Last night I headed downtown and met my friend Nikki for dinner at the Original Pantry Cafe. I’ve been told that on the weekends there are lines out the door and even around the block, which is why we cleverly went on a Monday night. It wasn’t empty, but we didn’t have to wait for a table.
-White walls with blonde wood paneling, black and white square tiles on the floor, orange and red menus all over the walls with chalkboards for the specials, photos of the old days wherever there aren’t menus, lots of mentions of the fact that they’ve been open since 1924, spartan white tables with wood chairs, long white counter with black stools.
-The only menus are the ones on the walls. I eventually decided on the cheeseburger and french fries. The slice of cheese on the burger looked suspiciously like a Kraft Single, but it tasted good.
-The restaurant is cash only, as announced on signs all over the place. The cashier sits in a sort of tall narrow booth, with bars over the window. It looks delightfully old fashioned.
– On the door is frosted the words, “Through a door which has no key, you will enter a cafe that has… NEVER BEEN CLOSED SINCE 1924.” The doors do not, in fact, have locks on them. Even though I feel like they push the 1924 thing a bit, like a marketing gimmick, I can’t help but find that absolutely awesome.
-Back by the restrooms is a frame containing a twenty-dollar bill, an envelope postmarked 2003, and a letter from someone explaining that they’d stolen a Pantry Cafe mug in 1974 before leaving L.A., that it was their prize possession but they’d been feeling guilty ever since, and now wanted to pay for it.
-In addition to the many pictures of the Pantry Cafe way back when, on one wall is a large photograph of a policeman squatting down to help a very small, very abandoned-looking child. Underneath, it says “Donated to Historic Original Pantry Cafe by Los Angeles Police Department,” but there is no explanation of what is going on in the picture or why they took it or anything. Another wall has a picture of a guy in a snowsuit on top of a mountain, holding a sign that I’m pretty sure said “Original Pantry Cafe.” It was kind of hard to read from where I was, but I’m pretty sure.
-There is a display case selling souvenirs–hats, t-shirts, mugs, that sort of thing. I always think that’s weird in most restaurants but I could totally understand why someone who loved this place might want a hat saying so.
-When my burger and fries came, I really wanted to move the lettuce off the plate so I could have room for ketchup, but there were no other plates and we only had one napkin each, so… I just put it right on the table. I made sure it was okay with Nikki first. I usually have better manners than that, but I did (of course!) put it back on the plate before we left, and wiped up any lettuce juice from the table.
-Behind us was a man in a business suit, wearing headphones, his laptop on the table in front of him. He looked cranky, but oh boy, I bet it would be the best place in the world to do work. I’d love to take my computer there, but when I write in places I like to camp out for hours and I don’t think they’d be all right with that.
-The bus boys wear those paper hats that hot dog vendors wear. I tried to look up the proper name but as near as I can tell it’s “those paper hats that hot dog vendors wear.” Anyway, I like them a lot.
-A couple came and sat at the table right behind me. The woman backed her chair into me a tiny bit, apologized profusely, and then, trying to fix the situation, backed her chair much farther and harder into me a second time. She didn’t mean to; I think she just wasn’t very good with chairs.
-There’s a guest book behind glass, open to a page where Conan O’Brien signed his name and drew a picture of himself. I wonder if they retired the book, or if they unlock it when celebrities come by? I guess that’s more likely. I’m just as glad it’s not for regular customers; guest books always make me freeze up.
-It makes me laugh, silently, secretly, when men throw their ties over their shoulders to eat. I understand why it makes sense to do it, but it looks so ridiculous.
-A group of punk rockers sat near us, and they reminded me of me and my friends when we were that age. I miss being instantly recognizable to anyone who liked the same music as me. One of the girls had eyes tattooed on the back of her neck; I hope she becomes an elementary school teacher someday.
What I Ate: Cheeseburger, french fries
Who I Ate With/Things We Talked About: Nikki; An article about a statistical analysis done comparing the Game of Thrones TV show to the books, a play I wrote that she gave me notes on, Los Angeles history, the exhibit of antique menus at the LA Central Library
What Sort of Ghost I’d Expect to Find if I Believed in Ghosts Which I do Not: A private detective whose office was right around the corner, who would come here whenever he wasn’t working a case and probably also when he was.
877 S Figueroa St, Los Angeles, CA 90017