It's an uneventful Sunday morning at Cafe Racer. There are a couple of tables filled--one with retirees mopping up egg yolks with slices of wheat toast, another with a group of plaid-clad dudes shaking hot sauce onto heaped plates of brunch--and a few solitary sippers who have pulled up to the bar for a cup of coffee or hair of the dog cocktail. Ceiling fans twirl overhead; rock plays from some stereo near the kitchen.
It's hard to imagine that nearly two months ago, this unassuming U-District cafe was the site of unspeakable tragedy, when a deranged gunman stormed in, took the lives of four people, and injured cafe employee Leonard Meuse. On Friday, Cafe Racer reopened (view a slideshow here) for the first time since the shooting. Save for a few bouquets of flowers set in the corner in a makeshift memorial--and the obvious air of melancholy--it's business as usual.There's a new coat of paint on the place, but the faces are the same at Cafe Racer. That's a good sign, since the consistency, the fact that bartenders know who you are and what you drink, is part of what makes this neighborhood favorite so charming.
If you've never been, there's never been a better time to go. Not because you get to visit the Site of Something Terrible, but because it's a great cafe in its own right: part espresso bar, part regular bar, and part restaurant, all set in a hodge-podge of kitschy weirdness that gives you the sense of drinking and dining in a well-kept thrift store. There's an embroidered tapestry of Van Gogh's Starry Night, a Ms. Pac-Man table, lots of creepy clowns, a broken jukebox. It's a place with heart.
As far as coffee goes, Cafe Racer uses Caffé Vita beans. Most people who sit down for a meal--in addition to weekend brunch, they cook up some inventive hot dogs and hot or cold sandwiches--opt for the drip, which is refilled endlessly. But for anyone looking for a little something more, they put together a totally serviceable cappuccino--served in a diner mug, no frills, and a little too wet, but well-balanced and without the bitter finish that signifies a burnt espresso shot, or worse yet, the tell-tale smell of burnt milk. Plus, you can get whiskey in your morning brew, which is a major bonus if you're into that sort of thing (which you totally should be).
Whether or not you've made Cafe Racer you're home in the past, it's time to go and pay your respects. Grab an Incredible Wonder Weiner and a boozy mug of Vita while you're there.