Cafe Jack, Koreatown's Titanic-Themed Restaurant, Explained
Nanette Gonzales Cafe Jack, a Titanic-themed restaurant in Koreatown
The restaurant looks like an ocean liner that's run aground in the middle of Koreatown, with the survivors building ramshackle additions and living out their lives right where they landed. But the clue is in the name emblazoned on the ship's bow -- Café Jack. As in Jack Dawson, the young artist played by Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic, a guy who comes from the wrong deck of the ship but captures Kate Winslet's heart just the same.
This part of Fifth Street was an empty 6,500-square-foot lot when owner Jack Shin, 48, invested what he shyly admits was around $500,000, and -- with just one "helper" -- built his homage to the blockbuster weeper. They used real boating material for the exterior, and it took a year of "painting and nailing" and scouring antique stores and Pasadena flea markets to find just-like-the-movie tables, chairs and nautical touches before Shin opened the doors in 2007.
Walking down Café Jack's (seemingly endless) decked corridors, you'll find a bit of everything: private rooms, patios, communal tables, a piano, even window murals with tiny balconies, complete with potted plants and bird feeders. Everywhere you look it's Titanic-o-rama, with movie stills, publicity shots and posters, plus a maelstrom of shiny lights, year-round Christmas decorations and lots and lots of hearts: stuffed hearts, heart lights, heart pillows, heart objets d'art. Like, you know, the "heart of the ocean" -- the big-ass blue diamond that Kate Winslet's character chucks into the deep at the end of the film.
Shin has seen the James Cameron movie "hundreds" of times, yet he still watches it whenever he has a moment. Why? He puts his hand over his heart, saying simply, "The story is very good. I like it."
A cheery, divorced father of two, Shin calls Café Jack "my home, my dream, where every day can be happy. I live here!"
His nautical theme was designed to attract more than just locals, though, and he reckons only 50 percent of his customers are Korean; the rest are curious Americans or tourists from Spain and Japan.
This afternoon, as Shin does solo duty as host and chef, Catherine Kim, 19, and Anna Chung, 18, are ensconced in a corner, long after finishing their respective green tea ice cream and Oreo shake. They're the only guests in the place.
They say they love the chill atmosphere and the fact that they can hang out. (Mercifully, Celine Dion isn't on a loop, just K-pop.) "Koreans are social," says Chung. "They like to just chat."
Many of the girls' friends come here, too, they say, a fact borne out by the years of graffiti on the table. "It's nothing like Starbucks, and not overpriced like other Korean cafés," Kim says.
Chung adds, "It's really pretty here at night, with all the lights on."
Titanic is about to get a 3-D rerelease for the 100th anniversary of the only voyage its namesake ship ever made. And although Chung and Kim initially profess not to care about the wall of Titanic stills nearby, they ultimately admit they've seen the movie "thousands of times."
Kim calls it "a classic romance story." She says, "Back then, everything in life was planned out for you, and you never expected that they'd get together."
Chung, who has dreamed of being a forensic pathologist ever since she saw Dawn of the Dead in the seventh grade, quickly adds, "And Leo was pretty good-looking, too."