July 24, 2009
Shtiebels with Coffee
A shteibel is a small neighborhood synagogue. You pronounce it to rhyme with “Weeble”—it’s as cozy and cute. Every religion has its shteibel. Walk the narrow streets of the Old City of Jerusalem and you’ll see tiny rooms where sock-clad men kneel in prayers to Allah. Rome is full of mini- churches tucked between offices and stores. Peek inside and inevitably you’ll see an old woman and some lit candles, a shrunk-down statue of Jesus on a scaled-down altar—a Catholic shteibel.
My wife can’t pass a shteibel without going in—though I never quite feel comfortable or welcome in them. For me that small, sudden space devoted to eating or drinking—a tucked away bar or café or restaurant—is sanctuary enough. I search them out wherever I travel.
This week I stumbled onto a new one right in my own neighborhood. Dola is a coffee bar unlike any other in LA. You enter a narrow passage between two buildings on Abbot Kinney, just next to the super-chic Gjelina. The passage leads to a patio, fashioned of beaten-up concrete and grass, punctuated with a small forest of melaleuca trees. There’s a modern sculpture sitting smack dab in the middle, inoffensive as a playset.
A sign out front, on a chalkboard, reads:
That oversells the amenities. The coffee is in a pump pot, beside a rack of magazines for sale. You help yourself in either ceramic or paper. You sit at mismatched tables under the shade of those trees.
I sat for a few minutes yesterday. It smelled good: the eucalyptus scent of the trees, the fresh coffee. One other customer drank coffee and spoke in his iPhone. I turned to a Japanese lady sitting closest to the cash register and asked who I was supposed to pay. She answered in Japanese—a moment straight out of a David Lynch movie.
Eventually a young Japanese woman came and took my money. She said the same people who own Gjelina own Dola—named after one of their cousins—and haven’t quite decided how to use the space. In the meantime they put some magazines and coffee pots there.
Not just that: in the meantime they created a sanctuary.