Why Am I Haunted by the Need to Go to Latte Larry's?

Larry David's strip-mall "spite store" is a comforting reminder of a time when we had the luxury of caring about trivial things. And it's exactly what we need when this is all over.
April 3, 2020, 12:19pm
Why Am I Haunted by the Need to Go to Latte Larry's?
John P. Johnson/HBO

Back when things Were Normal, production studios were just starting to get trigger-happy with pop-up "experiences" to promote shows and movies. These events tend to be, above all else, aimed at being "immersive"—which is another way of saying that they are essentially designed to encourage social-media posts from fans. Somewhere between an amusement park and sentient SponCon, they promise visitors a non-screen-based escape from the real world—or at least as much as the marketing budget will allow.

In Austin, HBO created an interactive town to promote Westworld. In New York, Netflix "de-aged" a section of Little Italy to promote The Irishman. In Los Angeles, Amazon installed a "Grindhouse https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bi40bbEkuFwExperience" in Highland Park to promote Hunters. These "experiences" are mostly harmless, and at worst just a tad embarrassing; if Al Pacino couldn't save Hunters, neither could a costume party that looked more like a Village People concert than Taxi Driver.

But as Curb Your Enthusiasm's tenth season wraps up this month, there is one pop-up I find myself longing for more than anything else. Folks, I want to escape from the real world to Latte Larry's.

Let's back up a bit: For those who haven't watched the new season yet, Latte Larry's is the fictional coffee shop Larry David opens in response to a feud he has with Mocha Joe, a returning Curb antagonist who used to run a coffee stand (Larry insulted him by not providing a tip for a non-coffee-related favor) and now owns a brick-and-mortar coffee shop somewhere in Los Angeles, where he is blessed to be in possession of "the beans." After Mocha Joe serves Larry a soft scone and a cold cup of coffee in the season 10 premiere, Larry makes a big stink and is banned. Consequently, he vows to avenge the slight by finding his own beans and opening a "spite store" in the space directly adjacent.

Latte Larry's, as it turns out, is not a nice-looking coffee shop. In fact, it's just about the least interesting coffee shop I've ever seen. It has tables and coffee and pictures of presidents on the wall, and that's about it. Larry has allowed himself to indulge in some of his neuroses—the tables are securely attached to the floor, there's coat racks and hand sanitizer at every turn (talk about prescient), and the cups have little heaters attached to them—but for the most part, it looks like the type of place that actually is a money-laundering operation of some kind. It doesn't even have traditional toilets. (The store is "defecation-free.")

When Susie Greene, who is ultimately Larry's true nemesis in the series, walks in for the first time, she tells him that she's "underwhelmed" and demands to know where the "color" and "pizzazz" is. Though I understand her point, I'd argue that this is exactly what makes Latte Larry's such an excellent establishment. In a city that simply cannot get enough pour-overs and coffee flights, there's something refreshing about a place that distinguishes itself by what it doesn't have to offer: No frills, no pretense, no open-mics, no celebrity-chef collaborations. Just scones and coffee—and, at $1.10 a cup (at least by the end of a price battle with Mocha Joe), incredibly cheap coffee at that.

I am pleading with the Curb marketing team to consider the post-pandemic possibilities during their next Zoom meeting: This could be like Graceland for Larry David. A place to bring fans together and celebrate the social assassin who we all love so much. How much could it possibly cost to put the sign back up and hire a staff to make vanilla bullshit things indefinitely? You could even create some merch (LD-branded bald caps, maybe), and make some serious scratch out of this whole thing. You already have the mugs.

If you do this, though, you have to get it right. Ideally, any Latte Larry's location (and I'm suggesting that as many are created as possible) should be in a strip mall. And they should all be in places like Tarzana, a sleepy neighborhood in the Valley where the actual Latte Larry's filming took place.

Nothing all that interesting tends to happen in the Valley; it's essentially a second Los Angeles that sits on top of the other Los Angeles, where people can live their lives in relative peace and quiet—mostly just wide roads and decent-to-good restaurants and better-than-average rent prices—and that is precisely what makes it the perfect place for an unassuming coffee shop. (In the season finale it is suggested that the store is in "West LA," probably because it is patently ridiculous to suggest that Larry or any of his rich friends would be caught dead in Tarzana, but I don't buy that for a second: Take a close look at that strip mall. That is a strip mall that could only exist in the Valley, down the street from a Ross.)

This generic quality lies at the heart of Latte Larry's appeal: Strip malls are boring, and most people have nothing positive to say about them, but they work. They're easy, and their very existence is based on this concept. The format dates back to the days of roadside "mini-malls" in 1920s Los Angeles, when the park-facing-in design was developed as a way to encourage people to make quick visits to stores in their new devices called "cars." Over time, those mini-malls became increasingly bland and utilitarian, angering people to the point that, in the '90s, Angelenos were openly cheering for the strip mall's inevitable death.

One side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic is that it's taken away the ability to talk about basically anything except the end of the world. There's no place for complaints about how dry scones should be, or how weird it is to see your therapist at the beach (in a Speedo, no less!). And that's the way it should be, considering that this is all very real, and very scary, and that all the little things we love to watch Larry squint at are not important for the time being.

By the same token, that's also why I couldn't wait to tune in every Sunday to catch the tragi-comic denouement of Larry's foray into the coffee business last month: Routine can be comforting in times of uncertainty—especially when it helps remind you of a time when we still had the luxury of caring about things that don't really matter.

But when we come out on the other side of all this, I hope there's a Latte Larry's waiting for me, coming into focus across my dashboard like a blue oasis among the concrete desert of the Valley. I'll park my car directly in front of the store, walking no more than 10 feet to get inside. Friends I haven't seen in months will be seated there, waiting for me. And there will be a bottle of Purell on every table.

This article originally appeared on VICE US.