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.

(1957) Norm’s Restaurant, West Hollywood

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normssignAfter a surprisingly uneventful dentist appointment, I stopped by the original Norm’s for a late lunch. Norm’s has a sign that always shows up in pictures of cool L.A. signs–for good reason, it’s neat–and the building is the quintessential Googie diner.

The inside doesn’t exactly look like the Jetsons, but it looks like it was designed and decorated by someone who thought the Jetsons was incredibly awesome.

-Sharply slanting ceiling, floor tiled to look like red brick, a gray counter with seats that are bright green with orange piping. The two long walls (which are crooked in a deliberate, interesting geometrical way) have one long bench each running along them, and there are tables in front of the bench at regular intervals with orange chairs on the opposite side. White paper lanterns in odd geometric shapes hang over the tables. The rug, on the part of the floor that isn’t brick, is brown with lots of muted blue and orange shapes. It is the most late ’60s-early ’70s thing I have ever seen.

-The place was fairly crowded, and people coming in were asked to give their name and wait for a table, so I opted to sit at the counter. I took the seat nearest the cash register, not realizing this would mean I was kind of in the way of the stack of menus sitting there for people who wanted take-out. Once I did realize, it was too late to move without it being a whole thing.

-I ordered a fruit cup and an english muffin. A while later the waitress came back and very sweetly asked if I was really sure I didn’t want more, as they “have lots of good food.” She seemed genuinely concerned I wasn’t eating enough, so I ordered some bacon as well. It was all great, the fruit and bacon in particular were fresh and crisp.norms interior

-There’s a large clock across the counter over the grill, it seems built into the metal unit. It has triangles instead of numbers and, more importantly, forks instead of hands.

-The guy sitting a few chairs down from me at the counter was listening to something on his ipod while he ate, and kept giggling loudly in a really creepy way. It was probably fine, he was probably listening to a Dave Barry audio book, but something about this guy sitting alone and chortling maniacally every few minutes gave me the shivers.

-Towards the back of the restaurant but before the restrooms, on a low stone wall, was a giant display case. It was full of and covered with dolls and flowers in vases and jeweled boxes and picture frames and many, many mother’s day cards. I asked a waitress who happened to be in the ladies’ room when I was there and she explained happily that their manager did it up for every holiday, that she had tons of holiday stuff and if it wasn’t a holiday it was full of things like cute farm animals.

normsdisplaycase

You can see a lot more details if you click on the picture and make it big. My friend Standy suggested I start doing that.

-While I was eating, a terrifyingly thin old woman came to order take-out at the register next to me. She was ordering a salad, but wanted double croutons, and double lettuce, and double cheese, and double tomatoes… When it became clear that she was ordering double everything, the cashier explained she’d be charged for two salads. The woman protested that she didn’t want two salads, and so the cashier explained that in that case what she was ordering was called a “double salad” and cost twice as much. The woman smiled; she was perfectly okay with that as long as she didn’t get two salads.

-At the counter catty-corner from me (the cashier was at the corner of two counters at right angles) I could see an immaculately dressed young man in a crisp white shirt and very nice tie. I mostly noticed because I was impressed by how he was managing to not get food all over the shirt. I couldn’t have done it. When he went to pay, he leaned a very battered skateboard up against the counter. I wanted to watch out the windows so I could see him riding his skateboard in his incredibly nice suit, but I guess he went the other direction.

-I watched the cooks and waitstaff as I ate, just cause they were right in front of me, and they all seemed to be incredibly nice to each other. Joking and smiling and being considerate. At one point one waiter pretended to burst into tears and begged another waiter for a hug, while a third cracked up. I liked how much they all got along.

-There didn’t seem to be a real TV set anywhere, but almost right in front of me was a small screen that showed the different specials and suggestions for getting extra ribs to take home. One of them said, “Treat Dad like a king on Father’s Day! Bring him to Norms for a meal fit for a king!” Well, I bet a lot of fathers do love this place.

-By the door is one of those catch-a-toy-with-a-claw games. I always loved those when I was younger, but I’ve found in recent years that the claws are always too weak to hold anything, so I ignored it as I left.

normsoutside1What I Ate: Fruit cup, English muffin with strawberry jam, bacon

What I Read While I Ate: The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine; absolutely marvelous middle-grade fantasy. I stayed longer than I might have, because it was so good.

What Sort of Ghost I’d Expect to Find if I Believed in Ghosts Which I do Not: Two ladies who have stopped in for lunch in the middle of running errands. They’re wearing curlers and housecoats now, with plans to be stunning by 5:30 p.m.

470 N La Cienega Blvd, West Hollywood, CA 90048

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