By Kseniya Sovenko – UW News Lab/Special for CHS – With additional photography by Bryan Anton
It’s a rule. People can’t attend their own wake. But, on Sunday night, Jojo Corväiá, owner and creator of Arabica Lounge, defied nature.
Though Corväiá is alive and well, Arabica is not. After five years of catering to creative minds, intellectuals, coffee addicts and curious foodies, the beloved cafe served its last Arabica croques, omelettes au fromage and brülée cappuccinos Sunday.
Arabica’s public funeral party began that night. Lit mostly by candlelight, the cafe was eerily dim but crowded. As he entered, Corväiá was greeted by the applause of nearly 60 people, all of whom followed the strict dress and make-up code: all black with a black tear painted on their cheeks. The mood was bittersweet as loyal customers and friends exchanged long hugs and loud laughs with Corväiá. Over the course of the night, more than 160 people shuffled in and out to say their goodbyes.
“I really do feel like the atmosphere curated here will be lost on the hill,” said local musician and graphic designer Reed Juenger. “Some people might not consider it a tragic loss, but it definitely doesn’t exist anywhere else.”
Inspired by coffee and nostalgic for a favorite restaurant in his hometown of Caracas, Venezuela, Corväiá opened Arabica in 2009 to share his fascination for world cultures and travel. An architect by trade, he tore down all remnants of the preceding Supercuts in order to create a new aesthetic from the ground up. Striving to establish a hub for all kinds of artists, Corväiá focused on decorating the space with avant-garde visual art, good music and worldly flavors, including baked goods from 20 countries.
“Arabica is Jojo,” said Corväiá. “It’s Jojo because it’s an extension of my home — the things I bring when I travel, my personal art collection. I water the plants and I’m the only one who cleans the bathrooms. It’s very unlikely that you will know Arabica without knowing me.”
For the last year and half, Corväiá says he has struggled to maintain a good working relationship with the landlord of the building. With layers of graffiti covering the building walls and empty businesses next door, Corväiá says he was not stimulated to move forward.
Though he is proud of the contribution Arabica has made to Capitol Hill culture, Corväiá is excited to pursue new artistic interests, including two-dimensional art and experimentation with porcelain, in Berlin. He plans to leave Seattle in March.
“It’s such an international city and it just called my name,” he said. “Every time I go, I hear French, Turkish, Spanish, German, and it makes me feel alive. I want to be mixed into that.”
With no indication of what, if anything, will replace the formerly thriving Arabica, customers are at a loss of where to catch the unusual, interactive-arts flair of the cafe.
“I am celebrating the end of this beautiful arts and community space,” said fiction writer Tominda Adkins, who drew black tears onto the faces of funeral-goers. “I’m sad to see it go, but I’m glad that it’s because Jojo is moving on to something exciting.”