Petrolhead Café Seeks To Attract Riders, Seduce Racing Fans

HARTFORD – The line of five motorcycles parked outside of Petrolhead Café early Saturday afternoon made a subtle statement by the badges on their gas tanks. There were four Triumph models – a Trophy, a Street Twin, a Thruxton and a Bonneville – and a lone Harley-Davidson Sportster variant. A short while later, the café’s owner, Kyle Mayer, perhaps provided an explanation for that lineup of bikes.

“This is not a biker bar by any means. This is a bar for bikers, but it’s not a biker bar,” said Mayer on the day that Petrolhead Café marked its grand opening. It had only received a provisional liquor license from the state the day before.

To call Petrolhead Café a bar is misleading, though. It is truly an amalgam – part coffee house, part BBQ joint, part sports bar catering to racing fans who enjoy seeing both motorcycles and cars going fast around a circuit, and part arcade.

A West Hartford native and former science teacher, Mayer softly launched Petrolhead Café in the Parkville neighborhood (on Bartholomew Avenue just off of Park Street and across the street from Parkville Market) in early March, realizing the fruition of a nine-year dream.

Petrolhead Café owner Kyle Mayer

Mayer explained that “2015 is when the idea really started,” unless you go back further in time to when he began riding. He was 22 years old in 2011 and was living in Chicago when he got a 50cc scooter. Within a year, he had traded up to a Yamaha FZ6 that he still owns (despite having crashed it once) as well as a Honda CBR300 that he uses for track days.

In 2014, he attended a Moto GP race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway which kickstarted his interest in track days and helped spur his move back to Connecticut in 2017. “It just never felt like home,” he said of Chicago while chatting with RIDE-CT at a table in a corner of the café’s mezzanine lounge. “It doesn’t get as cold here.”

Getting back to Petrolhead Café, Mayer’s goal in starting the business is “to grow the motorcycle community, to introduce people to motorsports.” Big-screen TVs screen racing of all sorts; from Moto GP to Formula 1. “i definitely lean heavily to the motorcycles. They’re a little more communal, a little more passionate than the car enthusiasts.”

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 and worked out most of the the kinks, Petrolhead Café is still a work in progress. “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.

Photo by Robin Denny

Petrolhead Café may open at 8 a.m. but it’s 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.

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, he received a B.A. degree journalism from Ohio Wesleyan University in 1975. 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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