Since the tragedy that befell Cafe Racer about two years ago, the community surrounding the watering hole has rallied to an almost unimaginable degree to support to rebuild and frequent the quirky cafe. The University District spot is one of the city's most eclectic watering holes. Staff feels like family, and you can relax free and easy in the OBAMA room, or the Official Bad Art Museum of Art room. The place also hosts regular shows and open mic nights with local and touring musicians. But now Eater wants to highlight the bar, which serves espresso, spirits, and (happily) beer.
On tap on a recent visit is Fremont Brewing's Bonfire Ale, a smoky amber beer with a touch of malt, as well as Georgetown Brewing's smooth, dark porter that's perfect for winter. In total, Racer has seven handles to go with their full bar. Bartender David Hedin (who plays in the band The Pure Ups) was on duty the Monday morning we decided to walk in and sit right down.
How does Racer go about choosing what's on tap?
It's a community effort. Nick, our bar manager does all the ordering, but normally beer reps come in and let us taste new things. Kilt Lifter, Manny's, Supergoose, and PBR are our standards, we don't often deviate from them. Kilt Lifter has been on there since we opened. So that leaves us two or three slots to experiment with. We try to keep a darker beer on tap—sometimes an Anchor Steam—something toasty and hearty. Then we have one seasonal—like a Fremont Summer Ale. So, I think we are always trying to rotate while also keeping the familiars.
What's your favorite beer to drink here with food? And what do you normally order off the menu?
My favorite beer to drink with food would probably be something light. I don't like to mix heavy beers with food—so, right now I would get Hale's Kolsch. By in large I'm vegetarian, so what I order off the menu is the "Caprisi Sandwich" with fresh mozzarella, basil puree with balsamic vinegar, parmesan cheese, and fresh-cut tomato.
What's the most unique thing about working at Cafe Racer?
I've worked at several fancy Italian restaurants in Seattle and they were more lucrative, but that came with a cost in terms of micromanagement. There was a lot more inspection—less space for you to put your own spin on service. You want to give a good level of service, but there are many ways to do that. So here, the most unique thing about working at Racer is the space to make the face of the place, when you're working at the bar, your own. For your shift, you are Racer. And the dress code is awesome. You can wear whatever you want, within reason.
Which do you think is the most popular beer ordered here during live shows?
I work Thursday nights and often there are folk bands in, and, to me, it seems the Bonfire Ale has been the most popular. We sell about 30 to 40 of those on a night.
What's your favorite thing about hanging here when not working?
I've been coming here for six years before I even worked here. I had a [solid] relationship with the place before I was even employed. Just being able to shoot the shit with your coworkers and friends and not feel like there is a great amount of distance, that's special. I've worked at restaurants where when you get off the clock you're not allowed to stay. You'd have to go down the street to another place since employees weren't allowed to be seen off the clock.
But in order to have a solid community bar, we want to show friendship between workers, patrons, and all that's in between.