The recent closing of the coffee shop affectionately known as Big Gay Starbucks has inspired numerous comments, both from those who lamented the loss of a favorite gathering place and others who saw the Santa Monica Blvd. business as just another place to drink overpriced coffee.
While I never patronized this particular establishment, I sympathize with those who mourn the loss of another beloved neighborhood hangout. Over the years, there have been several places in the WeHo area that became known as comfortable, welcoming spots to spend time with old friends and meet new ones.
When I first moved to West Hollywood in the early 70s, a group of underemployed actors were regular fixtures at the end of Schwab’s lunch counter, where they drank endless cups of coffee and read the showbiz trades without paying for them. These were actors who never got famous but could be seen in a wide variety of small parts. In later years I would see an actor doing a few lines on TV or in a movie and think, “That’s Mario from Schwab’s!”
Schwab’s had a long history as a gathering place for aspiring movie types. In the classic 1950 film “Sunset Boulevard” writer Joe Gillis called the pharmacy a “combination office, Kaffeeklatsch and waiting room” years before we ever heard of Starbucks.
Another popular hang for young actors and writers was Coffee Dan’s on Hollywood Blvd. at Highland. Open 24 hours, this diner was especially popular with hard-drinking actors trying to sober up after the bars closed. In the 50s, young stars like James Dean, Dennis Hopper and Steve McQueen made Googie’s on Sunset next to Schwab’s their home away from home.
Ben Frank’s on Sunset was popular with the music crowd in the 60s, to the point that the Hollywood Reporter ad recruiting the TV group the Monkees specified “want spirited Ben Frank’s types.” This diner was conveniently located close to recording studios and also open 24/7. Another longtime favorite for grabbing an early breakfast after the clubs on the Strip are closed is Canter’s on Fairfax, whose most regular regular is unofficial Mayor of the Sunset Strip Rodney Bingenheimer, who can be found holding court there almost every night.
After Schwab’s closed in the 80s the acting crowd migrated to the nearby Theodore coffee shop on Santa Monica Blvd. where the mostly male coterie was joined by female actors like Shelley Winters and Sally Kirkland. Theodore later became the Silver Spoon, an even more famous hangout for thespians. Alas, the Silver Spoon closed on New Year’s Eve of 2011 and was replaced by the more upscale restaurant Connie and Ted’s.
While some non-creative types may dismiss hanging out with your friends as a waste of time, I have to wonder how many scripts, collaborations and star-making roles got their genesis at Schwab’s, Coffee Dan’s or the Silver Spoon. Creative minds need a place to congregate with other creative minds so I hope there are still places where the current generation of actors, writers and musicians can meet over a cup of coffee.
So what was your favorite hangout? Has social media replaced the corner coffee shop? Where are WeHo’s best hangs today?