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.

(1937) Damon’s Steak House

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DTH Damons sign 01I’d wanted to go to the old Tiki-themed steakhouse Damon’s in Glendale for a while, but the dinner menu is a bit pricey (I really, really can’t afford to have a blog like this). The lunch menu, however, was surprisingly affordable, so I headed over one day around noon.

DTH interiorDamons07-Palm fronds on the ceiling and bamboo everywhere, lots of unreal palm trees and intensely busy, colorful murals of Polynesian scenes on all the walls, and lots of masks and pictures of things like mermaids hanging on the walls that didn’t have murals, it is wonderful, like being inside an incredibly fake Tiki hut. Here and there there were stuffed monkeys, the kind with long arms and velcro hands, hanging off of pillars. So many details, more to see everywhere you look. I want to live there. All the hanging lamps are different, odd shapes. There is a big aquarium, full of exotic–and surprisingly large–fish. I like to eat near aquariums, as long as I’m not eating fish.

-I got the steak sandwich and tomato bisque soup. I’d asked for medium rare and when it came it was very well done. I was going to eat it anyway but then I took a bite and realized just how much I wasn’t going to enjoy it. When it came back it was great, though, and the tomato bisque was so amazing I wanted to curl up in the bowl and go to sleep.

DTH interiorDamons10-Just inside the front entrance was a sign saying I should “register” with the hostess. Just under that was a white board with a hand-drawn map showing how to get to the hostess’s station, on the other side of the restaurant. It was a little overwhelming, but I made it.

-The guy in the booth in front of mine looked like a biker from Central Casting. I’m pretty sure he was a real biker, which I guess means the biker look is one thing Hollywood gets right. The woman with him had two long braids wrapped in cloth and tied with string, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen in real life before. She made it work.

-A woman sitting near me asked if something she was thinking of ordering–I couldn’t hear what it was–was “gamey.” The waiter assured her that because it was mixed with beef, it was not gamey at all. I’ve never been sure what gamey is. I mean, I assume it refers to game animals, but I don’t know what it means flavor-wise. Or maybe it refers to mouth-feel?

-A guy sitting behind me, sweetly bragging about his daughter, had a voice exactly like Ron Swanson. I thought it might actually be the actor who played Ron Swanson, but when I stood up to go to the ladies’ I looked and it wasn’t.

-The ladies’ room had a sign that said “Live Love Laugh” in big letters, and then under that it said “live well – laugh often – love much.” I appreciate the sentiment, but I’m pretty sure “love much” isn’t grammar.

DTH aquariumDamons06-There was Polynesian music of some sort playing when I first got there, but in the ladies’ room it was, for some reason, a Christmas carol, and then later they switched to middle-of-the-road classic rock. Which I liked; I find it to be the most agreeably ignorable music around.

-The straw in my water was tiny, the size of a cocktail stirrer. I felt disconcerted every time I took a sip. On the other hand, the server refilled my water every time the glass got below half empty, and oh man I love that.

-There’s a bar at the back of the restaurant, and it looks like the best sort of bar to hang out at regularly, if you want to hang out at a bar. Near the bar is a door covered in snapshots, I guess of people who come to the bar a lot. Everyone sitting at the bar looked like they were there all the time. I don’t mean they seemed like drunks, just that were very comfortable, like they didn’t have to worry about what the rules were here. Which, based on the times I’ve been a regular someplace, is a big part of why it’s nice to be a regular.

-When the couple next to me got their food, a waitress brought it instead of the waiter who took their order. When she put the chicken dish down in front of the woman and said, “For the lady…” the woman gasped and said “How’d you know?! Good guesser! You must be psychic!! Are you psychic?!” I’m pretty sure the waiter just told her who got the chicken.

-A guy sitting nearby went on at great length to his date about the changes he’d made to the tattoo on his back. Originally of his (now ex-) wife, it now has devil horns, and a skull face, and bigger boobs. I could not gauge his date’s reaction to this, as her back was to me.

DTH front mural Damons-A small group of women, whose look could best be described as “middle-aged midwestern tourist,” came in and made for the bar. Two of them had on hot pink feather boas. I suppose it was a bachelorette party, but before two p.m.?

-A tiny child, maybe one-and-a-half, was picked up to look at the fish in the aquarium. As he methodically and adorably said “hi” to each of them, his mother tried to explain the difference between fresh and salt water fish, but he wasn’t really interested.

-A waitress, or maybe a hostess, had her shift end while I was there. She called good-bye to everyone as she left, and a lot of people called good-bye back. Such a friendly place.

-Tied up near the ceiling is a beautiful, polished-wood boat. I’m pretty sure it was an outrigger canoe based on my google research. It’s stunning to look at and imagine the incredible distances people travelled in boats like this.

DTH Damons interior 01-A song came on that was a dreadful cover of “Surfing USA,” the woman singing it has a horrible tinny voice and honestly sounded like she had no idea what the term “surfing” meant. Like maybe she’d meant to ask but then figured it didn’t really matter, it was probably just another word for partying or something?

-I looked around while I ate and tried to imagine how many prom dates and anniversary dinners and proposals have happened in that very room. So many, definitely. So many people have fallen in love in this place.

-A sign in the bar suggested that people “Try a real Hawaiian Mai-Tai or Chi-Chi.” I’ve of course heard of Mai-Tais, but never heard of Chi-Chis before. I love the names of cocktails. It’s such a shame that I don’t drink.

-On the wall next to the hostess station were a couple of framed newspaper ads. One, from April 1939, talked about 65-cent steaks (that’s about $11 today, according to the Westegg inflation calculator) and introduced Johnnie Holmes, the “master of ceremonies and entertainer” who was accompanied by Jessie Lee at the Wurlitzer, and whose “distinctly different rendition of popular songs has won a host of admirers.” Distinctly different how, I wonder. The other ad, which must have been from 1937, announced the grand opening of Damon’s on June 11, and promised thick steaks, choice chops, and delicious chicken, not to mention made-to-order cocktails.

-There was a small room off to the side, probably for banquets, with a lovely mural of a south sea island. It made me think of Bali Hai calling.DTH Damons monkeys 02

-On the windows outside the restaurant, there is a painting of four monkeys. The first three are in the classic “see no evil, etc.” poses. The fourth has his hands in front of his crotch, and it’s not clear what he’s doing. I worried over it for a bit but decided it was not a mystery I was going to solve.

What I ate: steak sandwich, tomato bisque soup, good crusty bread

What I read while I ate: Sarah Vowell’s book of essays, “Take the Cannoli.” I’ve always loved her history writing; this was very different but just as delightful. At one point she broke my heart by mis-using begs the question but she wrote this when she was quite young and I’m sure she knows better now.

What Sort of Ghost I’d Expect to Find if I Believed in Ghosts Which I do Not: A young woman whose fiance was stationed in the south seas during the war. She’d come here to eat at least once a week, and look around and imagine what it must be like where he was. The same waiter always served her, and they’d smile and chat about the war. He wanted to be fighting, but couldn’t because of his right hand, which had been badly burned when he was young. Then she got the news, the terrible news, and she didn’t go out to eat for a long time. One day, almost a year later, she was in the grocery store and heard a gasp behind her. It was her waiter. Stuttering, he told her how they’d all missed her, that one of her girlfriends had told them what had happened, how sorry they were. The two talked for a while, in the canned goods aisle, and while she couldn’t quite stand to go back to Damon’s yet, she agreed to go on a picnic with him. He brought all her favorite food, which he knew by heart. When she finally returned to the restaurant, the memories were bittersweet but not really sad. When she and the waiter married, he was the one who suggested that the small framed picture of her lost fiance go on the mantle, not in a drawer somewhere.

317 N Brand Blvd, Glendale, CA 91203
DTH Damons outside 2

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3 thoughts on “(1937) Damon’s Steak House

  1. The fourth monkey must be pee no evil! Next time you’re out and about in Glendale let me know. 🙂

    Like

  2. The fourth monkey is do no evil.

    Like

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