March brings the sixth anniversary of E Olive’s Faire Cafe and Art Gallery. Owner Elishiba “Liz” Johnson opened Faire with the goal of creating a space where artists, musicians, and performers could mix and experiment and she’s stuck to that goal despite a changing neighborhood. A few tweaks along the way have helped make it work.
“I wanted to be on the Hill,” Johnson said. “I felt like that was really important, because I thought there was enough of an arts community- enough people that there would be foot traffic. I live in West Seattle right now, and it just wouldn’t work. There’s not enough foot traffic, and there are more families. I was always hell-bent on this neighborhood.”
Johnson had an arts-driven purpose in mind for the space. “I wanted to be able to make an impact on the arts community. I wanted people to have a space to show art…I’d just graduated from art school. I felt it could be a multi-use space where people could do music and plays and that type of thing. I think that we’ve been fulfilling that mission”
The central goal has been consistent, but along the way there have been many adjustments. In the beginning, Faire offered sandwiches, beer, and wine, as well as espresso drinks (including their signature Nutella mocha). But in 2010, Johnson shifted Faire’s focus and applied for a liquor license. It’s been a real boon to business. “You’d be surprised how many people only drink hard liquor,” she said. It made a huge difference.”
“We consider ourselves an art bar. I think what sets us apart from other coffee shops is that we have a full bar,” continued Johnson. “And what sets us apart from other art bars would be that we have a huge music and experimentation component. We have improv, theater, we have poetry readings…I think that we’re not just a visual art space, but really an art community.”
Dealing with the recession has forced Johnson to reconsider some of her initial offerings. “When we first opened I could sell twenty dollar bottles of wine, and people would buy ten dollar beers. Now people are less likely to buy that, so we changed our product to reflect what our client base wants…It’s been a huge learning experience.”
Another struggle according to Johnson is that the art scene on the Hill has changed. As she sees it, the increases in the cost of living on Capitol Hill has led to a decline of the art scene.
“The more mom and pop homey art stuff has gone more to the wayside, and more up-market [spaces] have come into this neighborhood,” she said. “I mean, when we first opened in 2006 it was more of an underground arts community, and a lot of people started moving to Ballard, or Georgetown, or something like that.” Johnson said she thinks Capitol Hill will always be a place people come to party even as rents have continued to rise.
The more expensive environment hasn’t deterred Liz from sticking to her mission.
“Every Sunday we have live jazz, and it rotates monthly. The first Sunday of the month we have Monktail Creative Concern, which is free jazz, and the second Sunday we have more traditional straight ahead jazz. So those people are once a month, but every Sunday there is live jazz here, which we’ve had for pretty much six years. That will never change. It’s a lot of fun. We have comedy every Wednesday… so everybody can come and experiment, try out a set. The last Monday of the month we have a poetry open mic called Cup of Flow, and that is a lot of fun…We have monthly art openings, and the first Monday of the month we have classical music. There’s a lot.”
According to Johnson, what keeps regulars coming back is a sense of belonging. “I really wanted this feeling of community. Everybody who becomes a regular feels like they are a part of that community.”
Within the next five years Johnson has her eye on expanding the business. But in the short term, she has other goals.
“I want to start doing more cross-promotional shows with other galleries, and doing bigger group shows…creating a theme and then getting artists to come in and work within that theme,” she said. “We’d like to get a digital projector and show movies. We have a lot of ideas.”