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Up All Night / Social Climes

A Decor That's Out of This World


With its fluorescent lighting, a plaster space creature known as the "giant alien sex machine" and a looming mass of orange lava hanging over the front door, the Nova Express Cafe is probably the closest one can get to outer space short of stepping on a sound stage or blasting off a launch pad.

Or, as one cocoa-sipping patron noted: "The word kitsch was invented for this place."

On the south wall of the cafe, a huge planet-scape looms, intended to emulate a view screen on the Starship Enterprise. Heavy metal tables and chairs give the place a galactic-industrial feel. On top of the coffee bar sits a robot that is a dead ringer for R2-D2 of "Star Wars" fame; it actually is an Omnibot, an obsolete robot from Japan.

When 34-year-old Cary Long, a sculptor and co-owner of the Nova Express, teamed up with partner Judith Adji-Keter, a native of Buenos Aires, "We sort of wanted to put our interests together," Long says. "There's a real active cafe culture down in Argentina, and I wanted to apply art to the real world."

Virtually all of the interior was designed by Long--right down to a large, silhouette-filled screen he calls the "Chinese western from outer space," constructed with stencils made with an X-Acto knife, auto paint and a pizza box. The rocket-like chairs were found at the Pick Your Parts junkyard and refurbished.

"We worked pretty much on a shoestring budget," Long says. There was no advertising budget. I thought if we made the place wacky enough, people would talk about it."

Indeed, the Nova attracts a wide variety of hip patrons, from teenagers to fortysomethings, who come for the decor and nonintrusive music that ranges from ambient to movie soundtracks. The cafe is especially popular among the insomniac set. Nova doesn't get going until about 11 p.m.

"It's a really funky place," says 18-year-old Theresa Butler of Silver Lake. "Someone put a lot of time into the uniqueness of the Space Age."

When Long and Adji-Keter opened the place nearly three years ago, the menu was mostly limited to lighter fare, coffees and teas. Today, with the addition of a pizza oven, the cafe offers pizzas as well as empanadas, sandwiches, salads and "Amazing Munchies"--from chips and salsa to waffles and bagels.

Each Wednesday, a deejay spins ambient music and, starting Thursday, there will be Thursday night deejays playing Latin rock 'n' roll.


Where: Nova Express Cafe, 426 N. Fairfax Avenue; (213) 658-7533

When: 5 p.m. to 4 a.m. daily.

Cost: Food ranges from $2.25 to $11.95 (for a giant pizza); drinks, $1.50-$3.50.

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