You’ll be Surprised by What Owner Andrew Meieran has to Say About His Stunning Eatery.
Written By: Christine Williamson Next-Level Dining With Andrew Meieran at Clifton’s Cafeteria
Photographed By: Shane Radacosky
If you’re native to Los Angeles, you’re lucky. You grew up in one of the most culturally diverse cities in America and you were raised with a palate that’s had the opportunity to savor everything from sticky Korean chicken wings, superior seafood and indisputably the best tacos north of the border.
If you’re new to Los Angeles, you’re also fortunate. Our city’s food scene has swelled in the past five years, giving rise to more chef-driven restaurants than ever. Food trucks have taken a back seat to beautiful brick and mortars, where atmosphere is just as important as what is on the plate.
This expert knows what Los Angeles is all about—unique cuisine, changing tastes, fresh ingredients and a creative look on what it means to bring people together over a good meal.
Expert: Andrew Meieran; Owner of Clifton’s Cafeteria
Party of Five: Clifton’s now has five distinctly styled levels and bars.
Tree Time: Clifton’s original name was Clifton’s Brookdale. The original owner, Clifford Clinton, had grown up in the Bay Area and he was very close to a place called the Brookdale Lodge, that had real trees growing through it. This inspired the restaurant’s forested interior.
After nearly four years of renovations, local visionary and developer, Andrew Meieran, has brought a piece of history back to life. This magical space is 109 years old and is located in Downtown LA’s Historic District on Broadway, just off the corner of 7th Street. Several generations have descended upon Clifton’s Cafeteria since 1931, giving locals a strong sense of connection to the past, as many recall dining in the classic cafeteria with their families as children. Today Clifton’s is a preservation effort as well as a nod to the future with an all-new top floor fine dining experience as well as five fanciful cocktail bars to explore. Come thirsty. Come hungry—and save room for the classic jello dessert! With ample seating and dozens of nooks and crannies to discover, Clifton’s is once again ready to take on the masses. We sat down with Andrew to talk about this major addition to LA’s landscape.
Q: Tell us, how has this colossal and historic grand re-opening been for you and your team?
Andrew Meieran: Extraordinary. It’s been beyond our wildest expectations in terms of overall reaction and the number of people coming through the doors. We had 5, 000 people come through on the first day, and we have been averaging between 3, 000-4, 000 guests through our doors each day.
Q: Record-wise, is Clifton’s still considered the largest cafeteria in the world?
Q: Although many dining options have remained the same, what differences may someone see, or taste, if they dined here in 2016 versus 50 years ago?
AM: It’s definitely changed over the years. Originally, cafeteria food was made with the finest ingredients, because the way it was presented back then was as a labor-saving method, so they didn’t have servers, and they didn’t have the front-of-house staff that is usually associated with a restaurant. So they spend the money on the ingredients and the quality of the food, and it had to look good as well, because people could see it right away and it wasn’t like ordering off a menu. Original cafeterias started off with high-quality food, but things started to change in the 50’s and 60’s when everything became institutionalized, it became more about volume, which turned the cafeteria industry in a completely different direction. However, back then, it was also seen as modern when ingredients were pre-packaged and mass produced, and then by the time we got to the ’80s and ’90s, everything here [at Clifton’s] was pre-made and frozen, with the exception of pies and some baked goods. Now we are proud to say that we’re going back to the original style of cafeteria, with the highest quality ingredients, everything made in house, and as organic and locally sourced as possible.
Q: Clifton’s now contains five levels and five bars. Walk us through each one.
AM: The first is the Monarch Bar, which is a California-centric concept, where we focus on California craft beers and spirits. The second is the Gothic Bar, which is a little bit more of a heightened experience—more whiskey and Bourbon based. The third is a tiki bar, a true classic tiki bar from the 1930s, so it’s actually more Polynesian, much different than your usual 1950s tiki bar. I’d say it’s hands-down the most unique tiki bar in the world.
The fourth bar is also on the same level, and it will be the Treetops bar, that will be a high-end cocktail lounge, adjacent to the Treetops restaurant, which will be a fine dining concept. And then we go to the basement. In the basement is Shadowbox. Shadowbox is the most revolutionary cocktail experience that exists on the planet. It’s all about the experience: everything from the presentation to how you enter the space. Shadowbox is open to the public, but you must make a reservation and it’s all about exploration.
Q: Clifton’s was awarded best desserts in LA in the past, what are you doing dessert-wise to keep that title?
AM: Clifton’s has always had fantastic desserts, and we are taking the originals and expanding on them. Our Executive Chef Michael Luna is fantastic—truly brilliant and creative.
Q: In 1946, the original founder, Clifford and his wife sold the cafeteria to their children, retired and devoted their lives to charity in the wake of World War II. They distributed food to millions of people in need. What charitable contributions can we see coming from Clifton’s Cafeteria in the future?
AM: We’re very community focused and dedicated to a couple specific programs. There are two sides to that: one is bringing in a lot of people from the community, working with people from The Midnight Mission and Chrysalis, who have food service training programs and take people who were homeless and reintegrate them into the workforce. We operate as a business that is a safe haven for people who need a second chance. In addition to those programs, we work very closely with the LA Conservancy in terms of historic preservation, as well as the Natural History Museum.
Q: What kind of entertainment can guests expect to see at Clifton’s?
AM: There’s everything. It’s probably the most unique performance space that I know of. The large tree was actually built to hold performers, who can climb up inside of the tree, and then come out onto an aerial rail rig, so they can actually dance with the tree. There’s also multiple platforms and stages for live music, along with RGB lighting to transform the space as well.
Q: Is Clifton’s open 365 days a year?
AM: Yes, and we celebrate every holiday in a big way. The biggest days of the year here, customarily, are always Thanksgiving, Christmas and Mother’s Day.
Q: You’re going down the cafeteria line, what do you put on your tray?
AM: Everything! I love the carving station. We’re researching all of the past menus and trying to bring back as many classic items as possible.
Q: What’s Clifton’s mission statement?
AM: Clifton’s is really a celebration of California—our legacy and cultural diversity. When locals come to explore Shadowbox and The Map Room they will definitely have a leg up on some of the surprises during their experience.
648 S Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90014
A Californian girl, Christine spends time vacillating between the deserts in Palm Springs, the city of Los Angeles and the beaches of the OC. Christine is the founder of Spring Social, which focuses on social media and marketing for restaurants. www.Spring-Social.com