July 25th, 2012 by Clark Humphrey

Cafe Racer was first opened by Kurt Geissel and then business partner Staci Dinehart in 2003, originally as the Lucky Dog Espresso.

First with Dinehart and then with longtime manager Ben Dean, Geissel built it into a place that was everything to many people—a coffeehouse, diner, bar, dual art-exhibition space (both permanent and rotating exhibits), eclectic live music venue, and gathering place for both Ravenna/Roosevelt area locals and for several citywide subcultures.

Geissel kept his outside day job all that time, pouring everything the cafe made back into it. It made the front page of the Sunday New York Times arts section for its Sunday all-ages improv-music shows, the “Racer Sessions.”

Some of the other people most responsible for Racer’s rise have included:

  • Marlow Harris and Jo David (longtime arts-scene figures who curate the permanent exhibit of unfortunate amateur painting, the Official Bad Art Museum of Art),
  • Jim Woodring (creator of the acclaimed graphic-novel series Frank; he led drawing classes at the cafe and cofounded its cartoonists’ peer group Friends of the Nib),
  • Andrew Swanson (cofounder of the Racer Sessions),
  • Leonard Meuse (the cafe’s chef, who kept a varied comfort food menu going in a too-small kitchen space), and
  • Drew Keriakedes, aka Shmootzi the Clod (the round-earringed veteran of the local alt-circus and performance art scenes; he booked most of the musical acts at the cafe, and led its Thursday house band God’s Favorite Beefcake).

As you all know, Meuse and Keriakedes were at the cafe the morning of May 30, when a mentally unstable former customer came in and started shooting. He killed Keriakedes and three other people, and shot Meuse. He fled, shot and killed a woman outside Town Hall, took her car, and was finally found by police in West Seattle, where he fatally shot himself.

Geissel has said he was actually making more money with Racer closed, thanks to insurance. But friends and loyal customers pretty much demanded he reopen. After take a couple of weeks off to get his own head together, he and a crew of volunteers cleaned up and repainted the place and installed a new bar.

Reopening day was all hugs and smiles and closure. There seemed to be a collective sense, not of “normalcy” but of triumph. Meuse was working. Woodring was on hand.

So was Geissel, hauling in fresh supplies of hamburger buns and Tater Tots.

He’s said that not reopening would be letting “the bad” win. Bringing Cafe Racer back, he’s also said, was a process fed by “the tremendous love” expressed by everyone who’s frequented it.

(Cross-posted with City Living.)

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