Coffee for One, Hooked Venice

coffee for one



A couple dozen feet from the sand of the Pacific Ocean in Venice, California, there is a corner market front along a driveway whose interiors are illuminated by the light of the day and the eventual moonlight. 


If one went by its name only – Dudley’s Market – you might think it a fanciful grocer –  one of those hybrid shops curating specialties with food, wine, and alt beverages – the ones canned and bottled with packaging that is thoughtful, at times trendy and visually arousing.

While one can find specialties of fresh caught fish and wine – updated daily –  this market contains something humanely special: Christopher Nicely Abel, father, barista, and Lego builder,  who is at the helm of Hooked Venice, his coffee bar, within. 

I chose this space, and his service, as my first Coffee for One of the year. Coffee for One is a retelling of my personal coffee date. Coffee dates are important to me. I enjoy having them with others and appreciating the craft of coffee and mutually engaging conversation. However, the dates I take with myself are self-involved. While on a Coffee for One,  I get to spend time with my thoughts, my curiosity, my coffee, my chosen form of explored ideas and most of all, I can linger and drink as much coffee as I want, with time only being mitigated by my personal schedule. 

Let us continue. 

Upon approach, I walk into Hooked Venice’s daytime coffee service and notice a spacious middle where rustic tables and chairs are arranged. There are a couple of people sitting there enjoying coffee in off-white diner mugs. Then, I see a marble bar and beyond the glass behind, movement in the kitchen. There’s writing on the glass and it gives me the immediate feeling of a culinary scene out of the movies.  There is a man, who many in the coffee world affectionately know as Nicely, in trademark overalls at the bar,  where a small audience watches as he settles fresh steamed milk before their eyes and now mine.  

I see an open stooled seat which faces the kitchen and place my things there as I proceed to greet Nicely. It is all love. Soon it will be all coffee, music and love. 

In this latest coffee expression by the longstanding Venice local, Nicely is flushed towards the rear of the space, finely sandwiched between the kitchen and its main dining area.  The bar feels central to the services of this market.  I like this placement and focus. This elevates the coffee and conveys that it is equally important to the culinary program.

Now that I’m at the counter, Nicely directs his attention to me while introducing me to guests along the line of the marble bar. This feels like I’ve just walked into a room full of friends. He asks what I will be having. I already know, a cortado. 

As a gentleman looks through the stack of records on the counter, I notice the music in the air, hovering above us. I turn my attention towards the east where a DJ booth is unmanned but the records are spinning. I hear Nicely humming, spewing a few bars. Then with a rush of air passing by me he hurries to the booth and places something on the player.  

I chuckle. I now see that he is not only playing the role of barista but also DJ. He is multitasking his curation of an experience, shuffling between bar and booth. My shoulders, which weren’t heightened, seem to fall a little and go into a state of deeper relaxation, a feeling of ‘I want to stay a while’ like for the entire-record-to-play awhile.


When my cortado arrives, with a beautiful heart, I take a deep sip.  I taste purple, plum and semi-sweet milk. It’s like baked plum pie whose espresso crispness reminds me of a homemade pie crust. I sip and sip until I soon realize I’m inhaling scent now and am no longer drinking because I’ve finished its last. I silently wish there was more. 

Almost on a subconscious cue, Nicely asks, “What am I having next?” I hadn’t thought about a second drink since I was still nestled into the comfort of this one.  But I quickly think, ‘it’s Nicely’. The clouds break and the sun comes out. I think to myself, ‘This is my coffee date, I should have another’. With that thought, I tell him, “Your choice”. 

When on a coffee date it’s always nice if a barista is willing to let them choose something for me. This is telling in a few ways; it can show me what they are excited about, it might incite me to explore something that I might not otherwise have thought too, or I might get a creation off-menu.

Nicely chooses a Caffé Rico for my second drink. As he constructs it, Nicely  tells me about the concept of Hooked – baiting guests with the coffee. He guides my eyes to the hopper and the espresso beans within it. And then, he shares the story of how one of the partners here saw the form of the espresso and thought it looked like the swirl of tuna around the bait ball. As he explained how the swarming fish in a spherical formation could be seen, it all came together. Given that Dudley’s Market serves fresh caught fish from the ocean – which we were adjacent to, it made sense that the espresso could also be seen as bait in a protective hub inside the hopper.  

“We want people to swirl around this and get hooked,” said Nicely.

Tell me a good story and I’m hooked anytime. Nicely grinds some fresh Baitball which is also the name of the espresso which he uses from Dune Coffee,  packaged in a lovely hue of ocean blue. Coincidence?  C’mon’ now, I think not. 

Then, Nicely goes to work as ‘Flamboyant’ by Big L plays on vinyl. In a sequence of steps, I soon see water flushing, steam rising, espresso pulling, milk steaming, peeled citrus rimming a glass. And, then, the final act where Nicely pours milk as art into the glass occurs. I watch, knowing that I have come for this fanciful packaging – this delivery that my eye won’t ever fail to find enthralling.

caffe rico

I carry it to the sunlight which has now broken through the morning clouds. I want a photo and carry it slowly to the table. As Nicely has reminded me before, I have less than 30 seconds to capture this and its immaculate art before acids, foam and gravity have its way with the liquids Like a true artist, Nicely guides me to the table, gives the coffee a vigorous  shake, proving to me that the art can hold despite any sudden movement by me and, while doing so,  proves to me that this art can hold up despite any sudden movement.  

I chuckle because this is the Nicely I know and the barista I respect. I grab it now and take it to the bar and without any reservation sip through the crystals on top which don’t break the art. I smell the orange peel underneath my nostrils. It’s as if the citrus essence has just been spritzed upon my tongue. I continue and feel creamy milk with this scent luring me into the bait of the espresso which makes me see purple. Then, I taste dried plums among the comfort of warm milk. Now, I’m transported. I’m on the beach in the moonlight before a slow crackling bonfire with plum essence marshmallows in the air.  Is that even a thing? If not, I’ve just hooked myself into the reality that it can be.

Hooked Venice

Venice Ca

Hours 8 a.m. – 2 p.m.