Clifton’s Cafeteria Finally Reopens Today… But No Tiki Yet

The facade of Clifton's Pacific Seas, from the collection of Mano-Tiki-Tia
The facade of Clifton’s Pacific Seas, from the collection of Mano-Tiki-Tia

After a years-long closure for refurbishment and renovation, Clifton’s Cafeteria (now just “Clifton’s”) finally reopens today. There have been a few weeks of private preview events of this dining mega-complex, and the early reports have been glowing. But most folks who ask me about it want to know about one thing: the planned tiki bar.

Let’s step back for a bit of history: the Clifton’s reopening today was the second location (there would eventually be eight), and opened in downtown Los Angeles in 1935 as Clifton’s Brookdale. It had a California forest theme, inspired at least partially by the now-gone Brookdale Lodge in the Santa Cruz mountains. The original Clifton’s location had opened in 1931, but it was redecorated and rechristened in 1939 as Clifton’s Pacific Seas, with a fantastic early Polynesian look. It was from the days before tikis began to be in heavy use in the interior design of Polynesian Pop venues. The decor included lots of bamboo and thatch, with entire huts and structures built indoors. There were massive palm trees and oversize flowers—including some fashioned out of neon lights. Keep in mind that this was years before Las Vegas became Neon Central; the wild faux flora must have been quite the spectacle. The front of Clifton’s Pacific Seas broadcasted what could be found within, with a multi-story cascading waterfall right on the facade of the building. Clifton’s Pacific Seas closed in 1960. It’s now a parking lot.

Wild structures and foliage at Clifton's Pacific Seas, from the collection of Mano-Tiki-Tia
Wild structures and foliage at Clifton’s Pacific Seas, from the collection of Mano-Tiki-Tia

The new owner of Clifton’s, Andrew Meieran, has stated that he intends to pay tribute to Clifton’s Pacific Seas with a tiki bar within the new complex. To that end, he purchased much of the decor from Bahooka when it closed in early 2013. We’re all waiting with bated breath to see what’s in store for this new tiki bar. Will it feel like Clifton’s Pacific Seas? Or more like junkyard-fun Bahooka? Something else entirely?

For now: it’s still a waiting game. It has taken a very long time to get Clifton’s back up and running again, and I’ve not yet heard any rumored opening for the tiki bar that didn’t sound like either a total stab in the dark or impossibly hopeful. For the good of this historic restaurant, I support Meieran focusing on getting Clifton’s operating smoothly. It took from 2011 to today to get Clifton’s in shape before opening, which is a strong sign that Meieran wants to take his time to get things right. I’d rather have fully-baked tiki than a half-assed, rushed effort.

In the meantime, you can learn more about the history of these amazing places in the Critiki listing for Clifton’s Pacific Seas, including some amazing vintage photographs shared by Critiki member Mano-Tiki-Tia.


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