Saturday, January 11, 2014

Iconic Los Angeles - Encounter Restaurant at the LAX Theme Building

Hello there Lovelies!!

One of my Vintage Project Resolutions for this year was to get out and go on more field trips to iconic places in this great city of mine.  While the trip for this post took place back in 2010, I thought it was appropriate to use since we no longer have the option of going back.

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You may have heard this week that the Encounter restaurant closed on December 31 with no plans to re-open.  Encounter, located in the iconic Theme Building at LAX, opened in 1997.  While the restaurant had not garnered iconic status prior to its closing, the Theme Building, which opened in 1961, most certainly has.  It was designated as Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument no.570 in 1993.

The Theme Building is undoubtedly the most recognizable aspect of Los Angeles International Airport, second only to the LAX Pylons that were installed in 2000 as the public art component of the LAX Gateway Enhancement project.  I truly LOVE the series of 26 steel and translucent glass pylons that range from 25 feet to 100 feet high depending on their location, but no matter how long they stand or how much a part of the airport's aesthetic they become, they will never surpass the Theme Building.  While this post is not about this lighted art installation, a nod is most definitely warranted.

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So, Encounter...

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Ah, Encounter...I'm so sad to see it go, it was SO perfect in this space!  The Theme Building was built to resemble a flying saucer that had landed in the middle of the airport.  (It was built in this spot as a tribute to the 1959 plans for the airport in the incarnation that we know it today.  That 1959 plan had all the terminals and parking structures connected to a large central glass dome that would have been where the Theme Building is now.  I can't say that I'm unhappy they decided to go another route...I think it would have been pretty terrible.)

The building had gone through a few upgrades over the years to keep the Mid-Century modern space-aged aesthetic fresh and it was absolutely fantastic!  The attention to detail was pretty spectacular - starting with the elevator.  Best. Elevator. Ever. Period.

The elevator's design concept could very well be original.  While it looked cool, nothing compared to what happened when it started moving!  Also fun?  Getting into the elevator and watching people who had obviously never been there before react once all the fun started.  Everyone jumps on their first ride!

And once upstairs, the restaurant looked like something straight out of The Jetsons!

Perhaps my favorite photo from our visit!  View of the LAX pylons.
 Starting with a martini was never so much fun!

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Beyond the kitsch factor, the food here was amazing!  I had a salad and probably the best mushroom ravioli I'd ever had in my life (and I've sampled quite a few)!

Couple the fantastic food with fantastic company, fantastic drinks, and fantastic views and there was no way this would become an unmemorable night!

I'm so glad that I have this visit to look back on and also a second visit when a friend of mine and her husband's flight was delayed and we didn't realize until we were en route to the airport.  Which meant cocktails at Encounter to pass the time!

The restaurant is stationary, but there are contradictory reports about whether or not the restaurant was originally designed to slowly rotate, giving diners a 360 degree view of the airport and the surrounding areas.  Some sources claim that the restaurant did, in fact, rotate when it first opened, but that repairs were too expensive, so that stopped once it first broke down, which was almost immediately.  And others claim it never actually rotated, but I chose to believe that the first groups of diners were able to dine in a rotating restaurant.  How fabulous that must have been!!

While doing a little fact checking, I discovered that the observation deck above the restaurant reopened a few years back after being closed down after 9/11.  Perhaps one Saturday or Sunday, I will swing by LAX and pay the Theme Building another visit to check out the view and try to get an idea as to what's in store for this iconic restaurant space.

Let's raise a glass to Encounter and all the zany, futuristic, retro fun it provided for so many people during what normally would have been a pretty uneventful layover!  I hope you all had the opportunity to stop in for dinner or cocktails before they closed their doors.  Good bye Encounter, you will be missed!


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