Clifton’s Cafeteria Opening, Sort of, Almost

For the past four years, developer/restaurateur/filmmaker Andrew Meieran has been fielding two questions more than any others. When will Clifton’s reopen? And will there still be Jell-O?

Well, answers to both have finally arrived. Er, sort of.

This past Tuesday was supposed to be the grand public opening but it has been delayed a few days, reportedly due to Meieran’s “perfectionism.” But while you wait to get inside, here’s an advance look.

Clifton's Cafeteria, photo by Gideon Brower
The renovation exposed the original, 1935 facade of Clifton’s, covered up for many years.

Longtime patrons will find many of their treasured traditional entrees and desserts — but gussied up in ways that some may find surprising.

Yes, there is Jell-O
Clifton’s desserts. Yes, friends, there is Jell-O.

Clifton’s upscale new Jell-O dessert is an awkward but nonetheless apt metaphor for the building’s spectacular new interior.

Executive pastry chef Michael Luna
Executive pastry chef Michael Luna found a way to “elevate” modest staples like pudding and Jell-O into artisanal desserts using ingredients like honeyed strawberries and Greek yogurt pastry cream.

It takes a beloved key ingredient – the theatrical woodland-themed ground floor — and surrounds it with elements that make it fresh, contemporary, and no doubt significantly more expensive.

Director of Spirits Damian Windsor
Director of Spirits Damian Windsor is in charge of alcohol and quite possibly, ghosts.

Meieran has vastly expanded and updated Clifton’s fanciful interiors, as with a new 3-story open space dominated by an artificial redwood tree designed to accommodate both a fireplace and occasional performances by aerialists.

Stuffed deer at Cliftons
Taxidermied animals on the mezzanine level. The restaurant seems to have been invaded by a natural history museum.

The restaurant is opening even as the epic renovation continues. Meieran’s long-term plan is to serve up to 2,000 people on five floors of bars, restaurants and public areas.

Collard greens_Mac n cheese
Mashed potatoes, stuffing and collard greens are available. And of course there is Mac and cheese.

One of the themed spaces still to come: a tiki bar that incorporates décor items from the late, lamented Bahooka Family restaurant in Rosemead.

Chris Nichols enjoys butterscotch budino served in chocolate cup with edible spoon
Los Angeles Magazine columnist Chris Nichols enjoys a butterscotch budino served in an edible chocolate cup. The accompanying edible spoon may need some engineering refinements. It broke into several pieces.

As dramatic as all the changes are, Los Angeles magazine columnist Chris Nichols says they’re in keeping with Clifton’s long history of finding new and surprising ways to keep people coming in.

musician at Cliftons preview
A jazz band provided the soundtrack for the press preview.

“There were musicians here at one point,” says Nichols. “There was a woman who took your picture. There was a matchmaker service here. There were all kinds of weird things that Clifton’s did to evolve over the years. And this is just another step in the evolution.”

L.A.'s Mayor of Instagram in action
L.A.’s “Mayor of Instagram” springs into action at the press preview/ribbon cutting; he snaps nonagenarian actress June Lockhart.

Amidst all the hoopla surrounding the opening of Clifton’s, a next door business was also celebrating its opening, in a more modest fashion. But Twin’s Market is actually open, while we are still waiting for Cliftons.

The other grand opening
A second, adjacent grand opening was cruelly overlooked by the crowds lining up for Clifton’s.

All photographs by Gideon Brower. You can listen to his report from Clifton’s, below. For updates from the restaurant, click here.