8.72

8.72: Aladdin Coffee Shop

Aladdin Coffee Shop reeks of a much beloved Downtown Los Angeles – the one embodied by Jim Morrison – that is rapidly fading from view. Photo by Dan Johnson.

Aladdin Coffee Shop reeks of a much beloved Downtown Los Angeles – the one embodied by Jim Morrison – that is rapidly fading from view. Photo by Dan Johnson.

by Dan Johnson

Though the future’s uncertain and the end is always near, I did not opt to wake up this morning and have myself a beer.

No, the boozehound credo espoused by Jim Morrison on “Roadhouse Blues” is rarely a reality for most functioning humans. In fact, a good portion of the Lizard King’s exploits in this life belong to an elite category of behavior reserved for the god-like lushes who make even the greatest weekend warriors look like tee-totallers.

The late great Jimbo lives on forty-five years after his death as a sort of Los Angeles spirit animal. You can almost feel Morrison’s ghost in the city’s bars and cheap motels. There is no great shortage of claims connecting Jim with distinct bits of Angeleno geography.

Naturally, Silicon Beach has the largest tribute with their building sized mural commemorating Jim’s acid-dosed tenure on a nearby rooftop before The Doors’ formation. Barney’s Beanery, Canter’s and the Whiskey all harken to the band’s early days when the first two albums took shape and Jim learned some valuable lessons about switching between LSD and brown alcohol.

“People Are Strange” belongs to Laurel Canyon. “Moonlight Drive” is a clear testament to PCH. The actual “Soul Kitchen” was a spot called Olivia’s in Ocean Park. The entire LA Woman album was cut at a rehearsal space on La Cienega and Santa Monica that most recently housed a nouveau chic Tapas lounge called “Forbidden.”

Emblematic as they may be for Los Angeles at large, The Doors are a bit of a scarce commodity in Downtown Los Angeles. Band aficionados and fans of rock esoterica will know that keyboardist Ray Manzarek and his wife, Aiko Fujikawa, celebrated their wedding with Jim and Pamela Courson on Olvera St. Those grasping for further straws will find ample footage of Downtown spliced into the bizarrely posthumous 1985 video for “LA Woman.”

Beyond the omnipresence of their music, Jim Morrison and The Doors were cast as mere dayplayers in the Downtown drama. Yet, their one fleeting appearance was immortalized in high fashion.

In the last days of 1969, The Doors were putting the final touches on their fifth studio album—a supposed antidote to the pretentious and limp orchestrations of the ill-fated Soft Parade. The new LP was to be a raucous return to the blood and thunder of blues tinged psychedelia laced with surrealist lyric-scapes.

With that in mind, Morrison and Company joined photographer Henry Diltz on a jaunt to the Morrison Hotel at Pico Blvd and Hope St. Today, the structure is a boarded up shell of its former itself. This is not surprising given that Diltz characterized the SRO’s 1969 iteration as being a “transient hotel.” The staff was none-too-pleased with the prospect of being on the cover of a Doors album. Thus, the iconic shot of the band looking through glass was shot surreptitiously while the clerk was in the elevator.

The Morrison Hotel at 12th St and Hope St is now boarded up and abandoned even though it was immortalized by Henry Diltz's photograph of The Doors at the hotel for the cover of their album Morrison Hotel. Photo by Dan Johnson.

The Morrison Hotel at 12th St and Hope St is now boarded up and abandoned even though it was immortalized by Henry Diltz's photograph of The Doors at the hotel for the cover of their album Morrison Hotel. Photo by Dan Johnson.

After the guerrilla shoot, the band and Diltz adjourned to 5th St and Wall St where a host of winos at the original Hard Rock Café (now the Green Apple Market) were engaged in a cirrhosis facilitating prelude to the New Year. The photos are an iconic document of a broken and sad, yet lively and shabbily hospitable Downtown.

Down by the once and former Morrison Hotel, buildings and empty lots are disappearing at breakneck speed today. The landscape of the 1970s hideout is changing with it to become an entertainment-accessible host for young professionals seeking that “authentic” and “vibrant” urban experience. God help us all.

Jimbo’s LA lives on at the corner of 12th St and Hope St. There is no way in hell that Morrison, Manzarek, Densmore or Krieger ever plopped down for a meal at Aladdin Coffee Shop American & Mexican in the band’s late ‘60s heyday. The 2015 mayoral certificates on the wall compliment the industrious buffet style cafeteria for two years of doing business.

Aladdin’s is a recent addition. Yet, they reek of a much beloved Downtown Los Angeles that is rapidly fading from view.

Poke through the tinned screen door on weekdays between 6am and 2 pm and you’ll find a motley assortment of construction personnel, game office workers and other locals of all stripes. They’ll be queuing up for Aladdin’s famed buffet—a sprawling L-shaped campus of fruit, egg-scrambles, tamales, stews, rice, beans, grilled vegetables, plantains and other assorted culinary pleasures.

Go sometime.

Perhaps you will feel trepidation in filling your Styrofoam vessel. No prices are posted and the possibility of a looming Whole Foods style pay-per-pound arrangement weigh heavy on the soul and wallet. Near the front of the line, you’ll be issued your choice of corn or flour tortillas before a woman who may possibly be the most gregarious and welcoming food service staff-member in all of Downtown charges you a princely $5 flat rate for your grub.

The luxurious buffet at Aladdin Coffee Shop offers $5 plates of miscellaneous treats that will leave your stomach calm and collected and your mind pleasantly piqued. Photo by Dan Johnson.

The luxurious buffet at Aladdin Coffee Shop offers $5 plates of miscellaneous treats that will leave your stomach calm and collected and your mind pleasantly piqued. Photo by Dan Johnson.

The bottled water comes in dollar and dollar fifty varieties. The seating is cramped but ample.

Having been hurt before, you may look warily at your food (and the B rating on the door). Yet, hours will pass without incident. Finding yourself shartless and satisfied, you will begin to feel as if you’ve seen a ghost. Every degenerate from Jim to Hank and all those in between must have summoned their phantom powers to conjure this one hallucination of a food establishment just to fool you for one meal.

This is no haunting, no spectral illusion. This is our Los Angeles—a cheap, dim, whimsical, egalitarian portal into the very heart of the human condition greased with carnitas and rice pilaf.

To paraphrase Jim, “there are things known and things unknown and in between are the intestines.”

I award Aladdin's a “1” on the binary and wish you good luck navigating local street figure “Henry from Africa,” whose brashness is matched only by the persistence with which he demands that you “bless his pockets…with money!”