California’s Venice Beach has no shortage of star attractions, from the carnival-like boardwalk to its peaceful canals. The beachside destination also boasts culinary cred, as home to some of Los Angeles’ most respected restaurants, including Gjelina, known for its farm-to-table fare, and institutions like Joe’s, which has presided over Abbot Kinney for more than two decades.
Increasingly, Venice is also earning a reputation for its world class coffee shops, thanks in part to Christopher “Nicely” Alameda, who has not only played a part in the opening of Intelligentsia’s über-popular Abbot Kinney location but is also the barista behind buzzed-about java joint Menotti’s Coffee Stop on Windward Circle.
“It gives me something to live up to,” he says of his nickname, which was bestowed upon him after he played the part of Nicely-Nicely Johnson in a high school production of Guys and Dolls—and for being voted “Most Courteous” three years in a row.
It’s a moniker that suits Alameda, whose warm demeanor, can-do attitude and passion for coffee brought him to Venice by way of Seattle. “That’s where I found coffee and coffee found me,” says the Queens, New York, native, who moved to Seattle at age 15 with his mother to study vocal performance and art. In true Seattle fashion, it was a job at Starbucks that first ignited Alameda’s love for coffee, but it wasn’t until he landed a job at a grocery store that he had his true a-ha moment. “I realized I want to be in coffee, period. I could see myself working there for 40 years, getting a great paycheck and really hating life,” he says.
Alameda’s epiphany led him to Seattle’s Espresso Vivace, a coffee shop and roaster he refers to as the “godfather of specialty coffee techniques.” Within four years, the up-and-coming barista had caught the attention of Intelligentsia, which wooed him to Los Angeles. And three years after opening the company’s Abbot Kinney space, Alameda joined a handful of friends to break ground on downtown’s Handsome Coffee Roasters coffee shop and roasting facility. “I basically went to the University of Espresso Vivace, graduate school at Intelligentsia, and then I had an accelerated business course at Handsome Coffee Roasters. It taught me a lot of lessons, including essentially how not to screw up.”
Now, Alameda has taken all of his experience and poured it into Menotti’s Coffee Stop, located a stone’s throw from the Venice Boardwalk. Owned by Louie and Annette Ryan (the same family behind neighboring Townhouse), the coffee shop’s name pays homage to original owner Cesar Menotti, who transformed the place into a speakeasy during the Prohibition era.
Today, Alameda presides over the small spot as head barista, serving San Francisco’s Four Barrel beans in drip coffee or espresso, topped with his award-winning latte art (he’s a three time Coffee Fest World Latte Art champ). Alameda, who lives in Venice with his wife and son, was inspired to create a community hub in an area that attracts a lot of tourists. “I have an appreciation for the locals and what they want.”