During the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been restaurants turning into pantries, community kitchens, and even drive-in movie theaters. But this may be the first example of a full pivot to audio only. In July, Cafe Racer — the longtime artsy coffee shop and performance venue in the U District — closed its location at 5828 Roosevelt Way NE permanently, and has started a free online music station called Cafe Racer Radio.
“It was conceptualized by a customer on our last night of business,” owner Jeff Ramsey tells Eater Seattle, noting the cafe’s history of hosting many local bands. “We feature only music from Washington and primarily Seattle.”
The station currently has around 10,000 tracks in the library, and includes artists from such Pacific Northwest independent record labels such as Subpop, Barsuk, Youth Riot, and Hush. It mostly just features a shuffle mix of the library, but Ramsey says the station will add shows, commentary, interviews, and other types of content in September.
Of course, Cafe Racer has been known for more than live music over its 17 years of existence. For years, it was a much-beloved hip neighborhood hangout, serving excellent espresso and a selection of local beer in a quirky space that had a room called the Official Bad Art Museum of Art (OBAMA) filled with kitsch.
Then tragedy struck in 2012, when a gunman shot and killed four people inside the cafe. The owner at the time, Kurt Geissel, almost closed the cafe for good afterwards, but the community rallied around to keep it open.
In 2017, when it looked like financial woes would end up closing Cafe Racer for good, Ramsey stepped in and bought the place. In the years since, he turned it into less of an adults-only haunt and more of a family-friendly destination, with omelets, Benedicts, and corned beef hash for brunch. The OBAMA room remained, and the back area was loaded with books and board games; in the dining room sat an actual cafe racer motorcycle that kids could sit on.
But those who miss the food and drinks and general vibe of Cafe Racer proper shouldn’t have to fret for long. Ramsey says he is in talks with a landlord to reopen somewhere in the same neighborhood “once things are back to normal (whatever that means).”
In the meantime, there are some tunes to play.