The End Of An Era? Seattle's Cafe Racer Says Goodnight

Oct 18, 2017

Seattle’s Cafe Racer, the iconic coffee house and bar in the University District will be closing its doors for the last time Wednesday night.  Many remember Cafe Racer as the scene of a deadly mass shooting in 2012. Yet,  for regulars it’s the real deal in a city where it’s getting hard to find that kind of character.

The menu at Cafe Racer says, if you don’t want to talk, go to a certain other coffee chain.  That’s because this place was built –and rebuilt  -- on face-to-face interactions.

It’s hosted garage bands, weddings, Vespa enthusiasts, and the Official Bad Art Museum of Art, aka the OBAMA Museum. A Cafe Racer customer, Marlow Harris, started the museum in 2008 after the owner asked her how he should decorate.  

“I said we should just make it like a bad art museum and put like all our bad black velvet arts and our paint-by-numbers and he said, 'Yeah, ok, you're the curator!' and I said, 'Ok, yeah!’" said Marlow.

And that’s how things happen here.

After the shooting, the coffee shop picked itself up and became a symbol of how to survive.

"And that was what the attitude was of everybody there," said Kurt Geissel, the owner of Cafe Racer. "It was like this horrible thing happened, we're not going to let it stop us, we're going to keep going. We're going to keep the love there," he said.

But by last spring, Cafe Racer was up for sale. Street construction and a hot summer were difficult to bounce back from. Geissel says after more than a decade, he can’t afford it anymore and he’s still looking for a buyer.

The creative atmosphere the cafe supported also needs a new home.

"Hopefully that attitude can carry on somewhere else, or maybe at the cafe," said Geissel

In some ways, Cafe Racer seems to be a victim of timing. Rooming houses in the U-district have shut down, but light rail, when it gets here, will bring the foot traffic that a cafe like this needs.