Clifton's opens (again), this time in a changed city center

Andrew Meieran is set to reopen the doors of one of LA's legendary restaurants in an effort to turn it into an offbeat dining and entertainment destination once again.

Meieran is the owner of Clifton's Republic, the kitschy, woodland-themed restaurant on Broadway in downtown's historic core that served comfort food like pot roast, mashed potatoes and Jell-O for nearly a century. The five-story restaurant and bar complex has been closed for the past year after a burst water pipe caused a flood that destroyed the kitchen and collapsed three-story ceilings.

Clifton's will reopen next month after extensive repairs and renovations. Among the changes customers will find is a basement location that has been in the works for years and that Meieran says is “dedicated to innovation and the magic of experiences” with “entertainment, cocktails and culinary offerings.”

Meieran is keeping the details under wraps for now, but he has demonstrated a talent for creating provocative entertainment and dining venues through an obsessive attention to unusual details, as well as a willingness to spend more money than most real estate developers to realize his vision and to preserve. the historical integrity of its projects.

Meieran, a Bay Area transplant with a background in real estate development and filmmaking, burst onto the LA scene in 2007 when he opened the Edisonan underground nightclub he created in a former power plant deep beneath a century-old building on 2nd Street.

In 2010, he took over Clifton's from the family that had operated it since the 1930s, when founder Clifford Clinton bought the lease on the former Boos Bros. cafeteria on Broadway and wanted to create a space reminiscent of the coastal redwoods of Santa Cruz. Bergen, where Clinton spent his summers growing up. After the acquisition, Meieran closed the restaurant for nearly four years for renovations and upgrades, and again during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Times spoke with Meieran to discuss his plans to revive Clifton's following its current closure, as well as his thoughts on the evolving nature of the bar and restaurant industry during a time of change in the downtown area. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Since the pandemic began, the restaurant business has been hit hard put down due to changes that have made it difficult for owners to operate profitably. How do you want to approach it?

People need, and I emphasize “NEED” in capital letters, to be able to disconnect from their devices and balance their lives with physical and social interaction with the people who are there and around them. We target people who are looking for a much more interactive lifestyle and crave physical experiences to balance the ubiquitous online presence.

A view of the interior of Clifton's Republic.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Clifton's exists in LA's collective memory as a huge cafeteria in a jagged wooded area, but we don't see many cafeterias anymore. Why is that? Will we get Clifton's back as we remember it?

Cafeterias used to be the dominant form of food delivery and service and now, with a few exceptions, that is no longer the case. There are obvious reasons for this that are understandable and reasonable: you need tons of people in a captive audience to make a cafeteria work. You need volume and you need stable, reasonable food prices that you can pass on to your guests. That is completely absent in this era.

So what will Clifton's contain when it reopens?

It will function fully as a dining, lounge and entertainment destination, including the historic Brookdale dining hall that people remember as Forest Glen, Walt Disney's original inspiration for Disneyland. We are also reopening the Monarch Bar on the second floor and the Pacific Seas “adventure bar” on the third floor. The cellar opens in mid-summer.

Clearly, downtown has changed a lot since Clifton's heyday in the 20th century, when Broadway was LA's main shopping and entertainment district. Occupancy inside office buildings, which was previously the case provide a steady source of lunch time customers, has decreased significantly since the COVID-19 lockdown. What are the prospects for entrepreneurs in the city center? like Clifton's?

It's clearly a very different environment than before the pandemic. People have changed their habits and patterns and companies have responded accordingly, with some closing their focus and others shifting their focus. It's a tectonic level shift, something that hasn't happened in generations, and it's happening very quickly now. It was initially triggered by the pandemic, but was followed by technological shifts that have changed the dining experience, such as app-based ordering, touchscreens and the potentially revolutionary impact of artificial intelligence.

It's hard for people to really recognize what's going to happen and where this is all going. That obviously makes it difficult for a company to respond and for other people to make investments and determine where we're going to be 18 months from now, three years from now, five years from now, what you need in business.

The downtown, because of the scale of its impact and its density, is slower to respond to change than some other, more agile communities. It's like running a tanker that doesn't turn a dime. It takes much more effort and coordinated focus to change direction.

What are the chances that the Historic Core can make a comeback?

Broadway in particular has all the ingredients that make for extraordinary projects and extraordinary communities waiting for the right catalyst here. It has a density, historic infrastructure and buildings that have an intrinsic beauty and an intrinsic connection with guests, residents and visitors. And it has the location in terms of accessibility with sufficient parking and service via public transport.

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