You know those diners with quick, attentive service but won't hound you if you're, say, writing a novel all day? The cafes that have mismatched mugs—like cats that have comically gone fishing using nets and poles—and mismatched a lot of things for that matter, but in a good way. By day, you're eating eggs and bacon beside a wall of clown art. By night, a jazz quartet is setting up in the corner. Well, that was Cafe Racer.
It was a place for everyone. People came together for weekly craft nights, or to play Dungeons and Dragons, or for art shows—everything. It was second home to many. Sadly, after a year of trying to save or sell the cafe, owner Kurt Geissel has closed Cafe Racer. Yesterday was its last official day after 14 years of being a University District staple. "I just can no longer support it," said Geissel in a Facebook post earlier this week. The cafe is indeed still for sale to someone who wants to keep Cafe Racer a hub of art, music, and community. "The last thing I want is for the cafe to go away," Geissel added.
In 2012 Cafe Racer was the site of a tragic shooting. The whole city was understandably shaken, yet Cafe Racer regulars kept coming. It wasn't this tragedy that ultimately hurt Geissel's cafe, but the city's break-neck growth and changes (construction obstructing easy access to the cafe, higher rents, Geissel's own mounting debt).
Still, many think back on Cafe Racer fondly.
"Cafe Racer was an early home for me after I moved to Seattle. Funny now that with so many more transplants—some 10 years after I arrived here—the place can't sustain itself. I read in a post from Ryan Devlin, singer in The Smokey Brights, that the place used to be a second home for him, too, but the affordable housing around Racer no longer exists and he and his friends and bandmates had to move away. But in the late 2000s and early 2010s, I would often see live music at Racer, I would play in bands there on the small stage to fun crowds. It was an important stage for new bands. I celebrated a few birthdays there, too. Racer, for a while there anyway, seemed like one of the most authentic places in the city. And, of course, Racer suffered the horrible gun tragedy a few years ago. Friends I knew died there and the shadow over the place hung—and still hangs. I wonder if that was the final straw in some ways, if it could never recover despite the outpouring of support. In the end, as a place to meet friends, listen to music or be weird, Racer was one of the best. It will be remembered for a long time. And then, like most things, be forgotten again." —Jake Uitti
"I caught the tail end of Cafe Racer when I moved into Seattle a couple years back. I am on a constant search for classic, easygoing diners in a city where boutique cafes have crowded them out; Seattle’s greasy spoons have often fallen to polished knockoffs under the shadow of development. It was comforting to have that authentic, casual ambiance and to know it was there. Cafe Racer was not just a diner, but a neighbor with its own genuine personality. I frequented the place from time-to-time—omelet, coffee, and a book. Its absence feels like Seattle is less Seattle." —Dyer Oxley
"The community at Cafe Racer was amazing. The cafe was always supportive of creative endeavors. One of my favorite memories was shooting a Prom Queen music video there. Glad to have that video as a permanent memory." —Jessica A.