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Clifton’s Republic: Gothic Bar Not so Gothic

Clifton's Republic in downtown Los Angeles
Clifton’s Republic in downtown Los Angeles
The perfect watering hole for Children of the Night? The Gothic Bar at Clifton’s Republic offers fine libations, but the Gothic atmosphere is minimal.

Since originally posting on December 4, 2016, this article has been revised following a return visit in 2022.

It was inevitable that Hollywood Gothique would venture downtown to explore the shadowy ambiance of the Gothic Bar in Clifton’s Republic (formerly known as Clifton’s Cafeteria). The long-standing Los Angeles landmark had earned a reputation not only for its food but also for its themed settings, which offered an immersive drinking and dining experience before the term had become the buzzword it is today.

When first we visited in 2016, we encountered cocktails named after sci-fi legends, served at a bar backed by a Gothic Cathedral rising toward the ceiling; otherwise, the atmosphere turned out to be more subdued than expected – less an immersive experience than an overlay. Fortunately, a return visit in 2022 proved Clifton’s Republic to be a worthwhile destination, because it provides a multiplicity of environments that can be enjoyed in a single evening, ranging from woodland forests to the high seas – each with a menu themed to its setting.

Clifton’s Republic – Gothic Bar Review: Immersive Environments

Clifton’s Republic, in case you have not heard, is the current incarnation of a venerable institution in downtown Los Angeles. Though the famous first-floor cafeteria is no longer in operation, the multi-level building features several bars on the floors above: the woodsy Monarch on the second floor, the Gothic Bar on the third floor, and the Tree Tops on the fourth floor are all linked by an artificial Redwood tree rising up through the center of the rooms. Also on the fourth floor are The Brookdale Ballroom and Pacific Seas.

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The Neverlands, the company that now owns Clifton’s Republic, promotes the venue’s multiple themed bars as a “fantasy environment” where they stage “extraordinary and innovative hospitality experiences.” When we searched through their website’s calendar of events, we found little to suggest they were hosting House of Spirits type immersive entertainments, so their claims may be more hype than reality.

To be fair, the Monarch Room and Pacific Seas are so heavily themed that they feel almost like an immersive dining experience without the benefit of costumed characters mingling with the customers. The most effectively themed is the first, with stone decor and stuffed animals intended to suggest a California forest, though the moody lighting may leave you feeling like Red Riding Hood on the way to an encounter with the Big Bad Wolf. Also wonderfully decorated is Pacific Seas, with Tiki idols and mermaids adding a slightly fantastical aura to the scene.

Less impressive is Tree Tops, whose key distinguishing feature is that it is set near the top of the tree that passes through the Monarch Room and the Gothic Bar. The Brookdale Ballroom is very well appointed, but it is less a place to stop for a drink than a banquet hall that feels as if it should be rented by someone planning a wedding based on The Great Gatsby.

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Most of interest to us of course is the Gothic Bar on the third floor. Located above the Monarch Room, the Gothic Bar feels like an extension, with the Monarch’s tree rising up through the middle of the room and the same painted mountains on the walls. The room is suitably dark, with fleur-de-lis as a decorative motif throughout, but the only overtly Gothic element is the church-like structure behind the bar, suggesting a Gothic Cathedral. It’s actually quite magnificent, but it does not achieve the Castle Dracula effect we had expected.

The Gothic Bar actually has a closer association with science fiction than horror. Its claim to fame is that it served as a meeting place in the 1930s the Los Angeles Science Fiction League, including members Forrest J Ackerman (editor of Famous Monsters of Film Land magazine) and Ray Bradbury (author of The Martian Chronicles). In fact, the bar’s centerpiece is named The Bradbury: a 4.5 Billion-year-old meteorite weighing over two hundred pounds.

Clifton’s Republic Review: Gothic Bar Menu

Clifton's Gothic Bar Review
The bar’s Gothic spires as seen in 2016

The drink menu also falls short in terms of moody appeal. Don’t expect Vampire wine or Blavod Martinis.

On the plus side, during our 2016 visit, we found drinks that would tickle the fancy of science-fiction fans, named after genre icons who used to frequent the establishment: Forrest J (in honor of Ackerman); and the Two Rays (in honor of Bradbury and special effects artist Ray Harryhausen). There was also Electric Sheep (a nod to Blade Runner, based on Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?).

At least, those drinks were listed on the online menu. They were not available on the printed drink menu in the bar, so we settled for a Hyperion (Jalapeno-infused Tequila with lime, passion fruit, strawberries, and agave). It was good but not quite what we had hoped to find.

The printed drink menu had changed again by the time we returned in 2022, but we did not sample the new offerings in the Gothic Bar, since we spent most of our time upstairs in the Pacific Seas room. We also noted that a DJ setup had been added to pump a little music into the area, though the limited floor space is hardly conducive to dancing.

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During our 2022 visit, we ended up spending more time in the Monarch Room and Pacific Seas. The latter is particularly appealing if you want dinner in addition to drinks. The layout of its tropical paradise setting suggests a restaurant with a bar rather than a bar that also serves food, making it a comfortable place to sit back and enjoy a meal, without the hustle and bustle of the other bars (though things can get a bit hectic here, too, later in the evening). The menu offers a variety of delicious entrees and tropical cocktails. The deep-dish pan pizza (particularly the Classic Margherita) is highly recommended, as are the French fries.

Clifton’s Gothic Bar Review: Conclusion

With its multiple environments and delicious offerings, Clifton’s Republic is worth visiting if you are exploring downtown Los Angeles, so you might as well check out the Gothic Bar while there. Though hardly the haunted immersive environment we had hoped for, it has a pleasant vibe, and the church-like spires behind the bar are quite impressive. Just don’t set your expectations for a goth-type hangout haunted by Anne Rice cosplayers.

Clifton's Republic: Gothic Bar & More

Rating Scale

1 – Avoid
2 – Not All Bad
3 – Recommended
4 – Highly Recommended
5 – Must See

Clifton's Gothic Bar
The Gothic Bar’s Cathedral in 2022

One of several themed watering holes within Clifton’s Republic, the Gothic Bar falls short of expectations. Fortunately, Clifton’s Republic has so much more to offer, including great food and cocktails in a variety of immersive environments, that we highly recommend a visit.

Note: In our experience, not all of the bars open at the same time, so it is good to call ahead if there is one in particular you wish to visit. Also, it is good to arrive near opening time if you want to be seated before the crowds show up.

Clifton’s Republic (formerly Clifton’s Cafeteria) is located at 648 S Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90014. Phone: (213) 627-1673. Website: theneverlands.com/cliftons-republic.

Note: As of February 2024, Clifton’s Republic was closed for plumping repairs. The last update on the website indicated a plan to open in “early 2024.”

Clifton’s Gothic Bar Review: Photo Gallery

Additional photographs of Clifton Republic’s Gothic Bar.

Steve Biodrowski, Administrator

A graduate of USC film school, Steve Biodrowski has worked as a film critic, journalist, and editor at Movieline, Premiere, Le Cinephage, The Dark Side., Cinefantastique magazine, Fandom.com, and Cinescape Online. He is currently Managing Editor of Cinefantastique Online and owner-operator of Hollywood Gothique.