Revisiting the Park: Down the hatch

Richard Carl Lehman

Life has changed for many since COVID. People have withdrawn and are cautious about germs or getting too close to any significant other. Businesses have come and gone, but some restaurants are making a comeback. It has not helped that we have had the longest, coldest winter in many years. 

The Red Onion and McGilvra's have stayed popular through it all, providing a comfortable haven for patrons. The Attic and the R.O. were two taverns that set a record for top 10 sales in Washington State and could do so again. Back then, these places and others were on the liquor board, health department and local police list of establishments to keep an eye on. Often there were signs stating the premises were closed 10 to 14 days due to violations.

The laws were very strict in those days. If you bought a brew at the bar you could not take it to the booth or anywhere else. Bar hours were from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Eventually they were open Monday through Friday from 9 to midnight and finally they were open until 2 a.m. except on Saturday when they closed at midnight. The only option was Chinatown where bars were allowed to be open by special permit.

During the World’s Fair in the early ’60s people dined in continental fashion, enjoying cocktails and eating late. Just short of midnight a server would say last call and proceed to remove unfinished beverages or a favorite wine. The tables were clear at the stroke of 12! A friend who was a server told diners in advance, but the information fell on deaf ears. This early closing caused a rift amongst the heavy hitters of nighttime enjoyment.

Those of us who bartended at various establishments had this very problem. One evening I had to break the news to a rather large individual that it was time to leave, but his group had just eaten a huge meal and still had some wine to drink. He and his friend cornered me and showed me the insides of their suit coats with two half-full bottles of wine in them. Sometimes you had to go with the flow, so I smiled and told them to enjoy a nice rest of their evening.

Speaking of acquiring items, a friend of mine was proud to show her shelf of wine glasses with logos of some of the finest restaurants (she worked at a bank). I would think we could now share a laugh to good times and raise a drink to it.

Places closed in the late evenings, and we servers met each other with the abandoned, half-filled bottles of wine and drank until almost sunrise. One night I was given a card by a friend that said “Party” with an address downtown. Yes, it was the downtown social set, but the invite was for both sides of the bar. It said to simply show the card at the door and receive two free drinks. Inside I saw a lot of friends from Madison Park as well as others I had served as a bartender.

A function in Maple Valley way out of Madison Park one winter called to us to enjoy a country living experience. Live music, mass quantities of food, a big house with a pool and a very large hot tub next to it. There had been no mention of bringing a swimsuit. The champagne was flowing, and the mood was relaxed. The pool had a very thin layer of ice that was easily poked with a finger. For a challenge, I pronounced a Norwegian pool ceremony and wondered if anyone was interested. Under guise of a comfortable layer of champagne I dove in and surfaced on the other side. A friend asked if it was a shock and I answered, “No! It was great!” He, too, leapt in, breaking ice all the way, climbed back out on the other side and said, “You lied!”

When we dined at the continental hour, it always meant having coffee and cognac afterwards. One night after work, we met at a bar near the office where I worked nearby. Stories were exchanged of the past week, and we agreed we had been maxed out. I suggested we take advantage of an invite to a gathering to which I usually would have invited a gal. One young lady asked, “Is there gambling? Dancing? Rowdiness?” When I answered yes, she said, “Let’s go!”

We met the doorman, and he called to say that Lehman had arrived with friends. “Hell, yes!” was the answer. The young lady wanted to go near the rope that cordoned off the area where the high rollers were. The bouncer told her sorry, but no. One of the high rollers said, “Let her in. Buy her drink. She might change my luck!” 

The rest of us joined the other tables, and it was nothing but fun when the young lady returned smiling. “Did you change his luck?” we asked. “Yes, he changed mine too: two vodka tonics and two twenties! I even got his card and an invite on his boat!”

Country music was the “in thing,” and Madison Parkers found many Western bands who played in popular taverns. Friends came from eastern Washington to check out our scene. They asked if the various venues were safe. I didn’t want to dampen the evening so said nothing as these bars were known to get rowdy. The Silver Dollar was where we ended up with pizza and beer. Our very busy server set pitchers down quickly because just a few tables away was the beginning of a good old tavern bar fight. I guess the one guy was saving his fist from harm as he swung a pitcher striking his opponent across his head. The clunk sound was unnerving.

The bouncers brought the melee to an end as soon as it started. One of the guys in our group asked our server if we could get another pitcher as he pointed to the drops of blood on the white head of his beer. She was mad and swore but did bring us another pitcher. It might have been the same pitcher with a slight change in appearance … hmmm. 

We were bulletproof in those days.