Those familiar with Hemingway are most likely familiar with the concept of a clean, well-lighted place. He writes of the need for a bright, open, immaculate space, which is seemingly a metaphor meant to be antithetical to the dark, twisted inner workings of our often worried minds. I feel about coffee shops the way that Hemingway’s character felt about his cafe. I find them to be comforting, their steady hum of machinery and consistent flow of customers to be a welcome mental stimulant and depressant simultaneously.
So when I walked into Bar Nine in Culver City, California, I felt that I’d found my Hemingway equivalent to a clean, well-lighted place.
The place takes minimalism as a design aesthetic to a level that I’ve never seen working as well as it does there. They have a set of metal bleachers as a seating option. If that’s not the epitome of cool without even being pretentious, I don’t know what is.
The space is in a cavernous warehouse with huge ceilings and wooden beams. There is a massive glass window wall where the front door is, and the morning light that streams through is practically religious. There are stools built from geometrically shaped metal, a massive dining room table, and crates bolted to the wall filled with merchandise for sale. A few potted plants add a natural element to the mechanistic mood, and the reclaimed wood that panels the bar adds a touch of warmth. The brick walls are painted white and the concrete floor glints with the colors of exposed rocks and pebbles of white, tan, orange and grey. There are a few glass-walled rooms in the back with bags of coffee beans and ingredients piled up, and equations and stock room tallies written on the walls like math equations. Beside the bleachers is a long table topped withÂ two large, seventies style speakers and a turntable, and vinyl albums of artists like Kendrick Lamar and The Black Keys.
And then, there’s the coffee. While the interior is of particular interest to me, the coffee is what draws the customers.
In this current third wave of coffee culture, I feel that I’ve found some coffee shops that are achieving the artisanal venture of the movement with truly original flair, and some that are merely riding the wave for monetary gain who aren’t actually contributing anything of interest to the movement. In my opinion, Bar Nine is so obviously of the former camp, and at the front of the pack. I’ve never seen the kind of machinery used here, and the collection of coffee that they use and sell is unreal. The cold brew is worthy of being drank black, and they refuse to use paper cups because of the waste, meaning that you get your drink in a reusable glass container. Even down to their sustainability, Bar Nine’s intentionality is apparent. The whole business is a lesson in intentionality that, as a customer, I’ve rarely seen elsewhere.