Friday, February 20, 2009

Good vibes at The Downbeat

A place in Echo Park where a customer can order a Brie and avocado sandwich and a salad with freshly made balsamic vinaigrette may sound expensive and impossible to find. But for less than $10 it is possible to find at The Downbeat Cafe, a hip and retro café/coffee house that boasts more than any mainstream excuse for a coffee house ever could.

“It’s good food and it’s a cut above the general coffee house lunch fare,” Vince Meghrouni said.

Meghrouni and his band, The Downbeats, play at The Downbeat every Wednesday night. “It’s a comfortable place,” he said.

Meghrouni said he and his fellow band members chose their group’s name while standing outside of the coffee house one night when they looked up at the awning with The Downbeat name on it. “It was direct causation,” he said.

When I walked into the retro coffee house/café I immediately felt at home. It was warm and inviting with comfortable couches, handwritten menu boards and Frank Sinatra playing in the background— a place where people come to enjoy a good cup of coffee, a good meal, and study, talk or just hang out.

The Downbeat Cafe offers more than just coffee and pastries. The menu includes a selection breakfast foods, sandwiches, salads and more.

“We’re a community,” Dan Drozdenko, the newest owner of The Downbeat said.

Drozdenko who cheerfully helped customers said that they do not cater to the big business demand of the corporate-chain-style coffee house.

“We actually attract the clientele that would rather not go to Starbucks,” Drozdenko said.

Dakota Bertrand, chef and manager of The Downbeat, said he really enjoys talking to each customer to find out exactly how they want their drinks.

“We try to make what people like,” Bertrand said. “It’s how you get to know people. It gives me an excuse to talk to them.”

Bertrand really likes his customers, but he loves how creative his job allows him to be. He said the peanut butter cookies and the avocado and Brie sandwich are two of the most popular menu items.

The Downbeat has a lot to offer from a half of a grapefruit for breakfast to a mozzarella and pesto sandwich or homemade soup for lunch to a variety of coffee, tea and other beverages. There is something for everyone and in every price range.

Not only does The Downbeat offer great food, but a unique and fun atmosphere. The café/ coffee house is filled with retro furniture and lamps and is more welcoming than the standard manufactured look found in most chain coffee shops and cafes.

Almost all of the walls are covered with art created by local artists such as the current artwork by noted muralist Ernesto de la Loza, who has a studio in a church next door and who frequents The Downbeat.

“It has a ‘50’s beat sensibility,” de la Loza said. “It’s local, where artists meet and we visit.”

de la Loza said he has frequented The Downbeat for about six years since its first owner opened it.

Meghrouni said little has changed at The Downbeat, now on its third owner. One of Meghrouni’s favorite things about The Downbeat is the framed issue covers of “The Downbeat” jazz magazine that hang on one of the walls of the coffee house.

“It’s like severe eye candy,” Meghrouni said. “It’s better than just some poster on that wall that says ‘jazz.’”

Meghrouni who plays the tenor and alto saxophone, the flute, the harmonica and who sings for The Downbeats, said the employees at the coffee house take a lot of pride in what they do, especially Bertrand.

“He’s taken such extreme pride in their food and the preparation,” Meghrouni said. “Pride permeates in the place.”

“The people that work there are part of the community vibe,” Meghrouni said.

Meghrouni along with Mike Sessa who plays the drums, Matt Lake who plays the guitar and Michael Alvidrez who plays the bass, performs every Wednesday night from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. The group plays primarily Jazz and some Chicago Blues.

The Downbeat is by far one of my favorite coffee houses and it is where I had one of the best sandwiches I have ever eaten. After Bertrand’s description of the sandwich I had to try the Brie and avocado melt that comes with melted Brie and sliced avocado on a fresh baguette and a side salad with fresh balsamic vinaigrette. Delicious. And at $8.99, it did not break the bank.

Visiting The Downbeat in Echo Park, which is located in an early 1900s brick building on Alvarado Street just north of Sunset Boulevard is definitely a must of things to do in the Los Angeles area.

The Downbeat is located about 10 minutes north of Downtown Los Angeles.

The Downbeat Cafe is located at 1202 N. Alvarado St. in Echo Park. For more information, please visit

Gas: About $2
Parking: Free
Public transportation: $5
(Metro Gold Line, Red Line Subway and bus)
Food at The Downbeat: $8.99
Total amount spent: About $16