Revisiting the Park: The art of the dance

Seattle's mid-century singles scene was full of fun -- and danger

Revisiting the Park: The art of the dance

Revisiting the Park: The art of the dance

We — the almost-legal-agers — often met in one of the three taverns in Madison Park after a hard day’s work.  It had been the thing to do for years but soon news of alluring after-work gatherings downtown got us out of the park.  “Rossellini’s 410” and the “610” were popular watering holes where, “I’ll give you my card!”  and “Let’s do lunch” were common refrains.  Men sported three-piece suits and the ladies were decked out in the latest fashions with winning smiles.  

It was important to use proper English when making the first approach if trying to connect with the opposite sex in these places.  Some bellied up to the bar for several ounces of liquid bravery and valor, while others practiced textbook lines to make that first move.

The scene: menfolk cluster together commenting on possible favorites.  One of them steps away from the pack to make his move making eye contact with a female and then exchanges smiles.  A well thought out conversation ensues, but the others join in thinking enforcement is needed.  It’s a bit like wolves circling in on new prey, while clutching business cards.  

The female, now surrounded, is overcome by the smell of aftershave cologne purchased in the restroom.  She retreats to the safety of her workmates.  The men stand in bewilderment as the one who made the first move comments, “I didn’t need any help!”  

There were certain rules to be followed in the urban jungle of interacting.  Many were not privy to these rules until a major faux pas was made.  One fellow thought he’d make a good impression by broadcasting that he told his secretary to order his lunch but, when she returned without silverware, he sent her back.  The guy with him counted his pocket change to pay for the drinks but came up short.  These actions were not impressive to the fairer sex that night.

Pike Street leading up to Boren was exciting, yet seedy.  Nothing but taverns, mediocre food, dancing and brawls.  Some might remember the “Town and Country Club” at the end of Pike Street near Boren that certainly was a step up in the class department.  It was a members’ only club where Bob Harvey sat at the piano playing favorite tunes.  Bob had an uncanny ability to remember names by introducing each new patron to the others seated at the piano bar.  One Friday night, two young ladies sat next to me on my right and a young lady came in and sat on my left.  Bob introduced us and we began to sing along to the music.  

A very important rule in the singles scene is to check for wedding rings.  Fair game means going forth and interacting.  I noticed a guy next to the young lady not paying any attention or participating so she and I started to talk. Soon the area was one happy playground for adults.  The piano bar took up a small area of the club and upstairs full dinners were served and had a dance floor.  What I wouldn’t give to find this type of club now days.  

It was time to use the men’s room so I decided to use the one downstairs in a dark area of the club as opposed to the main restroom upstairs.  I opened the door and some dude behind me grabbed the short end of my tie and pulled it tight as he shoved me to the ground with one hand. As he punched me in the stomach several times I realized this guy was a mechanic, i.e., talented at what he did.  I couldn’t do a thing and was running out of air.  He repeatedly said to me, “She’s married!”  showing me his size XXX large fist.  Finally, he left.  When I got to my feet I figured it out.  She was married.  Oh, and her excuse was she wanted to make him jealous.

I returned to pull my raincoat from under the femme fatale and left abruptly.  My Washington State Liquor card in hand I entered the liquor store on Seventh and Union where my date — Four Roses Bourbon — and I went home.

Throwing caution to the wind was how many of us dealt with single life.  Three of us — Bob, Lee and I — partied on the weekends and or attended parties in the area. Lee found a steady and before dropping from the trio he said we must meet his new friend so we drove to the Flame Tavern next to Coe’s Tavern east of Northgate.  Both taverns featured live music and dancing.  Again, find that today.  

Lee’s new friend was very attractive and a real charmer.  We danced with her friends and through conversation it was mentioned that the new friend was married. Later, Lee told us he knew about it but that she might divorce so it was OK, wasn’t it? The nights he spent in her apartment he simply turned the photo of her husband — a big guy leaning against a deck rail — around.  He was in the MTSS — Military Transport Shipping Services — and was gone a good portion of the time.

Lee and his love would check the shipping news looking for the ship’s location to safely conduct their affair.  Long story short the ship dry-docked in Los Angeles so husband flew home to surprise her.   Early in the morning he opened the door as far as the chain would allow and announced, “Honey, I’m home!”  Lee said he moved quickly throwing his clothes out the window and, unlike clothing floating softly to the ground, he leaped from the window ledge two floors to the garbage cans below.  

Around four in the morning, my phone rang and a very quiet voice says, “Two floors!  I broke my leg!  Phone booth by gas station by Coe’s Tavern!  Hurry!”  I called Bob and we pulled into the gas station next to the phone booth.  On the corner of a vacant lot nearby we saw two eyeballs and arms waving.  He wouldn’t let us call an ambulance for the flashing red lights so we drove him to a clinic at Northgate.  

Weeks later Bob, Lee and I drank beer in the big round booth at the Red Onion as we needed room for Lee’s broken leg.  He also cracked his ribs in this false pursuit of love.  We teased him a lot that night, “Hey Lee, how’d you break your leg?” and “Yeah, tell em Lee, how?” and “Hey, let’s go to the Flame and Coe’s taverns tonight!”.

Lee announced, “I will go nowhere north of Madison Park!”

A great tavern downtown called The Playboy owned by Charlie Puzzo was popular with all the singles and wanna-bes.  Thursday nights the Untouchables played on TV featuring Frank Ness and his crime fighters.  The tavern had a pot to hold bets: If you guessed the number of guys who got whacked on the show, you won the pot.  As one after another bad guy hit the ground someone would yell, “Thank you, that’s my number!”  The winners always bought the house a round.   

The best dance club bar none was The Downbeat in Skid Row now Pioneer Square where Dave Lewis’ played “Little Green Things” on a revolving stage.  Quincy Jones was known to make an appearance as well.  Many Madison Park friends showed up and shared beers at these events.  

The big lesson learned in those years: it was generally safer to go to the clubs with suitable, reliable relationships than it was to engage in the sporadically volatile single scene risking injury to life and limb.