The Arts District is a favored hangout spot for Angelenos, mostly because the neighborhood is one of the few in LA whose surroundings don’t require a car to travel between. Visitors can easily walk to Little Tokyo, Chinatown, and even further into the heart of Downtown, making it an extra convenient spot to begin an urban day hike. Just outside DTLA, the Arts District is three square miles filled with a variety of breweries, shopping, dining and coffee spots. Freshly-painted graffiti covers the brick walls of its newly-renovated warehouses, making unique murals and accent lights that line the sidewalks and frame the entryways of sleek boutiques and apartments—the Arts District today would be a far cry from the artist colony it served back in the 1970s.
Once the sun sets, the neighborhood transforms into a hub for night life—the streets pack with twenty-somethings looking for a beer, crowding the fronts of breweries and bars. But in the daytime, this is a coffee city, and the now-resplendent cafes scattered on Mateo, Traction, and Santa Fe Avenue fill to the brim. Here, we detail a coffee crawl that takes you to some of the current, and future, Arts District standouts, all with your car parked in one place.
Blacktop Coffee is the first product of Tyler Wells’ (formerly of Handsome Coffee) small empire of coffee boutiques located throughout the city (Highland Park’s Civil Coffee and DTLA’s Nice Coffee being his other locations). Blacktop uses Counter Culture Coffee. The shop’s interior, exterior, and beverage presentation make visiting an eye-grabbing experience, with tasteful wood and teal accents, an ivy-walled patio, and wooden block seating.
Blacktop’s drink menu is written simply. There are three choices for espresso drinks—black, white, and chocolate—plus a daily drip/cold brew, and selection of teas and chai. Then there’s the toast—which for a few extra bucks can be adorned with salmon, picked vegetables, and more. And just in case you’re still not sated after stopping in, well, Salt and Straw is right across the street.
Stumptown Coffee Roasters
Portland, Oregon’s Stumptown Coffee Roasters was a massive wholesale supplier for LA cafes for its first few years of operation in the city, and although they still have active wholesale accounts here, they added a beautiful cafe build-out to their Arts District roastery in 2013. It’s a warehouse blend of Pacific Northwest-meets-cafe-meets coffee boutique. Clear Doug Fir wood counters, cement floors, and chocolate cream ceramic cups remind visitors of the company’s Portland roots. Located on a quiet corner of Santa Fe, the cafe shares foot traffic with DTLA’s renowned Bestia restaurant and HD Buttercup furniture. They sell a massive array of flavored cold brews, juices, mugs, coffee kits, and other Stumptown paraphernalia in addition to offering multiple cold brews on-tap. There’s also coffee on Bee House pourover via a Modbar tap system, and espresso drinks made on a handsome Pantechnicon custom La Marzocco—currently, a seasonal Horchata cold brew is on the menu. Pastries from Sugar Bloom Bakery round out the list of reasons to make Stumptown’s a spot worth checking out.
On one side of The Wheelhouse is the epitome of an aesthetic-centered cafe with a damn good coffee program to match it; on the other is a bike shop. In between are deep teal accents, wallpapered ceilings, and cement floors. Thick slabs of wood, glass coffee decanters, and speckled, cross-hatched ceramic mugs practically beg you to stay and hang out. Wheelhouse’s menu offers a daily coffee, cold brew, and espresso with “small,” “medium,” or “large” pours of milk—all courtesy of Olympia Coffee Roasting Company. A separate menu at the counter offers additional offerings on AeroPress, coffee-Superba pastry combos, and seasonal drink specials created by the Wheelhouse owners and baristas. While you’re sipping, even non-cyclists will find something that catches their attention in the selection of boutique bike gear—cyclists, on the other hand, can take advantage of bike repair services, rentals, and happy hour rides.
Blue Bottle Coffee
Blue Bottle Coffee Company’s first ever LA location, located in the former Handsome Coffee space, is a staple cafe in the Arts District on Mateo, and is full of a constant bustle of customers grabbing coffee, whether they’re between gigs on set, residents, or local creatives. The cafe is also a part of Blue Bottle’s LA headquarters and roastery, and carries the smell of fresh roasted coffee thrice-weekly. Like much of the Arts District cafes, Blue Bottle sticks to the warehouse appearance, keeping its cement floors and roasting room on display. Stop in for a drip coffee, which only gets brewed via pour-over style, or get your cold brew fix with Blue Bottle’s signature chicory-roasted New Orleans coffee. Like much of Blue Bottle’s motto of simplicity, their espresso menu holds your standard milk drinks, and espresso comes courtesy of a La Marzocco FB80. On Saturdays there are roastery tours, and popular food trucks visit outside on a regular basis. As one of the first cafes to open in the Arts District, this spot is more than just a coffee shop–it’s a central neighborhood hang.
Two years ago, Little Tokyo’s Cafe Dulce launched a second location as a pop-up inside ROW DTLA, a former produce market-turned-lifestyle plaza. Sharing space with a few other major boutiques, Dos now serves as a permanent walk-up coffee spot for those in between shopping or grabbing a bite to eat at the weekly Sunday Smorgasburg. Like Cafe Dulce’s original location, Dos is also keen on design and branding, keeping everything crisp and eye-grabbing—from sugary cereal-topped donuts to their interior design and drink presentation in beer goblets and mason jars. The cafe ventures into the same style of the Arts District’s colorful street art, with painted murals from Annie Seo and Steven Daily. The menu has a wonderfully overwhelming amount to take in, from its drink selections to large array of sweets and sandwiches. Dos serves Heart Coffee Roasters from a snazzy three-group Slayer for classic espresso drinks and also does pour-overs. Additionally, Cafe Dulce lives up to its name, and the menu is jam-packed with sweet beverages like the Vietnamese iced coffee, the dulce latte (a latte with a shot of condensed milk), a blueberry matcha latte, and more. It’d be a crime to come to Dos and not order a donut, too—lines regularly jam the registers, with customers clamoring for green roti and Oreo flavors.
The Bay Area seems more ready than ever to make a landing in LA. Following Mr. Holmes Bakery and Blue Bottle’s successful inceptions comes the wildly popular Tartine Manufactory, which will soon occupy space in the former American Apparel Warehouse and in ROW DTLA. The massive compound will be an all-encompassing temple for bread baking, pastry making, coffee, and food prep—at 40,000-square-feet, the complex will also have two restaurant spaces and a market. While Tartine’s Coffee Manufactory keeps it simple at the moment by offering one single-origin, one blend, and one decaf roast at a time, their new massive roastery, with 120-kilogram Probats and an upstairs coffee lab, should allow them to offer more roasts in the future. According to Bloomberg Pursuits, they’ll also be working with chefs on custom-made blends.
Verve Coffee Roasters
Coming soon, Verve will continue its own Southern California invasion with a fourth location and second LA roastery on the corner of Santa Fe and Mateo. Hailing from the shores of Santa Cruz, Verve’s LA cafes serve as equally-sleek additions to their Northern California shops, with light wooden counters, teal and navy tiling, and fresh succulents that line the shelves between bags of freshly roasted coffee (Downtown LA’s location is packed with its own greenhouse of plants that line the walls and ceilings of the outdoor patio). Nearly all the cafes work with high-end equipment like four-group Kees van der Westen Spirits and Modbar automatic pour-overs, and will likely be continuing to fuel the city’s love for pressed juice with Juice Served Here and flights of pressed juice. In addition to their simple coffee and curated tea menu, there will also be food at this location, as they are currently testing the waters with a simple savory menu of sandwiches and salads at their Melrose space.
While not directly within the Arts District parameters, its proximity to the neighborhood calls for a quick peep at one of the original roasters in LA. An architect-turned-barista, founder and coffee legend Yeekai Lim opened the original Cognoscenti location as a pop-up in Eagle Rock, and has been a fundamental figure in mentoring many other cafe owners we see today, like Jack Benjakul of Endorffeine in Chinatown. Cognoscenti keeps it simple at their third and newest location on San Julian in the Fashion District. The cafe is clean and spacious with high-vaulted ceilings, cement floors and walls, and large glass windows, which light the space naturally and keep its warehouse vibe alive. Their simple menu includes three different personal roasts for pour-over (two single origins and a blend) that are auto-brewed with Marco SP9s, and milk drinks that are steamed on Modbar. In addition to teas, you can also cool off with some of the sweeter seasonal specials like affogatos, milkshakes, and a ginger tonic. Thanks to Lim’s previous ties with Proof, the shop’s food menu has some of the Atwater Village bakery’s sought-after treats, like croissants and currant scones, while small breakfast items like egg sandwiches and yogurt parfaits serve to truly fill your belly.