The Comet Tavern, a venerable watering hole at 722 E. Pike St., has a new owner. Chris Dasef now owns the Capitol Hill landmark, having previously owned the Park Pub on Phinney Ridge, Temple Billiards in Pioneer Square and Chop Suey on Capitol Hill.
"I took over on Aug. 4," Dasef said. "My birthday." He is acting as manager while the sale is still pending. A grand-reopening celebration took place on Saturday, Aug. 26.
An oft-used word that appears in many of the tavern's descriptions is "dive." It is generally used as an endearing term, rather than one of condemnation. And most people smile when The Comet is mentioned.
"It's actually one of the top 10 dives in the United States," Dasef boasted, citing various publications. "I like that aspect of it. It just won't be a dirty dive anymore."
Stuff Magazine indeed declared the Comet one of the 20 Best Dive bars in the country in January 2004. High praise to be sure, but "dive" is a pretty vague word these days. It no longer carries the connotation of drunks being shanghaied out the back door.
There will be some changes at the local watering hole. Some cosmetic work has already been done at the tavern, mostly involving paint, removing clutter and applying healthy portions of elbow grease. Many reviews of the tavern also include the word dirty, a description that Dasef wants to toss on the dust pile of history.
"It's going to be a cleaned up dive," Dasef declared.
Even so, the Comet Tavern has the familiar look and feel that it had 35 years ago, and would probably not look much different to a patron who attended the opening of the joint (joint used in a legal way, of course) in 1948. A small, second level above the bathrooms and storage, where the pinball machine is, was added in the early 1970s. In those days, long before the state's smoking ban, it was referred to as "the cloud room." It is more like a balcony than a room, and an excellent perch for people watching.
The space next door on the corner was acquired a little later, making the tavern large enough for musical performances.
The bar and backbar (like every other wooden bar in Seattle, occasionally claimed to have come "around the Horn") are unchanging.
Dasef said he plans to upgrade the sound system, put in a juke box and serve hard liquor. Up to now The Comet has only sold beer and wine.
"It's big news," he said. "When the liquor comes [the Comet] is going to be much more popular."
Dasef went through the change from tavern to full bar before when he owned Temple Billiards.
"The liquor does not change what it is. The Comet is going to be the same old Comet, but it is going to be renewed," Dasef said. "I have experience with that change."
Dasef is aware of concerns that the place just won't be the same.
"Everybody's nervous about it at first and then they are happy afterwards." Adding hard liquor also means making food available. Up to now a patron's choice was pretty much nuts or chips. There will be a slightly larger menu, Dasef said, but it will be a very limited menu. Fine dining does not appear to be in the Comet's future.
Other changes may include a new sign. It will definitely include a new tapping setup for beer kegs. That will speed up the pours and reduce the amount of beer lost to foam. Draught beer offerings will be reduced from the present 12 to 10 because of the new system.
Also, the 'cash only" policy will be replaced by one that allows credit cards.
"That's a big thing," Dasef said.
So why would anyone want to buy a dive bar on Capitol Hill?
"I've been coming to the Comet Tavern since I was 19 years old," Dasef said. "Yeah, shame on me." But he is as fond of it as the regular clientele.
"The clientele is a very eclectic mix of primarily Capitol Hill people who like going to a place that has history and where they are comfortable," Dasef said. "I'm extremely excited for the future of the Comet."
But will it continue on as a neighborhood bar?
"It always has been, it always will be," Dasef said. "The funny thing is it is a neighborhood bar with international appeal. It is known all over the world."
Capitol Hill freelance writer Korte Brueckmann tended bar at the Comet Tavern during the summer of 1971.