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CLUB SCENE : Warmed Up With Coffee, Smiles, Jazz

November 18, 1994|SYLVIA L. OLIANDE

When the weather gets cold, most people tend to bundle up and stay in to wait out the winter. But Priscilla's Gourmet Coffee, Tea & Gifts in Toluca Lake is one good reason to brave the chill and go out. People are greeted with warm smiles, a hot cup of coffee and an occasional massage from the employees to take the chill out of gloveless hands.

THE SCENE: The large coffee bar in the middle of the room is an indication that Priscilla's is serious about its java. But that's only part of the attraction. One wall is lined with mugs of all kinds for sale--with designs from artwork to Zodiac signs and just about everything in between. There's also a wide variety of coffees and teas for sale.

THE JAVA: Jim Hechim is the resident barista, or coffee bartender. Co-owner of a coffeehouse in Seattle before he moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting, he teaches fellow employees to treat the coffee as an art form. "Coffeehouses out here are ruining it," he said. "Everybody wants to make the money, but no one wants to learn the art, the terminology." He experiments with different tastes and wants to build a reputation for Priscilla's. "It's like Cheers, but with coffee. And we know their drinks, if not their names."

THE MUSIC: On a recent Friday night Phil Upchurch entertained the audience with what he described as "jazz with a deep sensitivity to the blues." The gig is one "you don't do for the money," he said. "You do it for the intimacy of the crowd." Charles Miller, 28, of Burbank came after hearing of the guitarist through his mother. "It's far more than I expected," he said.

THE CROWD: The average age is mid-20s to mid-30s. The majority of the patrons are professionals, usually industry types from nearby studios. "It's a home for everybody who, instead of being alone, they come here. It's the best coffee in town and the crowd is always friendly," said Debbe Dunning, who plays Heidi the Tool Time Girl on the TV sitcom "Home Improvement."

THE GOOD: The people are friendly and open to newcomers and the atmosphere is casual. Raine Giliberto, 39, said she makes an effort to come each morning on her way to work as well as some evenings. "I go out of my way because of the cute guys and the coffee," the Van Nuys resident said.

THE BAD: Most of the crowd enjoyed the intimate atmosphere, but one Alhambra resident thought it was a bit small. Bonnie Henderson, 37, said she'd like it "if someone would come around and order me some coffee." In a place where patrons often have to wade through tables to stand in an ill-defined line, hers was one vote for table service.

THE WORD: After telling the crowd that he planned to sing one of the last songs of his more than two-hour instrumental set, Upchurch joked, "That's a treat to get you to stay. Or a warning so you can leave."

Priscilla's Gourmet Coffee, Tea & Gifts, 4150 Riverside Drive, Toluca Lake. (818) 843-5707. Hours: 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.

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