Clifton’s Cafeteria is (Almost) Open

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.

A version of this story first appeared on KCRW’s Design & Architecture blog.

The renovation exposed the original, 1935 facade of Clifton’s, covered up for many years.
The renovation exposed the original, 1935 facade of Clifton’s, covered up for many years.

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.

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

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

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.

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.

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

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.

“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.”

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.
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.

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