By Jess Szabo

The Tramontane Cafe, known affectionately as “The Tram” offers a place for everyone. Hang out there, and you might hear poetry, comedy, smooth jazz, death metal, Christian music, country, folk, blues, or classic rock. Stop in for lunch and you could meet a local artist, a parent with small children, someone new to town, someone in recovery who needs to avoid alcohol or the bar scene, or somebody who fits all of the above.

Lately, The Tram has been missed by all of those who spent time there over the past ten years. For the past several months, it has been closed to allow owners Robin Raabe and Garrett Ingraham to work on needed renovations. 

A portion of those renovations will be funded by the support of those who know and love the Tram through a GoFundMe campaign. 

“The campaign is only for exterior work,” Raabe explained. “Garrett and I are already working on the inside.” 

Raabe noted that the exterior work will begin with the projects most important for customers. 

“The first area will be the front, the area facing Lincoln Avenue,” she said. “The first repair will be to the ramp. That ramp is thirteen years old, and people have jumped over it and hung on it.” 

Raabe added that once the ramp was renovated, repairs and improvements would be made to doors, lighting, and other pieces of the building’s exterior. 

“We are going to do some siding work,” she said. “Some tiles are coming off, and we have to fix that for property insurance.” 

Once the basic repairs are complete, Raabe and Ingraham hope to add further projects that increase the buildings curb appeal, and add to the inviting, energetic atmosphere of The Tram. 

“Garrett has always wanted to do a mural,” Raabe says. “He has a mural idea for the wall facing the parking lot. We are also thinking about having something interchangeable on the outside.” 

Contributors to the GoFundMe campaign will be helping the building’s outside match the inside, a cozy, colorful space reminiscent of bohemian cafes from decades past.

Raabe noted that while there are repairs and improvements going on inside, the decor and atmosphere will remain the same. 

“The inside will mostly look the same,” she said. “We’re doing some fixing up, giving it a couple of fresh coats of paint. What I like most about the Tram is that it’s a reflection of the people around us.” 

The people who spend time at the Tram have been drawn there by its artsy, welcoming atmosphere since before it was even “The Tram.” 

Raabe and Ingraham first opened “VirgoBat and LeoPhrog’s,” in March of 1999. In January 2001, their business had grown so large, they needed to move into a larger space. When that business closed in 2003, the couple/business partners decided to take a break from the coffeehouse business. But their patrons never forgot them, and when Raabe and Ingraham found the opportunity to open another cafe in January of 2008, the Tramontane Cafe became the new hangout for the old VBLP’s crowd. 

The Tram featured even more food, art, and atmosphere than the previous cafe, bringing even more people to its doors. 

One of the Tram’s first features was the now traditional Sunday night open mic series. The Sunday night open mic is open to any performing artist, but is known for showcasing Utica’s musical talent. Performers can sign up for one scheduled fifteen minute slot each Sunday night. 

Each year, the open mic is given a different name. It began in 2008 with “Uncle Zimmy’s Open Mic Sideshow” and carried on until 2018’s “The Infamous Your Name Here Open Mic Nite!” In 2011, a Thursday night spoken word open mic was added. 

The 2019 Sunday Open Mic Night has not yet been named, but many people are eagerly awaiting its arrival, as those whose lives The Tram has touched look forward to the late Spring 2019 reopening. The cafe has become a regular hangout for many people in the Utica area, and for many, it is so much more. 

“The Tram is the nucleation point in the Utica area for all the kinds of arts that can’t exist in a regular bar-bar, comedy, poetry, drag shows, performance art, music by people too young to go to bar, music by people for whatever reason shouldn’t be around alcohol, minority voices, LGBT voices. The weird arts, the fringe arts, a place for more than just the same six classic rock and country cover bands that have been around for the last forty years,” said Utica Poet Mike Cecconi. “Where there is a Tram, there’s a place where all those alternate voices and modes can grow and shine! I’m most looking forward to having a community living room again, to having a place to share art and the camaraderie of artists with on a regular basis again. I also look forward to good strong coffee again.” 

Singer-Songwriter Lou Santacroce credits the Tram for helping his current album, The Man in the Rainbow Suspenders take shape. 

“Robin and Garrett have created a place that is more than a coffehouse,” he said. “ It wouldn’t be what it is without them. It is a place where diversity is welcomed and celebrated. For me, the Tram’s open mic nights provided  a place where my music was able to take shape and grow.”

Anyone who would like to donate to the Tramontane Cafe’s Exterior Spring Spruce Up can visit www.gofundme.com/tramontane-cafe-spring-spruce-up-2018 or search for “Tramontane Cafe” on the Go Fund Me main page at www.gofundme.com.

For an extended version of this article, visit www.uticalifeinthearts.com and click on “Insights and Resources.”

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