Cindy Anne and Jeff Ramsey were at the hospital for the birth of their granddaughter earlier this month when they got another bit of happy news: Cafe Racer had found a new home in the space formerly occupied by the Barca bar on Capitol Hill.
“It literally feels like a rebirth,” Anne said. “We took time to really visualize how to become bigger and better, how we could better serve our audience of musicians and artists.”
The venerable coffee house and arts space resided in the University District for 17 years and was sold to current owners Anne and Ramsey after briefly shutting down in 2017 due to financial woes. Cafe Racer also survived tragedy when a gunman killed four people there in 2012.
Under its new owners, Cafe Racer evolved into a more family-oriented atmosphere that helped pivot the cafe out of the red until the pandemic struck. They shut down, reaching an agreement with their landlords to leave the space last July, and put all of the cafe’s equipment in storage — a move that put them in a good financial position to reopen.
“We took the duck-and-cover approach,” Anne said. “We really understood our restaurant wasn’t enough and we couldn’t do live music.”
Instead, they started Cafe Racer Radio, a free online radio station featuring music from all over Washington state, including the same types of young DIY artists that the venue would often feature in live performances. So far, the project has amassed more than 10,000 songs, and listeners are just as likely to hear Jimi Hendrix as an unknown 15-year-old playing a guitar in their bedroom.
With pandemic restrictions easing, Anne said the time was right to start serving their community again — even if it meant a change of neighborhoods. The Barca location was simply too tempting to pass up, with an interior that Anne described as only in need of a good scrubbing and some rearranging.
“There is a built-in community here,” Anne said of Cafe Racer’s new spot next to Vermillion, an art gallery and bar. “I’m really excited about that. We are still going to be all ages most of the time. We will still be able to watch these kids grow up.”
There was a lot of competition for the real estate and Anne said they were appreciative that their landlords chose to support art through granting the space to Cafe Racer.
“They could have chosen so many other people that wanted to gentrify and create the new Seattle,” Anne said. “They understand the importance of art and the importance of who we are as creators in Seattle.”
Anne and Ramsey are planning to host a series of low-key events before officially reopening Cafe Racer on Sept. 10 at 1510 11th Ave. They plan to feature comfort food, including potpies from Chef Logan Niles’ Pot Pie Factory, and weekend brunch. Different daily events such as open mic night, karaoke and “first timers night” are being planned.
As a final touch, a new neon “love” sign has been ordered to replace the iconic fixture welcoming guests into the old Cafe Racer location.
“We will be bringing the love to Capitol Hill,” Anne said.