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NIGHT MOVES : A Good Place to Grab a Cup or Ham It Up

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The thin blonde with the rainbow-painted fingernails was sitting at a table against the wall, smoking cigarettes and drinking Perrier.

“I come here all the time,” she said. “It’s like home.”

Dozens of others--mostly young like her--were crowded into the tiny Cobalt Cafe, which is Woodland Hills’ answer to the resurgence of coffeehouses on the Westside. Twenty or so people waited on the sidewalk to get in.

Monday nights are among the cafe’s busiest. The weekly “open mike” draws scores of comedians, musicians and poets who are craving to display their talents, as well as non-performing customers who come to watch what is known as an anything-goes evening.

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“This is a warm little hole in the wall,” said Andy Wyszkowski, who played a game of chess before stepping up to the microphone to play guitar and sing. “People aren’t walking around with their noses up in the air and a Bohemian attitude.”

The cafe, which opened seven months ago on Ventura Boulevard, is the venture of Maia Wright and Dave Politi. They were talked into starting a coffeehouse by a friend who was impressed that they gave frequent and well-attended gatherings in their nearby home.

“We thought it was a good idea. We thought the Valley needed something like this,” Politi said of the cafe, where the under-21 crowd is welcome because no alcohol is served. “There were a lot of young people in our community with no place to go and, for older people, this is an alternative to the bar scene.”

The Cobalt bills itself as “more comfortable than a restaurant, more fun than your living room,” and it looks like a mishmash of those two locales. Couches, Formica kitchen tables and comfy chairs fill the place. Mismatched lamps provide dim light. On the walls are black-and-white photographs of urban landscapes. The floor is multicolored concrete.

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As for entertainment, the cafe offers an eclectic bill for generally small cover charges. Tuesdays are poetry nights. On Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, the performers range from jazz to blues musicians to a group appearing this month that calls itself Diga Jiga and purports to play percussive beatnik rap.

Meantime, the open kitchen serves up traditional coffeehouse fare, including cappuccino made in a machine that was purchased from some guy who won it on “The Price Is Right.” Cinnamon rolls, muffins, cookies and sandwiches, including peanut butter and jam, round out the menu.

The Cobalt also provides a place for night owls, staying open until 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays and until 1 a.m. other nights.

Jason Larimore and Carla Bennett, a couple of 19-year-olds from Agoura, said they hang out at the cafe two or three nights a week. During the recent open mike session, they were sitting near the stage--which is really just a spot cleared by the windows up front--and playing Scrabble.

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“The people who come here are really pleasant,” Bennett said.

“And there’s no alcohol, so there’s no fighting,” Larimore said.

The entertainment that night varied from surprisingly good to surprisingly bad as Wright hustled behind the kitchen counter trying to keep up with the caffeine needs of another packed house.

“There were naysayers who said a place like this would never fly in the Valley,” said Wright, who worked at a Westside coffeehouse while attending UCLA. “I live in the area and I knew this could be popular here.”

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The Cobalt Cafe is at 21622 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills. Cover charges range from $2 to $5. Call (818) 348-3789.


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