How One of L.A.’s Most Beautiful and Underused Spaces Came Back to Life

Union Station has two new drinking destinations that are as classic as it gets

When curious locals and hungry travelers began trickling into Imperial Western Beer Company in early October, it had been 50-plus years since the space served as a proper restaurant and bar.

 

From 1939 until 1967, the massive Art Deco-Navajo room was a Harvey House restaurant, part of Fred Harvey’s chain of passenger-rail-adjacent eateries. In the ’50s and ’60s, as travelers abandoned train cars for cars they could drive on America’s gleaming network of interstate highways, Harvey Houses began to shutter; the Union Station outpost actually held on longer than a lot of others. From the late ’60s on, the space sat all but untouched, used almost exclusively for high-dollar special events and movie shoots. As recently as 2009, the idea of turning it back into a fully functioning restaurant had been ruled out by Union Station’s then-owner, ProLogis Logistics Services, which had expressed to the L.A. Times that bringing the kitchen up to code would be prohibitively expensive.

Two years after that article was published, Metro acquired Union Station, and by 2014, the transportation authority announced that it was negotiating a deal to lease the space to restaurateurs Cedd Moses and Eric Needleman of 213, the hospitality group that revived other historic venues like Cole’s and Golden Gopher. A mere four years later and the former Fred Harvey Room is up and running. “This one was a tough one,” Moses admits via email. “But we love the outcome.”

imperial western beer company los angeles

Wonho Frank Lee

With its three-story ceilings, Art Deco fixtures, and Navajo-style tile floor, the restaurant-brewery is astoundingly beautiful. It’s like a more cavernous but more convivial version of Kubrick’s Overlook Hotel. A full menu of food and in-house brewed beers can be ordered at a pair of bars—one with stools, one without—and there’s plenty of seating at cushy booths and elongated tables surrounded squat stools. Shuffleboard, pool tables, and a handful of TVs above the bar make it a perfect Saturday hang. The Streamliner, the slinky Streamline Moderne cocktail bar that’s attached to Imperial Western, has a different vibe altogether. Long and narrow like a train car, it’s dim and sexy and suited to the good kind of trouble.

the streamliner union station los angeles
The Streamliner

Wonho Frank Lee

Every inch of Imperial Western drips with attention to detail. According to Moses, he and Needleman worked with a historical consultant, the city’s Office of Historic Resources, and the L.A. Conservancy to restore historical fixtures, ceilings, and tile work. The furniture was custom made to “honor the integrity” of the structure, which was designed by famed American West architect Mary Colter. “Kenneth Pratt, who runs Union Station, was particularly helpful,” Moses says. “He has a love affair with the station and its history. [He’s] a truly great steward for the project [and] our city is lucky to have him.”

In both spaces, 213 did what it does best: make something classic into something super fresh. “Union Station was designed to be a destination as well as a transit hub,” Moses says. “Our goal and service model is based on serving commuters and destination folks. I think that’s why Metro wanted us there.”


RELATED: The L.A. Conservancy Is Celebrating 40 Years of Saving Historic Structures


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