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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Neighborhood Fixture: Silver Lake’s Astro Coffee Shop

Astro Coffee Shop in Silver Lake 1-26-2013 6-02-27 AM

There is perhaps no better example of Googie-style architecture in Silver Lake than The Astro, the coffee shop with a wing-shaped roof that soars over the main dining room and into the sky over the corner of Fletcher Drive and Glendale Boulevard.  The 3,782-square-foot building was constructed in 1960 and designed by architects Louis Armet and Eldon Davis, according to David Gebhardt and Robert Winter, authors of “Architecture in Los Angeles: A Complete Guide. ” Armet and Davis helped popularize the Googie style, named after a coffee shop chain, that reflected the nation’s post-war fascination with the Space Age and, on a more practical level, the need to attract the attention of passing motorists.

While Silver Lake has no shortage of well-preserved or restored mid-century homes and buildings, many reflect the form-follows-function elegance and restraint practiced by such acclaimed mid-century modernists as Neutra and Schindler. The Astro, in contrast, does not take itself so seriously.

“Architecture in Los Angeles: A Complete Guide” describes the building as a “striking example of People’s Moderne.”

Overgrown shrubbery and a glassed-in patio obscure the building’s angular form but it still manages to catch the eye.

Before it became known as The Astro, the restaurant, located in the Rancho Los Felis tract, was known as was originally known as Conrad’s or Conrad’s Drive-In. An L.A. Times classified ad from the early 1950s for an “experienced car hop” directs applicants to the Fletcher Drive address where the current coffee shop is located. A decade later, another classified ad for a “new coffee shop” in the same spot promised “good wages” for fry cooks with “exhibition and wheel” experience (anyone know what exhibition and wheel” refers to?). Finally in 1971, there is an for an experienced waitress to work the night shift at Conrad’s.



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84 comments

  1. Someday, someone will fix the food, prices, staff and building.

  2. Agree with Yangna. I’m sure Modern Eats is keeping an eye on it.

  3. Must everything be “fixed” to suite your personal tastes? The area has supported this business for decades. Astro is fine as is.

  4. I have a feeling (though, I could be wrong), “exhibition and wheel experience” refers to the moment the cook signals to the waitress by shouting that the meal is ready; at which point they exhibit the food by placing it on the counter opening facing the patrons seated at the bar. The wheel would be that spinning contraption full of meal orders taken by the waitress, also located atop the counter opening.

    Again, that’s just my assumption.

  5. i so want to love this place – but i haven’t been back since the ‘dead crow in front of entrance’ and ‘lipstick on water glass’ evening.

  6. This place is fine. Standard kind of Americana Diner. There’s absolutely no need for Astro to turn into an another overpriced “foodie” restaurant. Don’t you guys have enough of those already?

  7. it can stay americana dinner food. i don’t think that’s what people are complaining about. but, it would be nice if the interior honored the mid century “googie” style exterior, instead of the awful early eighties revamp. you have to admit it is time for an interior update. it’s a bit of a diamond in the rough. no one said they wanted an overpriced foodie restaurant. unless by “foodie” you mean, people who expect and enjoy good food. in which case , why use it as an insult?

  8. One thing I can say for Astros is that I feel pretty well-protected there; if any trouble breaks out, there’s nearly always a police officer dining in the rear room.

  9. Perfect for pie and coffee late at night.

  10. I agree with Ben. I wanted to love Astro but the place has a kinda sad vibe with sad food, and is not cheap either. Modern Eats around the corner is the surprise….food I actually want to eat at reasonable prices. Hard to believe.

    • Right. I wouldn’t call modern eats “foodie food”, I’d call it food. They cater to all audiences but the food is simple and for that reason attracts a large afterschool crowd from Ivanhoe.

      I’ve eaten at Astro plenty of times and it certainly calls back memory from truck stop diners I ate at in college, but I’m always surprised when the bill comes 2-3$ more than I expected.

  11. My experience (and quite a lot of it) has always been that the staff/service has always been unusually good. I’m partial to diners where ladies of a certain age wait the tables with efficiency and pleasantness. The food is standard “diner fare” just as it should be….sometimes I don’t feel like hip and new and crave a little thousand island dressing and a nice comfy booth where everyone in the group can hear each other and linger. Every neighborhood needs variety and Astro fits its niche admirably.

  12. Alot of misplaced comments about food when architecture is the subject.

  13. I agree this place could be a gold mine, so much charm. But spruce it up a bit take advantage of its architectural appeal. Keep the menu just do it a little better. The bottom line the food just isnt that good and while I may tolerate crappy food from time to time I’d go there a lot more if the food was good.

  14. I must be living in the twilight zone cause I see nothing wrong with this place.
    I have been a loyal customer since the mid 90s.

    If your in desperate need of a hipster hangout hit the bright spot.

    Astro is an institution “AS IS”!

    • The Brite Spot was one of my favorites until it went through it’s hipster renovation. Food is still good but the conspicuous characters that hang out there now seem to lack character. Almost makes you sentimental for the gang culture that once kept these transplants west of Western . . . or Tahoe.

  15. I’ve never dined there (and from the comments above, probably never will) but there is a scene in ‘Pulp Fiction’ where Samuel L Jackson and his cohort are eating, and it always looked like the Astro to me.

  16. All of you complainers need to get some perspective and a life.

  17. Does everything have to be renovated? If the new people like Modern Eats can’t the rest of us enjoy Astro for what it is and has been for decades?

    • i think the point would be to return it to was it was BEFORE the awful rehab in the 80’s.the interior is in no way original to the googie style.

      • I think the point is, if you don’t like the ’80s rehab, don’t go to Astro. The hundreds of patrons who go to Astro weekly actually like it, 80s rehab and all. There are plenty of places around with bare metal seats and blaring indie music for you to eat at. For those of us who like plush booths, wood paneling, orange tiled walls and fat-ass cheeseburgers, there’s Astro. Not so hard to understand if you were born before 1985 and don’t wear 28″ waist pants, which is to say a majority of Angelinos.

        • who said anything about metal seats and indie music? calm down. i don’t wear size 28″ jeans, and i was born in the 1974. i’m talking about GOOGIE STYLE architecture! it’s like covering original hardwood floors with carpet. pulling out 1920’s tile bathrooms to replace it with crap from home depot. or putting spanish tiles on a mid century home. there are things that architecturally make no sense. jeeez. and , who said i don’t want a cheeseburger. i love your sweeping generalizations.

        • I’m not sure why you need to keep boiling this down to demographics. It doesn’t serve your point in any way and only serves to discredit your voice.

          I agree that some things need to be left alone and maybe you’re right, Astro should be left the way it is. If it’s staying happily in business, live and let live. The fact that you think only 28″+ waisted middle aged people feel that way is pretty stupid.

  18. Donewithyourhostility

    I am done with looking at the comments section that follow these and other blogs and articles about Los Angeles restaurants and coffee shops. This ridiculous hostility that is immediately aimed at “hipsters” and “foodies” is getting very old very fast. I’m sorry if I demand a clean and friendly- staffed restaurant with an edible menu. I’m sorry if I’ve moved in to your neighborhood and the rents have gone up. I’ve eaten a lot of shit food in Los Angeles. A lot of shit breakfasts as well. Just because I wear skinny jeans and like coffee that TASTES LIKE SOMETHING doesn’t mean I’m ruining your neighborhood. For you haters: SCREW YOU.

    • If a restaurant served an edible menu, wouldn’t it run out of menus after a few days?

    • Trust us sweetie, your not dining at Astro offends absolutely nobody. Lots of us go to Astro and spend the few extra bucks precisely because skinny hipster “foodies” don’t go there. You enjoy your little restaurants, the rest of us have Astro.

      • Oh horror! Skinny people! Such a scourge on society!

      • FormerSilverlaker

        Spending more than food is worth to avoid ‘skinny hipster foodies’ is as obnoxious a behavior as what I assume you’re hoping to avoid.

        I’ve eaten at Astro many times. It’s not great, AND it’s over priced. It does have a couple things going for it though, and those are it’s location and it’s (horribly obscured) architecture. Are we really such a divided citizenry (apparently in two camps: Hipsters and everyone else) that we can’t discuss the fact that maybe it would benefit Astro to put a little thought into it’s ambience?

        The building has pretty amazing bones that have been hidden beneath layers of thoughtless and misguided crap over the years. Missing the pint of the discussion entirely and arguing with everyone about ‘bare metal seats’, and their presumed skinny waistlines is just the kind of thing that makes comment sections such a waste of time.

    • i’m old, fat and ugly as hell. but I agree: people are always harshing on hipsters, transplants, newbies, etc… a lot of assumptions and conjecture. it’s the “get off my lawn” crowd needlessly comparing themselves to others. pretty silly stuff really. the way I see it is: I used to look good and be cool, now i’m not. it’s your turn, enjoy it.

  19. Slight correction-
    “Architecture in Los Angeles: A Complete Guide ” was written by:
    David Gebhardt and ROBERT Winter

  20. I live on the hill behind the restaurant and love the building, but the food is expensive and not good diner food. We can all generally agree there’s good diner food and bad diner food, right? Generally, we have really shitty diets in this country and better food will probably make us healthier. Wanting that to happen does not make me a “foodie”.

  21. Long time line cook/sometime fry cook, here. I think I can say something about that fry cook reference. Wheel would be the ticket wheel, it’s a system for organizing tickets in and out. Usually the lead cook would call out and organize the flow of the line to make sure ticket time is kept to a minimum and organized. It is actually a pretty skilled and multitasking kind of job, not for the faint. Exhibition refers to the visibility of the line which doesn’t seem to be much of an issue at Astros- the line is pretty secluded by modern standards. Exhibition kitchens now are kind of like chef fish tanks where spectators have pretty clear view of the action. Astros does not. I can only assume that at one time it was expected that the lead line cook would be considered to be visible and watched.

    Hope that helps.

  22. I love their Monte Cristo sandwich. Cover it w/ syrup and get the fries or onion rings that come with it on a separate plate so the syrup doesn’t get on them. Sweet and savory. Soooo good. Who serves those anymore? That is the beauty of it. It is a diner, people.

    And the older servers and cashier are sweethearts. Although I don’t go all that often because I would be a complete fat ass w/ my Monte Cristo love… it is a fun late night option for an after-the-bars, soak-up-the-alcohol hang w/ friends. I’m glad it is there.

  23. I wish the food were better too. It’s overpriced and below par for this type of diner. I’d eat there much more often if they’d kick it up even just a little.

  24. With better food comes more people and a longer wait = Fred62. Sometimes it’s comforting to lower your expectations for a little nostalgia and a guaranteed seat. I like it just the way it is..

  25. Worst food in the hood. Ricks is better by far for half the price if you want junk food.
    and home is even better but more $$.

  26. Amazing that a blog that is not about Bikes or Dogs or Condos has over 50 posts!

  27. Why is everyone up in arms at the slightest suggestion that a restaurant might pick it up a bit lol.

    I’m gonna start a restaurant that serves crap… BUT there will be NO hipsters allowed. I’m gonna make a killing of the Eeastsider crowd alone who apparently are willing to pile endless amounts of crap in their mouth as long as hipsters don’t go there. (Actually they do)

  28. Has anyone else noticed the small, older white man with the glasses who’s always there around dinner time, sitting at the counter? Maybe he doesn’t go there as often now, but whenever I’d go there for dinner back in the mid-late ’90s to the mid-2000s, it seemed as if he was there.

  29. I have been a fan of Astro’s for many, many years. The food is good overall and the atmosphere casual and comfortable. I live in Elysian Valley and drive by Astro’s almost everyday. It’s on my way to Ralph’s, the bank, and Winchell’s. My daily early morning recharge place. Raisin swirls and Cocoa rule! I remember Conrad’s back to 1956 when I walked past it on my way to Marshall. As you know, it was “up hill and in the snow” both ways. The waitresses are a great bunch! Always helpful, polite and responsive. The place is clean (except for the men’s bathroom) and always busy but not crowded. Try Denny’s on San Fernando Rd to see the difference. That place is always loaded with long waiting lines and the food is not good. It’s easy to find and I have had many interesting conversations with friends there. No pressure to leave. I too wish that they would do a little rehab: Fresh paint , new, lighter colored, paneling, more lights in the rear dining room and new cushions, new tile outside the front entrance and brighten the place up overall but don’t change the setting. . Other then that, no changes, it’s a legend to me.
    PS. The “Diet Delight” is my favorite lunch dish.

  30. I meant to add that I agree with everyone else on here who says that the staff there is the best.

  31. Im confused this article says this building was built in the 60’s but in the 50’s it was Conrads. Was Conrads in a different building in the same location?

  32. Astro’s is among a dying breed of family diners (I’d imagine people were more dressed up back then when they dined here). It’s a holdover from another time, and seems to scrape by. It can be sad and deathly quiet during certain times, and the food is… well, serviceable. It’s one true virtue is that is still exists… and in a city where many establishments from that era are bulldozed with little fanfare or outcry for preservation – it’s a joy knowing it’s survived.

    A respectful upgrade with attention to period detail would be wonderful, but highly doubtful. Should it ever return to some type of former glory, and become a 24-hour sparkling beacon of Googie wonderness (made it up), I’d happily come back.

  33. Hm… If there’s one thing I have come to depend on from this community, it is strong opinions about food– you are ALL foodies by default. If there’s two things: debate about filming locations… well, at least one score has been settled here today.
    People are quite territorial when it comes to the convergence of LA historic preservation vs. progressive-leaning change. My inclination is that Astro, a short, pleasant walk from where I live, is one of the good establishments maintaining it’s cool character and staying to true to it’s roots in a rapidly-gentrifying ‘hood; True, I’ve only patronized there a few times in all my years here. Neveretheless, it is keeping charm and a non-creepy police presence in a neighborhood plagued by freeway commuter traffic most of the time, garbage dumped on the side of the road always, sky-rocketting rents at the plaza next door, and –hello– years of road construction down Glendale/Rowena rocking the forsee-eable future. Why y’all gotta dream of bulldozing everything all the time? Hooray for overgrown landscaping…my air quality is bad enough. True: an updated (more fresh/healthy/veggie-based options?)menu, and perhaps a stricter cleaning schedule would get me back more frequently for sure, because the service and space are a just-right oasis– open 24 hrs!!! Googie! Architecture and food for the people! Or something.

  34. For a native Angeleno who didn’t grow up with typical “American” food in their home, Conrads/Astros has always been somewhat of an exotic treat. Why it has to be vastly superior to the typical Mexican and Asian food joints north and east of Riverside Drive is beyond me. Besides, “Home”, “Michelangelos”, “Blairs”, etc. are just down the street and truly exotic fare is right up the street across from the wine store. But those joints aren’t open 24 hours and I’m not always up for dressing-up (or down) for steak and eggs or a clubhouse sandwich, which I don’t expect to be any better than a burrito from Rick’s. Based on it’s longtime success, Astros appeal is bigger than some of the superior(?) food joints that have opened and closed on Sunset, Hyperion, and Glendale Blvd.

  35. I love this place, at least I did until the full sized, fearless rat came hopping out from the booth in the back room. seriously people, be careful eating there. Cool spot though. No really, sadly it happened AFTER we had eaten! I even made eye contact with the rat! Super creepy. For all who have whined, ” if you don’t like it, don’t eat there” well I do like it but can’t eat there after what I saw and think you should all know to be on the look out.

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