Transformed Historic Hotel Introduces Throwback Dining Experience

Beginner’s Diner at the Lafayette Hotel & Club


The Lafayette Hotel & Club, located in the North Park neighborhood of San Diego, California, has hosted Hollywood luminaries including Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra since it debuted in 1946. In July, the Colonial-style Lafayette completed its first comprehensive renovation—an investment of $31 million into all 139 guestrooms, the signature pool, and eight new food and beverage outlets. Designed by Brooklyn-based Post Company, the transformation represents many facets of San Diego’s culture that are underappreciated, according to Arsalun Tafazoli, founder of the hotel’s owner and developer, CH Projects. “As stubborn advocates for the city, we are obsessive about creating experiences for the community that both celebrate our weird, wonderful pockets of subculture and provide elements of escapism,” he said. Among the cultural pockets is the traditional 1940s diner, brought to life as Beginner’s Diner. Serving fare influenced by Greek and Jewish cuisines, the diner recreates all the historical details—from the interior design to the placemats, flatware, and fountain drinks. Tafazoli described his inspiration for Beginner’s Diner: “I was raised by Twin Peaks. There is a subversive quality to David Lynch’s work that appeals to me, and the diner is at the center of the show, representing comfort and community. On another note, there is something really compelling about the history of diners. They democratized restaurants the U.S. and are a timeless symbol of Americana.” CH Projects partnered with a diner historian to ensure authenticity, and the high standard meant “every part of the process was challenging,” Tafazoli recalled. “Recreating a train car diner in the middle of a lobby with modern systems was pretty difficult.” The end result, however, is effectively a “time travel” experience for guests and a key attraction within the reimagined hotel.

1Unique ceiling mural

The ceiling was painted by Brazilian artist Joao Incerti. “The painting itself has religious undertones. … There is a lot of inspiration and wisdom to be found in world religions,” Tafazoli explained. “If you look closely, you’ll see that one side of the mural is dark with jaguars, while the other side is light.”

2Authentic furniture

“We worked with a historian, Richard Grutman, to source everything from the banquettes to the stools to faithfully recreate a 1940s train car diner,” said Tafazoli. “Grutman was key in bringing the diner to life.”

3Retro facade

The bold neon signage on the chrome storefront harkens back to the extensive use of neon in 1940s and ‘50s diners, which sought to attract motorists. Similarly, the Beginner’s Diner sign serves as a beacon to guests of the Lafayette Hotel & Club.

4Highly textured surfaces

The diner is replete with patterned surfaces of wood, stone, and tile representing the era. “The design is super modular—every surface level, every inch was covered. It was a lot of geometry. It took a lot of talented craftsmen—an army of craftsmen—to figure it out,” Tafazoli related.

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George Seli is the editor of LODGING.