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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California
Southern California

Iconic Eatery Returns To Downtown L.A.

Iconic Los Angeles landmark Clifton's Cafeteria will reopen Tuesday after undergoing renovations. 

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti addresses a crowd in front of Clifton's Cafeteria Thursday (David Merrell)
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti addresses a crowd in front of Clifton's Cafeteria Thursday (David Merrell)

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A large crowd huddled together on a cramped sidewalk to be among the first to see inside a newly revamped Los Angeles icon. After being closed for renovations for three years, many were eager to see what had become of Clifton’s Cafeteria on South Broadway. A select few got their chance after Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti concluded the ribbon-cutting ceremony.


A longtime landmark in Downtown L.A., Clifton’s was the setting for many scenes in film and literature, including the classic noir, D.O.A. But the history of Clifton’s is a thrilling tale in itself.


According to Stephen Parmelee, Associate Professor of English and Film Studies at Pepperdine University, Clifton’s founder Clifford Clinton “was involved in trying to uncover civic corruption at city hall in the 1930s.”

Parmalee claims at least two novels, Paul Cain’s Fast One and Raymond Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely, were inspired by Clinton’s tale.


Clifton’s certainly gives off a film noir vibe. The interior design stays true to that of its golden era, with stuffed wildlife peering down from above onto the dance floor, alongside a tiered stage rocking with big band jazz.


The centerpiece of the building is a giant hollowed redwood tree, surrounded by comfortable chairs and fireplaces.

A jazz band plays inside the newly renovated Cafeteria (David Merrell)
A jazz band plays inside the newly renovated Cafeteria (David Merrell)


While much of the concentration is on the storied history of the cafeteria, Mayor Garcetti pointed out “we are not just here to mark history, we are here to make it.”


Garcetti went on to commend new owner Andrew Meieran on following through with difficult renovations, and for contributing to the revitalization of a key district of Downtown.


The mayor’s speech was punctuated at times by a lone dissenting voice from beyond the barrier – that of Roger Wilkerson. Wilkerson, an L.A. resident originally from North Carolina, is familiar with Clifton’s. “They used to beat up blacks in Clifton’s,” he says, “I was shocked when I walked by and saw blacks working here.”


But Wilkerson sees that as hope for the future, saying, “that's the first time they’ve been on the right track.”


The new Clifton’s will open to the public on Tuesday, September 22nd, at 11:00a.m. And if you go hoping to taste their famous jell-o, you’re in luck. According to Meieran, that’s the dish he was most asked about during the renovations process, and one he does plan on serving.

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