On the northwest corner of Fairfax Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard is the historic Johnnie’s Coffee shop. This classic Googie building has become one of those places you drive by and do a double-take because something about it seems unusual.
Inside, the general vibe of the place is post-apocalyptic. The windows and walls are nearly all covered with posters and signs, remnants of protests and street marches. It feels like some sort of revolution happened that didn’t go well, then everyone fled, leaving everything behind like the 1950s cash register and milkshake machine that sit there gathering dust.
In 2000 Johnnie’s closed its doors. But the diner wasn’t bulldozed and replaced by condos. A new business didn’t move into the space.
Instead Johnnie’s spent the next 16 years frozen in time, becoming a filming location for movies including “The Big Lebowski” and “Reservoir Dogs.”
But then it transformed again.
Now it's a gathering place and workshop for a network of progressive activists, who originally worked to elect Bernie Sanders.
The space recently has expanded beyond Bernie Sanders supporters. The list of groups who use it as a community center includes Extinction Rebellion, Me Too International, Black Lives Matter, Humanity First and at least a dozen others.
Inside ‘Bernie’s Coffee Shop’
The Johnnie’s building is owned by the Gold family, which started the 99 Cent Only chain here in Los Angeles.
Howard Gold was a big Bernie Sanders supporter and one day he was talking with his brother who was said, "you know we’ve got the Johnnie’s Coffee Shop property just sitting there doing nothing. Maybe the Bernie people would want to use it?"
So Howard reached out to some Bernie supporters he knew. “I told them about it and I didn't hear anything for like a month or two and then somebody finally called me back. And I guess the rest is history,” Gold says.