The Last Exit on Brooklyn was a Seattle University District coffeehouse established in 1967 by Irv Cisski. It is known for its part in the history of Seattle's counterculture, for its pioneering role in establishing Seattle's coffee culture, and as a former chess venue frequented by several master players.
The Last Exit on Brooklyn opened on June 30, 1967 at 3930 Brooklyn Avenue NE near the University of Washington campus in a small light-industrial building leased from the University. It was one of the pioneer espresso bars in Seattle, adding an espresso machine shortly after Café Allegro opened the first in 1975. The Last Exit was known for its original espresso concoction named the Caffè Medici – "a doppio poured over chocolate syrup and orange peel with whipped cream on top". Described in 1985 as "America's second oldest, continuously running coffeehouse", it was also known for its inexpensive food and as a venue for folk music and bohemian conversation.
The Last Exit was also notable as a popular destination for Seattle's amateur and professional Go and chess players including Peter Biyiasas, Viktors Pupols, and Yasser Seirawan, who wrote of the venue, "Those first chess lessons soon led me to the legendary Last Exit on Brooklyn coffee house, a chess haven where an unlikely bunch of unusual people congregates to do battle." Interviewed by Sports Illustrated in 1981, Seirawan described the Last Exit as "Scrabble players, backgammon players, chess and game hustling ... This became my home. This was to become my family."
When interviewed by Mary Lasher of Chess Life in 1985, owner Irv Cisski said, "So what if games-people turn away business. They add flavor. Chess and Go are assets to a coffeehouse." The Last Exit was the subject of a 1987 retrospective in The Seattle Times in which Cisski described his intent to "create a haven where students and the benign crazies" were welcome and where "everyone felt equal and there were no sacred cows". It was later described by Seattle writer and journalist Knute Berger as
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 ... 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.
Cisski died on August 25, 1992. In 1993 the University repossessed the building occupied by the coffeehouse, and the Last Exit's new owners moved it to upper University Way. The Last Exit on Brooklyn closed in 2000. The space the original Last Exit once occupied now houses staff members from the University of Washington's Human Resources Department.
In popular culture
The Last Exit was included in Clark Humphrey's 2006 book of historical photographs Vanishing Seattle.
Descriptions of the interior and atmosphere of the Last Exit appear in Kristin Hannah's 2008 novel Firefly Lane, in David Guterson's 2008 novel The Other, and in Marjorie Kowalski Cole's 2012 The City Beneath the Snow: Stories.
- Humphrey, Clark (2006). Vanishing Seattle. Images of America. Arcadia Publishing. p. 40. ISBN 0-7385-4869-3.
- Crowley, Walt (1997). Rites of Passage: A Memoir of the Sixties in Seattle. University of Washington Press. p. 243. ISBN 0-295-97493-1.
- Peterson, David (December 21, 2009). "The development of coffeehouses in Seattle" in 1605 E. Olive Way: Seattle Historic Landmark Nomination Archived 2011-10-07 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved January 6, 2012.
- Bock, Paula (June 26, 1994). "Choice Of A Generation – Be Young. Have Fun. Make Lattes. – Coffee Break – Seattle's Baristas Pull Straight Shots On And Off The Job". The Seattle Times. Archived from the original on September 30, 2012. Retrieved January 6, 2012.
- "History". CafeAllegroMusic.com. Café Allegro. Archived from the original on March 15, 2012. Retrieved January 6, 2012.
- Connors, Brian. "The Coffeehouse Dictionary: A (Hopefully) Non-Partisan Guide to Coffee Talk". Archived from the original on December 24, 2013. Retrieved January 6, 2012.
- Lasher, Mary (1985). "Seattle's Last Exit – the Chess Coffeehouse". Chess Life. United States Chess Federation. 40.
- Remirez, Marc (March 16, 2003). "Go, go, go: Ancient game of strategy captures new generation of players". The Seattle Times. Archived from the original on September 30, 2012. Retrieved January 6, 2012.
- Burgess, Graham; Nunn, John. (2009). "Yasser Seirawan". The Mammoth Book of Chess. Running Press. p. 349. ISBN 0-7624-3726-X.
- Seirawan, Yasser (2003). Play Winning Chess. Everyman Chess. p. 135. ISBN 978-1-85744-331-8.
- Nack, William (December 21, 1980). "Yasser, That's My Baby". Sports Illustrated: 3. Archived from the original on November 3, 2012. Retrieved January 6, 2012.
- "Last Exit, many returns: 20 years and many fads later, laid back U District coffeehouse show no signs of slowing down". The Seattle Times. June 20, 1987. p. E1.
- Berger, Knute (September 27, 2007). "It's the end for the Last Exit". Crosscut.com. Archived from the original on November 30, 2011. Retrieved November 27, 2011. A premature obituary for the building that housed the Last Exit.
- Stevens, Jeff (June 23, 2013). "June 23, 1967: Last Exit on Brooklyn". The Seattle Star. Archived from the original on April 2, 2015. Retrieved February 28, 2015.
- Humphrey, Clark (2006). Vanishing Seattle. Images of America. Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 978-0738548692.
- Hannah, Kristin (2009). Firefly Lane (reprint ed.). Macmillan. pp. 112–115. ISBN 0-312-53707-7.
- Guterson, David (2008). The Other. Random House, Inc. pp. 106–107. ISBN 0-307-26315-0.
- Cole, Marjorie Kowalski (2012). "Rara Avis". The City Beneath the Snow: Stories. University of Alaska Press. pp. 195–196. ISBN 9781602231566.
- Hobbes, Laural; Geiger, Grace; Hart, Rachel (October 2010). "Coffee Land: Make your way through Seattle's magical caffeine history!". Seattle Magazine.
- McPeak, Vivian. "University District Museum Without Walls Oral History: Vivian McPeak". HistoryLink. Essay 9334.
- Last Exiteers, a gallery of portraits of Last Exit regulars by Seattle artist Eddie Ray Walker. (registration required)
- Remember these Seattle restaurants? (12 of 41), Seattle Post-Intelligencer (2014)