UNITED STATES—The baristas gave their all and infused the place with their own personalities, actresses, dancers, mystics, animal trainers and even a 15-year-old from the hood, who later came back after college for another stint. Yevgen was the first manager, 18 years old, and future trader in classic sports cars. One of the baristas, Amy, besides being a dancer was also psychic; she predicted that one day I would write the history of it all.
A couple baristas promoted an open mic night. For two weeks, people put their names and talents on a list, and then came Saturday night. It was a full house, every chair and table. Those in back had to peer over shoulders. Here in front of the plate glass window onto Fountain, we got to see the regulars’ hidden talents exposed, and there were some people who only appeared that night, and flitted off into the thin air, but not without leaving the imprint of their talent. There was poetry. (Loren, who I met that night, will always be a poet to me.) I and a couple others did stand-up, somebody sang the blues. Ivanka read a witty comic essay. An actor from the studio next door did a monologue from “Sweet Bird of Youth.”
Being there that night was like catching the perfect wave and riding it all the way. A warmth and energy flowed through the place. I even brought a box of my daughter’s gradeschool art—she had practically grown up at Om. She was shy about presenting her art and stayed in back, so I went up front and made random remarks about the drawings and paintings. After a couple in a row, featuring glitter, I remarked, “That was her glitter period.”
The fact that it got any kind of laugh shows what a warm, appreciative house we had. And her art fit in with the place, truly struck a chord. This was prescient of the cafe’s latest incarnation, where art by local artists is prominently displayed.
After the show we celebrated by going to Greenblatt’s; I was happy that my daughter had gotten to see her dad do stand-up.
The first owner did his best to make Om work, and this open mic was part of it. After five years, he decided to pass on the good karma. Prassan had the good luck to sell to a young Turkish couple, about to have a child. They both came from a hotel background. Nesrin ran the place first and we got used to her kind manner. Then came Tolga, her husband. Their plan from the beginning was to work and then go back to open a boutique hotel in Turkey. Tolga left managing a hotel in Malibu, and left the grueling commute behind to run the show, a one man band who couldn’t exist without a woman. Nesrin now came in with supplies and the scones and chocolate chip oatmeal cookies she made herself and also she brought their baby son. We saw him grow from infant to toddler. He would grow to play with the Simpsons’ chess set that my own daughter had played with.
Together they furthered a legacy of hospitality. At first, Tolga was an unknown, but it soon became obvious that his standards for hospitality and for somebody who deserved to be served were high. He took no nonsense. You had to respect the place. You didn’t just walk in with outside food. You didn’t walk by him, stare straight ahead and beeline into the bathroom. He’d show you the door in know uncertain terms.
Once two flighty girls came in both undecided about their order and very demanding. Finally, Tolga said, “I think you girls are looking for a Starbucks. There’s one on the corner of Santa Monica and Fairfax.”
Their jaws dropped. They didn’t believe what they were hearing. Heads spinning, the walked back into the street.
To be continued..