It's the end for the Last Exit

The University of Washington announces that it will demolish the site of a fabled Seattle coffee house. Correction appended
The Last Exit coffeehouse in Seattle's University District, date unknown. (Seattle Wiki)

The Last Exit coffeehouse in Seattle's University District, date unknown. (Seattle Wiki) None

Editor's note: This story is incorrect. The University of Washington says it is not demolishing the site of the old Last Exit coffeehouse – for now, at least. Here's an update correcting the record.


Maybe it's appropriate the same week Walt Crowley died. Or maybe it's something in the air. But the University of Washington has sent out a press release announcing that it is vacating and will tear down the wonderful old Brooklyn Building on Northeast 41st Street and Brooklyn Avenue Northeast in the University District. The building was home to one of Seattle's legendary 1960s coffeehouses, The Last Exit on Brooklyn, which moved from the location years ago and eventually folded.

The Brooklyn currently houses mostly staff members of the UW's Human Resources Department. They are being moved to another location, starting tomorrow. The press release says the building "is worn out" and that its planners have concluded that "repairs aren't financially worthwhile." The building may be demolished as soon as early next year, though they say there has been no decision on what to do with the site. The UW is also looking to demolish a number of small, older houses it owns in the neighborhood.

The Last Exit was one of Seattle's great '60s landmarks, a gathering place for UW students, radicals, poets, nut jobs, chess masters, teens, intellectuals, workers, musicians, artists, beatniks, and hippies. It was located just off The Ave, the tumultuous center of campus politics. A great description of The Last Exit scene can be found at Seattle Wiki.

In the '60s and '70s, The Last Exit was a haven for the city's weirdos when weirdos were still in a distinct minority in Seattle. It served espresso before almost any place else and kept poor students alive with dirt-cheap, mile-high peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Somewhere in my storage unit, I have one of their signature battered tin teapots.

As a teen in the late '60s, I found The Last Exit to be a great all-ages hangout – a kind of Blue Moon without the beer. I remember the din, the open-mike music, cigarette smoke, impromptu poetry readings, the arguments of lefties, libertarians, crackpots, and cultists. You could hear the rhythm and roar of the counterculture as it lived and breathed.

The era is gone. Now a wonderful reminder of those times – a brick building imbued with the spirit of those times for those who remember – is about to go, too.

Note: The memorial service for Walt Crowley is slated for Tuesday, Oct. 2, 4-6 p.m. at the Museum of History and Industry in the Montlake neighborhood.


Editor's note: This story is incorrect. The University of Washington says it is not demolishing the site of the old Last Exit coffeehouse – for now, at least. Here's an update correcting the record.

Knute Berger is Mossback, Crosscut's chief Northwest native. He also writes the monthly Grey Matters column for Seattle magazine and is a weekly Friday guest on Weekday on KUOW-FM (94.9). His newest book is Pugetopolis: A Mossback Takes On Growth Addicts, Weather Wimps, and the Myth of Seattle Nice, published by Sasquatch Books. In 2011, he was named Writer-in-Residence at the Space Needle and is author of Space Needle, The Spirit of Seattle (2012), the official 50th anniversary history of the tower. You can e-mail him at mossback@crosscut.com.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Sep 27, 11:15 a.m. Inappropriate

I remember it well: Yes, the Last Exit was a great place, and often visited by we grad strudents and young faculty who had to traipse way down to the then only computer center on Pacific. It would be interesting to have a recollection of what was on the Avein the 1960s. The first coffeehouse, one of the earliest in the country maybe, was the Eiger on the ave between 41 and 43, probably 1959 started.

DMorrill

Posted Thu, Sep 27, 3:29 p.m. Inappropriate

The End: I was a regular there in the summer of 92. It never was quite the same after it moved. I blame the LAst Exit for the espresso fiend I am today and miss playing chess and cribbage long int o the evening.

jchulley

Posted Thu, Sep 27, 7:11 p.m. Inappropriate

U-District Coffee Houses: A guilty pleasure of mine was a mint mocha at the Last Exit, but I developed a true coffeehouse addiction at the Allegro.

Located on the Alley near the Magus used Bookstore, one block down from the Bookstore it is a secret like that you might find on Post Alley or a lower floor of the Market - and perhaps more genuine. As I understand it Dave Olson, the original Marketing Veep at Starbucks was once the owner.

I do trust it is still there, it's been awhile though...

-Douglas Tooley
Lincoln District, Tacoma

Posted Fri, Sep 28, 3:50 a.m. Inappropriate

What a fabulous place it was...: Thanks for the great article on a much missed place. I used to play chess, write, study, paint & draw, and practically live at the Last Exit in college. For under $5 you could get a huge chef salad or sandwich, pot of tea or coffee, and hang out for hours on end. Each Monday night brought in tons of local musicians, poets, and eccentric characters to perform for open mic. What a thriving scene it was, with people from the theater, dancers, musicians, writers, students, intellectuals, hippies, etc. The owner was a very nice man, and all the staff were too. Unfortunately bogus rumours spread about the Last Exit staff caused it to be shutdown by the UW, who only wanted to take its parking lot and mothball the building. What a terrible loss...

Posted Fri, Sep 28, 10:56 a.m. Inappropriate

No. Oh, no...not the Last Exit, too.: Are they determined to erase every last vestige of Seattle's heart and soul, wipe out every trace of what our city has stood for and represented? Are they determined to turn our Emerald City into just another McCity--home of the rich and bland?

This is especially sad news, coming as it does just days after the passing away of our beloved Walt Crowley.
MaryW

Posted Fri, Sep 28, 2:21 p.m. Inappropriate

A sober alternative to the Blue Moon: I was mostly hanging out at the Blue Moon in those days, but one time I was visited by the late Max Scherr, publisher of the Berkeley Barb, and he practically lived at the Last Exit. I got a taste of what coffeehouse life was like and enjoyed it quite a bit. Notice, hanging out at a coffeehouse was a lot different in those days from what happens at Starbuck's and Tully's. For one thing, people mingled with each other, rather than staring at their laptop for hours on end.

DavidT

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