By Darlene Donloe
You could walk right past St. Vincent Court in downtown Los Angeles and not even know it’s there.
But once you see it, it’s unforgettable.
It’s a faux European lane in a dead-end alley. As you step onto the street, it’s like being transported into the center of an Old World town without the need for a passport or a long plane ride.
It looks like a really cool out-of-the-way European village — located right in the middle of downtown Los Angeles.
Located in a breezeway off Seventh Street between Broadway and Hill Street, St. Vincent Court is tucked away behind St. Vincent Jewelry in the Jewelry District. It’s accessible through a passageway off the north side of Seventh Street.
St. Vincent Court, which has been called “a gem,” looks like a quaint outdoor scene straight out of a foreign movie.
The European-esque quirky alleyway is highlighted with colorful storefronts and a cobbled brick-paved street.
If you look on the awning above the Bonjour Café!, you’ll see a 1960’s Pink Cadillac with a blond woman on the passenger side and a gigantic cup of coffee. Next to it is a large saxophone being played above the barbershop and down the street is a replica of what looks like a female baker, and further down is a replica of the Statue of Liberty.
There is a lot to explore in the one-block area, which includes a diverse mix of delis, cafes, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern restaurants, jewelry shops, a barber shop, watch repair, a flower shop, and an espresso bar.
There are also various entrances into the lively St. Vincent Jewelry Center (reportedly the largest jewelry center in the world).
Delectable smells waft through the breezeway emanating from the various eateries including Mima’s Mediterranean & Homemade Food, Farid, which serves Persian food, and Le Cafe Bonjour where someone can grab a cappuccino.
It all takes place in a picturesque dining area with umbrella-covered al fresco dining where visitors can eat, sip and shoot the breeze.
Reportedly, at one time the outdoor seating took up a lot of real estate in the alley, which was apparently illegal. Reportedly, the city overlooked it until the owner of the Los Angeles Theatre complained that the sidewalk tables were blocking access for the large equipment trucks used when it was rented for movie productions.
The story goes that the theater owner complained that he was losing millions of dollars a year in business. The tables now remain confined to the sidewalks directly in front of each establishment.
Gabriel Kim has owned Le Café Bonjour in St. Vincent Court for 13 years. He said the busy thoroughfare is good for his business.
“I moved in this area because I thought it would be good for business,” said Kim, never missing a beat as he continued to wait on a steady stream of customers. “People come here for the coffee. They come for cappuccinos.”
Davit Sargsya, who used to work in the area, visited Garo’s Deli to grab something to eat with his wife.
“I live all the way in North Hollywood,” said Sargsya, who moved to the states from Armenia 20 years ago. “When I come into the city, I like to come here. We like it. It’s nice.”
Camila Kent has been coming to St. Vincent Court for years.
“We come to get coffee and gather with other people,” she said. “I’ve been coming here for a while. I like the food. It’s relaxing. It’s not very noisy. You can get a coffee with a friend and have a little bit of calm.”
Some St. Vincent Court restaurants include St. Vincent Deli, Artos Broadway Deli, Super Grill, Burritobreak, Pizza Italia, Seven Garden Kebab House, Salt N’ Peppa, and Arto’s Deli. Most are small counter delis or places that serve Mediterranean foods.
There is a plaque in the court that reads, “This was the site of Saint Vincent’s College from 1868 to 1887. The college, now Loyola Marymount University, was founded by the Vincentian Fathers in 1865 and was the first institution of higher learning in Southern California.”
The alley was originally the main entrance to St. Vincent’s College. In 1956, a coalition of city boosters funded a remodel of the alley that added murals, awnings and flowers, precursors of the café scenes that line the alley today.
St. Vincent Court is now a California state landmark.
While the narrow breezeway was initially built for store merchandise deliveries for the Bullocks department store, its shaded location naturally had a broader appeal as a place to stop and relax.
That notion grew in 1957 with its facade transformed into what now looks like an old European lane.
“Spotlight on L.A.” is a feature profiling little known places within the city. To propose a location for “Spotlight on L.A.,” send an email to email@example.com.
Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.