CLUB SCENE : Cozy Cafe With European Flair


The Jan. 17 earthquake affected many businesses in the Valley and some have yet to recover. Royal Grounds was shaken but refused to give up. Two days after opening, the Toluca Lake coffeehouse was devastated by the quake. Despite the damage, the owners stayed open and pitched in to help others. “We didn’t know if it was an omen or some sign that we should carry on,” said co-owner Ian Tyson. “It definitely took the wind out of our sails.”

THE SCENE: A quaint little coffee shop that pleases the eye as well as the palate. It is small but airy, with European styling, a mixture of Italian and Colonial, according to Tyson, transplanted from Britain, who designed the shop. The walls are beige, decorated with elaborate draperies and what Tyson called “100-year-old tapestries.” To the rear is Portrait of A Bookstore, which although under separate ownership, complements the coffeehouse. The bookstore was thriving nearby but was forced to close after the quake. The shop relocated to its present site after Tyson and his wife, Wilma, offered the room in back.

THE CROWD: Most in the audience were there to see the singer last Friday night. The ages varied greatly, from early 20s to sixtysomething, and the dress was casual. A large portion of the audience said it was the first time they had been to Royal Grounds, but all said they would be back. “It has a homey feeling,” said 24-year-old Hilma Shahinian, of Glendale. “It’s great for someone who likes books and likes coffee.”


THE MUSIC: Gina Livingston, a singer-songwriter who had just returned from living and touring in Germany, performed sets of original jazz, blues and funk material, accompanied by Gigi Gostas on bass. Livingston explained that her bluesy music makes her more readily accepted in America than in Europe. “They can relate faster,” she said. “This is American music.”

THE GOOD: Clean--which is what Tyson had in mind in designing his coffeehouse. “I like the flavor better than the bric-a-brac type, with the old sofa and chairs,” he said. “I don’t like the uncleanliness of them. I’m always afraid I’m sitting on a muffin.” Sonia Cardoso, 26, of Glendale said, “It’s cozy, laid back and soothing. You can come the way you are and just be you.”

THE BAD: Unlike other coffeehouses or area nightspots, Royal Grounds closes early. This is not a place for night owls. After a nice evening of good conversation, nice atmosphere and fine music, the doors shut at 11 p.m. Well, it can’t have everything.

THE READ: Portrait of A Bookstore packs a lot in a little space. Owners Julie and Frank Von Zerneck stock new releases, bestsellers and soon-to-be bestsellers, reference books, children’s books, collectibles, English antiques and more. Whew! The best of the bunch are leather-bound journals and address books. In vibrant reds, purples and blues, these volumes are not to be missed.

Royal Grounds, 10144 Riverside Drive, Toluca Lake. Hours: live music, 8 to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; comedy, 8 to 11 p.m. Thursdays. (818) 505-0930.