Petrolhead Café Seeks To Lure Racing Enthusiasts To Hartford

HARTFORD – There’s a significance to the stairway leading up to the mezzanine lounge at the new Petrolhead Café in the city’s Parkville neighborhood. It displays a black and white checkerboard pattern. Here’s a clue. The stairs are just beyond the racing simulators that are inside the entrance.

Figured it out yet? The painted stairs are meant to resemble the checkered flag that gets waved for the winner in the world of racing. That’s because Petrolhead Café owner Kyle Mayer is crafting an establishment that celebrates racing – from Moto GP to Formula 1. And he wants to lure car and motorcycle enthusiasts.

Photo by Robin Denny

OK, maybe his passion leans more towards motorcycles, but he’s come up with a business plan that welcomes everyone. “I cater to the motorsports enthusiast, but I also have to appeal to the general public,” said Mayer when RIDE-CT visited on Saturday, which happened to be the day Petrolhead Café marked its grand opening.

Petrolhead Café owner Kyle Mayer

It’s hard to describe Petrolhead Café because of its diverse approach. It’s part coffee house, part BBQ joint, part sports bar for racing fans who enjoy seeing both motorcycles and cars going fast around a circuit, and part arcade.

Mayer’s goal is “to introduce people to motorsports.” He got the idea nine years ago, a year after going to a Moto GP event at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The 35-year-old West Hartford native was living in Chicago at the time, but moved back to Connecticut in 2017 and worked as a science teacher before quitting to chase his dream.

The café’s name was chosen because “it just felt natural.” In a bit of serendipity, Mayer discovered a craft coffee roaster in Worcester, MA called “Fuel” and is serving its blends. With Tuesday though Sunday hours that begin at 8 a.m., Petrolhead Café is a spot for coffee, pastry and breakfast sandwiches during the morning, and for brisket later on.

Having opened quietly in early March, it has worked out most of the the kinks. “The menu has been evolving,” Mayer said. “I really have to let the business evolve naturally and not force it into something.” 

During RIDE-CT’s visit, business was steady. The brisket was tasty and the BBQ sauce tangy. Patrons enjoyed using the racetrack simulators, but also enjoyed simply having a spot to convene with friends. It wasn’t until Friday that the café received its provisional liquor license.

While Petrolhead Café opens at 8 a.m., its closing hours are varied – 3 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, 8 p.m. Thursday, 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 6 p.m. Sunday. It’s located on Bartholomew Avenue just off of Park Street and across the street from Parkville Market.

(Unless otherwise noted, all photos are by Bud Wilkinson.)

About Bud Wilkinson

Bud Wilkinson writes the "RIDE-CT" motorcycle column and the "My Ride" classic car feature in the "Republican-American" newspaper in Waterbury, CT. A graduate of Vermont Academy prep school, he holds a B.A. degree journalism from Ohio Wesleyan University. He is the recipient of a Scripps Howard Foundation National Journalism Award in 1992 and a 1991-92 regional Emmy Award for commentary. He currently rides a 1987 BMW R 80 RT and a 2014 Triumph Bonneville and drives a 2010 Mazda MX-5 Miata.

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