This past Sunday I attended a special event. Angeli Caffe turned 25 years young. That’s 25 years at the same Melrose Ave location. Which is a feat in any town, but it is a downright miracle here in Los Angeles.
Angelinos are rough on their institutions, particularly restaurants; often turning their backs on a great restaurant just as it hits its stride. Or if it does manage to stick around, there is usually a revolving kitchen door that many an ambitious chef used to saute his or her way to the top.
Not so with Evan Kleiman. She has been the creative force behind Angeli Caffe all these 25 years.
So you see, the longevity alone made this a special night for people like me who love eating, who love restaurants and who love this big crazy city too.
But I have a special reason for loving Angeli. It’s one of those “there are a million stories in the naked city” stories. This one’s my own and it’s personal– so if you’ re one of those people that leaves me nasty notes whenever I get personal. CLICK away now, cuz you’ re really gonna hate this story.
Unbeknownst to that little caffe on Melrose– Angeli played an important role in my full and whole-hearted integration into this great city.
It was 1988. I was freshly graduated from college when I moved to Los Angeles. I had been living a pretty easy life in spectacularly beautiful Santa Barbara. But I decided no podunk town for me (yeah, that’s the shameful way I talked back then). Nope, I craved action. I wanted to live in the center of things. So I moved to the big city. I was young enough and naive enough not to think about the consequences of transplanting myself to a major metropolitan area. I had very few friends, fewer prospects for employment and absolutely no moneyÂ at all. But like Mary Tyler Moore I had spunk. But once I got here I learned that, like Lou Grant, L.A. hates spunk!
I won’t bore you with the details of some of my first dark days because this is a story about Angeli Caffe, and how Angeli Caffe became a central part of my early city life.
Like a lot of people my age, I wanted excitement. I craved glamor. And when you are that young (and that stupid) you usually associate glamor with nightlife.
So once I (finally) landed a full-time job as an assistant to a well-known photographer I turned my sights to my social life. Up until this time I had a fairly “repressed” social life if you know what I mean. AIDS was still looming large and scary. But slowly the gay community was coming back out of its shell. It was an exciting time to be young, gay (and marginally cute) in Los Angeles. Armed with the knowledge of how to protect ourselves, people my age were taking to the bars and clubs of West Hollywood again.
And you know, maybe this is an inappropriate story for a food blog. I know I am going to hear from the contingency that thinks the real reason I write this food blog is to push my social agenda. I don’t know how they saw through my nefarious plot.
But, I don’t care because it’s an honest story. It’s a story about how young people live when they first move to the big city. It’s a story that honors a place that was very important to me at an important time in my life. Maybe I did not always make the best choices. Maybe I had my share of youthful indiscretions. But I survived. Hell, I thrived.
Because as soon as I could afford it, I got myself a studio apartment on Sycamore Ave, just a few short blocks from the trendiest part of Melrose Ave. I felt like I had finally arrived. I felt like I belonged. I just assumed having a cool apartment meant all the other things I craved would just fall into place. A successful career, a handsome boyfriend, and interesting cosmopolitan friends; they just had to be waiting for me right outside the door.
So I hung out on Melrose quite a lot. But success, friendship and my one true love were eluding me. My apartment was expensive for those days and my income. I was constantly worried about money. I got myself a boyfriend who turned out to be anything but my one true love. My great job with the photographer was A LOT of hard work.
I began to feel down. I decided to snap myself out of it with an even more glamorous nightlife– filled with entertainment industry parties and exclusive night clubs. Maybe the answer to my dreams lay inside one of these great distractions. I decided I would make myself available to anyone who was interested. Basically, my rule was if someone asked me out I said yes. No matter how unlikely the pairing. I was just getting to know myself. How would I know what I wanted if I didn’t take a bite from all the fruit in the bowl?
A philosophy like this leads to a lot of first dates. But when I say I made myself available to anyone who showed an interest I want you to know I don’t mean “available”! So I had to choose a venue for those 1001 first dates that made sense. It needed to fit my pocket book. Sometimes it’s better to host a first date than accept the hospitality of a first date. Still, this place needed to be cool and hip and current. It needed to have good food; even then I had discerning tastes (no jokes please, it’s not polite).
But most importantly, the setting for these dates needed to be close to my apartment. That way no matter how the date went, I would be close to home. Either an escape or a “retreat”
By now I am sure you have figured out that I chose Angeli Caffe for my romantic soul searching. I did not go once or twice, or even 10 times during that summer, fall, and winter of 1989. I probably went 100 times. Because sometimes there were actually second dates. And sometimes Angeli turned out to be a good place to meet friends for dinner. The pizza made it a perfect choice for a group of 8 to celebrate a birthday. Sometimes I just wanted a bowl of Tuesday night pasta all on my own. Angeli became all of this for me. I even talked my boss into ordering photo shoot lunches from Angeli.
Maybe time and my great love of Los Angles has colored my recollections of this period of my life. Maybe I didnâ€™t date quite as much as I think I did. Maybe I was never as lonely as in the telling of this story. Maybe I have romanticized that period of my life all out of proportion. Maybe.
But whatever the reason, I’ll always think wistfully on that time and of that caffe. Because, despite the fact that I have not been an Angeli regular in years, a large part of who I am today was invented out of necessity right there at that spot, in that restaurant on Melrose Ave.
Because I doubt my story is completely unique. There must be a reason Angeli has stood while others have fallen. I think it’s because there are places that become part of the social fabric of a city. Places that just know what people want. Angeli fit that niche in my life, and I suspect the live’s of others. So it was nice to gather again with those people. Some of them were strangers, some of them were vaguely (embarrassingly??) familiar, some of them were celebrities– all of them were people touched by a restaurant, and who had the good sense to want to touch that restaurant right back.
And just in case you are new to these pages. I’ll cut to the chase. Yes, I finally did meet the love of my life and we have been happily living and eating together for more than 20 years. And you can bet your butt he was sitting right next to me at Angeli Caffe this Sunday night for that 25th-anniversary party because in so many ways it felt like my own anniversary party. My own celebration of a life lived to its fullest in this city I love.
So thank you Angeli Caffe. I hope you have 25 more years, and then some…
A very special thank you to the talent and generosity of Bryony Shearmur whose photographs grace the pages of SippitySup today. You know me, I don’t let just any old pics make an appearance on this website. So please celebrate her power by clicking here to visit her website. You never know when you are going to need a good photographer.
SERIOUS FUN FOOD