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Scene Setter: Paper or Plastik

The Los Angeles café bridges coffee, performance and design. Call it an improv lifestyle.

September 20, 2010|By Joshua Lurie, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • Enjoying her first time at the recently opened Paper or Plastik Cafe, Maria Voylokov sips a cappuccino.
Enjoying her first time at the recently opened Paper or Plastik Cafe, Maria… (Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles…)

Most café owners would be happy to combine impeccable coffee and food with stylish industrial design, but the cutting-edge new Mid-City coffeehouse Paper or Plastik is only one part of the Michelson family's grand artistic vision.

Paper or Plastik proprietors Yasha Michelson, wife Anya and daughter Marina moved to L.A. 20 years ago from Israel. She had a fashion line and taught English; he was a dancer who dabbled in photography and fashion and managed a noteworthy but neglected ballet studio. "It looked like Dresden after World War II," Yasha Michelson says of his hangar-like building. But he saw the potential there for a "physical theater hub."

In August, they finally opened their café, Paper or Plastik, an industrial coffeehouse with exposed rafters, brick and pipes, and an awning over the bar made from Plexiglas and iron. The exterior doubles as a park, complete with freshly planted trees and more iron benches. Yasha Michelson named it after a late-night supermarket visit, where "a beautiful cashier" asked him what kind of bag he preferred.

"The coffee shop is a magnifying glass of what's going on in the studio and store," Yasha Michelson said, referring to the building's many other spaces and functions.

Anyash Gruppa — the couple's collective of artists and designers — has shaped this building. They dance, make clothes, produce short films and design furniture. The Mimoda performance space came first, serving as a dance studio, black box theater and training ground for acrobats, jugglers and more. The space seats 100 people on handcrafted benches, with bars and handholds allowing performers to scale the walls. The loft above is equal parts observation deck, office and nerve center.

Paper or Plastik brews Intelligentsia and Ecco coffee. There are handcrafted steel pour-over bars, a two-group Synesso espresso machine, and, soon, siphons and Turkish coffee. The café also sells T Salon tea, treats from Cake Monkey, Sweets for the Soul and La Maison Du Pain and savories from Heirloom-LA.

Tony Konecny helped usher the Michelsons into the specialty coffee world. He roasted at Victrola in Seattle and helped oversee "special projects" for Intelligentsia, including the Silver Lake coffee bar and the Glassell Park roasting works.

"Tony is a coffee guru," says Anya Michelson. "My passion, because of him, gets a language."

According to Konecny, "Paper or Plastik is aiming for top notch right out of the gate — from machines to method to menu — and I think the core of baristas we've been training will pull that off." The baristas are all artists, many of them members of the Mimoda Jazzó Grupp and the Harvard Sailing Team sketch comedy troupe.

On any particular day at Mimoda, you'll find classes for ballet and Jazzó, a form of physical theater that Yasha Michelson invented that combines hip-hop, ballet, tango and folk dance. He's convinced dance has the power to uplift and believes, "When you dance freely, you think about your life. Dance is dynamic meditation."

Mimoda also hosts Jazzó Jams and a weekly Sunday Salon, where photographers, acrobats, artists and songwriters are invited to dance (and meet) in front of his camera.

In the last year, Yasha Michelson has produced more than 100 short, playful films with titles such as "Aesthetic Resistance to Gravity" and "Hayka," a combination of haiku and the Hebrew word khai, which means "life." After filming people and determining "who they are and where they're coming from," he adds captions. "I describe the moment of their thoughts," says Yasha Michelson. "I look for people's psychological and social profile while they dance."

Gia Tsabadze is a craftsman from the Republic of Georgia who handles carpentry, ironworking, woodworking and set design duties. He's transformed the building back-to-front, most recently turning his tools on a former printing shop that faces Pico Boulevard. He also designed all the furniture for the café.

A wooden stairway lined with grated wrought iron railing leads upstairs to a mezzanine that overlooks the café and shares a window with the studio. The second level features more tables, a piano, a newsstand touting European design magazines and Flower Shop on Mezzanine.

Upstairs, customers will also find the design shop, which is curated by Anya Michelson. Look for Moroccan vases, dresses from the Republic of Georgia made using antique methods, felted wool jewelry from Uzbekistan, and the kind of embroidered Turkmeni purses that used to rest on camels. They also sell unique sunglasses courtesy of Framed By Oleg. "We don't do any merchandising," says Yasha Michelson. "The focus is on aesthetics and bringing beautiful things to the people."

"This is the place that gives me inner and outer comfort," says Anya Michelson. "I want to be able to share that with people." Her husband added that the spaces flow together to form not so much a cafe as a lifestyle. "The magic in this place is it's all improvised," says Yasha. "There's a feeling of life."

calendar@latimes.com

Paper or Plastik Cafe

Where: 5772 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles

When: 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily

Contact: (323) 935.0268, http://www.paperorplastikcafe.com, http://www.mimodastudio.com

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