SLOW & STEADY: Earl the Turtle, Prized Jewel of Racy D’lenes Coffee Lounge

keepin’ it cool and classy, Earl is the muse of just about every Racy’s patron. We get why.

author & photos by McKenna Scherer

CAREFUL, HE'S A CHARMER. Earl the turtle has called Racy D'lenes home since 2015, and true Eau Claire coffee lovers will know the famous lad. If not, you're missing out.
CAREFUL, HE'S A CHARMER. Earl the turtle has called Racy D'lenes home since 2015, and true Eau Claire coffee lovers will know the famous lad. If not, you're missing out.

An OG of downtown Eau Claire, Racy D’lenes Coffee Lounge is arguably best known for its atmosphere, but true regulars are likely to think of Earl first and foremost. Yes, Earl the Turtle, who has resided in the coffee shop since about 2015, is as much a part of Racy’s draw as the exposed brick walls, ’90s-era blue-tiled countertop, and vintage seating.

Centered between lush velour and floral couches lays Earl’s throne: his lounging rock, bathed under two spotlights peering down into his tank. If Earl isn’t practicing slow and sure yoga poses or swimming down and over to the glass to look out at patrons, he’s probably doing stretches on his throne. 

Earl isn’t just anchored to his tank, though. You’ll find portraits of him around the shop, including a colorful drawing near the register and a gritty, cool-guy portrait of him seated to the right of his tank – “Earl” patch and all. 

Though Earl has not done well living with roommates – hey, been there, done that – he seems to enjoy hanging out with his human companions, whether they are the Racy’s staff, regulars, or kids pressing up against his tank. “He connects with kids,” said Josh Treankler, who manages Racy’s. “Every kid that comes in here immediately goes to Earl, and honestly, seeing how happy they get makes my day.” 

Treankler recalled an old employee of Racy’s bringing Earl into the shop years ago; since then, he’s been part of the team. Having stuck it out during the COVID-19 quarantine, Earl has proved himself a loyal Racy’s lad time and again.

Other regulars are also a big part of the Racy’s vibe, Treankler said. “In a lot of ways, Racy’s hasn’t changed,” he mused. “This place opened up in the early ’90s, we still have the same cool couches, the blue counters, and mirrors underneath, and we take a lot of pride in that old-school mentality. But there’s a lot of things that have been changing, too.”

The homey heart of Water Street, Racy’s remains the cool older sibling of the coffee community in E.C., with local art adorning the walls, books scattered on the coffee tables, and bar stools turning as regulars and first-timers breeze in and out. College kids know it as a favorite study spot; townie regulars know it as an evening go-to with dim lighting and espresso served into the evening; and Earl knows it as home. 

Racy’s is a classic, but the shop also hopes to remind people that the shop is a community hub too, there for more than a great cup of coffee and time with Earl (though that would be good enough for us, honestly). Settling into a new fall semester, UW-Eau Claire jazz students are likely to fill the shop’s Annex, just as they did last year. 

Treankler said jazz students held jam sessions each Tuesday last year, and he’s hoping to continue that this fall even if it’s not on the same day. Plus, ArtFly has become a staple at the shop, Art Talks offering a brain-picking sessions and sharing time for artists, and events like Death Café offer up the type of truly communal, open events that the space holds warmly. 

So, even if you find yourself just stopping in to spend some solid one-on-one time with Earl, there’s a plethora of reasons Racy’s is the longest-running coffee shop in Eau Claire. You can ponder that list in the warm low-key lighting while sinking into one of the couches or holed up at a table alongside the wall art. 

Follow Racy D'lenes Coffee Lounge (404 Riverside Ave., Eau Claire) on Instagram and Facebook to keep up with them (and Earl), or head over to their website for more info.