Small Wonders: Damon's isn't the same. Or is it?

Damon's just isn’t the same.

It's not worse. Not necessarily better, either.

Always great.

Just not the same.

Which shouldn’t mean anything, really, when you think about it.

What is the same?

I’m not. And unless you’re Joan Rivers, neither are you.

It’s just that every time I go to Damon’s Steakhouse, something is a little different — which can be unsettling. Kind of like seeing a new lawn gnome in front of your childhood home.

We had dinner last Saturday at Glendale’s most famous eatery. We were celebrating the 40th anniversary of my mother’s 39th birthday.

On the surface, it may look the same: The fish tank, thatched roofing and bamboo; the outrigger overhead, tiki idols, monkeys and tropical wall art — though I seem to recall a few of the tanned female islanders being topless in those pastoral scenes of my youth. But maybe that’s just the fantasy of an adolescent boy.

Like many locals, it’s been our family “go-to” restaurant as long as I can remember. The one you go to when you just don’t have the energy to think of any other place to go and you know the food will always be good. More of a reunion than a dining experience.

I remember eating at the original location, the one that’s somewhere under what became Nordstrom at the Galleria, if memory serves. It’s where my mother’s parents took her for her first drink on her 21st birthday. The current location on Brand Boulevard is where she took me for what she thought was my first drink. Perhaps my daughters will have their first drink there, too, — if they’re allowed out of the convent for a night.

Folks used to be able to smoke in the place. I remember walking through the bar and seeing a layer of cigarette smoke from the top of my 13-year-old head to the ceiling. There was one lone, wheezing air purifier on the ceiling that struggled, hissed and sparked in a fruitless effort to suck up the smog.

Used to be I didn’t even have to look at the menu. If you grew up going to Damon’s, you had it memorized. Top sirloin, petite filet, New York strip, broiled chicken breast, deep fried or broiled shrimp brochette, hamburger — and Mai Tais.

You had one or two favorites and you picked whichever struck your fancy that night. Salad with house dressing because they had no other, garlic bread and a twice-baked potato. Done.

But the menu has changed. All the classics are still there, as well as a smattering of new items for a new generation. Butternut squash ravioli? Veggie lasagna? At Damon’s? Really?

There’s a little something different about the salad dressing you just can’t put your finger on. The median age of the servers is considerably lower than it used to be. Not to mention their gender.

And the dark rum floater was missing from my first Mai Tai. This was corrected on the second.

There’s live music and food served in the bar now. Which is good, because you need something in your stomach when you have drinks at Damon’s, or you might end up on the roof. Trust me on that.

Even if ownership hadn’t changed over the years, the place would have. It wouldn’t be able to avoid it.

You can’t blame them for updating things, though. The business appears to be thriving, with hour-long waits if you don’t have a reservation. Which is a good change. They never used to take reservations.

But this isn’t about a restaurant, nor is it a food review.

We have a tendency to want to believe that things were better “back then.” I’d argue they’re not. They’re just fixed in our minds, benchmarks, the baseline of things. A point of discovery that becomes what we measure everything thereafter against.

When we hold too tightly to memories, to ghosts and apparitions of “the way things were” with a resolve to keep them frozen forever, we do ourselves a disservice.

Maybe we want things to stay the same because when they change, we sense ourselves getting that much closer to the end; to the one great, unknowable change that awaits us all.

You don’t have to embrace change. But you can certainly enjoy it while keeping the memories alive.

Like I said. Damon’s just isn’t the same. But that’s not such a bad thing.


PATRICK CANEDAY grew up in Glendale, lives in Burbank and wants to hear your stories. Contact him at Read more at

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