Even though the original Menotti’s Coffee Stop resides just under the Instagram-famous “VENICE” sign on Windward Circle, the coffee bar itself has flown a bit under the Los Angeles radar compared with shops like Intelligentsia and Go Get Em Tiger. That could be changing soon, though, as the the well-trained owners behind the unassuming coffee bar are going even bigger with their third location by trying to completely change what a neighborhood specialty coffee bar can be, from the roasting to the drinks menu, all the way down to the actual design of the space.
For the most part, customers will recognize the equipment: a curvy aqua La Marzocco espresso machine, a row of Mazzer grinders and a Curtis batch brewer. Still, head barista Christoper Abel Alameda, who goes by Nicely, has many surprises in store, including one of 10 existing machines from Bona Fide Nitro Coffee & Tea that can flush either cold or hot coffee kegs with nitro, resulting in creamier drinks.
Menotti’s has also formed a collaborative relationship with Cat & Cloud Coffee, a Santa Cruz-based roastery that works to Nicely’s specifications to create batches for the LA coffee company. The two teams have collaborated on blends, and Nicely even connected Cat & Cloud’s green coffee buyer Chuck Jack with renowned El Salvador coffee farmer Aida Batlle, who was the subject of a 2011 New Yorker profile.
Nicely’s real secret weapon is an ever-expanding universe of signature and off-menu drinks. The current incarnation features five beverages, including a goth-friendly “Darth Mocha” with Schizandu-branded activated charcoal, Valrhona chocolate ganache, espresso, milk, and a pinch of Maldon sea salt. The Afternooner combines chai with more chocolate ganache, hemp milk, and a dusting of ginger cacao powder. Nicely recently created a new signature drink, Coffee Tang, inspired by orange creamsicles for summer, with cold brew, vanilla syrup, half-and-half, and expressed orange oils.
Time-tested favorites like Caffe Rico (a tribute to Espresso Vivace’s Caffe Nico with espresso, half-and-half, orange zest, cinnamon, and vanilla syrup) and E&T (espresso & tonic with vanilla syrup and expressed orange peel) proved so popular that they are now out in the open, printed on a paper that’s presented on a clipboard by the register.
Nicely is a charming sort who comes to this new space with over 20 years of coffee experience, starting at Starbucks and moving through stops with “coffee prophet” David Schomer at Seattle’s Espresso Vivace. Fellow former Seattleite Kyle Glanville recruited Nicely to help open Intelligentsia Venice, and he later worked at Handsome Coffee Roasters in the Arts District before teaming at Menotti’s with drummer Derek G Taylor and entrepreneurs Louie and Netty Ryan, who co-own spots like Townhouse, Del Monte Speakeasy, Hatchet Hall, and The Virgil. The vaunted barista and his partners at Menotti’s have grown the brand steadily in the past six years, adding a Hollywood window and a truck that just spent seven months on the “Top Gun 2” set.
The coffee bar takes over a corner section of B&B Hardware, a Culver City institution that dates to 1950. The space now features communal and independent seating, exposed wood rafters, a bar fronted with vintage pressed tin panels, and a provocative photo of civil rights icon James Baldwin sipping coffee in Turkey. The shop is a true “stop,” designed for socializing and to heighten the coffee experience, which means the shop does not have wifi, electrical outlets, or a public bathroom.
The shop’s designer Nathalie Chapple suggested the Baldwin photo, which prompted a “Whoa!” reaction from Menotti’s staffers for many different reasons. At this point, in the current climate, it’s no longer enough for Nicely and the Menotti’s crew to just brew quality coffee and provide hospitable service.
“I’ve asked myself for the better part of a year or two, what can we do for the culture?,” Nicely asks. “James Baldwin was such a key figure in the civil rights movement, and was a proud gay man. He was a big inspiration to my uncle Abel, who was a gay man. My Uncle Abel wasn’t embraced nearly as much by his mother as he should have been. That is something in our family that has always been hard for us to process. If we can emanate more of James Baldwin’s pride and what his words represented to generations of people as an inspiration, and to consider a point of view through someone else’s eyes and not just our own, I’m happy to have his presence here.”
Customers can expect a signature James Baldwin beverage from Nicely inspired by the photo. They also plan to have copies of Baldwin’s books like “Notes of a Native Son,” “Another Country,” and “If Beale Street Could Talk” available for customers to deepen the conversation and culture. But for anyone truly interested in the art of coffee, it’s best to spend time in this new Culver City shop watching Nicely instead.
Menotti’s Coffee Shop, 12430 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (916) 229-6177