When tabulating the numerous attributes of the Coffee Corner, an open-air cafe at Farmer's Market in the Fairfax area, first consider the economic advantages. In these times it's difficult to get a freshly brewed cappuccino for $1.15, even if on rare occasion the fluff of steamed half-and-half camouflages a gritty brown swill. Tipping is not required at the Coffee Corner and there is no minimum.
Indeed, on a recent visit one crisp weekday morning, a disheveled-looking woman sat at a dish-filled table, mumbling loudly to herself about Dr. Ruth Westheimer, making fish faces, and tossing bits of crumpled napkins at the other clientele. She never ordered a thing, but such is the populist attitude at the Coffee Corner: The brown-aproned busperson still cleaned up around her, sponging off the Formica table-top as if she were a paying customer.
Admittedly, some might find the spare decor--rickety brown metal chairs set on bumpy asphalt--less than refined. But there are few places in Los Angeles where one can sit outside and eat without simultaneously consuming poisonous clouds of car exhaust. It's true that the Venice Boardwalk has sidewalk cafes; they even attract the same charmingly eclectic mix of camera-toting tourists, retirees and artist-types. But the Coffee Corner can boast the absence of one beachside irritant: all that sunshine and not a guitar-thwacking troubadour in sight.
Then there is the matter of June, the Coffee Corner's rouged-cheeked counterwoman and major domo. It would not be exaggeration to claim that rarely before has one woman so persnickety proved such an attraction.
Whir of Activity
Except when pausing to dispatch looks of weary forbearance at her small crew of helpers, June is a perpetual whir of activity--fluffing the peach-colored napkins, wiping down the Gaggia espresso machine, and scrubbing out the cast-iron apparatus that make the Belgian waffles. (The whipped-cream topped confections are the only food available with the exception of the complementary burquillos, a delicate, rolled wafer cookie that comes with each coffee.)
June has an egalitarian spirit about her. Everyone gets the same response if they request a glass of water; she crankily points her finger at a nearby water fountain and tells you to get your own. Each customer--from teen-agers to octogenarians--is addressed as "kid," with the level of courtesy based entirely on her rapidly changing moods.
Reportedly, even those who have renounced caffeine go to the Coffee Corner just to watch June--her trademark head-scarf so laden with bobby pins that she can probably pick up cable TV--trap unsuspecting patrons into listening to her lectures. She can discourse on any number of subjects from Morey Amsterdam ("He's lookin' thin these days. Don't you think so, kid?") to the Russians ("They're takin' over.") for as long as you can politely stand there.
Don't attempt to locate the place without directions; you might end up at the other cappuccino bar of the same name, the one near Patsey's Pizza. The Coffee Corner is located on the west end of Farmer's Market, past the Gadget Nook and just beyond the Gumbo Pot. It's bounded by Castillo's Tacos, Magee's Nuthouse, Thee's Continental Pastries and the Ultimate Fruit and Nut Co. You will know you're there when you've reached a table-and-chair filled quadrant, staked out by a handful of hard-core regulars who guard their territory with puffed-up propriety.
In its 30-year existence, the Coffee Corner, owned by Bob Langston, has become an institution. Local chef Billy Pflug, 30, has been frequenting it for the last six years, despite the fact that he moved to Santa Monica four years ago. "There are so few neighborhoods in Los Angeles that once you've become accustomed to the community feeling, you can't give it up," he said. At the Coffee Corner, "you always see the same old faces, you always say 'hello.' It's the only place in L.A. where I feel that way."
Coffee Corner, Farmer's Market, 3rd St. and Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 938-0278.