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.
I went to the Owl & Monkey every night along with a regular cafe crowd of writers, during the period 1976-1979. Poet Steve Brooks and novelist Eric Maisel wrote there regularly, and many others. They had live entertainment on the weekends and it was THE place to be for a period of years under Ross and Maya, the first owners. True magic. I wish there were photos. I bought a poster of Gary Hauser’s beautiful reverse photograph pen and ink of Virginia Woolf, on the wall in the back. He is still creating art all this time later. I am glad you found value in the experience as we did.
Thanks so much for sharing your memories! The Owl & Monkey was such a special place.
Were Ross and Maya the only owners of the Owl and the Monkey?
I don’t know. For all the time I spent in there, I’m not sure I ever met them.
No, the owners for 18 years were Kathleen & Gene Fetter.
Thanks for posting this. I co-ran (with Darryl Blecher) the weekly poetry reading series at the Owl & Monkey, on the eastside of 9th Ave in the Inner Sunset District, between 1975 – 1977, and, as well, worked behind the counter part time making salads, sandwiches and espressos. I was a student at SFSU then, living in a tiny studio at the corner of Steiner & Waller, near the Duboce Triangle. Fond memories.
I loved that place. It’s still very much missed. Thanks for sharing your memories!
Owl and the monkey was the place where I met my future husband Fred Reeves. He used to hang out there I think e dry day. When I walked in one day , I think it was about 1975 or 76 and he was sitting there writing something in calligraphy I took a one look at him and I was in love . I knew the owners but I did not come to this place very often. I had a clothing store around the corner called Luba Designs. Anyway , Fred and I have been married for over 30 years. He passed away in 2026 looking for dolphins on Maui. He always loved dolphins .,was going to write a book about them . But in the end it was the dolphins that took him away . I am just wondering if anyone still remembers Fred.
Passed away in 2016 ( could not correct the Text )
Thank you for sharing your memories. I don’t think I ever met Fred, but hopefully someone else will remember him and speak up. Good luck!
My pleasure, Steve! Enjoy your visit to San Francisco.