The First: Cafe Allegro

Cafe Allegro

“Begin at the beginning, and then go on until you come to the end”
-Lewis Carroll, from Alice in Wonderland

You might expect that the first stop for Seattle’s coffee shops would be Starbucks. It is emblematic of Seattle coffee culture, but it is not actually Seattle’s first coffee shop. There is a place that pre-dates the famous Starbucks coffeehouse, and even helped shaped what that chain later became.

Dave Olsen opened Café Allegro in 1975, the first espresso bar in Seattle. Tucked in an alley by the University of Washington, the ivy-covered building had at one time been a mortuary. In the early days an espresso was $.35, and a mocha was $.75. Allegro purchased espresso beans from Starbucks, which at that time was just a bean roaster and retailer.

When Starbucks decided to create espresso bars, they hired Dave Olsen to help develop Il Giornale’s. This Italian themed espresso bar had Italian menus, barista’s wearing bowties, and played opera.  This experiment later became the Starbucks that we know. Obviously there is more to that story, but that is for another post.

Now Café Allegro is trying to start in-house coffee roasting. The second floor will be the new home of the operation. Their website has a link to their Kickstarter page where you can donate to the project and see pictures of the space’s transformation, and the vintage Probat roaster that will soon call it home.

The freshly roasted beans will be used for their mostly simple menu of espresso drinks.  Allegro also offers loose-leaf tea, soda, and lemonade. A small army of Torino syrups stand by for flavored latte’s and mochas, if requested. I made use of these reserves for a Hazelnut latte. The Barista said Americanos and lattes were their most popular drinks, but I still like my coffee on the sweet side. They also offer a selection of pastries and sandwiches. The Marionberry scone is the only one I can vouch for. I’ve had it twice, and it is delicious.

Their space looks deceptively small, until you see a little doorway that leads to another room with more seating. Rotating art adorns the walls. Underneath glass tabletops are comics, drawings, and quotes. Allegro is often filled with people studiously typing away at their laptops making use of the free wifi.

This bustling café used to be a last stop for Seattle’s recently departed. Instead of preparing the dead for burial, it is now bringing the dead to life: caffeinating sleep-deprived college students, harried professors, and other patrons who find the doorway hidden in the alley between Magnus books and Mod Pizza.

If you have any stories of your experiences at Cafe Allegro, please post them below. I will be blogging next about coffee, community, and Bustle Caffe in Queen Anne.



Café Allegro
4214 University Way NE
Seattle, WA 98105

Monday-Friday 6:30am-10pm
Saturday 7:30am-10pm
Sunday 8am-10pm



6 thoughts on “The First: Cafe Allegro

    • They actually mention it on their website. The building was few other things at different times, but that was definitely the most memorable.

  1. Cafe Allegro was my favorite coffee shop when I was in college. It’s way better than the Tully’s garbage they sell on campus, and the atmosphere was awesome.

    • They do have a great atmosphere. It is hard not to like a place that feels like a secret hidden in that alleyway.

  2. I sat a few feet down from where that man in the photo is sitting a few days after my Mom died on Pearl Harbor Day in 2006. She was born on Memorial Day in 1921. The Lord sent three sparrows to walk around by my feet and even to jump up on the bench next to me to comfort me…I could only sit there holding a latte and look down at the pavement or directly ahead at the cars parked in my grief. The birds that day were a true comfort to me. Thanks for writing about this spot. And now I am crying.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s