The Deluxe Bar & Grill: Carrying on in a world of flux

In a changing city, looking out on a changing Broadway, the Deluxe Bar & Grill remains the quintessential corner place where, no matter how long you've been away, you can always come home.

Countless newbies have hoisted their first legal beer here. Others, in the late '60s, young or old and on a budget, remember a place where you could scoot in before 4 p.m. and get the chef's special: steak, big baked potato with sour cream, salad and a hunk of garlic bread for $2.35.

Future husbands and wives have met here.

Recently a former employee, after four decades, wandered in to ask how Joe Rogel was doing.

Joe Rogel and his partner Bernie Minsk bought the Deluxe in 1962. Joe still comes in everyday, but son Barry runs the business now.

"We're a neighborhood place," Barry said. "We're not a destination. We don't want to be."

The Deluxe is a Capitol Hill institution. Its longevity is remarkable considering the high attrition rate among Broadway businesses in the last 15 years.

The $2.35 steak dinner is a figment of the past. Burgers and steaks are still big, though - a seasoned New York streak dinner will run you a reasonable $15.95 - while pastas, seafood, and various salads round out a moderately priced menu. The microbrew selection is equally varied.

For anyone who's been away since, say the late 1970s, the Deluxe would feel strikingly familiar, but not exactly the same. Gone is the smoke-filled, beer-pitcher ambience. The space is expanded, the tone a little more sedate. It's still comfortable, unpretentious and value-conscious.

The Deluxe is situated at the more stable north end of Broadway, next to the charming segment of leafy Roy that includes the Harvard Exit, the Loveless Building and Cornish.

And yet as Broadway and the neighborhood have evolved, so has the Deluxe.

"To our credit, we've tried not to get ahead of the neighborhood," Barry says.

Following the 1999 renovation, the Deluxe almost got out ahead of its surroundings, and it didn't work. The burgers were scaled back and the famous baked potatoes went missing, replaced by the likes of salmon with chutney mango.

For the first two months, Barry said, the place was booming. Even so, he and his dad noticed something troubling. The burgers and potatoes weren't all that was missing - so were their regular customers.

The Rogels corrected the menu. Life has been good ever since.

"That's where we are now," Barry said.

When Broadway was hip

The Deluxe building, at 625 Broadway East, was built in 1931, taking its design cue from the Broadway Market with its yellow brick. The building went through several incarnations, which included a dry cleaner, liquor store and grocery store, as Jacqueline Williams has detailed in her book, "The Hill With a Future."

"Local legend has it we were one of the first post-Prohibition liquor licenses granted in the city," Barry said.

In 1939 this was the place if you were looking for Thomas G. McClanahan's Beer Parlor, which became the Deluxe Tavern and Beer Parlor in 1942.

The elder Rogel and Minsk, friends from their University of Washington days, bought the business in 1962. Joe Rogel, a traveling salesman for Nordstrom, was on the road too much to suit his wife, who was at home with three children.

So Rogel and his friend Minsk bought the Deluxe.

"They got into it because they heard if you don't like it you could always sell it," Barry said.

The enterprising pair got off to an inauspicious start. The tavern's pull-tab business was a big contributor to their revenue stream, but the pull-tab business was outlawed just when they assumed ownership.

And so they turned to the kitchen.

"Dad is very value-oriented," Barry said. "He felt he didn't have to get rich and wring every penny out of the business."

As Capitol Hill evolved Joe Rogel was one of the first Capitol Hill business owners to hire gays. "My dad has never judged anybody apart from who they are," Barry said.

In the late 1970s and well into the 80s, Capitol Hill, and Broadway, became Seattle's top hot spot, a role played by upper Queen Anne these days. It was the hip place to be, where money converged with urban grittiness. Trendy boutiques, restaurants and bars like Henry's Off Broadway and destination furniture stores like Keegs and Del-Teet drew big spenders from as far away, geographically and otherwise, as the Eastside, an unimaginable circumstance now.

It was in the late 70s that the Deluxe Tavern and Steak House became the Deluxe Bar and Grill.

Business was good on Broadway, and Joe Rogel played a key role in the neighborhood Business Improvement Association and the Chamber of Commerce. But, as the street scene changed, the leases signed in the high-flying 80s weren't renewed in the 90s. Talk of Sound Transit changing the neighborhood did nothing to encourage new business growth either. The BIA's colorful street fair, Cirque de Broadway, after three September runs a few years ago, collapsed its tent in debt.

Barry, too, has been major player with the BIA and with public safety issues. Lately, though, he's pulled back, perhaps a little burned out, to concentrate on his business.

Barry, 46, is a graduate of Hastings Law School. It was a scholastic experience he didn't enjoy. He went into real estate development before getting involved in the Deluxe in 1985, starting work from the bottom up.

As Rogel surveys the neighborhood changes, there are still touchstones of the familiar. The Elite Tavern is still across the street, and so is Jimmy Woo's Jade Pagoda to the south. In ways developers will never understand, these places are important to the neighborhood. And of course the Harvard Exit next door is still going strong.

After its own fashion, the Deluxe Bar and Grill occupies a place in the neighborhood that adds up to more than just the sum of its parts.

"There are places to go on Capitol Hill to be seen," Barry Rogel noted. He looked around the Deluxe's interior. "Then there are places to take a friend and be comfortable."

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