At the Santa Monica Omelette Parlor, on Main between Hill and Ashland, Superior Court Judge and former LA Mayor Jim Hahn and his wife Michelle are celebrating the 95th birthday of Jim’s great-grandfather-in-law Frank Torres.
Frank looks tanned and fit, and the servers bring on a sesame-seeded pastry with a lit sparkler sticking out of it. We all sing him “Happy Birthday.”
This is perhaps the last time anyone will ever sing "Happy Birthday"at this once-popular lunch and breakfast venue. Wednesday, Dec. 18 is The Omelette Parlor's last full day of business.
It closes after some 35 years (accounts vary) of operation on Santa Monica’s Main Street, a thoroughfare that, despite such enduring famous faces as Wolfgang Puck’s Chinois, has never managed quite to find itself. This has not stopped the landlords from raising rents, though, and now the empty store fronts will be joined by the vacant omelet parlor. It’s predeceased by its cousin Omelette Parlors in Summerland and Malibu.
When I first arrived here 32 years ago, omelet parlors like this typified to me Southern California as much as surfing and beach volleyball. To Easterners, restaurant breakfasts were grim necessities, consisting of overdone bacon, underdone eggs, charred toast, and a counterperson's deep-loathing scowl.
Imagine the revelation of a large oblong plate on which your massive, fluffy, greens-stuffed omelet was surrounded by fresh-sliced tropical fruit and fried potatoes, a dark whole-wheat English muffin, little tubs of apple butter and sour cream.
All this in a room like a sanctified, sun-drenched fern bar, with octagonal tiled floors, bare brick walls, and Victoriana seemingly salvaged from some old tycoon’s teardown mansion: oval-framed portraits, triptych mirrors and mahogany sideboards, huge, dysfunctional grandfathers’ clocks, plus free-hanging stained glass windows. And beautiful, smiling young people in white waiting on you.
On Tuesday at the Omelette Parlor, those smiles had dimmed: our waitress said she had no idea why the place was closing, “I’m just worried about getting another job,” she said. Andy, the busboy who’d been working here since place opened back in the 1970s, had the same worry.
But the problem may be as much changing tastes as rising rents. Breakfast plates that tally in the high-hundreds of calories are very not 2013. Come to think of it, when I enjoyed the omelet parlor, I was still running over 40 miles a week, swimming an hour a day. That’s not the way I do things now.
A few of us are eating the omelets this morning, but most of the customers on this penultimate day are eating lighter—egg whites, oatmeal, fruit plates. The place is about half full.
Even young people are eating less now. The Main Street Ben & Jerry’s has vanished. It’s a new 21st Century world in which we tend to skimp on lunch and breakfast, and only occasionally splurge on an avant-garde dinner in a loud, dark place. Now in France, an omelet, salad and a glass of Beaujolais is considered a fine bistro supper. But the omelet parlor operators never opened for dinner. This probably would have involved complexities like getting a beer-wine license, but it also might have saved the institution.
Jim Hahn grabs the white-boxed, take-out remainder of his big breakfast and scurries off to Santa Monica Superior Court before I can ask him what he thinks of the end of the Omelette Parlor. Michelle Hahn says they brought her grandfather there for his birthday in full knowledge that this was the last chance they had to eat there. “It’s extremely sad,” she said.
“I’m going to miss this place,” her grandfather Frank said.
The Omelette Parlor is at 2732 Main St, Santa Monica, California 90405-4008, and is open from 6am - 230pm. Wednesday, Dec. 18, is the last full day of business.