Bearded producer Bob Weide, 27, flung himself into a chair at Duke's and opened his Thomas Brothers' map book. "I'm looking for homes," he said with a sigh. "Maybe something up on Laurel Canyon.
Weide could have just as easily scanned maps in the privacy of his own apartment, but why conduct stressful tasks alone when he could melt into the easy camaraderie of Duke's Coffee Shop?
Packed for brunch on weekends, where long lines often snake out onto Sunset Boulevard, Duke's is a friendly, "Yeah, man" kind of hangout for rock 'n' rollers and entertainment bizzers who'd rather be rumpled than de rigueur.
Since its recent move from the street level of the Tropicana Motel on Santa Monica Boulevard, some feared old Duke's just wouldn't be the same. And, although it's true that this new Sunset Boulevard location has an updated '80s feel--clean white walls, industrial lamps, a neon sign in the window--the generic brown tables and chairs, rock posters, album covers and photos of celebrities on the walls provide assurance that nothing really has changed.
Drum Solo at Table
Duke's crowded tables still require stranger to break garlic bread with stranger--part of its charm, if you're sociable. We once had to share a table with Flea, the drummer from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He embarrassed our companion by doing an imitation of a drum solo right over her Spinach Special (fresh spinach, mushrooms, onion and ground beef scrambled with three eggs, served with sliced tomatoes and toast for $5.45). Now, if you're looking for celebrities, you'll most likely see Matt Dillon or Peter Wolfe or Rutger Hauer perched at the counter--slurping coffee and dragging on cigarettes. "They come here because they know nobody's gonna bother them," the waiter succinctly explained.
Shy patrons who'd rather stare into oblivion than face the features of someone they don't know across the table can wait in line for a seat at the counter. But these are jealously guarded and vied for, and if you try to slip onto a stool without being officially seated, the red-haired British counter waitress will scold you just as routinely as she mops up toast crumbs.
Inexpensive, Tasty Food
In addition to the friendly atmosphere and rock n' roll folklore--they said Tom Waits hung out here in the '70s--Duke's enthusiasts come for the inexpensive, tasty food. You'll find omelets, pancakes and other breakfast fare under the printed admonishment, "Your mother wants you to eat your breakfast." If you have a sweet tooth, date shakes and lemon cake are listed under: "Finish all your food and you can get dessert."
And it's always entertaining to watch lanky waiters Ron Day, blond, pony-tailed, 21, and Peter Knight, black-haired, pony-tailed, 21, sail by with breakfast specials and witticisms:
"Do you want some more java, man? No? How about some more water--it's delicious water." "Hey, you mind if I turn the heat off now? It's messing up my do." "Here's the takeout menu, it's exactly like the regular menu, but more difficult to read."
Day and Knight--both musicians in a band called, not surprisingly, Black and White--are such Duke's denizens that they even eat there on their days off.
Why? "Because it's the best food in town," Day said.
Duke's, 8909 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 652-9411.