Sunday, October 07, 2012 // Share on Facebook
Cafe Racer: Seattle’s Famously Quirky Dive
Easily one of Seattle’s all-time quirkiest and best-loved neighborhood dives, the Café Racer Espresso (5828 Roosevelt Way NE), has since 2005 offered up good coffee, simple food, cheep beer, and fun music to an eclectic clientele comprising an ongoing parade of outsider artists, actors, writers, motor-scooter enthusiasts, neo-vaudevillians, musicians, hippies, steampunks, stray dogs — all sorts of social misfits — and even a few “normal” college students and neighbors. Among the joint’s attractions are its irreverent and nonconformist vibe; its motley collection of mismatched chairs, tables, and couches all strewn between a maze of oddly shaped rooms; and a mind-boggling museum of “bad art.” Overseen by owner Kurt Geissel (b. 1959), the cozy venue epitomizes that theoretical physical space sociologists refer to as a “Third Place.” As such, it is a comfortable, inexpensive, and very inviting spot where everyone is welcome, conversation is spirited, live music is energizing, and creative sparks fly. Alas, bullets also flew on May 29, 2012, when a gunman murdered several regulars and wounded a staffer. But, like a beautiful phoenix rising from the ashes, the Café Racer community first stood together to mourn, and then to rebuild their little bohemian oasis, which reopened on July 20, 2012. . . .
Monday, March 07, 2011 // Share on Facebook
We all know where to go to see “great” art. But what about really “bad” art? Where do you see that collection?Well, you are in luck because Seattle has its very own Official Bad Art Museum of Art. It’s The “OBAMA.” The collection’s curators are the Seattle couple Marlow Harris and Jo David.
Club House for the Creative
The museum is housed inside Cafe Racer, a blue, nondescript coffee house and bar right at the edge of the University District in Seattle.
The people who hang out here are burlesque artists, cartoonists, musicians and the occasional sword swallower. It’s a club house for the creative. To get into the “OBAMA” isn’t easy. Joe David says the artwork has to meet a certain standard.”
“It’s a piece that started out with the right intentions and then something horribly went wrong along the way.”
Yes, the pieces are bad, but they are still interesting to view. The collection goes well beyond “Dogs Playing Poker.”
Dozens of paintings line the wall salon style. There are babies with big eyes and cheesy nudes, which are in a room off to the side for a little privacy. Someone spent hours making a contemplative rabbi in needlepoint and Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” is executed in a lot of yarn.
The Minds Behind The Idea
Joe David and his wife, Marlow Harris came up with the idea for the OBAMA. It’s one of their many jokes that have taken on a life of its own. These are the same people who started Seattle’s annual Elvis impersonation contest which now draws “Elvi” from around the world.
Some days it’s like Christmas at Cafe Racer. A few paintings might be left outside before it opens. No notes, just the unspoken understanding that they are meant for the walls of the OBAMA.
Sometimes pieces arrive in the mail. One was even sent from California. David and Harris say they have so much really “bad art” that they are paying people $5 to take the dregs away for good. . . .
Tuesday, April 07, 2009 // Share on Facebook
I just reassigned myself to the more grown-up Green Lake after a year of limbo on Capitol Hill. (To quote Danny Glover, “I’m too old for this shit.”) I was in need of a new pit stop for my days working from home, and I found it indisputably at Café Racer, where Roosevelt spills down from Whole Foods and slightly higher home prices into the beer-caked grit of Dante’s, the Monkey, and the U District. You can’t be everything to everyone, but Café Racer comes pretty close, uniting the three neighborhoods it straddles with good coffee, killer dogs, a full bar, and no judgment as to when or what you eat or drink. It’s goddamn refreshing.The entrance to Café Racer puts you in the thrift store–appointed bar, with a short and sweet liquor selection and an espresso machine. To your left, the all-ages side, is where Racer hosts live music; it’s covered in paintings of someone else’s pets and relatives mixed with plenty of creepy renditions of clowns. This art culminates in a small section known as the Obama Room, dominated by one giant purple-vinyl-upholstered booth. During the day, the bar is usually taken over by regulars, who (mostly) sip coffee there the way other regulars might nurse a beer.The food is so simple even the bartender can prepare it. Café Racer converted me to the open-faced hot dog; it’s best with Racer’s chili and a side of Fritos, as the menu suggests. With a BLT, a grilled cheese, and a French dip, the menu is stacked with bar food’s simplest hits—with a few curveballs, like the grilled yellow mustard, peanut butter, and pickle concoction called the Woodring: horrific, yet delicious.A visit at 3 in the afternoon can show just how many neighbors get Racer’s appeal, when the young and old, blue-collar and collegiate, tattooed and buttoned-up all sporadically converge. What at first glance might seem too cool isn’t. On my first visit, the bartender actually came over to ask if I needed the wireless code, then he asked me what music I wanted to hear. Maybe it was the cacophony of irony or the aloof treatment I endured in a year on the Hill that took me aback at first, but since then I’ve found that the people at Café Racer exist on their own island of Midwestern friendliness.Café Racer can, however, feel a little intimidating to the uninitiated. One night, we walked in to complete silence. Breaking the fourth wall of awkward, we continued into the bar area and noticed everyone (all six) focused on the TV. But give the staff half a chance to welcome you, and that discomfited feeling vanishes immediately. As the menu says: “If you don’t want to talk to anybody, go to Starbucks.”email@example.com