When I first visited Polar Cafe, its owner, Maeve Keogh, was on a mission to free two ships trapped in antarctic ice aboard the Polar Star, the world's most powerful non-nuclear icebreaker. Maeve was a regular at Frank, the cafe that formerly inhabited Polar's small space on north Capitol Hill. Happily, its closure coincided with her retirement from the Coast Guard. She redecorated with photos of arctic wildlife, life preservers, and her collection of sports memorabilia. Maeve's husky Maddy, who goes well with the polar decor, lounged in the sun by a case of Le Fournil pastries while she recounted her adventures. The Polar Star's rescue mission ended—after the ship weathered a storm with 20-foot waves and 60-mile-an-hour winds—when the ice blew away from the trapped ships.
On a previous mission, Keogh rescued drug runners whose boat was so packed with cocaine that it capsized. "Ninety 50-pound bales of cocaine just floating in the water," she said. She described with excitement the whales, penguins, and seals that followed the Polar Star as it bored its way through the ice, and of one expedition when she saw several pilot whales kill a marlin. When asked which skills from life at sea are most useful as a cafe owner, she replied, "You learn how to tell good tall tales."