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SOCIAL CLIMES / UP ALL NIGHT

Little Bit of Boho Goes a Long Way at This Cafe

May 17, 1996|TRACY JOHNSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If Jack Kerouac were still around, he might come to the Cobalt Cafe.

The bohemian-style storefront hangout offers the intellectual and literary stimulation that Kerouac liked. Here at the Cobalt there are poetry nights, open-mike nights, publication parties for poets and new music performances. The bookshelves are filled with word games and brain pickers such as Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit.

The mind-expanding ambience of this Canoga Park nightspot attracts young literary types who say they are looking for something deeper and more worldly than the average watering hole.

"This place is very cerebral and embracing," says Gary Justice of Van Nuys. "When I read poetry here, it feels like I'm reading to a group of friends."

Justice, 32, is a regular who frequents the eclectic scene on Tuesday's poetry night. He arrives early to sign up for a seven-minute spot onstage where he shares his original work, then challenges the audience to pick a tropical place so that he can take them there on an improvisational vacation.

Many, like Justice, come back to this retro hot spot week after week. They sit amid the record albums, oil paintings and egg carton art that cover the walls. The furniture looks like it's from a living room in the '70s, except nothing matches.

Some of the denim-clad denizens prefer the quiet of the blue lounge in the rear of the cafe, a small dimly lit room away from the clamor of words colliding, but most are here to listen.

As poet Maxwell the Mouse, who started his poetry career at the Cobalt when the 4-year-old haunt opened, host Rick Lupert circulates a blank sheet of note paper that will become a group poem by the time it makes its way around the room.

Even though the Cobalt looks and smells like a coffeehouse with its menu of lattes, mochas and the aroma of java brewing in the background, owner Dave Politi, who opened the cafe at its new location on Sherman Way two days before the Northridge earthquake, prefers to call the Cobalt an alternative to the bar scene. Unlike most coffeehouses, the Cobalt is open only in the evenings and entertainment is the featured fare.

In addition to Tuesday's free poetry readings, the Cobalt features an open-mike night for musicians and comedians on Mondays, live jazz on Wednesdays and other live music Thursday through Saturday. On Sundays, a deejay mixes the sounds. Cover Thursday-Saturday is usually $4 or $5.

Where: The Cobalt Cafe, 22047 Sherman Way, Canoga Park; (818) 348-3789.

When: Every night, 7 p.m.-1 a.m.

Cost: Coffee, $1.25; latte, $2.75; avocado, lettuce and tomato sandwich, $3.

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