Escape in LA

Story By: Lital Shoshan

Daron Ellezer, a waiter, serves fries and a milkshake at Ruby’s Diner in Woodland Hills. Photo: Lisa Richardson
Daron Ellezer, a waiter, serves fries and a milkshake at Ruby’s Diner in Woodland Hills. Photo: Lisa Richardson
The Bleecker Street Restaurant's fall specialty is a pumpkin martini. Photo: Lisa Richardson
The Bleecker Street Restaurant’s fall specialty is a pumpkin martini. Photo: Lisa Richardson
Wine bottles and garlic bulbs hang from the ceiling in a room at the Stinking Rose. Photo: Lisa Richardson
Wine bottles and garlic bulbs hang from the ceiling in a room at the Stinking Rose. Photo: Lisa Richardson

Themed restaurants bring the concept of combining design with food and taking people somewhere else. It’s a new way to travel without leaving the city. New adventures and experiences await with unique food and diverse cultures.

1940s America 

A bright red-and-white room, candy-striped uniforms. The feel of old America, having a milkshake with French fries.

One themed restaurant is Ruby’s Diner, and  in it, the 1940s have never been closer.

The first restaurant opened in 1982 and soon took off. The owners found a warehouse in Balboa Pier that was modeled in the 1940s. They decided to run with it, and so came Ruby’s Diner.

The diner is decorated in bright red booths and white tables and walls. A jukebox near the wall and 1940s poster art decorate the restaurant.

Mike Kovacs, manager of Ruby’s Diner in Woodland Hills, said that the 1940s theme reminds people of simpler times.

“It’s the sense of nostalgia,” Kovacs said. “The war ended and people [were] coming home. It was just a happier time.”

Themes in restaurants create a different environment for people and take them out of everyday life.

“It’s like an escape for people,” Kovacs said.

Merrill Shindler, a food critic for Zagat, said that some themes are different and hard to describe, but that’s what makes the dining experience more enjoyable.

“It’s a little hard to say what a theme really is because you know the theme for most restaurants is ‘we serve you food,’” Shindler said. “There are themes that are downright theatrical. You know those definitely were heavy duty themes. But then you have more intregrated themes. Some of the stranger themes actually are found in Asian communities. Apparently Taiwan in Taipei is an unbelievable hot bed of themed restaurants. There’s a restaurant that has you pretend that you’re in jail, where you sit inside a cell and the food is slipped in on metal plates. Another restaurant where you literally sit on toilets and are served food in miniature toilets.”


A dark room with dull lights glowing in the corners. Dusty, old coffins crawling with spider webs, wine racks lining the wall. Chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, cobwebs dangling everywhere.  Another themed restaurant is The Stinking Rose, where the owner knows everything there is to know about garlic. They have garlic food, art, drinks and ice cream. The restaurant has six rooms decorated in different styles. They not only have a Dracula room, but also rooms decorated in garlic décor.

The first The Stinking Rose restaurant opened in 1995. They have a Californian Italian influence in the food. It started with the garlic lover’s club and developed from there, according to Massimo Marmorino, manager of The Stinking Rose in Beverly Hills.

Marmorino said the key to success with a themed eateries is balancing the theme with the food.

“It’s good ingredients, quality ingredients,” Marmorino said. “There is no other restaurant in this town [like ours].”

Garlic may not be for everyone but The Stinking Rose knows how to make it into a theme. The food isn’t gourmet but the restaurants are well known for incorporating garlic into their dishes without overpowering them, Marmorino said. The restaurant is as unique as its name.

“A lot of it comes down to the food. You know, I noticed that at quite a few of the restaurants, no one really spent very much time trying to create food that was edible,” Shindler said. “It was like if we create a zany enough theme everyone will just come on by. Ultimately, after a while, you stop looking around. You stop looking at the guitar that Keith Richards once played and you want to get down to the ribs on the plate. So it wasn’t just the theme; it was also good food.”


A balcony overlooking a view. Lights shining, rustic brick walls. Crowded space, people cramped together. All these different times, place, and cultures can all be found in the same city, due to the idea of themed restaurants.

The Bleecker Street in Tarzana is serving up food Manhattan-style.  A New York night on a lit balcony with great food and great people right here in the valley. Brick walls surrounding the restaurant give it an authentic feel.

“You get a different flare in the food, a different variety. It gives [people] a really nice feel,” said Katie Kisiel, owner of the Bleecker Street.

The look of a theme may be important for restaurants to succeed but so is the cost and taste of the food they serve.

Shindler believes some restaurants incorporate the theme of their restaurant better than others.

“I always thought Hard Rock did a good job of it. I’ve always enjoyed the Chinese themes,” Shindler said.

Shindler agrees with Kisiel on her view of themed restaurants. They both think that the food of the restaurant is very important.

“Themed restaurants, they are entertaining if a little or a lot peculiar,” Shindler said. “So if they succeed it’s probably because after a while you want to go back because you ate good.”