Sunday, January 09, 2005

Blast from the past: L.A. restaurants of the 1920s

On Saturday, the L.A. Culinary Historians sponsored a talk by L.A. Times food writer Charles Perry called "The Bluebird and the Pink Rat: L.A. restaurants of the 1920s." It was a fascinating look at the local scene during the roaring twenties, which apparently didn't roar all that hard in L.A. due to Prohibition. Because of L.A.'s large midwestern community, L.A. was the only large city that voted to ban alcohol, making self-service cafeterias the dominant type of restaurant during the decade.
Perry covered some of the era's most colorful eateries, such as the Cliff Dwellers, a southwest pueblo-themed place on the bluff at Beverly and Virgil; the Temple of the Sun, an Aztec castle-style cafe in the Glendale foothills, the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, modeled after the expressionistic silent film; and several jail-themed restaurants with where patrons dined in jail cells with warden servers. It all makes today's pallid, corporate theme restaurants look pretty pathetic.
The Pink Rat cafe was a wonderfully colorful place, by all accounts, that only lasted six weeks. Located in the Westlake district, it was advertised as a "taste of old Paree," with gothic castle decor, waiters dressed like pirates and shimmy dancing. It was all too much fun for the local clergymen, who managed to shut it down quickly amid unproven allegations of alcohol sales. While L.A. had some fine French eateries such as Victor Hugo's, the 20's for the most part were not a period of fine dining, with plain midwestern food, steaks and chicken dominating nearly every menu.
The Culinary Historians sponsor historical lectures once a month at the downtown library, with appropriately-themed snacks often served afterwards. On Feb. 26th, they have an event coming up where Perry will lecture on the cuisine of "Mildred Pierce" after a screening at the Alex Theater in Glendale, including a pie raffle. On Valentine's Day weekend, the lecture is on the history of See's Candies -- with samples!
For info on the lectures, check the food section of the Times, or call (213) 228-7102.

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