Review: Rad Coffee – Horror-Themed Espresso Bar
With such high-profile SoCal cultural landmarks as Hollywood, the Westside, and the beaches all located at or beyond 118-degrees west on the longitude charts, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking anything farther east than Pasadena is a cultural wasteland devoid of anything but dreary suburbs filled with mini-malls and chain restaurants. However, numerous small, incorporated cities feature some kind of downtown area, often designated as main street or a civic center, where independently owned restaurants and businesses flourish, sometimes featuring macabre touches that push them into that shadowy realm we at Hollywood Gothique like to explore. One such example is Rad Coffee.
If you attend horror-themed events in Los Angeles (such as Coven Weekend at SugarMynt Gallery), you are probably familiar with Rad’s coffee truck, offering blended drinks and specialty coffees, but you may not know that Rad Coffee has two brick-and-mortar locations, one in Upland and the other in Covina. Hollywood Gothique recently visited the latter, and it was almost enough to make us wish we lived in the suburbs – a combination of great beverages, helpful service, and amusing decor.
Rad Coffee Review: Ambiance
Located on a cozy corner of Citrus Avenue, Rad Coffee first catches your eye with its mascot adorning a brick wall outside: a smiling skeletal face cheerily holding a cup of coffee (a female version of the icon adorns much of the merchandise inside). Closer to the entrance is a green creature aboard a skateboard, who might not have looked out of place riding inside a Big Daddy Roth hotrod.
Inside, the decor trends toward exploitation horror, with a sprinkling of classic movie monsters. Wallpaper around the bathroom entrance suggests cheesy ’50s sci-fi (or, more accurately, a tongue-in-cheek retro homage to cheesy ’50s sci-fi). Along with a Nosferatu standee and an oversized Frankenstein mask, you will find a figure of the late Sid Haig as Captain Spaulding, the demented character from Rob Zombie’s House of a 1000 Corpses (2003), a title echoed in the venue’s line of merchandise, “House of a 1000 Coffees.”
Rad Coffee’s vibe skews young, mixed with a retro feel. Billboards are loaded with fliers from punk rock shows featuring acts from the 1970s and ’80s: The Misfits, Bad Brains, The Circle Jerks, etc. Fortunately, you do not need to be an aging punk to feel welcome. Though you can expect to see a few ripped t-shirts and black fishnet stockings, the clientele is diverse, the atmosphere is friendly, and the staff are eager to help.
At least currently there is no indoor seating, but there are tables and weird hand-shaped chairs outside where you can sit and sip your brew, assuming the weather is conducive to your comfort.
Rad Coffee Review: Beverages
At a place like Rad Coffee, ordering a simple pour-over or even an espresso rather misses the point. The menu is loaded with exotic specialty items, sporting names such as Frankenstein, The Bride, Zombie, Mad Tiki, Creature, and Cookies N’ Scream.
We decided to sample a small variety of the available options: one coffee, one tea, and one confectionary.
Bonesbew appears to be Rad Coffee’s signature drink, consisting of two shots expresso, cold brew concentrate, organic vanilla, and cream. The five-ounce drink packs quite a wallop for those who need an energy boost guaranteed to see them through the early hours of the morning. It’s not at all sweet, with the vanilla and cream adding just enough to mellow the intense expresso flavor.
Bonesbrew is served over ice in a 16 ounce cup for $5, or for $12 you can get it in a souvenir glass skull. Beware: the drink will fill the skull to the brim; it will take a steady hand to imbibe your first sip without spilling. Bonesbrew can also be added as a float to any of Rad Coffee’s 16-ounce blended drinks – an appealing option for those who want to temper the sugary sweetness of drinks with names like Cinnamon Toast and Captain Crunch, loaded with syrups, spices, chocolate chips, and whipped cream.
Up next were Dracula and Rad Berry. The former consists of Red Velvet, organic almond, and white chocolate chips, topped with Rad Coffee’s very own black whipped cream. The latter is a combination of blackberry, lemonade, and black tea, shaken over ice and infused with mint.
As you can guess, Dracula tastes like dessert. It is sweet but not sickly; nevertheless, we recommend imbibing slowly in order to avoid suffering a diabetically debilitating sugar rush. Curiously, the white chocolate chips are somewhat crunchy; their color disguised by the black whipped cream, the chips may fool you into thinking you are chewing crushed Oreo cookies (not that that’s a bad thing).
Rad Berry Tea is more refreshing than sugary, with the blackberry and black tea forming a pleasantly flavorful combination, enhanced by the lemonade and mint. And remember: everything is customizable here, so if mint does not appeal, the baristas will leave it out.
Rad Coffee truly is a coffee house – that is, you go there for coffee, not for bagels, cream cheese, pastries, and sandwiches. There are some pre-baked goods such as cookies, and there is a line of “Monsters & Mayhem” cold drinks, including Unicorn Blood (consisting of frozen cheery lemonade with edible glitter). But for the most part, you will be imbibing, not eating.
Rad Coffee Review: Conclusion
Heavy-duty coffee in a horror-themed location – what more could you want? Besides menu items served up fresh, there is also a load of tempting merchandise for sale: bags of whole bean coffee from such places as Panama, Guatemala, and Hawaii; coffee mugs featuring a female version Rad Coffee’s skull-faced mascot; tumblers with Sadako crawling out of her TV set to grab more coffee; and t-shirts and shorts. There are even gift sets in plastic popcorn cartoons – though the contents are coffee beans rather than popped corn.
With its small footprint and limited seating, Rad Coffee’s Covina location is not exactly a destination spot where you will spend an entire evening. Nevertheless, the enjoyable trash-horror ambiance makes it a great place to hang out while sampling the numerous unique coffee creations. Rad Coffee is ideally located, along downtown Covina’s main thoroughfare: after a night of window-shopping or dining at any of the nearby establishments, it’s the perfect place to end an evening – though after a cup of Bonesbrew, your brain may not want the evening to end.
Our rating of Rad Coffee
1 – Avoid
2 – Not recommended but not all bad
3 – Recommended
4 – Highly Recommended
5 – Must See
Rad Coffee’s Covina location is the Little Coffee House That Could – it’s not very big, but its specialty coffee and blended brews make it a winner, enhanced by the amiable atmosphere of the venue’s tongue-in-cheek grungy explotaition-horror stylings.
145 Citrus Avenue, Covina 91723. Hours: 6am-midnight. Phone: (626) 332-8122. Website: rad.coffee. Menu: drinkradcoffee.com. The Upland location is at 232 N 2nd Avenue.