For those on the Westside unfamiliar with the Sunset Junction cult that surrounds the Silver Lake outpost of Chicago's Intelligentsia Coffee — where a quick-fix takes on the seriousness of a wine tasting, where espresso shots are pulled with the precision of teeth, where blends are named after characters from Greek myths and inner-arm tattoos seem to be a pre-requisite for baristas — the commotion on Abbot Kinney Friday night might have seemed like a huge beer-and-wurst-fueled Memorial Day bash. But the party was a celebration of the opening of Intelligentsia's new Venice location. Outside, people waited as long as half an hour to get inside the store and Silver Lake baristas doubled as bouncers to monitor the chaos.
By 8:30 p.m., all of the cherry-ricotta muffins, mini baguettes and chocolate croissants were gone. The scene was less a tribute to the Intelligentsia ethos as it was a sign that free beer and sausages will draw more than espresso nerds out to a coffee shop on a Friday night.
“I heard they were giving away free beer, so I came,” said Ed Refuerzo from Venice. “Parking is horrible and bikes are sexier than hybrids. We're local, we biked here.”
While eager students of coffee sampled porcelain cups of espresso at the counter inside, and tea lovers watched wide-eyed as Katie O'Shea, a new barista from Portland, carefully calculated the perfect cup of Organic Osthmanthus Silver Needles, a team of grillers outside presided over sausages from Wurstkuche to feed the frats as they chugged cups of Stone Pale Ale.
Joe and Trent, two middle-aged guys from Manhattan Beach and South Robertson, came out for the party. “It's happening,” Joe says, “but I guess happening is a '60s word, isn't it?”
Joe and Trent like coffee, but admit they aren't aficionados. Both had hoped to try a shot of espresso but the line was too long so they ended up standing outside in the bratwurst fog.
Inside the beautiful, spacious store, formerly Scentiments flower shop, the new fleet of Intelligentsia baristas showed off their skills after five weeks of coffee boot camp. They pulled shots of espresso, they brewed tea with timers and even though it's outside their coffee training, they poured foaming glasses of beer along with red and white wine donated by Silver Lake Wine.
Many coffee enthusiasts showed up, including Intelligentsia founder Doug Zell and baristas from New York and San Francisco.
A man on crutches sat on the sidelines, without a cup of coffee in hand, watching the heavy stream of Intel enthusiasts filter through the front door. Originally from New York, Robert is a surgeon in Pasadena and came to the Venice opening because he is friends with the owners of the store in Silver Lake. “I'm not so into coffee, I'm into voyeurism,” he said. “I'm in the cult of narcissism, I make people look younger. Luckily I can afford the coffee even though it's overpriced.”
Store manager Tim Williams is confident that Abbot Kinney is a perfect location for the new Intelligentsia, where he plans to host coffee tastings and cheese pairings. Williams moved to Los Angeles from Australia just two months ago for the job at Intelligentsia.
“Australia is where I fell in love with coffee but I'm learning a lot in Los Angeles. Coffee is massive back home, but it's done in a different way.”
By the light of a glowing siphon pot, a barista with a star implanted in the inside of her wrist waited for water vapor to form before stirring coffee in the belly of a glass globe.