Café Bolivar, located on the corner of Ocean Park and 18th, fills a niche in the Santa Monica coffee scene by offering above average coffee alongside excellent food. If you are in the mood for a freshly made pulled pork arepa with coffee on the side, or a cup of coffee with a freshly made pulled pork arepa on the side, this is the place for you.
Coffee In many ways, the coffee itself is Café Bolivar’s weakest link. While by no means bad, the pour-over I ordered was a bit bitter, due to the fact that it was brewed with a blend rather than a single-origin bean. That being said, their signature drinks which include the Café Tacuba which is a latte sweetened with cajeta (Mexican caramel) and the Mocha Oaxaqueño sweetened with Oaxacan chocolate are very tasty and worth checking out.
Setup The coffee setup is pretty simple at Café Bolivar, with an La Marzocco espresso machine and ceramic Hario V60 drip cones. Of more note is the fact that Café Bolivar manages to function as both a coffee shop and a restaurant in a relatively small space. With a menu featuring freshly made arepas and tortas, the food itself makes Café Bolivar worth going to. Because the food is made to order, it is not uncommon to see veggies being chopped and coffee being brewed right next to each other. While some people may be turned by off food and coffee being prepared in such close proximity, I appreciate it because it showcases the freshly prepared nature of the food, somewhat of a rarity for coffee shop chow.
Ambiance With plenty of tasteful wood tables and chairs and large windows providing natural light, the spaciousness of Café Bolivar— alongside the smell of pulled pork and brisket— welcomes and draws patrons in. With Latin American tunes in the background, this is the type of place where one sits down to enjoy their coffee and arepa.
Intangibles If you are in the area and are craving top-notch craft coffee, you would be much better off going to Love Coffee Bar, right across the street from Café Bolivar. But this does not mean these two coffee shops are mutually exclusive, as they fill different niches in the Santa Monica coffee community.
I have been going to Cafe Bolivar since before I drank coffee, which is something that cannot be said about most coffee shops in Santa Monica. I think Cafe Bolivar has been able to achieve this longevity by sticking to a simple formula: decent coffee, freshly prepared food, served in an aesthetically pleasing environment.