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NIGHT SHIFT : Atmosphere Chimes In the Strokes of Midnight Expresso

May 26, 1994|ROSE APODACA JONES | Rose Apodaca Jones is a free-lance writer who regularly contributes to The Times Orange County Edition.

Few coffeehouses in this county are endowed with any kind of presence, never mind imagination. Owners, apparently, figure all they need to do is offer a lot of beans and call them gourmet, hang up a few wild paintings and hold an occasional reading and, voila , the locals will keep content.

But there are those who fancy more stimulation than the stuff supplied by caffeine. A space, no matter how small, can set a mental mood that, combined with a tasty cup of coffee, can transport you. With a little more than 600 square feet, Midnight Expresso in downtown Huntington Beach offers just such a retreat--especially from the suds and surf dude attitude of the surrounding haunts.

Sure, there are some dudes here, many who stop in between bar hops to the Huntington Beach Brewery (located above the coffeehouse) and Mazzotti's (next door). But also expect to find Jan Brady look-alikes, black-clad artist-musician-writer types and just plain folk who dig the scene. The "X" in Expresso can certainly describe the generation of much of the clientele, though that probably wasn't the intention when the place opened in late '92. Its older Long Beach sister coffeehouse on Second Street has developed a similar following.

There are lots of neo-industrial elements here--exposed electrical tubing, wooden beams, corrugated metal sheeting on the ceiling and stainless steel fans and tables--mixed with an odd blend of furniture outcasts, such as old wooden school chairs and classic art.

The endlessly spinning fans and subtle red and blue spotlights create an ambience that fits lusciously with the live jazz and blues acts that perform throughout the week. Occasionally a rock or acoustic folk act will also find an audience on weekdays; Tuesdays are reserved for open mike poetry readings.

Large arched windows overlook the street, which can become packed on the weekends with java junkies vying for the limited seating on the sidewalk.

Inside, the curvaceous bar that dominates much of the small coffeehouse is washed in a warm orange that also covers the walls. There, customers can order from a list of coffee drinks (75 cents to $2.65), including the house midnight special: chocolate, espresso, milk and cream (small, $2.40; large, $2.65). A yummy iced version comes blended with banana ($3).

Non-coffee selections include Snapple, Gatorade, Best Health, Tynant mineral water, sodas ($1 to $1.25) and fruit smoothies ($2.75).

On the menu are a number of sandwiches served with chips or fresh fruit, or try a bagel topped with salmon, cream cheese, onions, capers and tomatoes (all $4.50). Pastries and cakes are $1.35 to $1.75.; the killer chocolate cheesecake is $2.85 a slice and worth every cent.

* MIDNIGHT EXPRESSO

* 201 Main St., Huntington Beach.

* (714) 960-5858.

* Opens daily at 6 a.m. Closes Sunday at midnight; Monday through Thursday, 1 a.m.; Friday and Saturday, 2 a.m.

* No cover.

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