Monday comes and I’m ready for my third coffee by noon and a bite to eat. I slip on out and head off to the Black Bicycle Café. The sky is a pure blue – clear as a mountain lake. I follow the main artery, Santa Monica Boulevard, which runs through the heart of Hollywood, West Hollywood, and Beverly Hills – all the way to the ocean if you please. A tourist shouted to me from his rental car at a stoplight idle once, “Can I get to the beach this way?”
Stepping to the curb I said, “Sure, follow Santa Monica Boulevard west all the way to Santa Monica City and you’ll be at the beach of the same name. Long as you’re not in hurry today.”
He smiled in triumph and anticipation, “No, I’m not. Not today. Thanks!” The light turned green, ushering him along his westward trail to the sea.
Today no one stops me for directions. Nor is Cletus waiting outside the clothing exchange, sunning his dark skin with face tattoos. I haven’t seen Cletus for weeks. Before the City took out the wooden bench that sat there in splintery solidarity, he would show up every few weeks—always grinning, eyes always covered by big shiny sunglasses. Cletus always said he was going to head west to Santa Monica too some day. He had wintered in the Valley and wanted to spend his summers in Santa Monica, but it was much more crowded there. “Good people there,” he’d say, “Nice people,” nodding his head, black dreads bobbing. “Here too, of course! If you’re good to people, they’re good to you.” He must have made it to Santa Monica since I haven’t seen him. I hope he found his good people there.
As I stroll, I picture my espresso already waiting for me in bean form around the corner. The boiling water cometh. I turn off the boulevard and pass sidewalk tables that belong to the restaurant on the corner. Couples on lunch dates prefer these tables just off the busy boulevard with the midday sun on them to complete the Mediterranean experience. The Black Bicycle’s tables are just past these under the jacaranda tree in front of the café.
This jacaranda tree shades the shop in the morning from the rising sun, soaks up the daytime rays and last afternoon slivers, as the shadows in the lee of the café grow from the brick walls toward the tree roots. Beneath the jacaranda sit a pair of tables also perfect for couples or trios, lovers or sunbathers, tourists, locals, writers, models, and me. Today the tables are empty and I’ll have my pick of them in the sun.
Just inside the long and deep café is the eponymous bicycle up on the wall hanging over the big table by the window. The tires still have their injection hairs intact and the spirit of it calls to any avid cyclists that faraway destinations await them always. I’ve answered my call to coffee and arrived. Espresso awaits!
My favorite barista, Peter, is in, ready to brew some gold for me out of hot water and roasted seeds of Coffea Arabica. I live and die by espressos and Peter pulls magic out of their La Marzocco espresso machine. When I first visited their café, they were pouring with beans from Groundworks Coffee. Groundworks is a super local brand from the Valley, homegrown success story roasters, that produce solid single-origins and blends. They’ve got a flagship store in an old train depot not far from their headquarters in NoHo, by the metro stop. When you buy some beans there, you get a free coffee. Solid, like I said. But not the best when one runs into baristas who don’t know what they’re doing and can’t make even a solid bean like Groundworks hum. Peter made it sing, forging a velvety crema every time that kept me coming back for more doppio. Each cup of coffee is the same ritual repeated while the brewing grows better and better with the skill of the maker.
Now the café has switched roasters and Peter is brewing Owlverick’s out of Orange County. Their hand roasted small batches are potent with flavor. The women of Owlverick’s are using third-generation family roasting recipes. At the café, when Peter and them were first trying out the beans, Peter would adjust his ritual each day to dial in on these particular beans. The result is the same velvet crema but with a wild bright bold flavor: earthy with chocolate and spice, hint of tobacco leaf, and a sweetly acidic finish like plums or black currants. It is a vibrant coffee that always delivers while still remaining enigmatic.
The sun is warm, the espresso perfect. The sun-espresso Med effect in full display. A beautiful day to be alive in L.A.. A couple is seated at a nearby table and are clearly on a date—second or third maybe by their comfort. They sip coffee and laugh; they’re trying to figure out whom the actor is that they saw at the corner restaurant. I smile to myself and sip my espresso.