What we wouldn’t give to have the old restaurants back in Madison Park, even though there weren’t near as many as there are now. There was not much offered in the way of an evening out in the early ’40s as air raids and blackouts took precedence. In this year 2020, we have a similar situation with limited evenings out due to the coronavirus pandemic.
My grandparents converted a shed into a snack bar equipped with only two wheels — they were lucky to find any for the many shortages during World War II. After applying a couple of coats of paint, they guided it to the south end of Madison Beach next to Johnson’s Marina and lifted the awning, which revealed a sign saying “Snack Bar” and listing all kinds of goodies. If memory serves, the grill was fueled by a natural gas line. My job as a 9-year-old was to peel potatoes and run errands.
That first spring day, the awning was raised and the aroma of hamburgers and hotdogs filled the air. Mothers with tykes in tow, service personnel (the wounded stationed at a marine hospital) and beach goers were drawn in. It was well worth the price: 25 cents for a burger (30 cents with cheese), and that came with French fries. Do you know how many spuds you have to peel to make French fries? Way too many.
Madison Beach was the most popular of all Seattle beaches. The main eatery nearby was Riley’s Café (Villa Marina Apartments now). It was the hub for good breakfast for folks who rode the ferry to work at Todd’s Shipyards. After the war ended, it relied on the local patrons to keep afloat and soon was converted into apartments.
The Broadmoor Café opened about two blocks south, next to a tavern of the same name, which also featured a lunch menu. We students at J.J. McGilvra met there around 3:15 p.m. to order Green Rivers and listen to the big Wurlitzer juke box. Later, when we were 21, we would spend a quiet Saturday playing shuffleboard at the Broadmoor Tavern and order burgers and fries from next door.
The Broadmoor Drugstore, where Pharmaca is today, also served lunches and the best strawberry sodas! It was also the best place to hear gossip. That kept us busy for a while, but the main feeling of the day was boredom. Movies were few and far between because Hollywood was also recovering.
My mom met a nice guy, who at one time was a middle-weight boxer and had a son named Gary. Gary was my age but a few inches taller and many pounds heavier. When he visited, he picked on the skinny kid — me! Then, either he or I would say, “outside,” and the fight was on! I employed a barrage of flailing fists, and when I was near exhaustion, Gary would find my weak spot, and it was all over. Usually he’d knock me over to the tune of a split lip. Afterward, we’d go to the Broadmoor Drugstore, and Gary would buy us strawberry sodas (I sipped it through a straw to try to avoid open wounds). He taught me how to “get inside. You’ll get hit, but at least you’ll know his offense.”
That was one way to ward off boredom. The best way was the Saturday matinee with popcorn and coke and two to three hours of movies. Another was to visit my mom downstairs at Ben Paris downtown, where she was the counter manager. There was a large fountain filled with trout that we fed. The sporting goods manager was Emil Sik who had a radio show called “Where They Biting?” At the time, Ray’s Boathouse rented outboard motorboats, and Emil would plug that — only the very early risers were able to rent.
My grandfather and I joined many in search of the illusive salmon. Emil sold all the latest gear, and if you caught anything of size, you had your picture taken where it showed up on the wall at Ben Paris. My mom caught a 50-pound halibut that broke the middle seat in a boat she rented. The photo made the wall, broken seat and all!
Any restaurant worth its salt had to have a hook — something to draw the public. Enter The Cottage Café on 15th and Madison. Ed and Fred were the owners, and they served great food from morning until closing. Della ran the morning service counter where steak, eggs, hash browns, toast and coffee could be had for $1.75. Patrons of the bar in the rear — a mixture of Madison Park-ites and Capitol Hill folks — would imbibe in cocktails while sharing stories, sports, news, etc. The hook: a flaming chateaubriand served in the other room by either Ed or Fred. The still-sizzling piece of cow was sliced at the table in front of a couple to the delight of the entire room for a mere $15!
My mom and grandmother ran the Quality Café after the city said, “No more snack bar!” It was mostly a lunch café featuring hot roast beef sandwich with gravy and homemade pies and cakes. It changed with the times, bringing in big wooden barrels as tables and smaller ones as chairs. Above the bar, there was a witch’s broom, which had a seat, a horn, buckle bars and rear-view mirrors. This was the dawning of “The Attic,” and it was a huge success.
Peters in the Park (now Starbucks) had probably the biggest hook: hard booze. The villagers were skeptical that it could bring the wrong clientele as happened in Leschi at the Loading Dock (people got just a bit beyond the fun zone). Instead, it was an epic move, and so popular, they had two opening nights!
All of the restaurants currently open are a godsend to help once again socialize with our neighbors and friends at a safe distance in Madison Park. We are grateful!