Eighty years ago, downtown Los Angeles was a thriving centre of business and entertainment. It was in this environment that Clifford Clinton opened an epic forest-themed cafeteria called 'Clifton's' (a combination of his first and last name).
In the 1940s Clifton's served as many as 10,000 customers a day, including free meals for those who couldn't afford to pay. The decor helped inspire one visitor named Walt Disney in his plans for a new theme park, to be called Disneyland (wonder how that went...?)
Following World War II the downtown area began a long and slow decline, and by the 1980s crime and homelessness were rampant. Clifton's remained open, the world's largest public cafeteria. In 2010 a local entrepeneur purchased it from the Clinton family and closed it for renovations. Five years and many millions of dollars later Cliftonís Cafeteria reopened to the public, in a downtown that is booming once again.
It is four floors of total kitsch - murals, strange artifacts and curios, stuffed animals, fossilised dinosaur eggs, a waterfall even! - and bars with different themes. In the centre of the first floor, a fake forty-foot redwood tree rises to the ceiling.
During the renovation a neon sign was discovered, behind a wall, that had never been disconnected - apparently it has been running continuously for the last eighty years!
It is Halloween time so pumpkins are making their annual apperance...
On the ground floor, the cafeteria offers retro comfort foods such as roast turkey, meat loaf and macaroni and cheese.
And 'Jello Molds' - all the rage back in the day.
On an upper floor, concealed behind a mirror, is the entrance to a secret tiki bar called Pacific Seas. This token grants access.
Clifton's helped launch the original tiki craze, which began in Los Angeles in the 1930s after Prohibition. Polynesian-themed bars such as Clifton's Pacific Seas, Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic's provided an escapist fantasy during the Depression years. From Los Angeles, tiki mania spread across the US and then to the rest of the world. Popularity peaked in the post-war years and had faded by the 1970s, but recently a hipster-led revival has put tiki culture firmly back in vogue!
Inna and Alyssa are our servers tonight.
The drinks menu features tiki classics: rum and fruit juice-based cocktails with names like the Zombie and the Painkiller.
Be warned that these tasty tiki drinks can have quite a kick. The remainder of the night is a bit blurry...
Photos by Shirley Tu