A History Of Echo Park's Iconic Taix Restaurant On Its 90th Anniversary
In 1882, a French-immigrant baker named Marcus Taix opened his Taix French Bread Bakery on Commercial Street in downtown Los Angeles.
But first, let's backtrack: During the second half of the 19th century and into the 20th, what is now Chinatown was once a thriving area for French expats. In 1832, Jean-Louis Vignes bought a section of land next to L.A.'s original pueblo, developed the area's first winery, and achieved enough success to attract an entire French community. For the rest of the 19th century, the French community settled in the area between what is now the 110 freeway and the L.A. river. The community built a hospital (what is now the Pacific Alliance Medical Center was once the French Hospital, built to service the French immigrants who were part of the French Society's pre-paid health plan), restaurants, and a number of basque boardinghouses around the Alameda / Aliso intersection. The area also attracted the original Mr. Taix and his bakery.
Thirty years later, after he opened his bakery, Taix built the Champs D'Or hotel in its place. And in 1927, Marius Taix's son Marius Jr. opened Taix French Country Cuisine restaurant within the hotel.
In the 1930s, it sold "a full table d'hote meal of soup, salad, main course and fruit, with plenty of French bread" for 50 cents, according to the New York Times. The restaurant served meals at family-style tables, unless you wanted to pay an extra 25 cents for a private booth. In 1962, the restaurant opened the Sunset Boulevard location, and by 1964, the original location was razed to make way for an office building. The Echo Park location originally went by the name "Les Freres Taix"—that's the Taix Brothers for non-francophiles—but it adopted the original location's name after it closed.
The restaurant hardly changed when it moved from downtown to Echo Park; the communal tables did disappear, though, making way for private booth and table seating only. In the 1970s, perhaps in an attempt to gain new relevance, the restaurant dabbled with a "continental-theme menu." When current owner Mike Taix joined the management and took over ownership, he brought back the restaurant's country French origins. The menu of hearty French classics like french onion soup and duck a l'orange returned, accompanied by a massive wine list. Throughout the changes, people's inability to pronounce the restaurant's name remained consistent. Mike Taix told L.A. Weekly how the pronunciation remains a mystery for most patrons.
"Tays is probably the most common, with tay-ks and tex," he told the Weekly.
(The correct pronunciation is "tex." In French, when a word ends in "x" and it's a proper noun, the "x" is spoken aloud. See: Aix-en-Provence. Do not see: "paix," the French word for peace, which has a silent "x".)
In 1989, when the L.A. Times reviewed the restaurant, Taix "still ha[d] easygoing waiters and low prices, and it still underplay[ed] its Frenchness at just about every turn." It was a restaurant for reliability, hefty food, and a chance to get away from the flighty and ever-changing tastes of Los Angeles. Put simply, the restaurant wasn't hip. It was popular, and remains popular, but "cool" it wasn't.
As the surrounding Echo Park area has changed, though, that "cool" designation has as well. In 1990, when the New York Times reviewed the place, it wrote: "Taix is not on the fashionable part of Sunset; it's in the Echo Park district, in a neighborhood ranging from faded elegance to the dingy." Echo Park now sells homes upward of $1 million, has several beige stores selling "objects" and sacks of fabric, and even neighborhood stalwart the Gold Room has rebranded to keep up with the changing neighborhood.
"We're not responsible for the total transformation of Echo Park, but we definitely had a hand in it," Mike Taix told LAist.
He said it's been about two decades of work in the making to transform the restaurant into a viable nightlife destination. He remembers back when Spaceland (now the Satellite) on Silver Lake Boulevard was the furthest nightlife encroachment into Silver Lake and Echo Park. "We wanted to take advantage of that scene," said Taix. "We started an open mic night and gave talent a venue. From there, because it was working pretty well, we started booking a night of music on top of it." Back then, elsewhere in Echo Park, "there was only the Gold Room and Barragan's." Then the Echo and the Echoplex opened across the street, bringing in a rush of new late-night goers to the neighborhood. Taix eased back on booking music and embraced its role as a place to grab food and drinks late at night. "The late night scene for us has really expanded. Sometimes we're busier now at 11 p.m. than 7 p.m."
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The crowd at Taix may have gotten younger, but its service staff has not. Back in 2012, three Taix servers celebrated 50 years on the job. Taix told LAist that of those three, one is still working, one is on medical leave, and one has retired. They're not the only veterans of the restaurant, though; "We have several servers who have been here for 30-plus years," Taix said. "Some pushing 40."
As historic as the restaurant has become, it isn't immune to the changes of the future. "One change we do recognize is the advent of the $15 minimum wage," said Taix. "I don't want to call it downsizing, but sizing appropriately to deal with that labor pool is going to stay an important factor." He points out the building as it currently stands has been remodeled several times, so to attach an iconic or historical designation to its look is incorrect. Plus, it's not even the original location. "We'll have to trim down the size a bit, while still maintaining the old-school vibe. We might revamp it to give it an even older feel."
In the meantime, though, before anything changes, you can celebrate the 90th anniversary on October 8 from 4 to 8 p.m. The original roast chicken family meal the restaurant served for 50 cents will be the only thing on the menu, going for 90 cents (inflation, am I right?). Yes, you heard that correct: a 90 cent meal in 2017. Seating will be first-come, first-served, and the full bar will be available. Taix recommends getting there early, expecting sizable crowds. "We want to take care of everyone who can come."