As I sit in my rocking chair reflecting fondly on the good ol’ days, memories of nostalgia-themed restaurants come trickling before my mind’s eye. Back in the mid ‘80s, I recall Restaurant Row’s Ed Debevic’s, the ‘50s diner import from Chicago famous for smart-alecky servers who popped their gum as they sat down to take your order, sassing you the whole time. Retro diner food, vintage Coca-Cola signage along with juke box music completed the immersive ‘50s environment. Folks gladly paid for this kind of throwback dining. We couldn’t get enough…until we had enough. Debevic’s shuttered in 2003. Theme restaurants in general appeared to have had their final day back in those days.
Recently, however, nostalgia restaurants and bars seem to be gaining favor once again—this time they’re targeting the ‘80s.
Two of the most recent retropub openings are The One Up (named after the extra life earned in a video game) in Sherman Oaks and Hey 19 (not named after the Steely Dan song, but a time when a certain demographic was 19 years-old) in Torrance. Both of these neighborhood restaurants intentionally have the casual, cozy feel of either a “grown-up rumpus room” or “your parents’ basement”—that is, if your parents hired pricy architects to design the place.
Hey 19 blurs its nostalgia by combining the ‘70s with the ‘80s, so Farrah Fawcett may cross paths with Christie Brinkley on the wall. The One Up keeps it purely ‘80s, from the Duran Duran tunes pumping out the speakers to the 8-bit video games complimentarily offered in the arcade room. Each place is detailed in its retro-deco, so it’s fun spotting old stuff.
As for the food, Hey 19 keeps it familiar and comfy, offering classics like chicken & waffles, mac & cheese, and pork chops. Demi Stevens (Ortega 120) is owner and famous for her cocktails, which will also be a focus at this South Bay spot.
At The One Up, chef Mario Harrison (a Miami native) pours all of his travel experience onto the menu. Harrison’s journeys have taken him to Vietnam, New Orleans, France, New York, and Chicago, which is why you’ll taste singular plates like Southern Fried Chicken Banh Mi and the must eat Pork Belly Summer Roll, which has the girth of a large burrito, brimming with creamy and tender chunks of pork belly, dressed with a sweet and spicy, chili soy sesame sauce. Believe it or not, The One Up ladles up one of the best Barbecue Shrimp & Grits in town. Harrison’s American South and Southeast Asia blendings are truly special.
So, back-in-the-day dining has made a comeback. Why not? It’s fun watching Back to the Future as you gnaw on jerk chicken legs. These places are a good time for recalling the good memories of yesteryear (you won’t find framed pix of blindfolded American hostages in Iran). Beyond that, the new nostalgia theme restaurants are just better than the old ones. The food is vastly better (not just burgers and fries). Best of all, no more snarky waitresses named Marge—which, to me, is totally radical, dude.
The One Up, 13625 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, 818-849-5181
Hey 19, 4525 Calle Mayor, Torrance