Come Friday afternoon, what's arguably the safest restaurant in Los Angeles will go on hiatus.
The Los Angeles Police Revolver and Athletic Club Café is an Echo Park institution known for its association with a certain clientele, namely the LAPD officers, staff, and trainees who work up strong appetites while going about their rigorous business at the Police Academy and the Revolver Club nestled inside Elysian Park. (More specifically, the 20-plus acre campus is "about 700 yards due north of Dodger Stadium's left-field barrier," according to a 1969 Los Angeles Times story about a threatened closure of that never came to pass.) The Café itself is open to the general public, and yet has been somewhat of a kept secret and hidden gem. That can't be good for business. "With less Department personnel assigned to the Academy and fewer classes being held, our sales in the Café have significantly dropped," reads a memo posted to the LAPRAAC's website and in the restaurant's window. "The income has not been at a level to sustain the operations."
The Café's closure isn't permanent, however, and business at the daytime eatery (hours: 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday) is slower due to construction plans. (The decline in qualifying candidates and general LAPD recruitment challenges, however, can't help either.) Included in this renovation spree is an overhaul of the Café. The LAPRAAC and Academy grounds include banquet facilities, shooting ranges, ball fields, athletic rooms and equipment, and a supply and gift shop. The rock garden and grotto crafted by artist Francois Scotti (who designed the waterfall at Clifton's Brookdale Cafeteria downtown) is City of Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument Number 110, and a magnificent example of cast stone work. Dining at the Café means a background soundtrack of cop chatter, gunfire ("Revolver" isn't part of the name for nothing), and the occasional sound of gentle lapping from the swimming pool nearby. Although this is the restaurant's last week for at least two years, during which the entire rock garden area will be off limits, the Café's catering operations will continue through June.
A rotating truck lineup will provide access to food after the Café closes. Whether or not mobile kitchens slinging sliders and fusion Asian cuisine will be enthusiastically welcomed remains to be seen. It's hard to replace menu items with monikers not found anywhere else, such as the Rookie Burger (a quarter-pounder with cheese), Hollenbeck huevos rancheros, and the Beck Sandwich (grilled Parmesan sourdough bread stuffed with grilled onions, grilled chicken, sun dried tomatoes, melted mozzarella, and Caesar dressing), all priced quite fairly.
The memorabilia-filled Revolver Café (if those billy clubs could talk) is essentially a coffee shop grafted onto a 1930s Spanish Colonial Revival institutional building, and the mid-century vernacular richness is responsible for much of its character. It would be a shame if the swaths of faux-wood grain Formica laminate, stainless steel beams, the soffit-mounted stainless display cases that flank the kitchen pass, terrazzo skirting around the three islands of counter seating, floor-mounted counter chairs, interior and exterior rock-clad walls, and other vintage finishes and equipment were to be replaced with generic new off-the-shelf materials. While we can celebrate some recent historic preservation victories related to buildings of this general style and type -- of which greater Los Angeles used to boast hundreds, and thankfully still has some outstanding remaining ones -- we've already lost enough Googie and mid-century coffee shop treasures.
The LAPRAAC was formed in 1925 by local law enforcement officers who wanted to establish a private shooting and recreation facility for officers and their families. During the following years, the LAPRAAC and the newly formed Los Angeles Police Academy came to share the tremendous resource that was the Elysian Park property leased from the Recreation and Parks Department. The amount of history here and its ongoing, complex ripple effects is staggering. For starters, this was the site of the shooting range when Los Angeles hosted the 1932 Olympic games, and the Academy building itself was originally a dormitory at the Olympic Village in Baldwin Hills until it was donated to the police department. Off-duty officers personally moved and rebuilt the structure in Elysian Park. Given the time during which these events unfolded and the public nature of the projects, the WPA later played a role the expansion of the grounds and buildings.
The names of officers and LAPD Chiefs who have downed platters of tri-tip and artery-clogging breakfast combos are sure to elicit a range of responses as vast and varied as the territory the Los Angeles Police Department protects and serves. And placing the City and Department officials inscribed on a 1937 cornerstone plaque into deeper context would be a much better experience if one's dining companion were, say, Joe Domanick. The fact that the Revolver Café was the site of a 1995 benefit for Laurence M. Powell, one the officers convicted in the federal trial of the Rodney King case, might be reason enough for some people to never step foot in the joint.
To get a closer look at the Revolver Café's facility, food, and dedicated staff, watch this 2011 behind-the-scenes tour from dining duo 2 Hungry Cops. (By the way, why are these LAPD retirees not food media stars? Their work would benefit from tighter editing, but c'mon. They're awesome. Someone please give them a real show already.) If nothing else, Steve Clark and Dan Campbell's love of this "top cop eating spot" will send you heading to Elysian Park before the week's end. It's power lunch intrigue of an entire different sort than what's typically associated with this town.
The restaurant's ongoing quality "says something about tradition, which is a big part of what the LAPD is all about," Sergeant Clark comments following their nostalgia-fueled meal. "It's good to see that it's still in the café."
"Cops don't like change, but when it comes to food, we don't mind," Sergeant Campbell chimes in. LAPD Academy in-training cadets, staff, and established officers -- as well as lay folks who've enjoyed the Revolver Café hospitality over the years -- will hopefully approve of whatever transformations are revealed when the Revolver Café reopens sometime in 2016.