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Clifton's Closed Its Cafeteria And Nobody Noticed

Clifton's Cafeteria on Nov. 18, 2016. (Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Airbnb)
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If a giant redwood tree falls in the middle of downtown Los Angeles and nobody's around to hear it, does it make a sound? Apparently not.

We learned yesterday from Franklin Avenue that Clifton's has closed its cafeteria and is operating only as a nightclub.

This was big news to us and almost everyone else we know... except that it apparently happened months ago. The real news is that Clifton's stopped serving food and nobody noticed or cared -- which tells you something about its fare. That's especially sad given the fact that it's a gorgeous space and one of the last remnants of Old Broadway.

Screenshot taken Nov. 28, 2018 (Screenshot via Facebook/CliftonsLA)
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We've reached out to Clifton's to confirm the date when the cafeteria closed and ask when it will reopen. We'll let you know what we hear. There was some conversation about the closure in early October on its Facebook page.

The wacky, forest-themed restaurant opened in 1935, in the midst of the Great Depression, as Clifton's Brookdale. It served simple, cafeteria-style fare in an elaborately decorated, woodsy utopia with running streams and forest creatures. Its slogan was "Pay What You Wish, Dine Free Unless Delighted."

Interior view of Clifton's Brookdale, showing the Limeade Springs, circa 1945. (Security Pacific National Bank Collection/Los Angeles Public Library Collection)

Enough diners were delighted that Clifton's expanded into a chain of eight restaurants. But by the 1990s, only the downtown L.A. location was limping along. At that point, the food was awful.

In 2010, nightlife entrepreneur Andrew Meieran, the man behind the Edison, bought Clifton's from the family that had owned it for more than 70 years. After a fire, he shut it down and began a painstaking renovation that took four years to complete.

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The revamped, 50,000-square-foot Clifton's reopened in September of 2015 with ambitious plans for two restaurants and five bars spread across three stories.

The venue was a knockout. Animatronic animals. Fossilized brontosaurus eggs. Snazzy cocktails. And, of course, the giant redwood tree stretching three stories up in the center of the place.

Diners pay for their meals in Clifton's Cafeteria in downtown L.A., in 2015. (Photo by Paul Narvaez/Flickr Creative Commons)

The food, however, was a drag. Dull and heavy where it should have been fresh and modern, needlessly fancy where it should have been classic and comforting. It was expensive, too. Chef changes and menu revamps didn't help. If you went to the new Clifton's, it was for the ambiance not the food.

Local history afficianado Chris Nichols of Los Angeles magazine says he has heard from Meiran that food will return.

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Whatever that means, if the restaurant once again serves food, we hope it's memorable. Clifton's is a fantastic venue and it deserves a menu to match.

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