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Theater's Effort to Oust Coffeehouse Stirs Brew-haha

January 14, 1988|ESTHER SCHRADER | Times Staff Writer

The ambiance was more party than protest outside the Onyx Cafe in Silver Lake Saturday night.

"Make Coffee, Not War" read one sign carried proudly by a demonstrator sipping cappuccino, while another, tidily summing up the collective mood, advised, "Don't Be a Slug, Fred."

Fred is Fred Hicks, owner of the Vista Theatre, next door to the Bohemian coffeehouse. Hicks owns the master lease on the property, and has been making moves to evict the Onyx since last summer. Early last month, Hicks got serious. He pressed the eviction proceeding, filing an unlawful-detainer complaint against cafe owners Fumiko Robinson and John Leech.

In recent weeks, Leech and Robinson have been fighting back with a style as offbeat as their establishment.

More than 100 people crowded into the coffeehouse Saturday night, but it was almost impossible to discern who was protesting, who was playing (chess, checkers and guitars) and who was just there to sip some coffee.

On a big white table in front of the brightly lighted cafe, magic markers and large sheets of paper were at a premium as patrons designed signs with slogans such as "Coffee United, We'll Never Be Defeated," and one whose front read "Let Us Drink Our Coffee," and whose back concluded, "And Eat Our Cake."

Another effort pictured Fred Hicks and John Leech peacefully floating together inside a huge coffee cup. In real life, however, the lessor and the lessee have barely spoken since eviction proceedings began.

Leech's well-organized fight against the eviction has garnered more than 2,000 signatures and the endorsement of Los Angeles City Councilman Michael Woo, but the cafe's future is subject to the rule of landlord-tenant law. Hicks and his attorney have refused to comment on their plans for the property or their reasons for the eviction.

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