CLUB SCENE : Friendly Brew of Java, Talk and Music

Despite the convenience of being in a shopping center with a Kinko's and a self-service laundry next door, Common Grounds in Northridge is more than just a coffeehouse to visit while your term paper is being bound, or your clothes are on the spin cycle. There is no cover charge, but there is a $2.50 minimum at the tables during live performances, which pack in the college crowd seven nights a week.

THE SCENE: Tables and chairs fill a medium-size room, with a tiny stage on one side of the entrance and a large sofa on the other. T-shirts of jazz greats such as Miles Davis and Dexter Gordon line the walls and also are for sale. In addition to coffee, the place offers tea, sandwiches, salads, pastries and bagels, but no alcohol. Trivial Pursuit, Scrabble and other board games are available for customers to play.

THE CROWD: Almost strictly CSUNers, with a smattering of high school students and baby-boomers mixed in. Lots of shorts, T-shirts, backward baseball caps, flip-flops and sneakers. A card game was in full gear at one table, while two guys were engrossed in their chess match at another. Owner Paul Solomon says crowd size depends on the act performing, but swells to standing room only most nights during the school year. "The people are nicer here," JoAnna Gadeke, 20, of Northridge said while waiting for her laundry. "I went to Ground Zero in L. A. near USC and the people there weren't that friendly."

THE MUSIC: Wednesdays are open-mike nights, with host Scott Edwards. Sign-up acts get a limit of two songs or 10 minutes. Open poetry is featured on the last Thursday of every month. Other nights, there's an eclectic mix of live alternative rock. By popular demand, jazz bands will be featured during August.

THE GOOD: The variety of music and the good coffee are cited by customers as the main attraction. "There's no other place like this in terms of the people and the laid-back atmosphere," said Valery Vargas, 18, of Van Nuys. Scott Stanley of Northridge has been to Common Grounds from Day One. "This is the kind of place where you can just hang and be cool," Stanley said. "Nobody cares how you dress, the music is different every night, the coffee's great and, during the school year, this place just fills up with college babes."

THE BAD: "I'm a smoker," Stanley added. "I wish I could smoke in here."

THE WORD: "Please excuse my fingers, they don't do anything I want when I'm nervous," prefaced a woman to the audience before her vocal and guitar performance at open mike.

Common Grounds, 9250 Reseda Blvd., Northridge, (818) 882-3666. Hours: 8 a.m. to midnight Mondays through Thursdays, 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. Fridays, 9 a.m. to 1 a.m. Saturdays, 9 a.m. to midnight Sundays.

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