This is a first for the Coffee Spot. Almost four years ago to the day, I was in Intelligentsia on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice, Los Angeles, following a recommendation from Lee Gaze of Silhouette. It was during my first visit to the city and, while I really liked it, I didn’t have time to finish my write up during my busy trip, so it languished on my hard drive instead. As weeks turned to months, and months turned to years, it seemed increasingly pointless to publish an out-of-date Coffee Spot, so that’s where it stayed, languished on my hard drive.
However, with the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to limit both my travel and my ability to visit (and hence write about) coffee shops, at the start of the year I decided to return to my backlog of Travel Spots, which led to me to continue writing up The Grand Adventure (as I call my drive from Phoenix to San Francisco, undertaken in January 2017). And that, in turn, has provided the perfect excuse to dust off my notes and old photos of Intelligentsia…
So, let me present Intelligentsia’s Venice coffee bar, exactly as I found it three years and 363 days ago.
Welcome to the next instalment of The Grand Adventure, part of a series of Travel Spot posts that form part of a larger trip to America that I took in January/February 2017. The Grand Adventure itself is the week-long drive I made from Phoenix to San Francisco via the Joshua Tree National Park and Los Angeles, a total of 1,2000 miles.
Part I covered my drive from Phoenix to Joshua Tree, while Part II details the day I spent in the park, followed by an evening drive to Los Angeles. Today’s instalment is all about the day I spent in Los Angeles before I drove up the Californian coast all the way to San Francisco.
The fact that I spent any time at all in Los Angeles was all down to a chance encounter with Lee Gaze, owner of Silhouette, shortly before the trip. I’d originally planned to skip Los Angeles, and just go straight onto my drive along the coast. However, Lee was horrified when I told him, insisting that I had to have at least one day in the city. He was so persuasive that I relented, replanning my trip so that I would spend Monday in Los Angeles before carrying on with my drive.
Welcome to this, today’s bonus Travel Spot, covering a journey I took exactly a year and one day ago, when I boarded Amtrak Train No. 14, the Coast Starlight, at Los Angeles’ Union Station. This was part of a much larger, five-week trip that began in New Orleans, then saw me travel to Los Angeles, San Jose/the Bay Area and Chicago (on the California Zephyr), from where I (eventually) returned home. One day I hope to write up the entire trip, but for now, I hope you enjoy the train ride!
The Coast Starlight is a daily service between Los Angeles and Seattle, although I was only going as far as San Jose, an all-day journey that departed Los Angeles at 10:10 and arrived in San Jose at 20:11, ten hours and one minute later! It was also very cheap, a one-way advance fare in coach class costing just $60, although since I was going to be on the train for 10 hours, I’d decided to spend the extra $30 for a seat in business class. Along the way, I saw a lot of the Pacific Coast as well as some awesome mountain scenery, plus I had two excellent meals in the dining car!
I have a soft spot for Verve Coffee Roasters, the California-based coffee shop/roaster chain, although its three Japanese outposts earn it the tag “international”. Starting in Santa Cruz, where it has four outlets, including its flagship Pacific Avenue store, it’s spread both north to San Francisco (Market Street) and south to Los Angeles, where I visited the Spring Street store in downtown LA. Opening in 2015, it’s one of three Verve outlets in the city (soon to be four with opening of a roastery/ coffee shop in the Arts District in summer 2019).
The coffee options, which change monthly, are familiar to anyone who has visited Verve. There’s the Streetlevel seasonal espresso blend, joined by a featured espresso (also a blend, Sermon, during my visit), all the shots being pulled on a custom four-group Kees van der Westen Spirit espresso machine. For filter, there’s a batch-brew option, with three single-origins available as pour-over through Kalita Wave filters on the Modbar modular system. If you’re hungry, there’s a selection of salads, wraps and bowls, with cake and pastries for those with a sweet tooth, while all the coffee is available in retail bags, along with a selection of merchandising and coffee equipment.
Woodcat Coffee Bar was a chance find that both made my day and reminded me of why I started the Coffee Spot in the first place. That I found it is entirely down to Kyle, the manager at Stumptown Coffee in New Orleans, and his wonderful team, who made it one of their top Los Angeles picks. A pick that, serendipitously, was a ten-minute walk from my hotel, which I’d booked over a month before. Naturally, I had to start my solitary day in Los Angeles with coffee at Woodcat.
A friendly, neighbourhood place, Woodcat is a labour of love from owners, married couple Janine & Saadat, who, having failed to find any good coffee on moving into the Echo Park neighbourhood, decided to open their own shop in September 2014. Starting on a shoestring, they had plenty of support from the local community, while Saadat built pretty much everything using reclaimed materials, giving Woodcat a wonderful, homely feel. Woodcat serves Flat Track Coffee from Austin, Texas on espresso and filter, where it’s joined by the occasional guest roaster. There are several signature drinks and a selection of teas, plus a range of savoury and sweet goodies if you’re hungry.
G & B Coffee, short for Glanville and Babinski Coffee, after founders Kyle Glanville and Charles Babinski, a pair of United States Barista Champions, opened in 2013. Located in the Grand Central Market, it brings top quality coffee right into the heart of downtown Los Angeles. The market, crammed full of food stalls, bars and several fruit and veg stalls, is worth a visit in its own right (I ate there twice), but for me, G & B Coffee is the highlight.
A large, standalone island counter at the top end of the market, you can sit where you like (or stand at the bar at the back) and one of the baristas will come to take your order. There are two choices on espresso and two more on filter, backed-up with a selection of signature drinks and a range of teas. If you are hungry, you have a wide range of food to choose from in the market, while G & B has waffles, granola and a range of cakes and pastries.
That I ended up in Los Angeles in the first place, let alone having coffee at Go Get Em Tiger, is entirely down to Lee of Silhouette, who, while I was discussing my current trip, simply would not believe that I was going to drive past Los Angeles and not call in. So, I decided to change my plans and spend a day in LA, visiting coffee shops and being a tourist (Lee, I loved it!).
Go Get Em Tiger is on Hollywood Boulevard, in the Los Feliz neighbourhood, sharing a space with McConnell’s ice cream parlour, which is on the right, with Go Get Em Tiger on the left. Long and thin, there’s no seating inside, just “standing” down the left-hand side at various broad window-sills. To sit down, you need the raised terrace in front of the shop, which is normally a good option, unless you arrive on one of the (rare) days when it’s been pouring with rain…
Go Get Em Tiger is a multi-roaster, with two options on espresso and two more on batch-brew. It also has a good range of cakes and an impressive brunch menu (7am to 4pm) cooked in the open-plan kitchen at the back on the right.