Bernie's Coffee Shop: An L.A. Landmark Gets Political

Johnie's Coffee Shop Screen Shot-H 2016
Courtesy of Instagram/Johnie's Coffee Shop

As seen in such films as 'Reservoir Dogs' and 'The Big Lebowski,' the usually vacant Johnie's Coffee Shop on Fairfax Avenue has taken on a new role: Bernie Sanders HQ.

Johnie's Coffee Shop sits front-and-center on the congested Fairfax Avenue/Wilshire Boulevard street corner, usually empty. But, over the weekend, the Los Angeles landmark has found new patronage in supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

A grassroots Sanders group, known as Bernie's Avengers, has taken over the Mid-City mainstay to connect all of the Sanders activist groups of L.A., like Team Bernie LA, Compton for Bernie and Nurses for Bernie.

"We hope to get exposure for the Bernie Sanders campaign without having him spend his campaign money," Jeremy White, an organizer for Bernie's Avengers, tells The Hollywood Reporter.

The most notable changes to the coffee shop are the Sanders-inspired murals that now decorate Johnie's windows and exterior.

Cre8, an L.A.-based graffiti artist, and fellow artist Keone are responsible for the stylized "Bernie" lettering that now sits atop Johnie's roof. 

Cre8, who has 20 years of experience with lettering, spoke to THR about his latest creation, saying, "Even if they are not Bernie fans, it is still gonna grab their attention and they'll look over there. It's as if he went up there and did it himself."

"Bernie" mural. (Photo courtesy of ICU Art.)

Says Jeanna Penn of the media and production company ICU Art, who enlisted Cre8 for the project: "They said it would be great if we have Latino and African-American artists because that is demo that Bernie needs to reach out to." 

A second piece of artwork was done by Mexican-American muralist Dionisio Ceballos, and it sees a stylized Sanders giving a thumbs-up to people walking by on Fairfax.

"I'm Mexican-born, so I am an outsider on some level, even though I am already a legal citizen, and Bernie inspires me as a universal leader," says Ceballos. While he was painting, the artist got an array of reactions: "Some people would cheer and honk and shout, 'Go, Bernie!' and some woman shouted and said I should be doing it for Trump." 

The newly erected artwork is in the right neighborhood. Johnie's sits on Museum Row, a block away from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

"To be able to do an art installation on Museum Row for this current political revolution is very important to us. Because we feel once the artists come out in favor of a candidate, you know that revolution is true," says White."I have yet to see a mural for Hillary [Clinton]." 

Artwork outside Johnie's Coffee Shop.

Prior to its current political affiliations, Johnie's was known for the role it played on the big screen, acting as a location for such films as Reservoir Dogs and The Big Lebowski, as well as American History X and the cult apocalyptic thriller Miracle Mile.  

Opened in 1956, Johnie's sat in the heart of the burgeoning Miracle Mile corridor. In 1994, the coffee shop was purchased by the Gold Family, owners of the 99 Cents Only stores. (One sits next door to the one-time coffee shop and uses the former Johnie's parking lot for its customers.) Johnie's closed its doors for good in 2000 and was named a Historic-Cultural Monument in 2013 by the City of Los Angeles, thanks in part to its iconic Googie-style architecture. 

Johnie's now is primarily rented out for filming and the occasional presidential campaign support center. The current owner of the building is a "Berner," and offered it up as a phone bank and base for canvassing.   

All of the Bernie-inspired restorations and decorations were created for an event on Thursday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at "Bernie's Coffee Shop," where L.A. Sanders supporters, media and stars can come together in support of the Democratic hopeful. It will be a mock re-opening of Johnie's — ribbon-cutting ceremony and all. Expected A-list supporters include Shailene Woodley, Frances Fisher and Jeff Dowd, a political activist who met the Coen brothers and acted as the real-life inspiration for Jeff Bridges' Big Lebowski character.

After Thursday night's media stunt, Johnie's Coffee Shop will remain "Bernie's Coffee Shop" until the June 7 California primary, with volunteers continuing to seek supporters from the surrounding neighborhoods.

You still can't get a cup of coffee at Johnie's but, at the very least — until June 7 — you can get a spirited discussion about the American banking system.