Early this year, Lisa Sandoval — who goes by Vera Violet — was having coffee on the hill but felt like a hearty sandwich. She decided to go to Scratch Deli. When she got to the door, she learned, to her surprise, that it was closed. “So I ran down to Bergman’s [Lock & Key] next door, and I’m like: What happened?”
It turned out that the beloved 12th Ave. sandwich shop had shuttered for good in December after six years on the Hill.
Now, Sandoval is renting the over 100-years-old house herself. Mid-March, during the Capitol Hill Art Walk, she and Capitol Hill fixture Ferdous Ahmed reopened Scratch Deli as Capitol Hill Vaudeville, a DIY vintage market, and cafe.
Stepping into Vaudeville is going back in time. A vintage record player leaks some soft jazz. The rainbow of collected clothing on the racks, by the formerly online-only vintage clothing boutique Sleepover mostly hails from the seventies, eighties and nineties, and early aughts. Vintage cameras and spines of second-hand books face visitors from the bookcase. Ahmed has turned the back room into a cabinet of curiosities such as wigs, cameras, masks, and antiques from decades ago.
Capitol Hill Vaudeville is partly a resurrection of Ahmed’s life’s work, the eponymous vintage clothing and curiosity shop he ran on E Olive Way until 2012. In the years after, Capitol Hill Vaudeville was a staple of local markets at Fremont Solstice, Pride, Punk Rock Flea Market, and the Capitol Hill Block Party. Ahmed — who has lived on the Hill for nearly 40 years — later sold from his 1977 Airstream trailer-turned-vintage shop until it was stolen. At the former Scratch Deli, his collection of oddities and have to haves now gets a new home.
If Vaudeville feels like the Capitol Hill of yore, that’s the intention.
“We wanted to bring the old Capitol Hill image of this area,” Ahmed says. “Can we try to preserve it? Because it’s kind of disappearing. This kind of subculture existed pretty vigorously before it has been disappearing slowly. We wanted to do something.”
The small businesses they’re partnering with all know a thing or two about disappearing. Sureshot Espresso, a ‘dive’ coffee shop in the University District that closed last month, donated their pastry case to Vaudeville and will supply pastries when Vaudeville’s coffee shop opens in a few weeks. The now-shuttered funky Row House Cafe in South Lake Union sold them tables, chairs, and vintage neon signs at a generous price. Online boutique record shop Looters Records, which had to close its physical location, is one of the shop’s main vendors.
Others just help out because they want to support it. Clothing shop Yazdi, in Wallingford Center, donated clothes racks. Caffé Vita is lending them an espresso machine (the beans served at Vaudeville will come from Vita as well).
“It’s really great, there’s a lot of support from a lot of people, people donating time and expertise,” Sandoval says.
Sandoval says they hope to open the cafe in the next weeks, depending on when the license comes through. For now, they have a one-year lease with the option of another year, as the owner plans to sell the building (the rest of the block is set for new mixed-use development).
“I would love to buy it myself,” Sandoval says. “But we’ll have to get more investors together.”
In the meantime, Sandoval and Ahmed will focus on getting more vendors into their space, including a flower and plant seller. They’re also planning to host more performances with the next one, by local band Chanel Beads, scheduled for April 11th, a summer vintage market on the patio, and perhaps a Punk Rock Flea Market pop-up. Ideally, they will also introduce sandwiches to the menu, as well as comedy performance nights.
That, they say, would be a fitting tribute to comedian Tristan Devin of the People’s Republic of Koffee. Devin died shortly after starting a partnership with Scratch Deli in 2012.
“It’s kind of nice to have some like this still going,” Sandoval says. “It wasn’t planned, but so it turns out. Like, in the spirit of him — he was sort of nonconformist and anti-establishment.”
“So we’re kind of carrying the torch,” Ahmed says.
Capitol Hill Vaudeville and Café, 1718 12th Ave, is open Tuesday-Sunday from 12:00 PM – 10:00 PM.
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