Stanley M. Fried
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From Of Coffee and Coffeehouses - La Tazza


Sitting with my friend Kevin at La Tazza over a cappuccino late on a Thursday night looking out onto Fifth Avenue in the Gaslamp District. People walking by the window; walking from place to place; walking past the restaurants, past the panhandlers, past the buildings that were constructed so many years before any of us were here in this place where we are. People walking in the yellow light cast from street lamps, their pallor changed: surreal.

The night before, there had been a woman seeming to dance at midnight in the empty parking lot across the street from where I live. She moved in the same yellow glow of light upon the asphalt that bathes all the nights in San Diego. She moved with stumbled footsteps over the lines painted white upon the surface where her shadow fell. With a dipping motion of her body, she gestured a hand into the air with outstretched arm. The only sound was of an occasional car along the street punctuated by the calls of people to each other. Her baggy trousers swayed with a grace her body did no possess. The motion of her atop that surface continued.

It took awhile before I realized she was not dancing. Her sweeping gestures were punctuated by sounds she made in a conversational tone. her hand was placed forward as she dipped a curtsy with a coy gesture of her head. Her hand moved up with its palm reflecting outward as she demurred something or someone not there. She acted in an almost courtly manner to what began to appear a throng. This was no dance. She was holding an audience. I watched as she kept trying to leave, kept being pulled back into the crowd of that empty place.

An older man wearing a beard and a baseball cap pushed a shopping cart filled with belongings along the sidewalk that bordered one side of the parking lot. He shook his head as he watched her move. He pushed his cart a bit faster until he was clear of the parking lot. Three young men walked along the sidewalk bordering the other side of the parking lot. They passed a paper bag among them and swigged from its contents never noticing the woman. The woman never noticed any of them.

I watched her for nearly fifteen minutes until finally she made her way away from the parking lot and onto the sidewalk where she caught her breath then turned to wave at whatever it was she saw in that space. A few times she seemed to let herself be pulled back towards where she had been. Again she demurred. Her head shook from side to side. She turned away. She looked back and said, "I can not." She finally mustered her presence to leave, fanning herself as if she were tired. She cocked her head high and walked along the sidewalk past the few people who sat in Java talking to each other. She glanced in at them though she kept walking. No one seemed to notice her walk by.

I relayed this story to Kevin as we watched people walk past the window where we sat lingering over our coffees. On their way from somewhere to somewhere else. Some panhandled. Some ignored the panhandlers. Some made their way into and out from Croce's across the street. Others walked past the doors of The Insomniac that were closed. Cars passed by along the street. It was a quiet night without any dancers. We sat watching others and talking.

Mary turned to me from where she sat at the counter. She asked me when The Insomniac would re-open. She claims to be a "Spanish Gypsy" who can help people succeed with their businesses. She wanted to know if "Rodney's place" would be up again soon. I had to tell her I did not know. "It's a shame," she said. I knew it was.

On Friday, I was back at La Tazza with my neighbor Jean. This time it was for a late meal and a glass of port. The word was out by then that The Insomniac would not re-open. Although I had worked on setting it up for the owner, it always felt to me like a place without a reason. It was unsure of itself and tried to be too many things at once, never allowing itself or its customers to settle in and be comfortable. Too mutable. A great space with so much potential that was never realized. Now it is gone. Perhaps someone else will be able to do better there.

Going home from La Tazza, Jean and I walked past Cafe Lulu to see how it was doing. Crowded as usual on a Friday night just as La Tazza had been. Then on to The Gas Haus which had opened just five days before. It is on F Street between Sixth and Seventh in the Maryland Hotel behind a dark storefront that is difficult to notice as being open. This is the most retro place I have seen in San Diego. Just like walking back into the Sixties. It adjoins a used record/CD store. The Gas Haus has a pool table, a chess table, chairs and sofas from the Sixties and Seventies, a barber chair, a a chair from a beauty salon replete with hair dryer, and a simple, straight-forward menu. The feel was so similar to that which I felt on Fairfax or Sunset in L.A. when my hair was long enough to sit on if I did not watch what I was doing and Grace Slick's voice had supplanted Joan Baez as the favorite female vocalist to be played over the speakers in a coffeehouse.

Unlike The Insomniac, the owners are doing this as a hands-on labor of love. It is a fine addition to the Downtown coffee scene. Their hours are good, too. Opening at 8:00 a.m. each day and closing at 3:00 a.m. week nights and 4:00 a.m. on weekends.

When I opened Java some 6½ years ago, we were the only coffeehouse in Downtown San Diego. Now there is Seventh Near B, Mekka Java, Cafe Chabalaba, Campus Cafe, L' Hermitage, Cafe Lulu, La Tazza, Croce's Coffeehouse and Starbuck's (both in Horton Plaza), the coffee bar at Horton Plaza's Farmer's Market, and The Gas Haus. Even the San Diego Espresso Company coffee carts, which were Downtown before Java, have seen the addition of others who have set up carts as well. Perhaps The Pannikin will eventually open a cafe adjacent to their roasting facility on G Street. Each place is unique: dancing to the music they alone seem to hear in their head. More places to muse with friends passing time as we live our lives.

©1992 - Stanley M. Fried/The Espresso


La Tazza was one of Mr. Fried's favorite coffeehouses in San Diego. It was run by Scott and Kelly. Scott's partner Jeff was often on the scene as were Scott's parents. Together, they created a simple space that excelled in both product and conviviality.
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