One of Seattle’s most resilient music venues is closing, but it won’t be the last we hear from Cafe Racer.

The embattled venue will vacate its Capitol Hill space at the end of June after owners were unable to negotiate a new lease. But before anyone grabs their pitchforks, it sounds like the Racer crew is going out on good terms with the landlord, having caught up on back rent they accrued since making a bumpy return from the pandemic.

According to Racer co-owner Jeff Ramsey, the landlords are simply looking to give the hundred-year-old building some necessary renovations that could take months, if not years, to complete.

Ramsey and business partner Jody Ramsammy, a dance music promoter who joined the Racer brain trust last year, considered finding a new space. The community-centric club had done it before, leaving its original University District home during the pandemic before emerging in splashier new digs on Capitol Hill in 2021. Finding something that fits the bill on a “labor of love” arts space budget can be a tall order in Seattle, and Ramsey had another idea.

“We explored everything, we talked it all through,” he said. “But the thing in the back of my mind was still this concept of Cafe Racer more as an arts organization and less of a bar, restaurant, music venue.”

Cafe Racer has long been more of a mission-driven endeavor, aiming to provide a stage for developing artists finding their footing, something Ramsey and co-owner Cindy Anne wanted to preserve when they acquired the business in 2017. Talk of a mentorship program and other educational programs teaching young people how to run lights and sound have been front of mind since Racer reopened from a two-month closure last year due to a post-pandemic dip in attendance.

The new plan is to potentially spin Cafe Racer, which outlasted a 2012 shooting in its previous location, into a nonprofit arts organization that doesn’t have the overhead of running a brick-and-mortar venue.

“Our vision and mission of supporting the arts and artists, and bringing arts to the audience, has never wavered,” Ramsey said. “And that’s what we’re going to continue to do in some form or another. We just won’t have the address.”

Closing-night plans are still coming together and there’s still much to be decided about the future, including whether to establish Cafe Racer as a formal 501(c)(3) or an alternative corporate structure in the eyes of the IRS. However it looks on paper, the goal will be to continue Racer’s community-minded programming, concerts and art shows from other spaces. Cafe Racer will continue to run its online radio station, which has a bank of 70,000 songs from Washington artists.

Anne and Ramsey took over the financially imperiled Cafe Racer in 2017, believing, as Ramsey put it, that “it was too important culturally for Seattle to lose such a space.” While last year brought a fresh round of financial challenges between decreased attendance and heightened insurance costs, Ramsey and Ramsammy reopened the venue with a new focus on adding dance music events through Ramsammy’s Vivid Events. Those more profitable dance nights helped get Racer back in the black and financially supported some of the more community-oriented shows.

With its nonprofit exploration underway, Cafe Racer becomes the latest Seattle music venue to seek an alternative model as smaller music clubs are grappling with new economic realities after the pandemic. A group of Conor Byrne Pub employees are working to reopen the classic Ballard haunt, which closed in March, as a cooperatively run venue supported by a membership program.

Last year, organizers of Freakout Festival announced plans to establish the psychedelic-leaning music festival and its sibling record label as a nonprofit amid financial challenges.



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