"Hey, there's the Comet Tavern. Let's go in there. They advertise in the Helix."
It was May 1970. The Helix was a counter-culture newspaper and I had just moved to Seattle. My roommate and I were strolling down Pike Street. It was my first introduction to the Comet Tavern and the Capitol Hill tavern scene.
The scene has changed.
Classes at Seattle Central Community College in the early '70s were in the old Broadway High School at Broadway and Pine. All that is left now is the Broadway Performance Hall, a portion of the old building lovingly pieced together from the stone of the demolished building. There were also classes in the old Summit Elementary School building, now the Northwest School. For those of us older than 21, there were three taverns on the route between the buildings.
One evening last week three of us proceeded to traipse across Capitol Hill's Broadway District in a sort of archeological expedition, searching for the old taverns. With me were Tony and Bradley. Tony, just a little younger than me, is a veteran of many years as a Seattle cab driver and dispatcher. You name the office, tavern or business, he knows the address. Bradley, the photographer for Pacific Publishing Co. newspapers, is not quite 40, just a kid by comparison. He was our link to the present and recent past on this pilgrimage.
The Comet, our starting point, is still doing a lively business at 922 E. Pike St. I have quaffed many a brew in there since 1970; even became a bartender there in the summer of 1971, but it did not take long for me to figure out which side of the bar I belonged on. The Comet is no longer a single storefront wide, and has many more beers on tap, but there is a comfortable familiarity about it.
Bradley was amazed to learn about "Eastern beer" and "Western beer." In the early '70s there were no micro-breweries, but there were still a lot of macro-breweries. Eastern beer (Budweiser, Schlitz, Miller, Pabst) was available in bottles, but cost a premium price. Bottled Western beer (Olympia, Heidelberg, Rainier, Lucky, Blitz) was cheaper. The difference was broken out on a price list above the bar back then. Coors was a special treat your friends smuggled in from Colorado or California. It wasn't yet sold in Washington.
At that time unescorted women were not allowed to sit at the bar. They had to sit at tables. This was, Tony claims, a way to suppress prostitution. It did nothing to suppress all those women in hotpants and go-go boots who hung around at 8th Avenue and Pike Street talking to and occasionally joining the drivers of idling cars. The Washington State Convention Center is there now.
A tour down Pike from the Comet revealed the old Forum Tavern at 722 E. Pike (slightly upscale, good pool tables) was not only gone, but the building was remodeled beyond recognition and closed by state tax agents. Across the street, Mother's Tavern, 723 E. Pike St. (capacious, in two store fronts with an ancient hardwood bar and backbar, a regular student hangout) had turned into a Thai restaurant. Tony said Mother's moved in the late '70s, to the place now occupied by Bill's Off Broadway.
Scotty's Tavern, 621 E. Pike St., (a dingy hole in the wall for geezers that served the long-gone, unmourned Brew 66) is not only gone, the entire building has been replaced. Tony once lived just a half block away. He insisted the name was Smitty's Tavern. But the 1971 Seattle directory says Scotty's.
Smokey Joe's Tavern was at 706 E. Pike St. It was an odd place with a brightly lit almost diner-like setup in the front and several pool tables in the back. Regulars took their pool seriously and carried weapons. That building, too, is gone, replaced by BMW of Seattle.
At 518 E. Pine St., is the Kincora Pub. Despite an Irish name and the addition of hard booze, it is not very different from Glynn's Cove, the tavern that used to be here. The pool table is still next to the door and the big, front windows come together in a funny angle. Snooky's Tavern (Home of Snooky's World Famous 10-Cent Hot Dog, said the sign), 1525 Olive Way, a place where I ate more cheap, hot dog dinners than I care to remember, is now a restaurant called the Red Line. Across Olive Way is a Starbucks in a new building where the Plaid Piper used to hold forth with its Tartan Room. At Belmont Avenue and Olive Way the Belmont Tavern has given way to the B&O coffee shop.
On the plus side, the typewriter shop on the south side of Olive Way at Belmont Street is now The Stumbling Monk, a genuine beer and wine stop that is about two years old. Mostly a high-grade beer place (no Pabst, no Budweiser, no American macro-brews), this is a non-smoking establishment with an old-fashioned atmosphere.
Trekking down Broadway we passed The Fresh Air Tavern, 1509 Broadway, which was a big barn of a place where out-of-town musicians played. I saw Thelonious Monk and his quartet there on two different occasions. It is now Neighbors. A few blocks north, at Denny, we found the Broadway Tavern, or would have if it were still there. At its corner, 1835 Broadway, was an empty storefront that had been most recently a Kinko's. Farther north, past East John Street, at 206 Broadway East, where the Two-O-Six tavern should have been, was a new building with several shops. The Two-O-Six, a pleasant, double-wide place popular with Seattle Times employees, had lots of tables where you could always pick up a chess game. The address is now home to a sex shop. The Tally-Ho Tavern next door, another hole-in-the-wall with a comfortable atmosphere, is now home to Café Septieme.
At the north end of Broadway, the Deluxe Bar and Grill, 625 Broadway E., is still right where we remembered it. It is a full-service restaurant now with cocktails and the works. The $2 steak dinner for which the Deluxe was justly famous in the early '70s is long gone. Larger now than then, the Deluxe still manages to retain a good deal of its former atmosphere.
We got to the Joe Bar, around the corner at 810 East Roy St., in the Loveless Building opposite the Harvard Exit, at 10 p.m. The Joe Bar is a coffee shop by day, wine and beer by night, no smoking any time. We arrived just in time to see the owner putting a lock on the door. They close at 9:30 p.m. in consideration of the apartments upstairs. Bad luck!
Back to Broadway and across is the Elite Tavern, 622 Broadway E. It is a single-storefront joint that has not changed appreciably from 1971; probably unchanged appreciably since the end of prohibition in 1933. Still a tavern, beer and wine only, and among the friendliest. The bartender introduced himself and shook hands when he came to the end of the bar to get our order. Lots of people were sitting, standing, chatting and laughing. Did I mention it's a gay bar? This place still has a brass bell - ringing it means you have bought a round for the house. Nearly every tavern in town used to have a bell. Now you hardly ever see them. We calculated that we could ring the bell for a $100 bill. None of us had a $100 bill, so we just drank our beer.
We called it a wrap at midnight. Just two of the old taverns we sought were still in business serving just wine and beer - The Elite and the Comet. Both are noisy, lively and smoke-filled. Two new ones show promise - The Stumbling Monk and Joe Bar - both non-smoking. Alas, that's it.
A combination of new buildings, increased rents, relaxed liquor laws (it is easier to get a hard liquor license now) and intense drunk-driving enforcement have taken their toll on the tavern scene. That's okay. In 35 years someone else will be looking around wondering what happened to all the coffee shops.
Freelance writer Korte Brueckmann lives on Capitol Hill and can be reached at editor@ capitolhilltimes.com.