For slightly longer than I’ve been alive, the coffee shop and bowling alley has stood just south of Exposition Boulevard as a friendly gateway to Crenshaw proper, to its confounding but exhilarating mix of Spanish villas, soul-food haunts, African art shops and furious street vending that on any given day will net you anything from bean pies to vanilla incense. Holiday’s coffee shop is at least as important to public R & R as its bowling alley, both of which are in woefully short supply in a neighborhood that once, in its glory years, boasted nearly an eatery a block. But if the shuttered car lots surrounding the area represent a gloomy turn in Crenshaw’s fortunes, Holiday speaks of Crenshaw’s bright, enduring middle-class dreams, with its ’50s-inspired orange-and-green décor and giant plate-glass window that affords a grand view of Baldwin Hills to the south. Eat your grits and eat your heart out.
And there’s more to eat than generally meets up on a standard coffee-shop menu, believe me. Opened in ’58 by a group of Japanese investors (Crenshaw once had a sizable Japanese-American population that peaked after the Second World War), the operation changed hands several times over the years and is now owned by Korean-born Duke and Vivian Kim. Respectful of the past, but mindful of a long-evolved client base that is substantially African-American, Holiday offers a huge cross section of ethnic dishes: Japanese (saifun, yakisoba, donburi), Chinese (a vast assortment of chow mein, pork noodles, foo yong) and black Southern (hot links, grits, salmon patties, short ribs, biscuits and gravy). It’s a heady mix that Toshiko Gunn balances very nicely in the crooks of her elbows; she’s a Tokyo native who has waited tables at Holiday for 12 years and has lived in the neighborhood for the last 37. With owlish glasses and a short, graying bob, she bustles about with plates and coffee pots and gives a hearty “Hai!” to customers, all of whom she seems to know; she stops in her tracks, backpedals to a man who sits hunched over the breakfast special she served him minutes ago. “Okay, Papa? Okay, baby?” Gunn is 65 and recently retired, but she promptly came out of retirement to continue working at Holiday. “I love it,” she says. “We have a lot of regulars, a lot of steadies. People come here to feel good. When I’m not feeling my best, I come here, I work, I leave my stuff at home.”
Holiday has other diversions besides the bowling lanes with its various bowling leagues: a billiards room, a bar called the Sakiba Room — so named because it serves sake — an old-fashioned but spacious affair with a padded vinyl door and a stage for karaoke (Vivian Kim often sings for the crowds). And the food is hearty, reasonably priced entertainment for the taste buds: The grits are perfectly poised between grainy and creamy, the sausages pop with juice, the teriyaki bowls are tangy and rib-sticking. Duke Kim takes clear pride in Holiday’s staying power, in its history, in the fact that it was designed by Armet & Davis, the architectural firm that popularized Googie-style coffee shops and turned diners like Holiday and the nearby Wich Stand into zig-zaggy emblems of L.A. optimism. Kim likes to point out that, not only was his establishment not damaged during the ’92 riots, but people came in and bowled that night, April 29. “We’re a real community sports center,” he says. “It’s a meeting place for the whole community. If you want to meet a friend, you sit here long enough, they’ll come through.” 3730 S. Crenshaw Blvd.; (323) 293-2829.