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SOCIAL CLIMES / UP ALL NIGHT

Where Only Fresh Coffee Rules the Roast

August 23, 1996|TRACY JOHNSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Darkwater Cafe is a coffeehouse for the true aficionado.

The big burlap bags of coffee beans in the window of this storefront cafe in Culver City are the first signs of a warm welcome. And the giant coffee roaster anchored behind the beans, in the middle of the small coffeehouse, continues the statement.

Fifteen years ago, owner Sandy Levenberg frequented Europe where he discovered fresh-roasted coffee. When he got back to Los Angeles, he bought a small roaster and started fresh roasting his own coffee and espresso and began referring to American-style coffee as dark water.

Tired of practicing law and looking to do something more for the world, about a year and a half ago, Levenberg and his wife, Jill, opened the Darkwater Cafe and dedicated themselves to selling great-tasting coffee.

Sandy bought the coffee roaster, which was designed in 1865 and looks like a gigantic clothes dryer, in which he roasts 50 pounds of coffee each day. If the coffee isn't sold within an hour, a fresh pot is made.

On the theory that quality is better than quantity, the Darkwater sells only a few brews. Sometimes the aroma of Costa Rican beans permeates the cozy cafe, other times Brazilian and Colombian coffees.

Coffee is it in this cafe. When the burlap bags of beans are emptied, they are used to decorate. The bag-covered walls provide a backdrop for the coffee goods that are for sale and cover the coffee bar from the floor up to the wood slab where the coffee is served.

In the morning the customers come to wake up. Evenings, old and young Bohemian types, including students from West Los Angeles College and neighbors in the area, come to hang out and take in the music.

In this softly lit cafe, where artists display their work and patrons sip the affogato (an ice cream coffee drink), the entertainment changes nightly. During the week acoustic duos play folk or classical music; the weekends are reserved for bigger bands who tend to play jazz or blues. And on the second to last Wednesday of each month, the cafe hosts Circus de Cafe, an open mike music night that draws about 20 acts.

On a recent evening Dan and Vicky Harris replaced a harpist and flutist who called in sick and played an eclectic set of folk and rock music. Requests for Simon and Garfunkel tunes were filled and the married duo also played some Peter, Paul and Mary.

As the couple's acoustic songs filtered throughout the cafe, students studied on the wood tables on the outside patio in front of the cafe, others sipped their cup of joe and listened to the music.

Ken Nickoll of Culver City says he comes in at least once a week to hear the music and get some coffee. He's on a first-name basis with Sandy and Jill, and says the atmosphere in the cafe is fantastic.

"It's a real place," Nickoll said. "I always enjoy myself when I come here."

*

Where: The Darkwater Cafe, 10780 Jefferson Blvd., Culver City; (310) 839-6739.

When: Monday through Thursday, 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 6:30 a.m. to midnight; Sunday, 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Cost: Ice Blended Mocha Royale, $4.25; Ice Thai Coffee, $2.75; Affogato, $3.45.

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