Photos of Clifton's opening night benefit by Ray Richmond
When the new Clifton's Cafeteria on Broadway held a big benefit opening on Monday night, Ray Richmond was a more interested guest than most. You might remember, the Los Angeles journalist wrote a piece in 2013 surfacing a family story that his late mother had an affair with Clifton's founder Clifford Clinton, the 1930s muckraker. That wasn't even the most interesting part of Richmond's piece for the LA Weekly. Mrs. Richmond had met Mr. Clinton while providing certain happy endings services in a "chiropractor's office" near the 20th Century Fox studios in Rancho Park. And the kicker was that, in honor of their mother, Richmond and his siblings took her ashes downtown and secretly placed them in a utility closet in the restaurant in 2011, when Clifton's was undergoing its recent renovation.
Cut to Monday night and the LA Conservancy benefit. The Richmonds attended the soiree hoping to commune a little with mom. Ray provided an count (and some photos) to LA Observed:
I was privileged to have scored three tickets (paying full price) to the Clifton’s reopening fundraiser on Monday night benefitting the L.A. Conservancy. It was jammed. Seemed to be several hundred folks there, with the cafeteria lines packed by people holding trays heading nearly out the door. But a festive spirit pervaded. Nostalgia was in the air. So was emotion. My sister and I – whose connection to Clifton’s is intensely personal, as detailed here – felt a rush of…well…something as soon as we walked in the door.
Indeed my sister visiting from Seattle, Romi Gordon, immediately burst into tears, no more than a minute after entering the premises. ‘I don’t know what’s come over me,’ she admitted through sobs. ‘I’m not a crier. But I’m feeling something really deeply right now.’
The only explanation is that it was the spirit of our mother, whose ashen remains we buried inside a utility closet in January 2011 to rest eternally beside the great love of her life, Clifton’s founder Clifford E. Clinton. I felt it too. It didn’t hurt that the renovation so closely, beautifully and historically adheres to the vintage décor. Nor did it hurt that a 1940s era swing band belted out tunes from the center of the restaurant. Our mother was a Big Band singer for a time then. It truly was as if her spirit were guiding this little event.
Alas, we were unable to pay a direct visit to Mother’s eternal resting place, as the third floor area where we had scattered her remains was restricted to VIPs who had purchased a bigger ticket than did we. Did the utility closet still even exist? We have no clue, as the Conservancy guards were under orders to let no one without a blue wristband (ours was yellow) up to hang with the fancier people – not even for the 30 seconds we requested. So the reunion will just have to wait. It’s already been four years. Another week or two won’t kill us. And it can’t kill our impatient mother, as she’s already dead. Even if her spirit appears to remain powerful as ever.
As for the event itself, it was pretty terrific. As mentioned, the place is spectacularly restored, at least the areas of it to which I was permitted access. Andrew Meieran has done an incredible job of bringing Clifton’s a contemporary feel while fully honoring its iconic past. And the food was terrific. Extremely tasty mac and cheese. Perfectly seasoned turkey. All sorts of wonderful salads. And yeah, Jell-O. Lots and lots of Jell-O. I think it’s a mistake to fancy the Jell-O up like the new Clifton’s has, with breading and fruit at the bottom. You want unadulterated cubes and a dollop of whipped cream on top and none of the other bells and whistles. But maybe that’s just me.
I’ll be going back often. It feels like home. And to look at and feel the vibe of the revitalized joint, Mom’s gotta be pretty comfy.”
Richmond revisited his 2013 LA Weekly story in a piece this week for Salon.
Clifford Clinton was also the subject of my LA Observed segment on KCRW this week. Those air weekly on Mondays at 4:44 p.m. and live on the web forever after.