The newly renovated Clifton’s is an essential Los Angeles attraction. The renovation is exactly what everybody hoped: the grime abolished, the depressing Sixties encrustations peeled away, but the taxidermy dioramas and fake rocks and trees have been preserved. Not only preserved, but—if anything—framed and set off so that they look weirder and more inexplicable than ever.
And the new additions are admirable and welcome. In the back, the floors have been cut through creating a jaw-dropping atrium, complete with a towering new fake redwood. The second floor is the rustic mellow bar, and the third floor is the happening Gothic bar with a live DJ. In between are dinning rooms and spaces that feel like 19th century hotel lobbies. The place is so vast that even though there were lots of people there, it didn’t seem crowded. There’s always a place to escape to.
In short: the Bullocks Wilshire tea room, plus the Natural History Museum, plus a giant gay disco.
The new Clifton’s is a bar—very definitely a bar—and only secondarily a cafeteria. The food is better, but it’s not that much better. Considering all the thought and creativity that went into reviving the décor, the food is still sadly authentic.
The layout of the cafeteria, however, has been modified for the worse: multiple stations and multiple lines and multiple starting and end points. It’s chaos. Perhaps it’s just a matter of working out the kinks; perhaps all that’s needed is better signage and visual cues. But for the time being I will have to dust off my We’re Not Here For the Food speech.