Monday, April 17, 2006
Check, Checkmate!: The Bishop Coffee and Gourmet, Downtown Los Angeles
If anyone had asked me to live in Downtown L.A. fifteen years ago and I would have asked them to pound sand. In fact, if they had asked me only five years ago, I would have done the same. But let's just pretend that this person were a friend who just happened to have a loft hookup and approached me and Isaac three years ago with a sweet deal on a 1400 sq. ft., 14' ceilinged space...
Three years later, we are still living in Downtown L.A.
But to be honest, I don't love it. I don't hate it. But I don't love it either.
I love it because our apartment is so spacious and we're getting a pretty darn good deal on rent. I hate it because living in a big open space isn't all it's cracked up to be. There is no room to retreat to if my fiance suddenly gets on my nerves, and the fact that all our workout equipment is out in the open is simply tacky.
I love that I have all of the Little Tokyo's good eats practically right at my doorstep, but I hate that the act of shopping for decent food and groceries involves at least a ten minute drive. (OK, so there is Mitsuwa and Marukai which are great for Japanese products, but I refuse to buy anything else there unless I'm desperate enough to pay a higher price)
I love that there's some interesting architecture here in downtown, but I hate that crack addicts and homeless people are permanent fixures in my neighborhood. I love that downtown is convenient to the 101, 5, 10 and 110 freeways, but I also hate that my street is a thoroughfare for 18-wheelers. It's kinda cool when you constantly see your 'hood on TV and in the movies, but it is sooo not cool that these production assholes think they own the neighborhood and make you detour an extra 5 blocks just to get home. (No fuck-face, you don't live here, I do.)
I remember my friend driving Isaac and I to see our new building for the first time, and I clearly recall being just a tad freaked out by the surroundings. Am I that much of a priss, you ask? Well really, no, I am not--I spent many years hanging out in big cities where vagrancy is a common thing--I just don't want to see it right outside my window. My knowledge of Downtown L.A. at that time was limited pretty much only to Chinatown, Little Tokyo, the courthouses, the garment district, and the Staples Center; I knew that somewhere in between all of that was the infamous skid row, which isn't where our building is located, thank goodness, but was close enough to our neighborhood to leave visible traces here and there. But as we kept driving, I also started to notice that hip new businesses had taken root in the neighborhood. My mind turned away from the riff-raff (if only even for a few minutes) and to the cool places I had yet to discover. If it hadn't been for places like Cafe Metropol, Pete's Cafe & Bar, Freaks Vintage Clothing, Blooms General Store, Groundwerks Coffee, and Soul Folks Cafe--places that made me feel as if I actually had a neighborhood--I'd have thought twice about moving in.
The loft-living honeymoon is over you might say, but although cursing the inconveniences of living here under my breath has become a normal routine, I still get excited when I discover that a cool new shop or restaurant has opened up in the 'hood. It brings back memories of the wooing and courtship stage when all things loft were fun and exciting, when you'd still call up your friends and say "Hey, wanna come check out my loft?" and people would ooh and aah about the fact that you lived in a converted warehouse. Yes, this is exactly why I got the warm-fuzzies when I first laid eyes on one of downtown L.A.'s newest cool neighborhood businesses, The Bishop Coffee & Gourmet, located on Grand Ave. at 8th. It's one of those places you'd spot as you were driving around as a prospective loft dweller, and it's one of those places that would help you make the deal in that wishy-washy head of yours.
And I'm not just saying this because The Bishop's owner Suze is a dear friend of ours, the same friend, in fact, who got us the deal on the place we're living in now. I'm saying this because it's true. Sure, The Bishop provides local downtown office drones with their daily cup of joe and breakfast pastry, but unlike the hundreds of other coffee houses in the vicinity that provide the same service, The Bishop isn't just your typical shut-down-at-6-and-closed-on-the-weekends-because-all-the-workers-are-gone type of places. For a while, being downtown after hours or on weekends was a bit like being in a live version of Dawn of The Dead, where virtually nothing was open and only the freaks came out at night. But now, places like The Bishop actually cater to us people that live here, helping us remember what civilization was like. Want to grab some coffee and dessert at 11pm on a Saturday night? No problem, they've got it.
Suze hard at work behind her coffee grinder
If it's neighborhood you want, it's neighborhood you get. The Bishop's turquoise blue painted space may be tiny, but it just adds to the cozy neighborhood feel of the place. A mannequin coiffed in jet black braids--a hip, modern version of Gilligan's Island's Maryanne--hangs out on her vintage bicycle on a ledge atop the cafe.
Hey, where's Ginger?
Service here is not only friendly, but personable. All it takes is one repeat walk through their single glass paned door and chances are Suze and daughter Bri will already know you by name. "Tall," "Grande," and "Venti" from that Star place are sooo yesterday; here, you can order your Pasquini latte, cappuccino or espresso in "Pawn," "Bishop," or "King" sizes. You can order your drinks with extra shots, squirts of chocolate or caramel, hazelnut syrup, no foam or non-fat--she'll make 'em for you however you'd like and again, will mostlikely remember what you ordered the next time you come in, or at least remember that your picky, high-maintenace ass wanted something special. If you're like me and coffee's not your thing and tea is more your cup of tea, The Bishop carries an assortment of Harney and Sons teas with such flavors as African Autumn, Chinese Flower, Peaches and Ginger and Indian Spice. Just ask and Suze and staff will let you take a quick whiff of all the yummy tea blends they've got in their tea cannisters before they pour hot water onto your pretty little organza wrapped tea bag of choice.
Wakes me up before I go-go
For breakfast, dessert, and everything in between, The Bishop features breads by La Brea Bakery and pastries from Hollywood's Susina Bakery. The minature molten chocolate cakes have become a staple in our diets as have the bad-for-my-arteries-but-oh-so-addicting sun-dried tomato, caramelized onion and feta croissants. If you're looking for something a bit more substantial, they carry a selection of sandwiches made fresh daily such as curried chicken salad with apples and currants, (my personal favorite), Bri's ham & brie, and genoa salami, pesto & provolone. Grab a seat at one of the brightly colored sidewalk tables and watch the world go by as you enjoy a polenta scone or maybe even a slice of ham and swiss quiche.
When "flaky" is good
I love Curried Chicken Sammiches
But trying to find a friendly neighborhood cafe that's open late night and on weekends isn't your only problem, you downtown dweller, you. No, as a hip urbanite, you've got other problems. You've just been invited to a friend's house for dinner and oh no! you've got nothing to bring for your gracious hosts! There are no extra bottles of wine sitting on your wine rack, and after several scrounging attempts in your cupboards, you can't find a single thing to take with you, unless of course, the canned raviolis you bought from Costco count. And you know they don't, so what do you do? Fortunately for you, The Bishop is half coffee house, half interesting-packaged-foodstuffs store. Your host will definitely appreciate getting a nice basket filled with the likes of Stonewall Kitchen Rasperry Peach Champagne Jam and Maple Vanilla Pear Butter. They can also create quite a nice arrangement with La Favorita Fish and Bella Cucina Artful Food pestos and sauces along with some of the prettiest rainbow striped farfalle. Or perhaps your guests would appreciate a box of the most interesting pyramid shaped silken tea infusers by Tea Forte. The Bishop has Scharffen-Berger chocolate bars, and jars filled with cinnamon bears, candy necklaces, jawbreakers and um, trail mix--probably the only thing I don't quite get about their merchandise assortment, but to each her own I guess.
for all your gourmet needs
Where to buy Rastafarian pasta? Downtown!
Whatever your fancy, it's cool 'cause you don't have to fucking drive to Silverlake just to buy something nice. Hey, you're stuck downtown for at least the next several months until your lease is up right? So you might as well make the best of it, and trust me, The Bishop makes downtown L.A. just that much cooler and more convenient to be in. Almost makes you wanna stay huh?
The Bishop Coffee & Gourmet
816 S. Grand Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90017