Downtown is rapidly rebuilding itself, with new businesses falling into its gaps like Tetris pieces. Il Caffe, which moved into the Eastern Columbia Building almost two years ago, has been one of the many bricks that’s helped the Broadway district start to cling back together again, in large part because it’s not like anything else Downtown already has. “Everyone in Los Angeles is making good coffee,” says Michael Backlinder, the co-owner of the Swedish microchain. “So are we. But we’re a neighborhood place. We want this to feel like an extended living room.”
The crowd Il Caffe draws is largely regulars: people going into work, coming to study, stopping on their way home. European tourists often seek out Il Caffe too, remarking how much the shop feels like home.
This location in particular (the first in the states, with just a handful more in Stockholm) is the effort of friends — the shop shares a space with Swedish brand Acne Studios, which is the company’s largest stateside location. Backlinder and business partner, Magnus Jokuksson, are friends with Acne’s founders, and moving into the same space felt like the right fit. Il Caffe lends Acne a sense of openness and movement, and a respite for the brand’s cult followers who have made the pilgrimage to Downtown.
But what kind of coffee shop is Il Caffe exactly? Backlinder describes it as Swedish, with an Italian sensibility and a pro-Downtown agenda. Aesthetically, the space boasts the Scandinavian brand of simple — clean, practical, and comfortable. Acne next door lends an upscale vibe, though Backlinder is quick to say everyone is welcome. Drinks are ordered from a bar-style open counter, a more human alternative to the standard cattle-call coffee shop lines.
“We want people to hang out, to have a place to meet and talk,” Backlinder says. It’s an old-town mentality for a big, changing city, but the way he sees it, when a place welcomes you, the least you can do is to give something back.
Virtually everything comes from Downtown merchants — the coffee is roasted at the nearby Stumptown, Bread Lounge supplies the loaves for the paninis, and the raw juice is locally pressed. The already-famous cinnamon and cardamom buns are homemade by a local (secret) pastry wizard. Mornings, the shop does a $10 breakfast special, which includes a threeitem combination of either coffee, orange juice, fruit, a breakfast Panini, or a pastry, which could possibly be the best easy breakfast around. There’s nothing self-conscious or contrived about the menu, just good food and good coffee, and a nice place to enjoy it all.
“Downtown just felt like the right place for this,” Backlinder says. “We felt like we could achieve something here.”