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Rock N Java Is Jolt From the Brew

October 29, 1992|ROSE APODACA | Rose Apodaca is a free-lance writer who regularly contributes to The Times Orange County Edition.

Remember those strange, badly produced television commercials that ran about a decade ago featuring David Bowie in a recording studio enjoying a cup of java and the voice-over stating that coffee was "the beverage of a new generation"? Electric Light Orchestra's optimistic "Hold on Tight (. . . to Your Dreams)" played in the background.

Young TV viewers seem to have grown up responding to the Bowie bean-juice message. At least that's one theory as to why growing crowds are visiting the increasing number of funky coffeehouses that have opened in the past few years across the nation.

Coupled with "just say no" and decreasing alcohol consumption, much of the college-age MTV generation is finding that "caffeine is really the last safe vice." At least that's what Harley Hall, co-owner of Rock N Java, says.

His coffeehouse serves its mainly young clientele a dose of rock 'n' roll and blues with their cappuccino. It's a blend that has proved successful since he and his partner, Chris Stephens, opened in June, 1991.

Hall and Stephens were certainly not the first to open a coffeehouse in the county, although they were among the first wave of such businesses that have opened in the past two years.

What the two did bring to the scene is an ambience and environment that was missing from other county caffeine bars, although all the rage in Los Angeles, San Diego and Seattle.

Although many other coffeehouses here offer a choice of tired New Age or cutesy mini-mall atmosphere, Rock N Java brought Arabica beans, antiques, art and alternative rock music.

The place looks much like a living room, with its comfy, early 20th-Century chairs and couches in ruby-red velvets and faded gold brocades. On a monthly basis, for better or worse, the wall art changes. An old hi-fi stereo box has been altered to serve as a magazine rack and covered with shiny broken tile bits; the colorful cabinet is filled with mainstream and alternative publications.

Aside from catching up on the latest reading material, patrons can play chess or, on the front patio, Ping-Pong.

For most, the action happens outside. Booming business has enabled Hall and Stephens to expand the open patio from its formerly cramped coziness, adding four more tables and umbrellas and several more chairs. Hall promises to add heat lamps soon. They also recently sound-proofed the outside west wall to contain the live roots, folk and rock music featured throughout the month. A stage is in the works, and Hall says he hopes to get a weekly acoustic session going.

Although open all day, the place basically rocks at night.

The music gets louder, if only to compete with the growing voices from youthful customers, many of whom set up camp and hang out for several hours. That makes parking difficult. But it does not deter those who make a pit stop for cheesecake and an espresso before continuing with their evening.

A wide mix of ages inhabits the coffeehouse at lunch (sandwiches and pasta salads, $4.25), but most come in and leave quickly, rather than lingering as they do in the evening.

Yuppies invade during the a.m. hours for a quick breakfast ($2 steamed eggs or a $1 bagel and cream cheese) and a pick-me-up via one of the 30 coffee-bean selections. A popular brew is the smooth house blend of Tacoma and Sumatra beans.

The beverage menu offers coffee drinks from your basic regular cup ($1) to the sledgehammer, at $4.50 the priciest item. As the name implies, it should knock you into caffeine consciousness; it's a power punch potion of four espressos served with half and half. There are also herbal teas (small $1.25, large $1.75), juices ($1.50 to $2) and sodas ($1).

Connoisseurs might raise a brow at the notion of a coffee-rock shop. But Rock N Java provides a hip evening haunt, without an attitude.

* Rock N Java, 1749 Newport Blvd., Costa Mesa. Opens daily at 6:30 a.m., closes Sunday through Thursday at midnight, Friday and Saturday around 2 a.m. (714) 650-4430.

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