Best Place to Write in Los Angeles #2

Steampunk Cafe Menu

SteamPunk CoffeeBar + Kitchen — North Hollywood

Like many alternative and creative types, I threw myself into steampunk when it reared its brassy, cog-cluttered head a few years ago. And, like many, the glut of steampunk everything eventually became unbearable and I lost the ecstasy.

But I do have an appreciation for steampunk done well if not just for the aesthetic appeal. So when my coffee companion, Justi, told me about SteamPunk CoffeeBar + Kitchen in North Hollywood, jaded as I am, I immediately said, “let’s do this.”

Steampunk Cafe Decor

The coffee shop sits on a nondescript street. Strip malls, fast food, a random mix of small businesses. That kind of street. On this street, the café’s woodwork saloon storefront stands out. Inside it’s tats and laptops. The cashiers/waiters/possibly owners are friendly. They have a great breakfast menu–no cold pastries and bananas in baskets here. Justi and I ordered a traditional scramble and a coffee; we grabbed a table without any hassle. It always seems like we’re just ahead of the morning crowd.

I like the idea of writing feng shui and believe décor, as a component of atmosphere, can lend to (or stifle) one’s flow. I’d love nothing better than to write in a forest where the tree trunks are made of book bindings and the leaves of pages. Steampunk did originate in literature, so why shouldn’t steampunk décor provide some inspiration even if my works in progress have nothing to do with the genre?

Unfortunately, our arrival may have been premature for a moment of steampunk catharsis. The shop had that “still moving in” smell. And that’s how I learned that Justi is quite the interior designer (which was further explored at our next stop). She had a wealth of ideas for how the restaurant could improve their look on the cheap, and I recommend they hire her for a consultancy.

The place had some art by Brian Kesinger and the area behind the cash register was thought out with coppery panels on the walls and an early 20th(?) century cash register behind the counter. But after that you get bare white walls, exposed wiring (not in an artistic/crafty way) and unremarkable chairs and tables. If the draw is steampunk décor, the shop has a long way to go.

But–BUT–I got a lot of work done. At the time, I was rushing toward a deadline with my graphic novel and had a lot of revising to do before day’s end. Even with the distraction of good food, I got a ton of work done. The morning crowd never got too bad–an advantage of the shop’s newness, I suspect. It wasn’t too loud or cramped. I think it has great potential, especially if the service and food remain consistent.

Viscosity: (a surprising) 4 out of 5

Trails Menu

The Trails Cafe — Los Feliz

It was after visiting The Trails that I wondered if my next series should be “Strangest Places to Write in L.A.” The Trails is a coffee shop housed in a miniature cabin nestled in the woods of Griffith Park. No inside seating, just picnic tables but plenty of them. Best check the weather forecast before making plans to write here unless you prefer your paper soggy, your ink spattered, or your laptop fizzling. It was a surprisingly hot winter’s day when Justi and I made it out to Trails. Luck is always on the side of the voyager (unless you count the Donner Party…or Amelia Earhart…or Ernest Shackleton…or…).

Trails Coffee SignThere’s a fairytale feeling about this place. A fairytale that includes WiFi. Yes, outdoorsy WiFi. We couldn’t believe it either.

When you approach the front of the line (and I get the feeling there’s always a line), a gaggle of delectable baked on-site pastries peeks out at you from the window, and you’ll almost certainly order one. I got a strawberry rhubarb mini-pie because I can’t resist anything in miniature.

I got a decent amount of work done, even with a children’s party in full, screaming, swing around us. Oddly, the white noise of children may have helped (although I had to make sure none of the more horrifying images from the graphic novel were on my screen when a kidlet was nearby).

I’d say Trails is the place to go if you’re having writer’s block. If such a thing afflicts you, Justi suggests considering Walden while walking the trails, drinking a hot, deliciously piny cup of lapsang suchong.

Instead of searching the trails for plot devices and tropes, we went in search of branches, ill-prepared for clambering up hills (but clamber we did), because Justi had an attack of DIY after the steampunk place and needed a shelf. What better way to end a day of writing and caffeinating?

Viscosity: 3.5 out of 5

Best Place to Write in Los Angeles #1

Best Place to Write in Los Angeles #3

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Best Place to Write in Los Angeles #1

Update: I decided to make this an ongoing series, so disregard the stuff about a three-part post.

An Exercise in Caffeine Tolerance

This week, I read about a study that showed our creative cognition is enhanced by the moderate noise level often present at cafes. Having read this, and perhaps gripped by the nauseating realization that I was averaging about one page of revisions per hour at home in my quiet room, I decided to venture into the wilds of metropolitan Los Angeles on a quest to find the best coffee shop for a local writer in desperate need of brain lubricant.

I obviously couldn’t visit every coffee shop in L.A., but I ventured to what I believe is a good cross-section pulled from Yelp lists, proximity, and, most helpfully, a survey of my Facebook friends. A big thank you to all who made suggestions. IOU one cuppa.

Because I can only handle so much caffeine in one day and because L.A. is a massive beast, my findings will be posted in three parts, somewhat by region.

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Stir CrazyStir Crazy — Hollywood/Melrose

My quest began at the sleepy intersection that is Orange and Melrose at 10 a.m. on a Saturday. Two-hour free parking on the residential street right beside the shop was a good sign, and the street was almost free of cars. A few metered parking spots were available as well.

As I walked up to Stir Crazy, I saw a lone man sitting at a table outside with his laptop. Second good sign.

Inside, classical music lulled out of the sound system. Was this place too good to be true? At the counter, a young woman laughed with two seated middle-aged men. She farewelled them warmly and left with her order. The men two-stepped around a laptop debate for a couple of minutes before the shop fell into a hush, pulsated by a few murmurs.

The waitress took my order and muttered, “Do you want the bottomless coffee?” I wasn’t sure I’d heard her right.

“What was that?” I asked.

“Never mind,” she said. Something self-conscious in the way she said it.

“The bottomless coffee? Yeah, sure.”

Two bucks isn’t a bad price to avoid feeling like a jerk taking up space for a couple hours on a Saturday morning.

Stir Crazy Lamp

I grabbed a seat next to a power cord–a rare vacancy in Los Angeles–and took a sip of coffee. It wasn’t strong, but that’s okay. I’m no cowboy.

Everyone came alone. Everyone brought a laptop. Except Statler and Waldorf in the back corner, observing and making commentary once in a while.

Then groups and breakfasters started trickling in and, by 10:30, the shop was full and my coffee was cold.

Viscosity: 4 out of 5

By the way–WiFi Password: Surfyourballsoff (but don’t use it because you should be writing)

Bricks & SconesBricks & Scones — Mid-Wilshire

I gained a companion on my quest after leaving Stir Crazy. I picked up my friend Justi and we awayed to Bricks & Scones.

Where Stir Crazy is a rustic establishment in the cozy style of a hunting cabin, Bricks & Scones is the Downton Abbey of coffee shops. Stepping inside, the first thing I noticed was the massive glittering chandelier hanging over the register.

Awed and feeling a little like Oliver Twist at Mr. Brownlow’s, I put in my order. “Please, mum, can I have a grilled cheese and tomato soup?” I said. Maybe not quite in those words, but I did order a grilled cheese and tomato soup with my second cup of coffee as the day was tit-nipply and drizzly. B&S had a bistro style menu with plenty of variety for a coffee shop, so if you happen to be writing around the noon hour as I was, you won’t starve.

Rainy Day Food

They offered two indoor seating areas–a quiet zone upstairs and a sprawling, noisier sector on the lower floor–but neither had an open table. It was the lunch hour, after all, and it was immediately obvious that the place is hipster-popular. Hardened adventurers that Justi and I are, we sat outside where plenty of patio chairs and tables were available. The food was good. There must be an edict against strong coffee in certain parts of L.A.

The crowd was more social than Stir Crazy’s early morning throng. They were lunchers and group studiers.

Between the food and chilliness, I didn’t get much work done. I’d like to return for a cozy nook indoors and try it out again, even if just to chat with friends.

Viscosity: 2 out of 5

Lyric CafeThe Lyric Hyperion Theatre and Cafe — Silverlake

Justi and I left Bricks & Scones’ Winterfellian patio in search of warmer climes, so we headed to Silverlake for Lyric Café and Theater. Metered street parking is the name of the game here, but it wasn’t hard to find a spot after a little initial confusion.

Quietest coffee shop by far, and they had gluten-free pancakes that were, according to Justi, delicious. They also had craft beer and a wine selection. I had a glass of wine thank you very much. A nice, fresh-tasting one that made me wistful for summer.

Lyric Cafe Company

My fellow journeywoman.

Warmest waitress so far as well. Inside seating is limited (and definitely not appropriate for groups, which shouldn’t be a problem if you’re writing anyway), but business was slow so we were able to nab a table for two. And there is seating for larger groups outside on the patio.

Yes, quietest coffee shop by far until rehearsal began on the other side of the wall. I imagine the play is called, “Screamers.” Somehow, it didn’t bother me. I managed to get some (blog) writing done.

Viscosity: 3 out of 5

Best Place to Write in Los Angeles #2