A Free-Spirited Cafe Endures in Sylmar

The San Fernando Valley suburb of Sylmar may not be known as a center of culture, but it boasts at least one watering hole for the artistically parched. Buffalo Bruce's Mercantile, its bright purple exterior a standout amid Sylmar's mini-malls, condos and fast-food joints, brews creativity along with coffee mochas. "I wanted to bring color into the community," says co-owner Vivian Hartman, who was raised in Sylmar. "Everything here is so black and white."

After four years in business, Hartman and her husband, Bruce, consider mere survival an accomplishment. Noise complaints and code citations ended the quirky mini-concerts they once mounted on an outdoor stage. A small gallery of paintings survives from art exhibits and classes held over the years; Bruce's also has been a meeting site for recovery groups and community activists.

One original event, the cafe's weekly poetry night, is still going strong. Bypassing the chain coffeehouses beckoning from trendier neighborhoods on a recent Wednesday, poets, writers and singers drift past the votive candles, the brightly painted wooden armchairs and the chile pepper lights to cluster in the back patio under a portrait of an ancient Aztec god. "It's a place where I can free myself," says Jason Rowan, 21, the poetry night host.

"You grow up hearing that there's no money in the arts," says Hartman, who is thinking about holding a movie night. "I want them to see that this place has no boundaries." *

buffalo bruce's mercantile, 13661 hubbard st., sylmar; (818) 364-5668

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