Volunteer Park Cafe

A bit of a controversy has swelled in the north part of Capitol Hill, and it touches on discussions many of us are having how to continue Capitol Hill’s recent success in fostering local, successful business enterprises. At the center of this tempest in a teapot is the rather demure looking Volunteer Park Cafe, at the corner of Galer and 17th Avenue East. As I live both three blocks to the south and east of the Cafe,  I am not perhaps as sensitive to the specificities that negatively impact the quality of life as I would be if I lived in the immediate vicinity; therefore, I will speak only as distant observer and patron of the cafe, not as a neighbor who has a more intimate relationship with the establishment. The specificities of the dispute can be found at www.capitolhillseattle.com, should one care to learn more. What strikes me as curious about the lack of support for the cafe amongst some of its neighbors is that first off, this restaurant not only serves delicious and original cuisine, but it has the neighborhood ambiance that seemingly any resident of Capitol Hill (or Seattle) would crave. After all, chance, public social interaction and the walkability it supports are among the main reasons most of us choose to live here in the first place. And the cafe, tucked in the northern reaches of Capitol Hill, it a relatively remote stage upon which we can perform with our fellows, making it an even more valuable neighborhood asset. One needs to travel south to 19th and Aloha until one finds a similar gathering place (about a ten minute walk). Not far by most standards, but compared to the the environs around 15th Avenue, Broadway, and Pike Pine, the cafe is one of the last outposts of commercial, homegrown activity (as one travels north) until reaching the intersection of Roanoke and 10th Avenue East. Nonetheless, these positive attributes of neighbors and visitors gathering, delectable food, and in these times, a thriving business seems to be lost on some.

As witnessed in the photos, taken on a sunny Saturday in September, the patrons of the cafe are a reasonable facsimile of typical Capitol Hill, single-family-home residents. A healthy mix of younger and older, women and men, some with canine companions. All quiet, all well behave, and all doing their part to bolster not only a local business, but sociability and good cheer. My own slice of the Hill has similar institutions, providing similar ambiance. I live bookended by two private schools, a  very poplar restaurant (Vios), and a well patronized coffee shop (Tully’s), I know first had the impacts of traffic and (relatively) noisy and crowded sidewalks have. An inconvenience at times, but one that is easily overlooked for the vitality and diversity it brings. True, summer does provide a welcome respite when the students of St Joe’s and Holy Names are away on break and the long line of cars dropping them off for school subsides, but on balance the influx of students and patrons of the aforementioned establishments bring is on balance but a great thing. Extra eyes on the street and the benefits of financially healthy business have on the stewardship of the neighborhood negate any personal inconvenience I may periodically suffer. True, this recipe was prepared will in advance of my arrival to the Hill in 2003, and did not manifest itself seemingly overnight as no doubt the great (and recent) success of the Volunteer Park Cafe. Disruptive success, doubtlessly, to some and hence wherein the controversy lies. Should the cafe detractors care to look more closely and the situation, they may find things have indeed not changed that much at all. They may even see themselves in the patrons of the cafe, albeit in a slightly higher concentrations. A somewhat affluent neighborhood, these same detractors may also see the cafes owners as successful entrepreneurs, mirroring their own travails. Th  ey may also see their neighbors’ daughter affectionally embracing her dog while patiently waiting for her family to rejoin her after a wholesome breakfast, and just maybe on their way for a visit and for their child to to play with their own. For long time residents, change can be hard to adjust to. But change developed from within and nurtured by those who already there, may be seen as no change at all, but merely a manifestation of what was already there.