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Inside one of the last standing breakfast clubs in America

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LOS ANGELES (Circa) — Every Wednesday morning before the Los Angeles traffic can even get going, 60 strangers gather in an old auditorium in the northeast region of the city at 7 a.m.

The Los Angeles Breakfast Club hosts a weekly breakfast where people socialize, eat, dance and hear from guest speakers—all before they begin their workday.

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"I moved out here from North Dakota like Labor Day, and I got invited to Breakfast Club by the one person I knew in L.A. like a week later," said Jonathan Reich. "And I’ve just sort of been here ever since."

The Breakfast Club costs $100 to join, and each breakfast is $10. And there's a special initiation that requires getting blindfolded and riding Ham, the club's sawhorse and mascot.

The club was founded in 1925 as a club for businessmen to enjoy a meal after riding around on horses and heading back to work. Walt Disney was even a member at one point.

Back then, there were way more members. About a thousand, said Don Snyder, who's been a member since 1989.

"Back in the 90s and kind of going on in that period of time, we lost so many members by death," said Snyder, who is also the club's pianist. "These people grayed in the club, and they didn't replace themselves. Around 2013, we had about 10 members in the morning, and that's when Lily Holleman found us."

Lily Holleman remembers the day she first stumbled into the breakfast club.

"It was a foggy morning, and I walked into this hall, and it was a magical portal to another time," said Holleman. "A live pianist, singing—I felt like I had discovered the lost city of Atlantis. They had mostly given up about reviving the club. They were doing everything they knew how to do, but they didn’t know about social media, and they also didn’t know the value of what they had."

She started advertising the club on social media, and before long, the club's demographic changed.

"Now we’re seeing a rebirth, a lot of younger people," said Snyder. I think, probably, the mean age of this club is now 40, which is an entirely different scenario."

While the club is in a period of growth, members seem to like its underground appeal. The day we visited, one member came up to our crew with the camera and asked, "This isn't going to make the club go viral, right? We don't want too many people showing up," she said half joking.

During our visit, we spotted a few first-timers. They were easy to spot with their paper name tags. Members wear fancy buttons with their name and the year they graduated.

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"I am so excited to be here, and everyone is really friendly and very talkative, which I deeply enjoy," said Eleanor Huntington, who decided to check out the club because she's moving to the other side of town in a few weeks. In Los Angeles, moving to the "other side of town" is like moving to another city.

After checking in at the front desk, she was whisked away to the buffet line, featuring eggs, sausage and bread pudding. Within minutes, she was sitting at a table talking to old timers about how she found the club.

While it's not a nightclub per sé, this breakfast club is very loud. People are constantly talking, ending one conversation to turn around and start another. The club, nestled in an L.A. that can sometimes be characterized by how clique-y it is, brings people from all industries together.

"You have Myrtle, who is like our knitting wizard," said member Jonathan Reich. "And we have people like Charles Phoenix as a friend who visits."

Charles Phoenix, the comedian and author, happened to their that day. He was wearing a paper name tag too—not because it was his first time, but because he's a guest. That day in August was his sixth time stopping by.

"It's fun, it's people, it's food, it's entertainment. It's more entertainment," said Phoenix. "It's very entertaining. Did I mention entertaining?"

On the program that day was a presentation by Diana Tisue, a crew member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation's road trip, "Preserve Route 66."

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But it was what happened in the hour before that presentation that defines the club. As they wrapped breakfast, members from each table would step up to the podium and introduce guests to members of the club. There was a eulogy of sorts to late food critic Jonathan Gold, and then there was dancing—a choreographed dance/stretch session led by one of the members. And then there was swaying.

The "ritual" culminated in attendees lining up to exchange a secret handshake with members of the board who sit at the front of the auditorium just in front of the stage.

"This was a riot in the best possible way," said Eleanor Huntington. "I mean, it’s just a daily reminder to interact with people whom you wouldn’t normally see on a daily basis, and I think that part of it is really cool."

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