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.

(1958) Corky’s Restaurant, Sherman Oaks


corkyssignWent to Corky’s Restaurant for dinner with David (my husband) and our friend Ari.

-Booths and seats of forest green with sea foam green accents, dark brown tables with green “marble” trim. The whole place had the classic Googie shape, though with fewer rough rock walls than I like. Drop ceiling with that acoustic tile that teenagers in 80’s movies like to crawl through. Walls are painted light colors and covered in pictures of old movie theaters with cool marquees. One wall towards the back has black and white photos of movie stars. Here and there throughout the place, dominating the decor, are decorative wooden… sculptures? I’m not sure sculpture is the right word. They are huge wooden rectangles, stretching from the backs of booths to the ceiling, cut so they look like wooden squares joined together, and some of the squares have colored plastic that looks like stained glass. I liked the effect very much, even though I’m having a hard time describing it.

-I got the New York steak dinner, they also had a skirt steak but I never feel sure about what that is no matter how many times people explain it to me, and the New York was only a dollar more. It came with two sides; I chose onion rings (with ranch dressing for dipping) and fruit. I could have also gotten soup or a salad, but I never eat much of those and then I feel wasteful, or I do eat them but then I’m too full to eat everything else, so I just told her not to bring them. Everything was very nice, not extraordinary but perfectly satisfying. The steak was covered in onions and mushrooms, which was a pleasant surprise. I also had a very small bite of David (my husband)’s cherry pie with vanilla ice cream, and a cup of tea.

corkysinterior1-David (my husband) and I got there before Ari, so I made David (my husband) sit on the opposite side of the booth from me until Ari got there, because I hate that thing where couples sit on the same side of a booth when it’s just the two of them. Also Ari pointed out that he would have felt like he was arriving at a job interview if we’d both been sitting on the same side when he got there.

-The guy who brought us our water had on a shirt and apron with the Paty’s Diner logo. So either Paty’s and Corky’s are affiliated, or he works at both and forgot to change.

-The sound system played lots of really great old 80’s music, and also some really odd old 80’s music. The Ghostbusters song, for example, and the theme from the TV show Moonlighting. David (my husband) kept pointing out delightedly what year of school he’d been in when whatever song was playing, and was quite appalled when “What I Like About You” came on and he was the only one who did the claps.

-Ari put A1 sauce in his beef vegetable soup, which I’d never seen before but made perfect sense once I thought about it. He said it was very good but then he tried to add a tiny bit more and accidentally poured in way too much. A1 sauce is always a little hard to control, I’ve found.

-The AC was on extremely high, which was probably nice during the hot day but at 9 p.m. it was just uncomfortable. Also, at one point I took a drink from my water and somehow poured a ridiculous amount of it all over myself. I never did figure out what had happened, I was suddenly just soaking wet.

-There is a bar to the side, in a separate room, called “The Cork.” They have open mics most nights, according to the signs on the walls. Sometimes music and sometimes comedy. Of course that could be either great or awful. I poked my head in and it looked like a pretty standard bar. There was a popcorn machine in the corner.

-When Ari went to cut his meat, the blade of his steak knife immediately bent back so it was at almost a right angle to the handle. For some reason this was absolutely hilarious. When we showed the waitress she thought so too.

-There was a guy sitting near us who looked super familiar to me; I couldn’t figure it out and then realized he looked just like Fflewddur Fflam thirty years later, but in David Koresh glasses.

-I ordered tea and did that thing I always do where I switch in my own tea bag cause I never like the restaurant’s tea. But then as I was opening the package I tore the tea bag. I’ve never done that before or even heard of that happening before. I tried holding the tea bag in the hot water above the tear, but the water crept up the side of the bag and hurt my fingers, so I rigged up an incredibly ingenious thing with a fork where it was propped just inside the mug and balanced perfectly to hold the bag half in, half out of the water, and I got my tea without any leaves in it.

-David (my husband) ordered a piece of cherry pie, and the waitress asked if he wanted it “a la mode with ice cream,” and he asked if they had coffee ice cream and she said no in a way that implied she was truly shocked he’d ask.

-I had heard that Corky’s used to be the Lamplighter, but then there was a picture of the wall from old times that claimed to be of Corky’s before it was the Lamplighter. It was all incredibly confusing, but the internet explained that it was Corky’s in the 60’s, became the Lamplighter in the mid-80’s, and was turned back into Corky’s sometime in the last five years or so.

What I Ate: steak with mushrooms and onions, onion rings with ranch dressing, fruit, a small bite of David (my husband)’s cherry pie with vanilla ice cream.

Who I Ate With/Things We Talked About: David (my husband) and Ari; Fast and Loose–a 24-hour theatre show at Sacred Fools Theatre, the book “Radio On” by Sarah Vowell, the correct pronunciation of “worcestershire sauce,” the Sex Pistols cover of Roadrunner, what a genuinely great movie Die Hard is.

What Sort of Ghost I’d Expect to Find if I Believed in Ghosts Which I do Not:  A group of friends who liked to come in for a snack after a long night of disco dancing.

5043 Van Nuys Blvd, Sherman Oaks, CA 91403


3 thoughts on “(1958) Corky’s Restaurant, Sherman Oaks

  1. My family used to eat at Corky’s in the 70s and early 80s, before its stint as The Lamplighter. My main memory of it is the waitress with the towering beehive hairdo who’d bring my hamburger to the table.
    The bar/lounge area was called The Corker then, and I’ve read that Billy Joel used to play piano there as Bill Martin. When I hear Piano Man, I like to imagine the characters in the song were all Corky’s regulars.


  2. I grew up around the block from Corky’s. I bet you didn’t know that Billy Joel, in his pre-fame days during his short and much maligned stay in L.A., played the piano in the bar at Corky’s. One night, after an argument with the owner (I only knew him as Mr. Cable) Joel threw a chair through the bar’s stained glass window. Also, Billy Joel’s song, Piano Man was supposedly written about his stint at Corky’s.


  3. Oooh how cool! I had no idea!


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