If you're new here, you're going to need to find your local coffee shop pretty soon. Tons of factors go into this decision, such as location, coffee excellence, efficiency, number of outlets, and wi-fi generosity. But have you considered the fact that your daily nonfat latte in some ways helps to sustain the bodies and minds of young artists, and that you might include "artistic genre" among your java-joint heuristic? Me neither. But with that thought in mind, I checked out a number of cafes around town in search of little beehives of artistic activity. Here's what I found. Consider one of these places next time you need your fix, and be sure to tip.
Caffe Vita: Drag Queens
There are a bunch of Caffe Vitas around town—but to my knowledge, only the one on Capitol Hill sports three young drag queens behind the counter: Reese Umbaugh (Cookie Couture), Eamon Maxwell (Miss Americano), and Derrick Jefferies (Khloe5X). They perform drag independently and sometimes as a group called Halfway Haus.
I sat down with Umbaugh recently and asked him how it all began. "I started it," he said. Back in March of last year, he convinced Maxwell and Jefferies to go out in drag for his birthday. They had a great time. Then Umbaugh heard about Arthaus, a drag battle royale at Kremwerk, and proposed that the trio put together a show. They did it, and ended up winning the first two rounds of the three-round event.
Umbaugh says working at Vita supports his art-making from both a creative and a financial perspective. Sometimes regulars will hire him to perform for events they're putting on, and coworkers—the majority of whom are also working artists, according to Umbaugh—try to find ways to swap shifts or help out whenever work schedules conflict with art schedules.
The Arthaus finals at Kremwerk are happening June 4. Halfway Haus will be lip-synching it out with the best of 'em. Go to that.
Analog Coffee: Comics
One of the better cold brews in town is served up in a little 12-ounce tulip-shaped glass at Analog Coffee. Maybe it's the Herkimer Coffee they use. (I do like that Herk.) Maybe it's the particular kind of ragged, square ice that they use. Maybe it's that funny little glass. I don't know, but it's magical. Also magical is the number of local contemporary comic books they've got on the communal table up front.
I called barista Aidan Fitzgerald to see how Analog Coffee became a kind of informal local comics newsstand that also serves a fine cuppa joe. Fitzgerald said that a regular of theirs, a film critic and comics-head, started tipping with comic books. In response, Fitzgerald started bringing in less mainstream comics to balance out the scales. Now the table is filled with local cartoonists such as Josh Simmons, Ben Horak, Max Clotfelter, and others, many of who are featured in Intruder, a quarterly comics-only newspaper.
"There are lots of artists and musicians who come through," Fitzgerald said. "I also make it a point of playing a lot of local bands in the shop. It's a good way to foster the music community both inside and outside of that world."
The baristas here are involved in several aspects of the art community: Fitzgerald plays in the bands Smiling and Nail Polish, contributes to Intruder, is a featured artist on Vignettes.us, and runs printing company Cold Cube Press. Andrew McKibben is also a barista at Analog. He runs Couple Skate Records and plays in Pleather. Filmmaker Sarah Strunin also pours coffee at the shop.
Parnassus Cafe and Art Gallery: Visual Art
Parnassus has been operating since 1951, which makes it the oldest coffee shop at the University of Washington. Students run the place with support from the campus's Housing and Food Services administration, and half the profits go to the School of Art scholarship program.
Joseph Maurey, the coffee roasting and training manager for UW dining, says that most of the baristas are undergrads at the art school. There's a tip jar, but all the money goes to the scholarship program. There's always a bunch of art-school kids hanging around and doing work, taking a moment every so often to look at all the student artwork hanging on the walls.
The Station: Hiphop, R&B, Dance
Luis Rodriguez owns this Beacon Hill shop, where hiphop pounds out of the speakers. Local artists sell their mixtapes, concert tickets, shirts, and visual art at the shop, and the Mexican mocha will make you rethink your position on mochas.
Local rapper Matt "Spekulation" Watson, a barista at the Station, said a bunch of artists also work there, including DJ WD4D and R&B singer JusMoni. Watson calls the cafe "a net positive for [his] art, even if it weren't for the money," pointing to the creative energy between patrons, many of whom are also artists, and workers.
"Shops like this pop up every five years, but they go away—like Sit & Spin back in the day," Watson said. "It would be cool if there was a way to scale up this business model and make it more sustainable. When I'm hearing [Seattle City Council member] Kshama [Sawant] talk about small business rent control—for a place like this, that would be incredible." Hear, hear.
Cafe Racer: Cartoonists
Cafe Racer has served as one of the north side's artistic hubs for a long time now. The coffee's not that great, but the beer works, and every third Tuesday a large group of cartoonists meet there to construct Dune. Lots of people show up and draw something on one page, and the next month the participants get a zine with all the drawings in it. It's totally democratic art-making on a large scale, y'all.
Ansel Herz contributed reporting.