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Reading Room-Cafe Caters to the Gypsy in Your Soul

November 10, 1994|ROSE APODACA JONES | Rose Apodaca Jones is a free-lance writer who contributes regularly to The Times Orange County Edition. and

It was the mythical lifestyle of the Gypsy--nomadic and embracing Middle Eastern, Indian and Spanish influences--that inspired partners Catherine Graziano, Joe Ongie and Tina Shilve to open the Gypsy Den cafe and reading room in March.

Accordingly, this narrow room at the Lab anti-mall in Costa Mesa looks as though it was the dumping ground for furnishings from a Gypsy caravan that stopped traveling in the early '70s. No two chairs are alike; ditto the funky lamps. Most of the items would probably be considered ugly castoffs individually, but together they add a comfortable, groovy charm to the place.

Dozens of old Oriental and Persian rugs cover the floor, and a few hang on the walls, which are painted avocado, burnt orange and purple. Those walls also showcase a variety of paintings, a few by Ongie.

Another collection that adds to the Bohemian flavor is the oversize colored glass vases and decanters so prevalent in fashionable homes of the late '60s. They sit atop shelves over the two French doors.

This is a reading room--but not the kind devoted to fortune-tellers, as some have assumed. Once in a while, says Graziano, a friendly psychic does visit, giving readings to interested patrons over a cappuccino. But most times, readers focus on the more mundane materials they bring along or on the selection in the cafe. (It's no surprise that college and high school students find the environment fit for homework.)

Music is paramount to the experience, say the partners, so tunes by everyone from Chet Baker to the Jesus and Mary Chain find time on the CD player. On a recent Sunday, patrons went on an international trip of Indian and African beats mixed with New Age, Renaissance and early jazz sounds.

Fans of live music can enjoy every imaginable genre, at no cover, Friday and Saturday beginning at around 8:30 p.m. On these evenings, closing time (normally 11 p.m.) sometimes runs later, depending on the crowd. On weekend afternoons, patrons get a dose of entertainment from acts featured on the Lab stage right outside of the Den. Plenty of tables and chairs are always set up cafe-style out front.

The Gypsy Den also features an open poetry session every Tuesday; sign-ups start at 8:30 p.m.

The menu here is not typical coffeehouse fare, meaning there are more than pastries to satisfy hunger pains. Breakfast is served at all hours and includes bagels piled high with cheese, scrambled eggs and tomato ($3.95), or a flour tortilla with black beans, cheeses, scrambled eggs, homemade salsa and sour cream ($4). Local execs stream in at lunch to munch on an inspired variety of sandwiches and salads.

There is also a wide selection of cool libations, including banana mocha or fresh fruit smoothies ($3) and Italian sodas ($1.50).


* At the Lab, 2930 Bristol St., Suite B102, Costa Mesa.

* (714) 549-7012.

* Open Monday through Friday 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.

* No cover.

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