MEMORIES WITH A SIDE OF
4 August 2003
Perhaps Patrick's Roadhouse is a nice, rustic, out-of-the-way place to look for
celebrities. I think it's fair to say that the same has probably not been said of The Pantry, located in downtown
Los Angeles, near the railway station.
This city landmark, established in 1924 and owned by Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan,
farily reeks of "comfort food." You can put on 5 lbs just walking by and
getting a whiff of the grease.
Naturally, it's where we had breakfast this morning.
I suspect this would not have been Michael's first choice. Or possibly not his 100th
choice. But when we were driving around the other day he was telling me something or other
about downtown and he mentioned The Pantry and it was like being caught by a huge rubber
band that zapped me back about 40 years in time.
My father worked for most of his career as a railway mail clerk. This meant that he
sorted mail on the train going from San Francisco to Los Angeles. His scheduled would be
to leave on, for example, a Monday evening, and work all night on the train sorting mail
and tossing bags of mail off at appropriate railway stations en route.
He would get into Los Angeles on Tuesday morning and check into the Figaroa Hotel and
then go to The Pantry for breakfast. Then he'd sleep, get up Tuesday night, get back on
the train, and be back in San Francisco on Wednesday morning. He'd be off for two days and
then do it all over again.
I don't know exactly how many years he worked on the train, but pretty much all through
my childhood, until the government ended mail service by train and moved the mail by
trucks and airplanes, at which time my father went into the main post office (and was so
traumatized by the change that he ended up having a nervous breakdown).
All of my childhood, then, I heard tales of The Pantry. My father would sit at the
counter and eat his breakfast and I guess he was noted for having catsup on everything
because one time someone drew a cartoon of an overweight guy sitting at the counter at The
Pantry with a catsup bottle in his hand and catsup everywhere. (I wish I knew where that
cartoon is now).
So when Michael mentioned The Pantry, that was it. I had to go. And, being the generous
host that he is, he agreed to take me.
By this time, Walt was also in LA, having flown down on Saturday to go to The Big
Voice with us, so this morning the three of us piled into Michael's car, hit the
freeway, and in half an hour or so we were turning onto Figaroa Street, right past the
Figaroa Hotel, and there, a block away was The Pantry.
I was surprised at what a big deal this was for me. We had had Hotel Figuroa stationery
in our house for years, and had heard tales of The Pantry for all that time. Now I was
The first thing that surprised me was that there was a long line outside the door.
(Later, on our way out, I overheard someone say there is always a long line to get
in--and it's open 24 hrs a day.) When we finally got in, it was obvious that this was a
very no-nonsense, plain down-home cookin' kinda place.
There are no menus, but the food choices ( a small selection) are on posters
all over the place. The mugs are heavy ceramic. The plates are heaped high with food, and
the pancakes are the size of frisbees.
They accept no checks or credit cards. It's a cash only deal, and you pay to the guy
sitting in the cashier's cage at the front of the restaurant (we wondered what bars on the
window of a cashier's check would realistically DO to thwart a would-be robber, but
decided that it was built when times were simpler and maybe it actually was a
I had been so good about food all weekend, that I wasn't about to blow it now, though I
was sorely tempted to have my first pancakes in a year and a half. But one of the menu
choices was 1 egg with toast. Perfect. I ordered one scrambled egg with toast.
"Two eggs, potatoes and toast?" the waiter asked.
"No," I said. "ONE egg, toast, and NO potatoes."
"No potatoes?" the waiter asked.
"No potatoes," I said, emphatically.
This is what I got...
In addition to that generous mountain of potatoes, that is also at least two
eggs. You also can't really tell from this photo, but the toast was the largest hunk of
bread I'd seen--and from the taste, I suspect that instead of traditional toasting, they
"toast" it on a greased griddle. Is it any wonder the table had that kind of
stickiness that comes from absorbing grease in the air?
I ended up eating it all (...not all the toast in this picture; that was shared
among the 3 of us), figuring that I'd only been having 2 meals a day and was probably OK
on points. As it turned out, the meal was so huge that it ended up being my only
meal fo the day, for a light snack when I finally got home.
But I've now been to the Pantry and kind of feel like I had a brief taste of what my
father's life on the road was like all thoseyears. It was kinda fun. But next time I'd
rather go back to Patrick's Roadhouse and see if I can find Johnny Carson huddled in his
booth by the front door.