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Staying True to Casual, Quiet Image

August 05, 1994|SYLVIA OLIANDE

Coffeehouses have become the after-hours places, alternatives to nightclubs that serve alcohol. Some are even so popular that they've become just like the clubs some patrons were trying to escape. Emerson's is one spot that has stayed true to its customers and to the idea that a coffeehouse should be a place to hang out and relax.

THE SCENE: Emerson's is small and intimate, with two tables outside and about a dozen inside. The entertainment area is a spot created by taking a table out of the way just inside the door. The house has "Baby Boomer Trivial Pursuit" at every table, and customers can ask for just about any board game, including chess, a favorite among the regulars. "The owner and the people who work here are really into doing what you want," said Christian Carollo, 20, of Northridge. "If you're a regular, they remember what you like."

THE CROWD: The crowd is young, 18 to 30, casual and, generally, the men outnumber the women. "People here don't wear Birkenstocks," said Glendale resident Andre Navasargian, 19, which drew a protest from one of his group who was. Undaunted, he added, "It's kind of like a Berkeley coffeehouse. The atmosphere is very laid back, full of college types."

THE MUSIC: On a recent Saturday night, Doug Rowell, a bearded folk-rock singer, entertained the audience with his off-color songs. Michael Stern, 53, of Studio City said he comes to Emerson's whenever Rowell performs, about once every two months. "His stuff is mostly original, melodic, irreverent and sometimes prurient," Stern said. Despite the lack of a working sound system, Rowell kept the crowd's attention with good music and humor.

THE GOOD: Emerson's is a quiet place that has a little of everything. Customers can sit and read, or get together and talk with friends. "We were trying to decide where to go and we didn't want to go to one of those trendy coffeehouses," said Matt Royz, 23, of San Diego. Van Nuys resident Adam Maron, also 23, added: "We're not too partial to coffeehouses--too many trendy pseudo-Bohemians. It's taking the heart out of something that was once cool, but this one is kinda nice."

THE BAD: One man said he didn't like the food--which includes sandwiches, pasta and pastries--but others said it was good. A group of men who dropped in for coffee and dessert before going to see "The Mask" said the apple pie was too dry. Lorenda Starfelt, 39, who lives nearby, said: "There should be more tables outside. We sit there when there are tables free."

SMOKE OUT: Emerson's restaurant permit requires a smoke-free environment inside, but smoking is allowed at the outside tables. The indoor ban on smoking doesn't sit well with some of the patrons left to brave the elements of Ventura Boulevard to indulge their habit. "I only have one question: Why can't you smoke in there? You can smoke everywhere in Chicago," said Windy City resident Terry Kontos, 18.

Emerson's, 13203 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, is open from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. Sundays through Thursdays. No cover. Call (818) 986-CAFE.

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