Going alone to a cafe to write was huge for me. I was self-conscious about sitting by myself. I judged myself harshly: what was wrong with me that I didn’t have any friends to eat with? What was I doing alone with my notebook? Did I think I was a writer?
It took me a while to realize that no one cared. I could write whatever I liked in public and — unless my face flushed — no one would pay any attention.
The Owl and Monkey was a wonderful funky old place with oak-topped tables and a scuffed hardwood floor. They served salad in a mixing bowl — unusual back then — and their house poppyseed dressing was luscious. They had a lovely little garden (also rare in San Francisco in those days), where hummingbirds sometimes visited the fuschias.
I was fascinated by an older guy (probably not much older than I am now) who used to colonize the table in the window at the front of the cafe. He’d always come in wearing a suitcoat and a white button-down shirt. I assumed he was a professor grading papers, but then I heard the cafe kids talking one day. He was Robert Graysmith, author of Zodiac.
I hadn’t read Graysmith’s book yet, but I took pleasure in writing in a place where a “real” writer chose to work. His presence inspired me.
The cafe rattled every time the N-Judah streetcar rumbled by, but it was a nice walk from my apartment in the Haight. I continued to write there after I moved out to 23rd Avenue, even though getting to the Inner Sunset turned out to be more of a hike.
I loved the Owl and Monkey, because it was quiet…maybe too quiet. The owners cashed out and the cafe became Einstein’s, then Cafe Gratitude, then a number of other things. Now it’s the Craw Station. I got excited while researching the cafe, trying to find out when its first iteration closed. Mytravelguide.com lists a resurrected Owl and Monkey out on Kirkham Street, but when I drove by, it’s only a house. Wherever the website got their information, it’s wrong.
I’ll always be grateful to the Owl and Monkey Cafe for being a safe place for me to sit alone and write.