Sorting out what happened at The Social

Manhattan Drugs, another Pardo project, loomed large in the case against The Social

This weekend, there will be no lines, no VIP tables and no dancing at E Olive Way nightclub The Social following its courtroom defeat in a desperate bid to hold onto its liquor license. CHS has learned more about the issues that tied up the club’s failed, yearlong bid for a liquor license and the troubled financial past of one of The Social’s key creators who in 2010 walked away from more than $10 million in debt as his architecture firm imploded.

According to King County and United States Bankruptcy Court records, the designer behind The Social and the key partner working on the project with his then-fiancee Laura Olson, architect Chris Pardo has gone through years of legal and financial battles as his company PB Elemental crashed to earth during the recession and a series of partners have taken him to court over business dealings and money owed.


In 2010, Pardo completed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy and, in the process, walked away from more than $10 million in debt — of which, more than $9 million was owed to a Lynwood financial operation known as City Bank which had made loans to Pardo to finance PB Elemental’s aggressive slate of projects around the world. Regulators seized City Bank and sold its remaining assets that same year.

Pardo’s troubled financial dealings emerged in The Social’s fight with the state liquor board as investigators discovered what the state Attorney General’s office called “misrepresented facts” in Olson’s application for a liquor license for the club. While the state has not yet elaborated on the nature of the misrepresentation, Olson’s statements submitted to the court documented problems with a liquor license application Olson had previously submitted for the steakhouse project she, Pardo and investors had launched on 12th Ave:

Manhattan Drugs lives on — it’s now Manhattan . But the lawsuit Olson refers to reveals the the trouble behind the scenes of the project that caught the attention of the state investigators.

Lawyers for Olson and Pardo’s partner in the project Jin Yong Park filed a $500,000 lawsuit in 2012 alleging fraud and financial shenanigans. “Today, although Manhattan Drugs is a successful restaurant, Pardo’s false representations have been at least partially exposed and he has defaulted on every obligation to Park,” the complaint in the case reads.

Park’s lawyers documented the soured partnership: 

Park’s lawyers also said that Pardo did not disclose his multimillion bankruptcy to their client.

The lawyers also documented a cascading series of financial problems the partnership encountered, each, Park contended, putting him in deeper and deeper to try to salvage the project:

As Pardo scrambled to have the restaurant completed by a 2011 year-end deadline, Park’s lawyers wrote that another deal was struck marking Park a 74% owner of the business as Pardo was forced to cede his share of Manhattan Drugs as the project needed yet more money to be completed.

To make the contractual deadline, Parks said Pardo cut several corners to achieve a New Year’s Eve opening:

Pardo’s lawyers denied the allegations brought by Park and accused the partner of mismanaging the restaurant and charging personal expenses to the company.

Both parties agreed to settle the case in July 2012.

“We are not at liberty to discuss the settlement due to the confidentiality agreement, but  were able to resolve the matter with terms we found satisfactory,” Pardo said in a statement sent to CHS.

Pardo, however, faces another lawsuit from former business partners. Elemental Design sued the architect last year in a dispute alleging that Pardo quit the company only to start his own venture with nearly the exact same name:

Pardo’s lawyer answered the allegations saying Pardo had been given permission to contact Elemental clients and that disputed architectural designs could not be claimed as trade secrets. “The domain name and Facebook page were never owned by plaintiff and it had no legal right to prevent Pardo’s use of them,” the lawyer also noted.

The case joins a series of suits that continue to emerge in the wake of PB Elemental’s 2008 meltdown — the latest is a suit brought by an investor over his $250,000 loan made to Pardo and the design firm in the midst of its 2008 financial troubles.

What’s next for Pardo, Olson and their investors in the $700,000+ nightclub is not clear. 

“We are working through the appeal/hearing process to re-obtain the license,” Pardo writes. “In the short term the space may be used for private and nonprofit events/functions.”

Olson, who declined to make a statement on the record for this article, is moving forward with her company the Pterodactyl Group — backer of Hill concerns Po Dog, Auto Battery, Grim’s and The Woods — apparently without Pardo.

The Seattle Eater web site, currently edited by an in-the-know restaurant industry PR veteran, reported this week on Olson’s latest project — the downsized Anchors Down in Ballard.

“The original concept was going to be Queen of Norway with then business partner, Chris Pardo,” the site dishes. “But when the two parted ways, Olson redirected her energy into a nautical-themed bar…”

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56 thoughts on “Sorting out what happened at The Social

  1. Thanks for this thorough write-up. As a nearby resident I won’t shed any tears for The Social, although I was surprised to see that Manhattan (Drugs) has such a twisted past.

  2. I have been waiting a long time for this to be revealed publicly. Thank you Justin for doing some great investigative journalism here. This has always been my experience of Chris Pardo – willing to say anything to get what he wants. No matter the cost to others. Finally, it looks like he won’t get the Social.

  3. Why would anyone give either of these people any of their money? For a reasonable fee any private investigator would have been able to pull all of these public records in less than a day. It seems like any prudent business person would do a thorough background check on anyone they were going to give $200,000+ to.

    Hopefully your article will shed some light on Pardo and Olson and stop them from destroying another neighborhood. Good riddance for now.

  4. All he did was state facts that are in the public record. So be more specific in your criticism. No conclusions were drawn. He merely reported facts.

    So state your specific beef or shush.

  5. I’ve never really understood how the pair was able to open so many restaurants so fast, but I just figured they had big backers with deep pockets. Maybe they still do? In any case, this doesn’t change my opinion about how tasty Po Dogs are…

  6. If anything, I think it goes to show how foolish and lazy some people are in making investment decisions. You are right, the smallest amount of due diligence would’ve uncovered this. Sounds like Park didn’t do any of that diligence. You know what they say about “a fool and his money”….?

  7. seriouslycaphill – touchy, touchy, you are. Sounds to me like you might be a bitter little man. Someone needs to calm down. Aka you, my dear.

  8. Uncle Vinny – no complaint really. I just found it very sensational newsy…like Fox. I could give a shit what Mr Pardo and Ms Olson are doing. To me, they’re just working class people trying to make it. I find it unnecessary to drag anyone’s business thru the mud – that’s what lawyers are for.

  9. So a neighborhood blog shouldn’t cover shady business deals and legal actions that directly affect and involve our neighborhood and its other businesses? Maybe you should revisit Foxlandia on your TV to remind yourself what sensationalism really looks like.

  10. I guess I didn’t realize Chris was solely responsible for the financial collapse in 2008 that resulted in significant financial losses the world over. Also didn’t know he’s the only one who might have had significant debts as a result that couldn’t be made good on.

    Business is messy, optimism and daring get you in the game but are not a shield against risk, the stickier details of late events and foibles notwithstanding.

    Last, Pb Elemental was Chris Pardo’s to take. He built the brand with his friend beginning as a student by taking an enormous risk few in the world have the guts to take, and he presided over some high highs and low lows. Seems reasonable to assume there is more to that story than just one day he walked out with a hard-drive and the Rolodex.

    Two sides to every story. And look I know facts speak for themselves but what can’t be gleaned are motivations. Given the debts, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t greed.

  11. The story here isn’t that his businesses failed, but that he misrepresented his successes and withheld vital information from investors. Now those investors are partially to blame for not doing basic due diligence. Obviously Chris and Laura are con-people. This article is a public service in that it warns other who may do business with them in the future to make sure they do some due diligence.

    That’s sort of the entire basis of journalism, investigative journalism specifically. It’s the cornerstone of a free society. Journalists present the facts, all of which are in the public domain. The readers make the judgement. There is absolutely nothing sensational or editorial about this piece.

  12. That partnership has a ongoing track record about vexing their neighbors. The Woods has had multiple noise ordinance complaints from my building. Two of the owners even tried to talk with Laura and Chris about the noise generated by the thumping bass every weekend and possible mitigation strategies, but were summarily dismissed. They couldn’t stand it any more and sold their loft at a loss.

    Our building has been in the neighborhood since 1999, so we were here before the restaurant/bar explosion. Most folks in the building are pretty understanding that they live in a vibrant and noisy neighborhood. But the thumping bass is shaking your windows till 2 am and fights outside the establishment every weekend is pretty unacceptable.

  13. I would argue that how one handles themselves in the face of an economic crash is how to measure that person. No, he clearly is not responsible for the recession. But, I worked with PB on a site that they left abandoned to be foreclosed on in a transitional neighborhood. Before foreclosure, it became trash strewn, full of broken down cars (and homeless drug addicted squatters in them), and site geotech hazards. Basically a terrible blight on the neighborhood. When asked if they could spare $200 to help tow the cars away I received communication basically saying that everything was going into bankruptcy and he BARELY HAD MONEY TO EAT so stop hounding him.

    Then I had to watch him drive up to Po Bog every day in his 50k luxury SUV to kiss his fiance hello. Yeah, really.

  14. That’s some lovely patronizing sexism. Also what’s your definition of “working class”? Because it sure as hell doesn’t match any I’ve ever heard of.

  15. So, what exactly was the intent behind this article? How does Chris Pardo’s personal financial history relate in any way to the Social’s lack of liquor license? This article isn’t “great reporting.” It started as a relatively typical investigatory piece and turned into a lampooning of one man’s character based upon his troubled financial history. Alas, the Social’s downfall had to do with Olson misrepresenting facts, not an old bankruptcy or lawsuit regarding a completely separate business. And on a final note, if you have the guts to write something as inflammatory as this (yes, they are facts, but the anti-Pardo tone of the article was clear from the beginning), at least have the courage to put your own name as the author and receive the praise and wrath you deserve.

  16. I also question the “working class” title. I’m pretty white-collar, but still see walking away from $10M in debt fairly newsworthy. That’s a lot of cash no matter how you slice it.

  17. “…at least have the courage to put your own name as the author…”

    uuuhhh… byline… just sayin’

    Definition: A byline is the name of the reporter who has written a news story. It usually appears at the top of the story.

  18. Justin is always straightforward with any relationships or potential biases he has with businesses. There is nothing even remotely editorial in the tone of this article. Facts are facts and while Laura Olson is the one who lied on the application, she lied about facts relating to Pardo’s shady business dealings, so his dirty laundry was relevant.

    It’s also relevant because scum like these people then make it harder for others who have integrity and a viable business plan to get funding from investors, loans from banks, etc. They make the cost of doing business higher for everyone involved, investors, business owners, employees and consumers.

  19. I am little confused, as the article seemed more about Manhattan (Drug) more than the social. So is the social finally dead? Or just temporarily closed, and probably will be soon?

    No matter the outcome, I think the build out is fantastic, and a cool restaurant/bar will fit in the space nicely; albiet quieter.

  20. I began posting under the jseattle handle when I started this site as a hobby more than 7 years ago. When I sold my first advertising a few years later and it began to grow as a business, I was still anonymous and continued to post as jseattle. With more growth, the site has changed quite a bit and I began working on it fulltime in 2008. I also stopped running the site anonymously but decided to keep the handle as a nod to the way the site was born and grew. There’s no effort to hide. My phone number is everywhere on the site. My name and information is readily available. Give me a call if you want to talk 206-399-5959

  21. This certainly affects many people in the neighborhood. I, for one, am quite glad that The Social will be closing its doors. It has been a blight since it opened.

  22. The buildout of the Social? I’ve been to ho-downs in barns in the middle of Wisconsin that were more well laid out than that place. It has no character whatsoever, the sound system was terrible.

    I truly hope another business is able to move into that space quickly. A dinner theater or something along those lines would be really fun!

  23. The Social is closing. I never went there so it’s not really a big deal to me. As a working journalist, I can see how this article strayed a bit BUT it gave quite a bit of info on the reason why the liquor board made its decision.
    The info on Manhattan Drugs was interesting. Following all the shenanigans about this place and the those that own it has been interesting.

    So calm down. Nobody is following the AP/NYT’s Style Book here.

    PS. I would so write for this blog.

  24. There are many of us in the architecture/construction/development world that want nothing to do with Chris Pardo. It’s a small community. He is responsible for burning many bridges and screwing over many people in this industry. I’m glad this story came to light as it highlights a fraction of the wrongdoings he has done.

  25. CO, I’m just curious and maybe you can answer, totally off topic, but how does one represent himself as an architect when he’s not licensed and never has been and still get legitimate work? Don’t contractors and builders look up people’s licenses? How is Chris even being allowed to practice this profession and supposedly getting all of these awards when he’s not legally doing his job?

  26. You don’t have to have a license to practice architecture, as I understand it. There are very famous and successful architects that are not licensed. My understanding is that an unlicensed architect simply has to have a licensed one “stamp” his or her plans if using them for permits, etc. So many unlicensed have this relationship within their firms with licensed professionals. Correct me if I am wrong someone?

    • Some of what you state is true. You cannot hold yourself out as or call ourself as an Architect unless you have a license. Being a graduate of an accredited architecture program is not enough. Some states may allow an unlicensed person to submit plans for permitting if they are under a certain square footage and conventionally designed. I am here in California and there are thresholds to this same issue but they have well defined limits. It is called the Architects Practice Act and I imagine that the state of Washington would have a similar condition given the seismic issues there as well.

      What pardo did does not excuse his behavior. Given the ravenous economy at the time if you could fog a mirror you could do what they did……

  27. Dear Justin, I read your post yesterday and am disappointed. I’ve been reading CHS from the beginning and was very excited about a local news blog for my neighborhood. However, in my mind, the post yesterday regarding Chris Pardo is a perfect example of the dangers of news/journalism shifting from established newspaper institutions to blog format local news sites. The article that you wrote would simply not be published in a newspaper such as the Nytimes or the Seattle Times. After reading your posting, I thought that instead of writing some inflammatory comment, I would write to you personally about my concerns so that we can have a more honest exchange.

    First, there is no evidence presented in the posting that the Social’s liquor license was effected by Pardo’s bankruptcy even though you explicitly draw that link. You seem to infer that this is the case due to a connection with Manhattan Drugs, which is speculative at best, but mostly confusing. The court statement you excerpted does not say anything about Pardo’s involvement or financials. Simply put, there is no evidence that the misrepresentation has anything to do with Pardo since the liquor board will not elaborate on what was misrepresented. For all you know it could be something completely different, or could be about one of the other investors in the Social or Manhattan.

    Next, it is unbalanced and unfair to cite claims that Park’s lawyers make without equally excerpting counterclaims from Pardo’s lawyers. Park could say anything in those statements through his lawyers. Literally anything. It is not newsworthy, to report someone else’s claims, especially when they reached a satisfactory settlement that is confidential. This is why you do not see articles based on one-sided lawsuit claims in newspapers. You then do the same thing with the Elemental Design lawsuit and with another lawsuit about a $250K loan. A newsworthy post or article cannot be based solely on the mere fact that a lawsuit has been filed with claims that have not been adjudicated. And if you do want to write posts of this nature, there have got to be more juicy and outlandish lawsuits that are filed each and every day.

    Finally, you have no evidence that Pardo is not involved with Po Dog, Grims, the Woods…etc. You infer that by saying that another blogger mentioned that Olson is moving on with Anchor’s Dog without Pardo. But she did not refer to any of these other places. Do you know this for a fact? Why don’t you ask?

    All in all, from my reading of it, this posting had nothing to do with the Social’s liquor license. You found a trail of lawsuits that have been filed but have no evidence that they are connected in any way. Nor do you have any evidence that the lawsuits were decided one way or the other. I do not believe it was your intention to drag Pardo’s name through the mud, but that is what you did and it is extremely irresponsible, especially considering that he lives and works in our neighborhood. Moreover, this type of posting that is extremely speculative is certainly unbecoming of someone who aspires to be a journalist.

    Please think about what I have written. I am part of your readership here on the hill that is intelligent and would like to see the local news/blog scene flourish, but not at the expense of journalistic integrity.

    • I disagree. Shady dealings and nontransparency are always red flags for the state to pull any permit or license. Govt oversees this stuff for our safety. Period. And there were many other problems with the social. They do not play well with others

  28. It isn’t nearly as dramatic or grave as anyone has reported. Non of us have talked to any reporters due to the fact that I have learned that no matter what you say, people will write what they want to write. It’s what keeps readers, drives traffic or sells newspapers.

    • A, sounds like you should tell the blog WHY this isnt dramatic cause the social is dead if ya cant serve booze! You must be involved

  29. Chris Pardo is a narcissist. He suffers from narcissistic personality disorder – seriously. He’s charismatic and fashions himself an “empire builder”, yet he is not a good person. He will say anything to get his way – weather it is true or not. His collapse is something HE earned. It’s not just the result of “the market”. Pardo is narcissist and anyone who has dealt with a serious narcissist will understand what I’m saying.

    The failure of his business, his engagement (she broke up with him), his financial undoings, his lying (he was never a licensed architect!), his scams – he eared every single aspect of his failures.

    He earned his failure and things will continue like this for him unless he changes himself, which is very doubtful. Narcissists never think they are wrong or at fault.

  30. I don’t know the guy but I gotta say that the stench coming off him and his business dealings has been wafting around town long enough for this latest action to come as no surprise.

  31. The story of this con-artist will soon get much more publicity – much more. Count on it. I know for a fact his lies will soon be told on a much larger scale than just in this blog.

    The story will be known by many when it’s out. Pardo will soon sink into the stench of his own lies. Stay tuned!

  32. I’m no architect and I’ve been fortunate enough not to have come across Mr. Pardo in my business endeavors, but shouldn’t the professional organization for architects, the AIA, guard against situations like this? Assuming that the AIA involves a membership with dues to its members, isn’t policing individuals like Pardo part of what members are paying for? Am I being naive or does the profession of architecture really leave themselves this wide open?

    • @ F Taylor. The AIA has no policing powers within the field of Architecture and Construction. Licensure is maintained and policed by state governments, and while the AIA lobbies for various issues, it has no authority to police practitioners (it’s essentially a club). This is obviously different than other professional services (attorneys, doctors, etc.)

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  37. Pardo moved to Palm Springs, California not too long ago and has been starting an “empire” here, too. Making fast friends and seemingly everywhere. I grew up here, as do many people in PS (small town) and just found it odd that someone would bust on the scene and start, literally, a hotel, a bar, a barbershop, a restaurant, a coffee shop and so on in less than two years (NONE of which have opened by the way — all in the development/design phase). He seems to be in business with some of the biggest movers and shakers in town ($$$) — I wonder if they know any of this about him? Anyhow, I didn’t trust him from the start and was feeling guilty about that. But my gut just wouldn’t quit – who is this guy? Now I’m really scared. Get out of PS!!