Bar Nine is a Culver City-based cafe and roaster that recently celebrated its second anniversary. Despite its relative youth, the company is making a name for itself by experimenting with long-established cafe norms. Bar Nine isn’t alone here: I’ve noticed a wider move among more progressive coffee bars, especially in California, to drop some “Third Wave” fussiness and industry orthodoxies in favor of introspection about what quality actually means, and, to greater or lesser degrees, reprising the primary role of the cafe as a local social and cultural space. What’s starting to happen as a result is a shift in focus, from expertise-centered geekery and equipment fetishism back toward the customer experience, and a rethinking of what that implies for everything from labor practices to brew methods.
At Bar Nine, innovation and experimentation takes a variety of forms: it aims for full time bar staff rather than part time shift work, tips are not accepted and instead a revenue sharing program is in place and prices are adjusted upward to reflect actual labor costs, to go orders are served in reusable glass jars instead of paper cups, and the menu – at least on each day I visited – was a single coffee prepared in different ways. A note on the menu asks guests to talk with the barista to figure out what will suite their tastes.
Inside, the Mod Bar system and Marco boiler are used to their full potential, moving as much counter equipment out of the way as possible, and the bar itself seems lower than normal, emphasizing eye contact and removing barriers to personal interaction. Past the bar, the cavernous interior of this renovated warehouse invites you in with plenty of room to spread out across different, relatively unstructured spaces, including standing areas, communal tables, and outdoor patio space. It feels like the kind of place you go to hang out, socialize, hopefully run into someone you know; a real neighborhood spot.
I don’t mean this in a bad way, but, aside from the bar, it feels a bit like a work-in-progress. The lights looks like outdoor sulfur fixtures, and maybe I’m just hyper-conscious because I take a lot of photos, but I thought it gave the space a dim, weirdly mixed green/magenta hue that isn’t all that flattering. Despite that, I liked being there, and it reminded me of my high school studio art bungalow where everything was a bit in flux – and that was part of the fun of hanging out there. The underused spaces, like a kitchen area by the entrance, and the sheer size of the warehouse suggests that there may be room to grow even further into the space in the future.
I enjoyed everything I tried when I visited and look forward to seeing what else Bar Nine experiments with in the future. And, if you want to go on a little coffee crawl, Cognoscenti Coffee is just up the street. Be sure to wander around the neighborhood, too, as there’s a bunch of interesting architecture nearby.
If you’re not in LA, Bar Nine is just about to debut a new home subscription service, and already offers online mail order delivery at an aggressive price point – $15 for 250g bags, with free shipping.
Map & Address:
3515 Helms Ave, Culver City, CA, 90232