A common refrain lately runs through morning text exchanges with friends who are longtime Angelenos. It starts with me asking them if they want to meet for breakfast at the Clark Street Diner.
“You mean Clark Street Bread? they answer. “I don’t know about a restaurant.”
“You probably know that. It’s the old 101 Coffee Shop across from the Hollywood Tower. The owner of Clark Street Bread took over. Seems the same.”
“Oh! I’m coming. What time?
Even if you’ve never physically visited 101 Coffee Shop (previously known as Hollywood Hills Coffee Shop), you might still know the place. This is where Vince Vaughn stands on a table and yells at Jon Favreau for growing up in the 1996 movie ‘Swingers.’ HBO and, earlier this year, a vigorously choreographed video by Meghan Thee Stallion.
The building in which the restaurant is located has existed since the late 1920s, also housing generations of hotels (its current name: the Adler a Hollywood Hills Hotel) and previously a liquor store attached to the cafe before a renovation in early 2000s. That’s when Warner Ebbink, who runs Little Dom’s in Los Feliz with chef Brandon Boudet, took over the restaurant space. He tanned the room in a late 1960s palette: stone walls, teak-colored leather cubicles, wall tiling, and floors and counters with swivel chairs, all in shades of brown. Sunlight streams through windows at an angle that casts people and furniture in a sepia hue specific to Southern California.
For 20 years it was a regular, low-key venue for actors, screenwriters and literary types, tourists and locals. The heartbreak spilled onto social media in January 2021 when it was rumored that the 101 Coffee Shop had closed. Patton Oswalt posted photos of his young daughter in one of the booths. Kat Dennings mourned the loss of the blueberry-stained Purple Haze milkshake. “I couldn’t stop thinking about what a luxury it was to be able to count on the place I used to simply call ‘the 101’ until news broke last week that my restaurant on the corner of the street had – without any last goodbyes – closed for good,” former Times columnist Nita Lelyveld wrote in a tribute.
Taking the reins of the restaurant in November, new owner Zack Hall navigated the community’s collective nostalgia with extreme care. The only glaring change to the space is the addition of a pastry case near the entrance. It’s loaded with Clark Street Bread signatures: sweet and savory croissants, cardamom-scented buns, cheddar and chive scones, rye flour brownies, sugar-chilling split monkey bread and, for the season Easter, hot buns with raisins. .
You can start with these — and order a cold brew or a cortado (or, yes, a humble cup of coffee) — by registering your name for a table. The wait is generally short and the spectators on top: everyone is back. It’s fair to see the room full again. It has the old energy, the feeling that the Capitol Records Building is less than half a mile away, and the heartbeat of Tinseltown almost within earshot. You can’t hear Hollywood Freeway traffic inside the restaurant, but you can almost feel the shadow of its ribbons of concrete looming a block away.
Hall performed the trickiest of personality transplants on the menu. He brought in Juan Pablo Garcia, who was a chef at the Brentwood outpost of Clark Street Bread, to run the kitchen. They serve breakfast and dinner classics. The food is stealthily good: it tastes familiar to fans of the genre – but with unusual attention to seasoning and careful cooking.
There’s nowhere in Los Angeles where I’d rather eat a stack of blueberry pancakes right now. The edges bounce nicely against the fork tines, and the inside of the pile is warm and just taken but bordering on cream. Fleshy berries are scattered generously. I dip a finger in the little pitcher of syrup perched on the plate to make sure it’s maple. In effect.
I shyly ask if the omelet I asked to be loaded with veggies and cheddar can be done on the soft side, and what comes out is essentially a pale French rolled omelet. Perfect. The yolks of the Florentine eggs burst and bleed on the English muffin, spinach and (optional but recommended) smoked salmon tissues. Corned beef hash offers satisfying proportions of crispy sweet potatoes, salty bits of meat, and more skillfully cooked eggs (too easy, texture-wise, goes well with this dish).
Since the owner runs one of the most respected bakeries in town, it’s almost redundant to say the bread is excellent. Hall’s Chewy Sourdough Crisps are superbly crispy; the avocado toast, sprinkled with sweet pepper flakes, transcends clichés and boredom.
The waffle contains almond flour but also wheat flour. A crispy, satisfying waffle made from rice flour and nut flours is very achievable these days; maybe Hall should give the gluten-free set a breakfast they too can enjoy?
Later this year, he plans to launch a dinner service, serving the new team’s version of meatloaf, fried chicken, mac and cheese and other customer favorites from the dinner menu of the 101. In the meantime, lunch options are available until 3 p.m.
I prefer the cheese and onion punch of a melted patty to the Just Perfect Burger, and vegans can have a Beyond Burger sourdough counterpart. A large arugula salad garnished with slices of pear, blue cheese, hazelnuts and pomegranate and seasoned in a tarragon vinaigrette is not far from what you order at AOC or République.
I lean towards breakfast at the Clark Street Diner, but I also relish being in the room around 11:30 a.m., when you can look over the long rows of booths and see the landscapes of hash browns and melted tuna, pancakes and bacon, hearty breakfast burritos and coffee mugs. A liquor license was recently approved, so the panorama could now include mimosas, cans of Miller High Life and (delicious dinner heresy) glasses of orange wine.
The spirit that really drives the scene, however, is the staff. Sally Stewart has been working as a waitress at 101 since it opened, and she’s back in her new incarnation. I’m always happy when she comes to take my order. Stewart has an ageless rock ‘n’ roll energy (her husband is, in fact, a touring musician); she practices a kind of steely patience when my friend changes her order three times in 90 seconds.
Neighbors mark their lives by the daily moments they spend in restaurants, but it is also a kind of restaurant where people settle for decades to earn a living. Stewart’s workplace is in good hands, and that’s good news for all of us.
Clark Street Restaurant
6145 Franklin Avenue, Los Angeles, (323) 848-4438, instagram.com/clarkstreetdiner
Price: breakfast entrees $10 to $18, hot sandwiches $12 to $16, pastries and breads $3.25 to $8.50
Details: Open 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. Beer, wines and spirits. Credit cards accepted. Parking on the lot and on the street.
Recommended dishes: blueberry pancakes, corned beef hash, Florentine eggs, monkey bread, patty melt