Of course the most famous coffee shop on Broadway is Espresso Vivace, and for good reason. Its coffee is some of the best in the world. One of the the founders, David Schomer, has written books on the subjects of fine coffee roasting in the Northern Italian style, techniques for baristas, and latte art. Espresso Vivace is recognized around the world as a pioneer of fine coffees. It was started in 1988 and has been a vital part of the Capitol Hill community ever since.
A few years ago, as with so many things on the Hill, it was forced to move from its original location to make way for the new Capitol Hill. In this case, its picturesque and much loved Denny Way and Broadway location was torn down for the construction of the new light rail station at John and Broadway. Espresso Vivace found a new home in the new Brix building at Broadway East and Mercer Streets. The old space was so beautiful that a lot of people were skeptical the new home would be able to capture the spirit and love of the old location.
In the old days, sitting down with a wonderful espresso drink at one of the counter seats and peering out of the paned windows overlooking the old water reservoir was a wonderful experience. Now, not only is the building gone, but the reservoir has been capped and the park has been redesigned.
People loved the old location. It was in an old building with dark wood paned windows and tiled floors. The new space is in a brand new building with cement floors. The wall along the west side is a roll-up door that opens to the sidewalk and adds a great open-air atsmosphere to the place in warm weather. The new place may never capture the love of the old place, but it is still one of Capitol Hill’s best places to be. The old tables and chairs are there, along with a lot of the aesthetic of the dark wood and golden colors. It has been in its new space for a few years now and there has been a lot of good energy put into it, and its starting to get that “lived in” feeling, making the atmosphere very inviting.
Recognizing that a lot of its customers are there to work and study, there is plenty of seating, free WiFi, and wonderful pastries and snacks, both sweet and savory. They have even built a special quiet room for those who need a place to focus without the normal cafe chatter. It’s also quite nice to sit outside at one of the sidewalk tables and enjoy the wonderful pedestrian neighborhood.
There is always terrific art on the walls, including their own grand “An Italian in Algiers,” a commissioned work by Kurt Wenner. This magnificent oil painting depicts a scene from the opera “An Italian in Algiers” when coffee was introduced into Italy from Turkey. Some find it controversial for its depiction of slaves, but it was intended as a “sanctuary for the senses,” harkening to a time of history that is long gone from the modern world.
Espresso Vivace is about great coffee, which it roasts itself, and they have built a wonderful environment to sit and enjoy their fine-crafted flavors. But if you are in a rush, they have a permanent walk-up espresso stand on Broadway East between Harrison and Thomas streets. This has been there for years and years and is a fixture of Broadway, and of Capitol Hill. Even on the rainiest and coldest days, there is always a small line, which is a testament to how fabulous their coffee really is. They also have another location down the hill in the South Lake Union neighborhood across the street from REI’s flagship store.
The Broadway location is their primary location. I go there quite often and have been surprised how comfortable the new place has become and could easily spend the whole afternoon there. The staff is awesome and has great taste in music. Spend enough time there and you will see there are quite a few regulars who are there every day. You may notice a lot of writers and journalists too who find this an inspiring place to work. It’s also a great place to get to know a new friend or to fall in love. It’s truly a sanctuary for the senses and a terrific place to take a moment away from a busy urban life.
Something you won’t want to miss is the artwork around the lower part of their counter. It is a sort of illustrated history of Espresso Vivace, and is painted entirely with coffee. It’s quite spectacular!
Whether going there to work, read, or to meet friends, Espresso Vivace is a warm cozy place to be. Capitol Hill’s culture is very vibrant and inclusive of all the subcultures that find a home there. Espresso Vivace has been right in the center of Capitol Hill’s culture for the last 26 years. When you are there you are seeing the Capitol Hill coffee culture at its finest.
532 Broadway Ave East
Seattle WA 98102
Broadway Sidewalk Bar:
321 Broadway Avenue East
Seattle, WA 98102
South Lake Union:
227 Yale Ave N
Seattle, WA 98109
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