“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.
4214 University Way NE
Seattle, WA 98105