Woodcat: an old word meaning “rabbit,” a song on an album played over and over during a road trip across Europe, and now the name of a new café in Echo Park, run by Janine and Saadat Awan. Open since Saturday, Sept. 20, Woodcat Coffee Bar is serving coffee roasted by Wrecking Ball of San Francisco, run by specialty coffee movers and shakers Nick Cho and Patricia Rothgeb, and the shop’s heart is a Faema espresso machine, an older Italian model that the Awans fell in love with when visiting Berlin.
The design of the space follows from the machine: The Awans, doing their own build-out work with the help of friends, have painted the walls of this former vintage clothing store in battleship grey and international orange, picking up the Faema’s tones. This combines with the hand-made wooden bar, stools and benches, to create an atmosphere that is warm and welcoming even as it always brings the industrial to mind – a motorcycle helmet and the gas tank from a Ducati, complete the look (Italian motorcycles have as much of a place in Saadat’s heart as Italian coffee machines). The Awans are united in their love of good design, and they’ve created a lovely space – but one quirky enough that it doesn’t fall into hipster café clichés.
The Awans, who came to Echo Park from Washington D.C., had wanted their own café for some time – Saadat is a veteran of Nick Cho’s former D.C. shop Murky Coffee, and a veteran of the D.C. music scene as well. Trained as an engineer, he designed Woodcat’s interior, building the bar with the help of friend Nathan Spaulding, and Janine lent her expertise as a professional graphic designer to the Woodcat brand – the image of a slightly mischievous rabbit on the window, is her work.
They encountered the name Woodcat on an album by the English band Tunng, and that sense of whimsy — associations that carry over from music to coffee and from espresso machines to bike parts — animates the shop, making it feel deeply personal rather than like just another heavily branded coffee/lifestyle boutique.
Woodcat isn’t trying to dominate specialty coffee in L.A., or even on L.A.’s East Side — it’s an effort to perfect the neighborhood café. Saadat’s approach to coffee is, in his words “old school,” focused on the drink rather than — as many espresso wonks do — the parameters of production. As he puts it, “people sometimes lose sight of the goal of making a pleasant beverage when they get too involved in making measurements and in details.”
The shop offers enough seating for a few laptop workers to camp out, but the emphasis is definitely on seating at the bar and communal table. Music will be anything from indie rock to world music (but never world music “played ironically,” we’re assured). Woodcat plans to offer a full array of breakfast pastries as well as cookies and other treats, and their espresso service will be backed up by a Fetco brewer and a Kalita pour-over station.