While the LA neighborhood of Echo Park doesn’t fall short on independent cafe offerings, there hadn't, until recently, been a coffee shop in the area catering specifically to the 21-and-older crowd. This is where The Semi-Tropic fills that void. The new cafe/bar hybrid sits on a block dominated by music venue The Echoplex, Lolipop Records store, and a Taco Bell/KFC drive-thru, no less. It’s a strange, but interesting mix.
The Semi-Tropic came about when owners Dan Finley and Eren Magri wanted a place where they could serve alcoholic drinks in addition to quality coffee. The idea of serving coffee alongside beer and wine beverages creates a “community resource” of sorts, says Finley. Locals are able to drop by, get their usual drink, and listen to music. And music is a big part of The Semi-Tropic. “We wanted to create a space with a really good sound system, so we needed to be in a place where people truly appreciate music. Echo Park is an artistic neighborhood with a lot of musicians, so it made sense for us,” says Finley.
Acoustics and sound do matter in a cafe playing music. Many coffee shops don’t give much thought to these elements, but when you’re sitting in a cafe for a long period of time, it really is something influential—if the sound is bad, it’s noticeable. The Semi-Tropic goes above and beyond with their custom sound system. Equipped with speakers from Ojas Speakers in Brooklyn, the music comes through two speakers with amplifiers from the 1960s that use vacuum tubes, creating a warm sound. They’re set up like a stage where the music comes through just one side of the cafe, almost like you’re listening to a home stereo. The speakers are meant to generate a bright, vintage sound from the repurposed equipment.
Walking into The Semi-Tropic in the daytime, you can expect to see mostly coffee drinkers. The custom-blended coffee is roasted locally by Demitasse for a rich, chocolatey, earthy coffee flavor. Espresso beverages are made on their La Marzocco Linea Classic. Being a bar, it’s not surprising that they also have a few creative coffee drinks on the menu.
One of the more popular drinks, espresso tonic, is made with tonic water and an espresso shot poured on top, creating two layers of a cooling beverage. Then, a lemon twist is added to top it off, finishing this refreshing, stimulating pick me up. Adding to espresso offerings, there’s also a bitter mocha. Made with unsweetened cocoa, it’s a welcome change from the usual sugary mochas.
For food, Finley tells me, “the biggest seller, naturally, is our avocado toast, but it’s a really good avocado toast. There are two layers: guacamole, then whole slices of avocado, which is then topped with cilantro, jalapeño, and lime that create a sort of taco flavor.” The Mexican-influenced avocado toast is joined on the menu by a churro waffle—essentially a waffle made with churro batter—a big hit offered day and night. They also have tamales, and a cheese board to complement their wines.
When the sun goes down, The Semi-Tropic transforms into a bar, or “wine bar mode,” as Finley says. The espresso machine is shut off and it’s time for the hard drinks. Pouring both draft and bottled wine, the cafe looks to offer tasty, value wines—something for everyone, really. You can get a half liter of a white or red for around $15, and in addition to the more affordable wines, you can choose to splurge on various sparkling wines, or even champagne. The Semi-Tropic’s mission is to find good, interesting wines that won’t break the bank. The beer menu follows suit, with a variety of value beers and cider.
In the future, The Semi-Tropic hopes to obtain a full-alcohol license to be able to create more experimental drinks and cocktails. In the meantime, you won’t be disappointed with their already impressive menu—day or night.
Tatiana Ernst is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and photographer. Read more Tatiana Ernst on Sprudge.