Ships Coffee Shop

The Ship's on Overland Ave. in Culver City

Christopher Columbus had three ships and restaurateur Emmett Shipman had three Ships — one in Westwood, one in Culver City and everyone’s favorite, which was the one at Olympic and La Cienega.  Each Ships was open 24 hours and it wasn’t Denny’s. In terms of cuisine, it wasn’t that much better but it felt friendlier and classier.

If you ordered breakfast, they brought you bread instead of toast and you cooked it yourself in the toaster at your table. Every table had one, plus they were all along the counter for the folks sitting there. It was another great place to get a hot turkey sandwich and I remember that a friend of mine liked to go there because they had “the coldest milk in the world.”  The waitresses were all what you’d get if you put out a casting call for “friendly coffee shop waitresses.”

All three Ships Coffee shops were opened by Shipman between 1956 and 1967 and closed within a narrow window in the eighties.  They were noted for their decor and the one at Olympic and La Cienega was used as a location in several movies.  They may be among the “most missed” defunct eateries in all of Southern California. Here’s a look at their classic menu…

To see the entire Ships menu, click above

119 Responses to Ships Coffee Shop

  • Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos (NM) says:

    Yo Neil…Not meant to challenge your rendevous with Spielberg, I find doppelgangers fun. E.g.
    Is Paul Revere time-traveling as Jack Black?While there was a tad of makeup involved, I think Tina Fey did the best of all SNLers’ parodying, i.e. where she did Sarah Palin who herself, fascinated most men, albeit they embarrassingly turned their feelings of attraction into externally stated disdain.Elvis had several excellent imitators. Lest you missed seeing Kenny Kerr’s Boylesque in Vegas during your trip, ya missed a great attempt at doppelganging of Babs in Yentl. Again, not to dispute your experience, but I’d imagine LA/Hollywood is most reflective of this happening. Be Safe!

  • Neil says:

    In the winter of 1990, a childhood friend and I decided to escape the Northeast snow, slush, and freezing weather and head to Los Angeles for a week’s vacation. I had my own business at the time, and was flexible with my schedule, and my buddy worked for his father at the time, so his request to get away was green-lighted by his dad.
    We were both in our mid-twenties, unmarried, saved money for the trip, and looking forward to our vacation.
    Driving around one day in LA, we were hungry and stopped at an interesting looking place called Ships Coffee Shop, on La Cienega Boulevard. Any neon sign that is historic will stop me in my tracks, hence our decision to eat at Ships. We entered the no-frills establishment, sat down in a booth, and perused the menu. After deciding what I wanted, I looked around to take in my surroundings. That’s when I saw film director Steven Spielberg sitting by himself in a booth about thirty feet away. I nonchalantly double-checked. Yup; it was him. The beard, the nose, the shape of his mouth, the eyes, and the baseball cap sitting atop his head trying to hide it all. I casually informed my friend of my observation. Having a temporary lapse in memory of where he was, he asked me what Steven Spielberg would be doing there. “What would we be doing here?, I responded. “He lives here! We don’t.”
    “Good point,” my buddy remarked.
    His curiosity piqued, my buddy wanted to see for himself. I requesting he NOT TURN AROUND. Of course, a second later, he conspicuously turned around to catch a glimpse. He agreed it Spielberg; perhaps the most famous film director in the history of motion pictures.
    Our meal was delivered, promptly gobbled up, and I began plotting my outreach to Mr. Spielberg. My friend begged me not to, to just leave him be. But I couldn’t help myself; I had to meet him. I rose, casually walked over to Steven Spielberg, quietly and respectfully introduced myself, then in a somewhat whispered tone—as to not call attention to the encounter—asked him if he was Steven Spielberg.
    He smiled and said he was not; he was his brother, then winked at me. I nodded and asked him if he could let his brother know that I was an admirer of his work and that I was not going to ask him for an autograph or picture taken with him. Just stopping by to say hello. Steven smiled and said he’d pass that message along to his brother. I thanked him and returned to my friend at our booth. A minute later, Spielberg rose from his seat, threw money down onto his table, and headed out the door. I was going back and forth in my head, questioning if the director was just joshing me or if, in fact, he actually did have a twin brother. I’m usually spot on with such facial recognition matters, and what I saw from afar as well as up close was, in fact, Steven Spielberg.
    My beliefs were confirmed when my buddy and I witnessed the man I believed to be Steven Spielberg enter into a black Jaguar convertible with the personalized California vanity license plate that read “E.T.” before driving off.
    While it would have been nice to chat with Mr. Spielberg for a few minutes about movies or life in general, I didn’t blame him for dodging me. Every day he gets lots of people like me approaching him wanting his time and something from him. He just wanted to protect his privacy and safety in a world where celebrities are stalked . . . or worse. I get it and was not offended.

  • randall wild says:

    I remember the toasters and the baked apples

  • Nancy says:

    My husband built the Ships Neon Sign in 1957. Mr. Shipen (the owner) gave us two ship ashtrays.

  • Serg says:

    My dad worked at the Ships on La Cienega for over 20 years!! Loved the food growing up as a kid(except the sweet pickles they used in the hamburgers). But what I remembered the MOST were the pancakes!!!! Best pancakes I’ve ever had in my life! I really miss this place. Not only did my dad work there but also an uncle. My uncle would tell stories how everything was made fresh and how they would reuse ingredients for different menu items. Great memories from a great place to eat. Something tells me diners like Ships don’t exists.

  • john smith says:

    I remember Ships and the toasters. I lived in Santa Monica and loved Ships. Open all the time, I would actually sit and read newspapers we had newspapers!
    And cell phones weren’t around, and your car would be safe in the lot. Homeless were around but, few and they didn’t bother you.

  • Robert Vee says:

    I miss the Ships on Wilshire in Westwood. Making your own toast…and looking out the window at the low rise profile of Wilshire Blvd – the best!

  • Jordana Raiskin says:

    I am both sad and heartened reading these memories. Ships was truly a special place, in terms of its aesthetics, and comfortable feel, and we all recognized it a the time. My family lived up the street on Gale, near La Cienega when I was in middle schools so I would often walk down there on my own and get a meal. I remember how the light would come in the window, I remember the feel of the booth, but mostly I remember sitting a the counter. Someone else commented on how safe it felt and I absolutely agree. And YES, to t-shirts! Seeing the menu was wonderful!

  • Brad Dorset says:

    Ships was my mainstay for meals 18-21 years old. I lived in Hollywood and would drop by on way to Venice or Santa Monica Beach for the day. I loved the Steak-O-Bob,well-chilled salad, personal toaster, cinnamon rolls with pats of butter,..everything about the place. I felt safe and comfortable there every single time. I wish someone would print some T-shirts with the fabulous, iconic Ships signage emblazoned on it. One of the best memories from my life in L.A. ’78-’81.

  • Paul says:

    Back around 74, I was a pre-Med student at UCLA and are at the Westwood Ships most often..Was not uncommon to see celebrities there late at night, like Tina Turner..The waitress’s there would take an interest in you and recommend what was fresh..They were a source of good conversation and jokes as well..It was an interesting time of my life..Away from home in N.Y., just out of the Marines and home from the war, and attending a major University..

  • Gary S says:

    I lived in the Palms neighborhood of L. A. in the 60s for junior high and high school. The Overland Ave Ships was within walking distance of our apartment; and I’d go there periodically when in high school. I remember the toasters. But I remember the Ship Shape Burger and side order of fries being significantly better than Denny’s. It was one of my favorite burger meals of all time. I’d order the 1/2-lb burger cooked medium; and it had a wonderful char-broiled taste that I can almost taste again now whenever I think of it. The order of fries was big. They came in one of those oval-shaped plastic waffle baskets, with a red and white checkerboard piece of glossy paper as a liner. They were always cooked to perfection: never browned, never greasy, hot and crispy on the outside, and soft and warm on the inside. If I could only have that meal again.

  • Debra says:

    My family used to go to Ships every Sunday when I was little. My Grandpa Joe was Orthodox and he’d walk over. Miss the cinnamon rolls, LaMerle our waitress and most of all the Chicken Noodle Soup! Oh what I would give for that chicken soup! If anyone knows the family, i’d kill for the recipe!

  • Dennis says:

    I frequently went to the one in Culver City during graduate school in the early 1980s. No place better late at night when you wanted food and a place to relax before getting back to the books. Most comforting comfort food.

  • Michael Waterman says:

    The gas station (Union 76) was there at the same time as Ship’s – Ship’s was just south of Rocky Ferraro’s station (can’t believe I still remember his name). Always was a famous place for Jews to eat on Yom Kippur, as they slid down in the booth, so you could not see them – across the street from Temple Beth Am. Ship’s was famous for its fresh-squeezed orange juice and its toasters on every table. The other Ships that I remember was on Wilshire Boulevard in Westwood.

  • Karen Tani says:

    I was a student at UCLA in the early 70’s and spent a good deal of time at the Ship’s in Westwood. Westwood was fantastic in those days.

  • chappie says:
  • Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos (NM) says:

    Yo Mark…might one presume this is The Pole? (This is one of those sites that if you put your cursor in the middle of the pic/hold your mouse button down and move the mouse right/left you can swing around.)

  • Mark says:

    The only thing left from the Ships at La Cienega and Olympic is the pole in the parking lot that its sign used to sit on. The sign itself was left on the pole for a few years after they tore down the restaurant, but then the sign disappeared a few years ago. A gas station occupies the property now, on the corner on the south side of Olympic, and the east side of La Cienega. I saw the pole the other day as I drove by. It’s at the east end of the gas station close to the sidewalk on Olympic, and it’s about 18 feet high. I always sigh for Ships when I see it.

  • Chris says:

    I loved Ships on LaCienega. I was a script reader in the 1990s and I’d go late late at night- I’d sit at the table and order an omelette and make my own toast. Fantastic.

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