Writing in Cafes: Writing Solo

Rhoads_coffeepen_2516Going 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.

About Loren Rhoads

I'm the author of 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die and Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel, as well as a space opera trilogy. I'm also co-author of a series about a succubus and her angel. In addition to blogging at CemeteryTravel.com, I blog about my morbid life at lorenrhoads.com.
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11 Responses to Writing in Cafes: Writing Solo

  1. 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.

  2. Cliff Eisner says:

    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.


  3. Luba Reeves says:

    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.

    • Luba Reeves says:

      Passed away in 2016 ( could not correct the Text )

      • Loren Rhoads says:

        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!

  4. Thank you for sharing, Loren

    My pleasure, Steve! Enjoy your visit to San Francisco.

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