COVID Economy

Lost in space: After more than 40 years, the Saturn Cafe announces its permanent closure

The eccentric vegetarian cafe announces on Instagram that the pandemic has forced the closure of its Laurel Street location for good.

Another icon of counterculture Santa Cruz slipped into history this week when the Saturn Café announced that it would be closing its Laurel Street location for good.

In Instagram and Facebook posts, the Saturn, which had been closed on a temporary basis throughout much of the pandemic, announced its permanent closure, though only at its current location.

The post gave some hope to long-time Saturnalians by stating “we do not believe this to be the end of the road for our love affair with Santa Cruz.”

Saturn’s owners said they are searching for a new location and a “local partner or two” to reopen in some other incarnation.

The posts pointed to the obvious culprit in the closing of one of Santa Cruz’s most idiosyncratic and personality-driven restaurants. Citing that the Saturn had survived fires, earthquakes, and floods, “nothing has ever brought us to our knees like this pandemic.”

The Saturn originally opened in 1979 with a cosmic theme and planetary interior décor. It quickly became a mainstay with the university crowd from its perch on Mission Street.

Known for its notorious dessert Chocolate Madness, and its vegetarian-friendly menu, the café was originally owned by Don Lane, who later served on the Santa Cruz City Council, including three stints as mayor.

After 20 years on Mission Street, the Saturn, under new ownership moved to its Laurel Street location in downtown Santa Cruz. Downtown, it retained its menu and most of its eccentricity, including the glass table tops under which was all kinds of pop-culture ephemera. For much of its long stint in Santa Cruz, the Saturn was open 24 hours a day.

The Saturn Café is not, however, an exclusively Santa Cruz phenomenon. The franchise expanded to Berkeley and later Los Angeles. The Berkeley café closed in 2019. But the Southland restaurant is still open, snug between Pasadena and Glendale, which for many in Santa Cruz is about as far away, geographically and culturally, as Saturn itself.