It was inevitable that Hollywood Gothique would venture into Clifton's Cafeteria to explore the shadowy ambiance of the Gothic Bar. Unfortunately, though we enjoyed some fine libations, the bar itself turned out to be not so Gothic.
Clifton's, in case you don't know, is a long-standing institution in downtown Los Angeles. Besides the famous cafeteria, the multi-level building features several bars, located on different floors. Besides the Gothic Bar, there are The Brookdale (elegant), Pacific Seas (tiki), and the Monarch (woodsy). The most effectively themed is the later, with a large artificial tree, stone decor, and stuffed animals to suggest a California forest.
Located on the floor above, the Gothic Bar feels a bit like an extension, with the Monarch's tree extending up through the middle of the room and the same painted mountains on the walls. The room is suitable dark, with fleur-de-lis as a decorative motif throughout, but the only overtly Gothic element is the church-like structure behind the bar. It's actually quite magnificent, but it didn't quite have the Castle Dracula effect we would have preferred.
The drink menu also falls short in terms of Gothic appeal. Don't expect any Vampire wine or Blavod Martinis. On the plus side, there are drinks that should tickle the fancy of science-fiction fans, named after genre icons who used to frequent the establishment: Forrest J (in honor of Forrest J Ackerman, editor of Famous Monsters magazine); and the Two Rays (in honor of author Ray Bradbury and special effects artist Ray Harryhausen). There is 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 are listed on the online menu. They were not available on the printed drink menu we saw 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.
Clifton's is certainly worth visiting, and if you're there anyway, you might as well check out the Gothic Bar. It is actually pleasantly comfortable; with all the crowds crushing into the new Pacific Seas upstairs, the Gothic Bar offers more available seating and a much more relaxed atmosphere. Just don't set your expectations for a venue that lives up to its name.
Note: On the Friday night we attended, the Gothic Bar did not open until 8pm, so if you arrive early, you will have to spend some time in the Monarch on the second floor. The Pacific Seas opens early, too, but there is nearly an hour wait to get in.