough, the area is well policed, but I also felt like I was visiting somebody else's city. We were neither homeless, nor part of the predominantly Hispanic local workforce, so we stood. No big deal though, locals were friendly.
I ordered the turkey dinner plate. I had the same meal with my grandparents. The food was just ok, I would call it a ok meal at a reasonable price. On the upside, they have a wide variety of desserts. The custard was good.
The restaurant is an amazing piece of American kitsch. It felt a little like a mixture of Knott’s Berry Farm, Disneyland, and a visit the the California redwoods. I had to keep reminding myself that this place has been around since the 1930s and predates the amusement parks it reminds me of.
The cashier experience is worth the visit along. We had barely put our trays down when the cashier belted out our total. Her practiced finger and eyes moving our our trays faster than an electronic scanner. It brought back memories from the 60s when grocery cashiers had the same skills.
We sat downstairs in the common seating area. Solitary dinner sat at table on the upper floors. A table of old men sat near the cashier. They looked to be in their 70s. All were friends and joyless shared their meal together. I sat with my back to a redwood tree’s cross section that marked significant events in human history going back hundreds of years. I felt safer with something at by back so that I could watch the room. However, it was unnecessary. Besides the old men, only older men and a few families occupied the room.
On our way out of the city we passed a well lit classic restaurant with live music and an upscale clientele. We all laughed as we realized we could have ate there instead. I was reminded of why we visited Clifton’s then. L.A. eats its own history every year. Restaurants come and go. Clifton’s served the greater good during the depression and for years afterwards. I viewed our visit as a necessary step in teaching my son our cultural heritage… before it is gone.