You can take your hyper-hiptitudinous dining spots, stuffed with see-and-be-scenesters waiting agonizing amounts of time for the chance to chow. And when you finally do get that coveted table, which all too often is crammed uncomfortably close to other tables (makes me long for that New Agey L.A. of personal space), the decibel levels tend to shriek beyond Spinal Tap’s take-it-beyond-the-max 11. Let’s face it, all conversations, no matter how profound, sound ridiculous when shouted. Don’t even get me started on the models-actors-whatevers who frequently think they’re doing you a favor when they deign to take your order.
No, sirree. I’ll take the spacious elegance of the Pacific Dining Car, with its classic booths, its waiters who aren’t waiting for that big break but actually want to attend to you, its high-backed chairs at tables that allow discussions that don’t strain your vocal cords or your ears. In fact, as a friend of mine found out, the PDC is a place quiet enough to meet a man, converse, discover he’s your soul mate and get married. And yes, they had the ceremony at the Dining Car, and it was one of the most wonderful weddings I’ve ever been to, followed by a superb spread. The PDC is all about meat: gorgeous slices of beef cut by a house butcher and grilled over mesquite. And it’s open 24/7, in case you get a carniverous craving in the middle of the night.
Fred and Grace Cook founded the Dining Car in 1921 (the family still owns it). In New York, they had supped in a railway dining car, which had been converted into a restaurant, and after their move to L.A., decided to build — in the back yard of a friend — a slightly larger replica of a dining car, with space for a long counter and rooms for tables and chairs in back, which was moved to Seventh and Westlake (the PDC moved to its current location in 1923). In the ’20s and ’30s, according to the PDC’s Web site — check it out at www.moshix2.net/PDC/INDEX.HTM — a fillet would set you back a buck and a half. Today you might need a second mortgage to afford dinner (steaks start at $30), which is why I prefer the more affordable breakfast, to say nothing of the killer eggs Benedict.
But then, what’s a little dough when you could be sitting where Mickey Cohen and his bodyguard dined, or Louella Parsons, or George Raft, or Mae West and her bodyguard, taking in the textures of L.A. history. Writer James Ellroy, another Dining Car regular, sets a scene in his comic noir novella, "Tijuana, Mon Amour" (collected in the recently published Crime Wave), in the PDC’s parking lot, when Hush Hush editor Danny Getchell gets called out to meet a miffed Frank Sinatra to settle their differences. The Dining Car played an even older L.A. restaurant, the long-defunct Pig ’n’ Whistle, in Chinatown. That’s Hollywood, Jake. 1310 W. Sixth St., L.A.; (213) 483-6000.