September 1

Mugshot Monday #5 – Remembering Long Lost Cafés of the Ave.

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Welcome to MugShot Monday: a caffeine inspired journey to uncover University Ave’s Cafés

Front view of the Last Exit on Brooklyn / Photo Cred:Moss Willow via Wikipedia

For Labor Day I felt it would be nice to take a break from visiting up-and-running cafés and look back at some Cafés of Old in the University District.

It was a time before the internet and laptop computers. Before people were glued to their social media and texts. Before a cafe had to advertise free wi-fi to have street-cred. Back then, going to a cafe was really about wanting connection, a conversation, a moment of reflection with a cup of coffee, a pen, journal and a thought. It was a place to read Kafka,  poetry or write your own story. We didn’t obsess about coffee brands, gluten-free or Grande vs. Venté.

Cafe culture was about getting out and listening to the buzz on the street; being open to a more colorful collection of faces and delving into the dark-roasted realm of coincidence and spontaneity.

I moved to Seattle when I was 20 years old and my first job was at the Espresso Roma Cafe (where the Cafe on the Ave. now sits). Back then it was the waning years of grunge. We had to keep a close watch on the bathroom since folks would duck in and shoot up and fall asleep in there. It seemed like every one of my co-workers was in a band….hmmmm I guess not a lot has changed.

One of my favorite places to go for breakfast was The Black Cat (Brooklyn near Campus Parkway) The Black Cat was a vegan leaning vegetarian joint run by a collective of anarchy inspired punks and was operated for five years in the mid-90’s. The decor was a collection of remnants, mis-matched furniture and bike parts. It was a great place to go and feel apart of the Seattle sub-culture.

No posts about long-loved and lost cafes would be complete without an ode to Last Exit on Brooklyn. Appropriately situated on Brooklyn Ave., it opened in 1967 and sadly closed in 2000 not too long after a relocation to N. University Ave. According to Wikipedia, in 1985 it was deemed one of “Americas second oldest continuously run coffeehouses”. It was a spot you couldn’t help feel the vibe of the Grateful Dead, true hippy-dom and authentic bohemian round table conversation.  Body-odor shy people probably made a point to stay away because of an unspoken rule that with enough patchouli, showers were optional. It was also famously a meeting spot for chess players amateur and professional, including such players as  Peter BiyiasasViktors Pupols, and Yasser Seirawan. Last Exit remains a legend of Seattle café culture.

When Last Exit closed in 2000, many of the colorful grab-bag of patrons found their way down to The Pearl in the middle of the 4200 block of University Ave.

Saving the best for last, The Pearl was the beautifully inspired vision of Robynne Hawthorne whose love of literature, art and culture could be seen in every detail of the place. From the amazing mural her friend painted with magical and ghostly figures on the back wall to the beautiful finely crafted bar area. I saw Laura Viers play in her early years, and Jason Webley preformed his memorable musical performance art. The Jelly Rollers were frequent players and I always enjoyed doing my homework sitting next to the owner’s two beautiful young daughters.

Cafés will always be a place I crave to go and sit with a cup of coffee or chai. I still look for that independent café that offers an atmosphere that rises above the on-the-go coffee crowd, computer plug-ins and get-em-out the door vibe. In Seattle, a café that offers a warm interior with ambient light, an interesting staff, local offerings and consistently diverse music playing is where I will come back to.

Today, independent bookstores, video stores, record stores and cafés are all being challenged by today’s big business market. But it’s important to remember that they have been the backbone of youth culture, independent arts and creative expression in cities. In my opinion, independent cafés are needed to create a meeting space for people, ideas and diversity.

Today as we remember independent cafés of old, head out to your favorite spot and make sure you tip your barista extra good!

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