Remains of L.A.

Traces of L.A.'s past can still be found, in the kitsch of '50s diners and the decayed glamour of '40s hotspots… and sometimes the food is good, and there are nice people.

(1908) Philipe the Original, downtown L.A.

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philippessignPhilippe the Original, which is always just called “Philippe’s,” claims to have created the french dip sandwich. I say “claims” because Cole’s, which is also downtown and opened the same year, claims the same thing. I’m planning on going there soon. I don’t think it matters a lot who did it first, as long as they’re both delicious. David (my husband) and I got to Philippe’s around noon, wanting to see it during the lunch rush. It was bustling but not overwhelming; he says he’s seen it with lines out the door.
-Everything about this place screams “been here forever” but not like it’s falling apart. It’s all very clean and well kept, just reeking of old-fashioned goodness. Strong wooden booths, long communal tables, sawdust on the floor.
-The counter where customers order food is long and shiny and, for me, almost nose-high. There isn’t really one line, you just mill around until one of the counter girls (surely there’s a more appropriate name for them now? Counter servers? No. Something like that though) asks for your order. It certainly feels like you’re cutting in line, however, if you’re at the far right and are asked for your order before people down at the left, who have definitely been there longer. The order takers (still not quite it) were all friendly and fast. I ordered a beef french dip and David (my husband) got a lamb french dip, and I also got a fruit cup because they were right in front of me in the glass display and looked great. The food server (what is the word I’m thinking of?) grabbed it with a pair of very long tongs. David (my husband) also got a cup of coffee and a piece of pie, and I was glad because it seems like just the sort of thing one should get, and I can’t because I am off both caffeine and sugar at the moment. The people who take your order and get you your food never touch money; they have pretty little trays they put in front of you and you put your money or credit card on the tray, and they bring back either your change or your receipt on the little tray. Then they bring a big tray of food for you to carry to a table.
-Lots of stuff on the walls that varies from room to room; there is  baseball memorabilia, a great deal of trains (including a wall of models), and my favorite–circus posters and flyers plus two very disconcerting clown masks.philippesclowns
-There is a long line of wooden telephone booths, they look like at any moment a bunch of reporters are going to run into them, or like Cary Grant is going to come out of one exclaiming that he’s an innocent man, darn it, an innocent man.
-We sat in one of the rooms away from the counter, where it was a bit quieter. We shared a table with some young guys who were a couple seats away. They said nothing to us nor we to them, but later when we were walking through the parking lot they drove past and yelled something like, “hay maker” or possibly “paprika.”
-There was a woman standing by one of the tables for a long time insisting to her friend that they should wait for someone to clean a table before they sat at it. Didn’t try to find anyone, just stood there with their food. Finally a guy came up, not noticing what they were doing, and swept the empty tray and plates aside and sat down. The woman and her friend wandered off to a different room.
-They serve wine. It was very odd, seeing businessmen sitting on a stool with their sandwiches and potato salad on paper plates, a glass of wine next to the plastic trays.
-David (my husband) said that his coffee came with the cream already in it. I asked if it was sugared as well, and he said he didn’t really know–just that it was exactly how he liked it.
-In addition to the long communal tables two of the rooms were lined with massive dark wood booths. Some of them had people with laptops and notebooks, working. I want to get a writing partner and write all of our screenplays sitting in a booth at Philippe’s.
-I always thought of french dips as coming with a cup of au jus that you can dip yourself, but these were pre-dipped. And, I finally noticed, they weren’t called “french dip” they were called “french dipped.” Anyway, they were the exact perfect amount of moist-but-not-soggy.
-There is an upstairs section, with multiple rooms. One of the rooms had people clearly having a very important business meeting while also eating their lunch.
-Near the stairs is a picture of an old guy who obviously spent his life panning for gold and rustling cattle. The hand-written caption says, “eating at Philippe’s since 1919. 100 years old Sept. 23, 2003”
-By the door there is a big glass counter full of candy, including jars of individual kisses and Jolly Ranchers and the like. I bought David (my husband) a piece of Double Bubble bubble gum for 10 cents.
-Carvers! The people behind the counter who take your order and get your food are called “carvers.” Not that that’s the term I was trying to think of–I never heard it till just now, when I saw it on the Philippe’s web page.
What I Ate: Beef french dip sandwich with hot mustard, fruit cup.
Who I Ate With/Things We Talked About: David (my husband); a zoo in Monterey that will, allegedly, let you bathe elephants; Cary Grant; whether “no more tears” shampoos contain chemicals to numb the eyes; Teddy Girls (thanks to this great article we both read earlier).
What Sort of Ghost I’d Expect to Find if I Believed in Ghosts Which I do Not: A shoeshine boy, who would come here every day once he’d made enough in tips to buy himself a sandwich. The carvers would always slip a piece of pie on his tray, for free. Note: Unless otherwise stated, all ghosts mentioned in this blog died peacefully of old age and then reverted to the age/place of their choosing.

1001 N Alameda St, Los Angeles, CA 90012

One thought on “(1908) Philipe the Original, downtown L.A.

  1. Pingback: (1908) Cole’s, downtown L.A. | remains of L.A.

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