Stanley M. Fried
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From Of Coffees and Coffeehouses - Bassam


Sometimes one become blasé about the coffeehouses they frequent. Like most people, I have my favorites that I go to often. It is in these places I know the staff and other customers. These are places which are comfortable to me. These are places I enjoy.

There is one place in San Diego which I do not frequent but is one of my very favorites. I do not go often so I will not take it for granted. It is always a treat for me to go there. The customers are usually strangers to me. The staff and owner know me but do not take me for granted either as I am not there on a daily basis. This place is Cafe de l'Amitie at 401 Market Street in Downtown San Diego.

It is in the rich textures of this setting that I like to go when I want to feel I am not in San Diego. The walls are strewn with paintings and bric-a-brac from all over the world. The music is eclectic and always suited to the space. At night, there is often live music...a piano player, Russian pop musicians, a Jazz quartet, a vocalist. This is often a lively cafe where people are talking to each other rather than sitting and brooding with attitude. Cafe de l'Amitie is where I like to take friends who are visiting from out of town to show how sophisticated San Diego has become. This is no imitation of a coffeehouse. This is the real thing. It holds to the tradition of coffeehouses going back over four hundred years where conversation and music become central to the enjoyment of one's time there.

Returning from a recent trip to Northern California and the Pacific Northwest, I landed at Cafe de l'Amitie around 12:30 a.m. This was the middle of the week and the place was nearly empty at this hour. My friend John and I sat talking with the cafe owner, Bassam Sammah. I have known Bassam for a few years now. He and I have had many pleasant conversations over coffee. He is one of the people whom I would have liked to have spent more time with, but I never wanted to spoil our friendship by becoming to close. Like his cafe, Bassam is always a treat for me to see.

Bassam had just gotten in a new stock of cigarettes at his cafe. Now, he is a non-smoker but knows how to be a gracious host and treat his customers to their favorites vices. he has both cigarettes and cigars available in a variety of sizes and shapes. Offering one of the best selections of cigarettes in town has caused me to think twice about my wanting to stop smoking. Here there is a full selection of the standard American cigarette brands alongside those from Canada, England, Turkey, Egypt, Indonesia, France, Italy, and Mexico. Included here are: Rothman's, Silk Cut, Andron Specials, Muratti, Sweet Afton, John Player Specials, 555-International, Dunhill, Gauloises, Gitanes, Export "A", Craven "A", Davidoff, Ducados, Tekel, Rameses II, Turkish Special, Rothchild's Black and Gold, Sherman Fantasia, Regie, Delicados, Sobranie Cocktail, Kailas Bidi, Milde Sortie, and Ginseng Herbal. He also stocks a full selection of clove cigarettes (Kreteks) including: Kuta Jakarta, Djarum, and Super Kretek. This is an enviable selection by any standard. San Diego finally has a coffeehouse that respects the pleasures that well accompany a cup of coffee.

The trip north to San Francisco and Seattle that I recently took allowed me to once again compare the standard of San Diego's coffeehouses to those in other parts of the West Coast. I would rank San Diego's coffee drinking to be at a somewhat more sophisticated level than either of those cities. Yet, the climate in both towns are more conducive to warming up over a cup of brew.

Perhaps it was while standing at an espresso cart in the U District of Seattle to grab my morning double espresso while standing in the rain, or it may have been while riding on a bus to downtown with the snow capped peaks of the Olympic Mountains cutting into the horizon to the west while Mount Rainier loomed large over the city to the Southeast, it it may have been that moment when the train pulled into San Diego and I did not feel as if I were coming home that caused me to decide to move to Seattle. A Santa Ana wind blows hot over San Diego today as I write this. It is unseasonable. It is tiring. Although a native of Southern California, It is time for me to live somewhere else for awhile. A different city with different problems. It is time for me to live in a place where water flows and trees grow.

In celebration of this move to the North and as a thank you to those who have been so kind over the thirteen years I have lived in San Diego, I am giving a performance on April 1st at the Wiki-Up Cafe. Entitled Sayonara San Diego, this will be a reading/performance of some of my favorite pieces I have written and performed while living here. Included will be many of the works I have performed at Sushi Performance Gallery and at the old Sixth Avenue Playhouse. The performance will also include some previously unperformed pieces as well as some extracts from past articles in The Espresso.

Sayonara San Diego will begin at 8:00 p.m. on April 1st. Admission will be a $5.00 donation at the door. The Wiki-Up Cafe is located at 4247 Park Boulevard at the corner of El Cajon Boulevard. Reservations are not necessary. If you have enjoyed this column, here is an opportunity to see the other side of my writings. If you have hated this column, here is a chance to heckle and jibe me. Please be advised that some of the material performed is not intended for children.

I plan to continue writing this column for some time after I have left San Diego. There is still much to write on about coffee and I have yet to even cover teas or chocolate. Perhaps the distance and the new surrounds will allow me to write more freely about San Diego.

I would like to thank the customers who I have served and the staffs and owners of the various coffeehouses where I have worked and consulted for being so supportive of my work here in San diego over the past few years. I would also like to thank the members of the local performing and visual arts community for allowing me the opportunity to work closely with them in the years prior to becoming involved in coffee. The Espresso earns my appreciation for its support and encouragement. The readers of this column and audience members who have suffered through my writings deserve the greatest thanks from me. I will miss everyone here whom I have come to know. It has been a pleasure knowing all of you.

©1994 - Stanley M. Fried/The Espresso


Bassam changed the name of his coffeehouse on a regular basis. It finally closed in 2007. See The Espresso for more information on this.
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