For 24 years it was never really about the coffee — it was about community
By Jill Sharer Bozhkov
Abbot’s Habit seemed a permanent part of the landscape. The sort of place that feels more like an organic extension of the neighborhood than an actual brick-and-mortar business. When I heard it was closing, I felt like I was losing an old friend.
I first visited Abbot’s shortly after it opened in the early ’90s. I was working in an interior designer’s office on Venice Boulevard and it was my job to walk the plans over to the blueprinter, right next door to the coffee shop.
Until then I’d never been in an establishment that’s main purpose was to sell coffee. This was long before Starbucks went global and long after the Beatnik coffee houses folded. It was my first taste of French roast and my first experience with coffeehouse culture.
Inside the little brick building on the corner of Abbot Kinney Boulevard and California Avenue, the air smelled like Venice — coffee, cigarettes and the faint incense-like smell of weed when it’s soaked into someone’s clothes. Though it hadn’t been open all that long, Abbot’s Habit felt old. Like it had always been there.
While the coffee was good, it was the vibe that made Abbot’s Habit so special. I saw people engrossed in heated conversations, while others sat alone reading books or writing (with pen and paper!). There was something exotic and bohemian about it, like a passage in a book come to life. Still, it wasn’t a recreation of Paris in the 1920s or New York’s East Village in the ’50s. It was purely Venice.
The people who came to Abbot’s were Venice through and through. They were the artists, writers, surfers and eccentrics who’d gravitated to this unusual beach community for decades. They arrived on cruiser bikes and skateboards. They left their pit bulls and mixed-breed mutts just outside the front door. They didn’t follow trends, nor did they try to set them. The unifying thing about Venice locals back then was their uniqueness. They were the cool kids who didn’t care about convention. And Abbot’s Habit was their place.
While it seemed like a novelty to me in the pre-Starbucks age, Abbot’s was actually following in the footsteps of earlier local hangs. The most famous was the Venice West Café on Westminster Avenue just off the boardwalk, which closed in 1966 after a decade as the epicenter of Beat culture in Southern California.
In the 1970s, there was the Front Porch Tea House on West Washington Boulevard (now Abbot Kinney Boulevard). Located inside an old clapboard house, they served coffee, tea and poetry. Then came Van Go’s Ear, just across the street from Jim Morrison’s old apartment. They offered live music with your java.
Even when Starbucks were opening all over Los Angeles, Abbot’s never tried to be a “boutique” coffee experience; they simply stayed the same, and in doing so became a neighborhood institution.
Through the years, each time a coffee house closed a new one eventually opened up to fill the void. This time feels different. The new coffee houses are all about the coffee, while Abbot’s Habit and those that came before it were more about the space and the community that inhabited it.
RIP, Abbot’s Habit. You will be missed.
Jill Sharer Bozhkov is a Westside native whose mother taught at Westminster Avenue Elementary School. Her writing has also appeared in Los Angeles Magazine and LA Weekly.