by Frank Turrisi
With the momentum of the new semester building, I'm sure we're all scrambling to perk up our creativity. Well, you might want to consider those creative juices pouring over, cold-brewing, or hitting you in double and triple shots with this exhaustive list of craft-centric and best coffee shops for creatives within our greater PCC community. Spanning a radius extending from the PCC campus, I have surveyed Glendale to the Northwest and Arcadia to the Northeast, Alhambra to the Southeast and Frogtown to the Southwest, with all of these stimulating shops chosen not only by their convenience for, but also for their likelihood of, serving our PCC student body. With many great cafes across the city worthy of this list, but falling outside of this radius (just think Echo Park, Silver Lake and Downtown L.A./Arts District areas), I say in my best Marie Antoinette, let them have LACC (or GCC or ELACC). Also, since this is a literary blog, if you don’t see your favorite local NELA/Pasadena cafe here, I’m talking about you Copa Vida (too corporate) and Urth Cafe (lack of personal touch), Lavender & Honey (too cramped), and Found Coffee (not enough character), remember this list suits creatives best, so your vibe can’t even hint cookie cutter, and you just can't get caught trying too hard. To make this list, not only must all of the menu offerings be most on-point, but your art curation, music selection, design game, right on down to the architectural character of the space and regular clientele must exude that "je ne sais quoi" which pours more authentically from the heart and soul to generate a vibe that the artist longs for. If you don't get what I’m talking about for qualifying these special neighborhood hangs, don't change your major to accounting yet...that's why I made this list! Instead, pop in for a visit and see this eclectic collection for yourself. Then, I guarantee you will understand why it’s this eight that keeps the creatives coming back:
1. Civil Coffee, 5629 N. Figueroa St., Los Angeles, CA 90042
The energy of this place is like a slice of life a la Brooklyn/Manhattan amalgamation - welcome to the new Figueroa St. corridor of Highland Park. By simply stepping across Civil's Barcelona Tile floors and up to the Acacia topped, brass-framed, mirrored bar to order a perfectly made macchiato (I sweeten it with their turbinado sugar simple syrup), a very Northeast L.A. phenomena may occur.…you’ll either become cooler immediately, or feel like you’re not cool enough! Start by eavesdropping on production meetings of commercials, music videos, and Indie-Films (Art Dept., of course!), and soon you’ll understand that you’re sipping stimulation right on the pulse of one of the most artistic communities worldwide. It's like Williamsburg west, and the fly digs would fit right in the boroughs! The interior walls are wainscoted with repurposed estate doors and adorned with the most tasteful (if not pricy) selection of local artwork on this entire list (all available for purchase on consignment). The food menu is as tightly curated as the art, and runs the gamut from Fried Chicken atop vanilla, Belgian yeasted waffles to Mushroom Ricotta Flatbread. You can also build your own Toast (gluten-free option available) with choice of eggs, smoked salmon, avocado, or market fruit speed jam. If you’re anti-gentrification you have to be creative just to not let this place offend you, but do consider the owner is Latino himself, and so in addition to the Spelt Tostada, a delicious, more O.G. creation called the Morales Breakfast is also offered by his family namesake and will satisfy those of the most authentic Mexican roots hankering for chilaquiles. For your sweet tooth, there’s mouthwatering butterscotch, salted caramel pudding and chocolate chip cookies courtesy of SugarBloom LA. After you've received your refreshments, if it’s peace and quiet you crave, step away from the faux Carrera marble backsplash and out from under the towering ceilings to the, dare I say more, civil, outdoor seating to gather your thoughts. Their beans from Onyx Coffee Lab grind down to the most unique flavored Joe around, and if you're vegan or just don't do the dairy, you can skip it with cashew-nut and oat-hemp milk options. Everything about the service speaks to devotion to craft, so why not bring your laptop and hone your own here. Yet, if you won’t take my recommendation based on any of the above, check out their website and admire their attempt at putting out their own literary blog with essays, poems, art, and more called “Civilian”. Oh yeah...I think they’re catering to the creative set (insert emoji wink here)!
#'s 2 & 3. Cafe De Leche, 2477 N. Lake Ave., Altadena 91001, CA, & , 5000 York Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90042
Since both of Anya and Matt Schodorf’s cafes cracked this list, I’ll list their impressive locations of the same name (but of very different vibe) together, and with a single shout-out to the cafe couple for beckoning our creativity:
Altadena - This baby blue bungalow doesn’t have much room to offer seating inside besides a couple tables and a mid-century lounge set with a plaid sofa and vintage teak coffee table. If you are lucky enough to find a seat inside, you will find both titillation and relaxation from the full aqua color spectrum of geometric tile design decorating the walls from floor to ceiling, which feels more like a hip Venice beach house than a San Gabriel Mountain foothill gem. Yet, no problem if they’re out of seats inside. The charm of this space ascends to an entirely new level when you step outside under the pergola and into an outdoor seating area slick and modern enough to be in your sexiest boutique hotels instead of a coffee shop. However, this is not your average coffee shop! It is super peaceful during the afternoon, and when you’re sitting sun-splashed under accordion-like canary yellow awnings with views of the mountain tops so close it feels as if you can toss a piece of their well-chosen garden stone and hit the popular nearby hiking spot Inspiration Point atop Echo Mountain. Then, you realize all the inspiration you need may be right inside this cafe’s ideal setting. If procreation is your primary creativity, bring the children. They are certain to enjoy the offering of board games, coloring books, Hula Hoops, and the regulation-sized court for the bean bag toss in back. Perhaps they are so kid-friendly because the 10 and under set here is as well-behaved as it gets. The bites are limited, but the pastries, doughnuts, bagels, and parfaits are of the best quality around, and the place is wired with great sound, playing moody tunes (during my visit) to offset the caffeine jitters.
Highland Park - This is the “O.G.” location at the epicenter of the Highland Park renaissance, with its 2008 opening being at the forefront of the movement. As such, before every cafe in town had the option to serve a different brand of craft beverage, both of the Cafe de Leche locations have loyally served Portland’s Stumptown Coffee from the giddy up, and by the looks of much of their clientele, seem to have dragged the hipsters along with it as well. The coffee here is still my favorite on this list (though not by much), and the most magnificently motley peoplewatching from the York Blvd. sidewalk tables is the best on this list (by a lot) if you wish to sit outside beside the succulent-filled planters. In addition, you can grab some reading material from their bookshare or from POP-HOP Books & Print next door, then see if you can find some seating inside at one of the thick plywood tables that look DIY until you train your eyes to understand that beveled edge tabletop requires some badass woodworking. The eclectic and colorful mod chair designs are much more artsy than fartsy, while the lime green mid-century sofa is the perfect place to take a break and admire a mural of the Highland Park Hills silhouette that runs almost the entire length of the joint, and in hues that range from avocado to pink earth tones. Who even knew those colors went together? Clearly someone not only more creative than me, but also someone behind sewing the pioneering fabric of what burgeoned into this creative community. There is always a crowd here, and they’re more the working than socializing kind, despite their appearances. And since this place has been around before gentrification got too crazy, it is equally appreciated by the “real” Highland Park clientele as well as your transplant artists, Oxy crowd, or whomever is waving the new money in the hood. Also, when the service is as friendly as it is, how can’t you just love them?!? Try the horchata latte or horchata con espresso and you’ll be quickly reminded of the "sabor" this neighborhood staple has fully embraced, while getting to enjoy one of the tastiest coffee concoctions you’ll find anywhere. And, if you really want to know what’s going on around the barrio, there is no better place to hit up for flyers of happenings and grab business cards alike.
4. Habitat Coffee Shop and Cafe, 3708 Eagle Rock Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90065
This Glassell Park jewel ranks as the best eats on this list. Breakfast is served from 7a.m.-12p.m weekdays and 7a.m.-2p.m. Sat. & Sun. The Croissant Egg Sandwich with avocado, cherry tomato, bacon, and Swiss is one of the best you’ll find anyplace in town, and even a carnivore like myself would delight in the Vegan Tostada with scrambled tofu, vegan cheese, soyrizo, avocado, pico de gallo & black beans. You can also partake of grains made to order during breakfast hours, with a choice of muesli, quinoa, or granola with seasonal fresh fruit accoutrements. Don’t worry if you’re not an early riser, plenty of food is served all day, including four kinds of quiche, two full menu pages of "classic" and specialty salads that will satisfy the most discerning Eastside foodie types (that frequent here for sure). If that's not enough, there are another two pages delicious sandwiches offered. All served on various artisan breads, the sensational Seitan Banh Mi, Curried Tofu Sandwich, and Cauliflower Melt will satisfy the vegans and non-vegans alike. Yet, if you love meat, the Muffalata is the way to go, but I wouldn’t say no to the braised short rib grilled cheese or the roasted pork sandwich either in this standout section of the menu. The pastries and desserts provided by Susina Bakery and Cafe are many and fabulous, but don’t discriminate against even the most restricted diets. I could go on all day about the food options, but let’s leave it at, if you’re gluten free or vegan, you have new options here for days, and if you’re an omnivore….weeks! Organic Tea presses that come in a wide variety are the stars of the beverage menu, but it’s almost not fair to say when there's a white chocolate mocha made with authentic Taza Mexican Chocolate staring right at you. This cafe draws a slightly more mature, professional crowd than the others in the hipster Golden Triangle, and you'll probably be nestled amongst business meetings abound, but don’t be surprised if you see a tattoo or sleeve poking through the casual business attire. Some of the artsy vibe is lost with this place being a favorite to the nearby law firm, and if I had to guess, many of your creatives here look like the architects and designers of the modern homes you can see peering down at you from the nearby Glassell Park and Mt. Washington Hills. The generously sized industrial furniture will give you a sense of permanence while you brainstorm, but it is the bevy of menu selections here that will make you feel what any creative needs to feel most…unrestricted.
There should be enough stops here to get you brewing. Tune in next week for the the other four, and zippy sippy to you and your creativity all the while!