Mornings at Primo Passo Coffee Co.: LA Theater

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It was my first morning in Los Angeles and I was sleeping on my college best friend’s pullout sofa in Santa Monica. Or, not sleeping, to take it out of the theoretical. I forget that I get jetlag when I travel from New York City to LA, or vice versa, even though it happens every time, and more intensively the older I get. So I lay there at 5:30am, waiting to see what would happen, back to sleep or not, swiping through my phone, putting it down. It was already light out. At six, I got up, gingerly, quietly. Got dressed, trying not to wake my host. Worried about leaving the front door unlocked, did it anyway. I Yelped a coffee shop and by 6:30 tucked myself into a seat at Primo Passo Coffee Co. on Montana Avenue, straight across from a Starbucks that did not seem to be skimming any of its business, incidentally.

Coffee shops in New York aren’t open by 6:30am. The closest one to my apartment in Brooklyn, for example, is a self-serious affair that serves Stumptown with an air that lets you know it’s your privilege to be handing over a fiver for your latte. Until recently, it had the audacity to keep its doors locked until 8am on the weekends, the assumption being that New Yorkers will have stayed out too late the night before, and drunk too much, to even notice. Someone like me, or a mutiny’s worth of them, probably changed the owners’ minds, and now they open at 7am every day.

But LA rises earlier, alongside the sun, with a chipper smile that cloys as often as it inspires. This may be even more true in Santa Monica. Primo Passo seemed the embodiment of some ethos that only LA understands, having to do with Peter Pan and willful naiveté and Barry’s Boot Camp as religion. It occupies a corner spot with windows large and plentiful enough to bath the room in an optimistic glow. The soaring ceiling and walls were painted white, but an amiable, non-white white, like in an old movie.

I ordered immediately, just in time to avoid the crowds it would turn out, and from my little round table and in my grumpy black outfit watched a line form. I studied this line while sipping on one of the best lattes I’ve ever tasted.

So many of those Lululemoned women were already done with their workouts, I observed without quite understanding the indicators of this fact. Waistlines were tiny, even more so than in New York. Lips were fuller, hair more extended, palettes more color-friendly. Women outnumbered men, slightly, but the latter populated the line as well, outfitted in jogging gear. People came in with their dogs, mid-walk. One young woman came in barefoot, bedhead intact in a way that suggested it was more of a 24/7 look, to chat with her far more put-together friend. But even this stoner was there before seven.

For cultural immersion, or to induce culture shock in an East Coaster, Primo Passo can’t be beat. The people- (and dog) watching doesn’t come cheap—my latte was $4.50. But for that money and more, I say it’s the best theater you’ll find during a morning in LA.

Primo Passo Coffee Company
702 Montana Avenue, at 7th Street
Santa Monica, CA
(310) 451-5900

Primo Passo Coffee in Santa Monica.
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Sarah is the founder and editor of Flung, the author of Process: The Writing Lives of Great Authors, and a widely published travel and culture writer. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram.

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