I have a long list of people and places that I want to write about in telling the stories of Venice, and Café Collage has been on it for years. It got moved up higher when I recently read Patti Smith's M Train, and she talks about sitting in our own Café Collage years ago, when a surfer ran in yelling, "Art is dead!" and ran out. I can't have Smith writing about a place in Venice that I haven't yet written about, so I bugged manager, Paul Evidente, until we finally sat down to chat about the wonderful spot there in the shadow of the Venice sign.
Collage will be celebrating its 25th Anniversary in 2018, and locals have loved it the whole time, making it a welcome part of their daily routines. There have been four different owners in its lifetime, and current owner, Jennifer Park, has guided it to be the best it's ever been. The café got its name from the murals that used to be painted all over the ceiling, and has always been a place for local artists to showcase their work. Raymundo has been back there making your sandwiches since 1997, and always has a smile and a hello, no matter how busy working he is. There is a warmth extended to everyone from everyone, and it is both noted and appreciated every time I walk in.
Between serving the customers/friends coming in all morning, Evidente told me that he locals are the foundation, and that there is "no such thing as Venice Beach without the locals." Exactly. Whatever is left over at the end of every day is brought down to the beach and given to the homeless. There is never any trouble inside of Café Collage for exactly that reason, there is a mutual respect between everyone.
Having said that, it can also be crazy, and employees of Collage have pretty much seen it all. There might be a topless girl having her picture taken under the Venice sign. A homeless dude might be chopping wood outside to make a warming fire. There might be a "Running of the bulls" meeting up (a bunch of rollergirls being chased by one dressed like a bull). There might be a fight outside, but never inside. And if there is a fight, locals like Tonan will take care of it (as has happened). "If you take care of your locals, the locals will take care of your business," Evidente said, and that is fact.
Rachel Walker is a bright spot in my day when I walk into Collage and am so pleasantly greeted every time. She told me that she's tried everything on the menu, there's something for everyone, and every single thing is good. She's right. They update the menu all the time to stay current with the competition, but there really is no competition in the area when you can still get a drip coffee and something to eat for like $3.00. At a time when pricing of just about everything in Venice has become outrageous, it's awfully nice to be treated well and not break your bank over breakfast. They know their customers, and keep everything affordable, as a priority. "I just want to make sure every customer walks out happy and content," says Escalante, and you can truly feel the sincerity behind that statement when he says it.
He continued, "Venice is a small community, and we know all the faces. There's still a 60's, 70's, 80's feeling, and it's all about the people. I'm from Hawai'i, and I'll never go back. The fun, the drinks, the ladies ... that's why people want to come and be a part of it, every tourist's first stop is Venice ... everyone wants a piece of Venice." But for those who live here all the time, Café Collage is still for you most of all.
"We're here for everybody, from the homeless to the rich. We want to make you feel at home, give you quality, and leave happy so that you'll come back to us." Park nodded as Evidente told me this, and I can see them walking this talk every day. Please support this wonderful locals spot, as they have supported the community from 6:30 am to 7:00 pm (later on special events like the sign lightings!) every day for nearly 25 years.
Thanks and Happy (early) Anniversary to all the great people at Café Collage! Oh, and try the Palermo drink - espresso with orange peel, chocolate, and nutmeg. The holidays in a cup!
1518 Pacific Avenue