Entering Clifton’s Cafeteria is like stepping into a psychedelic, Redwood-themed wonderland that embraces the ostentation of kitsch and runs with it, full-speed. Complete with an array of animatronic raccoons, waterfalls, wooden bears, and moose heads, the 80-year old establishment is one of the largest public cafeteria-style eateries in the world.
Clifton’s history is just as colorful as its interior. Built in 1931, the cafeteria is the sole survivor of a once larger chain of eateries owned by Clifford Clinton, who had aspirations of curing world hunger. Starting in the middle of the Great Depression, Clinton was adamant about feeding those in need and doing so in style with a cafeteria he declared “a poor man’s nightclub.” It was estimated that during a 90-day period, ten thousand people ate for free. Today this Golden Rule still holds true.
Clifford and his wife sold their interests to their three children in the 1940s to turn their attention to a new project, Meals for Million. A non-profit charitable organization, Meals worked to distribute free food to starving and malnourished people all over the world.
Sci-fi fans will also like to know that Clifton’s served as the meeting spot for the Los Angeles Science Fiction League in the 1930s. The Brown Room in the back was where folks like Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, Forrest Ackerman, and Ray Harryhausen would get together to discuss the future on a weekly basis.
In 2015, Clifford’s wrapped up a five-year-long, $10 million renovation. Go for the food if not for the trippy atmosphere, the heart of gold attitude, or the rich history. Reminiscent of eras long past, Clifton’s still serves bowls of Jell-O, candied prunes, and a damn good banana cream pie.
Update as of January 2020: Clifton’s no longer serves food.
Know Before You Go
Clifton's Cafeteria is located the corner of 7th St. and Broadway.