Liberty II? Capitol Hill bartending suzerain has plans for E Olive Way

Friedman at work (Image: Liberty)

Friedman at work (Image: Libertybars.com)

One of the biggest success stories of the Capitol Hill cocktail economy is planning a major expansion. Liberty, Andrew Friedman’s seven-year-old coffee, cocktail and, yes, sushi venture on 15th Ave E is acquiring new E Olive Way territory.

CHS has learned that Friedman will be taking over the space currently occupied by The Online Cafe and building a new venture in this growing area of Capitol Hill nightlife.

Both Friedman and the cafe’s owner Nick Woell declined to comment on the deal but CHS has confirmed details with people familiar with both businesses and CHS has verified that staff at both Liberty and Online are aware of the changes.

The Online Cafe began the month of April shuttered with a sign saying the coffee shop was closed for renovations.

IMG_8262 IMG_8263When it reopens as a Liberty offshoot, it appears the E Olive Way location may not immediately be a replica of the 15th Ave E original. The Online Cafe currently holds a state beer and wine license but is not yet permitted to serve the hard liquor and cocktails that have fueled Liberty’s rise in the Seattle craft spirit scene.

Friedman opened his bar in spring of 2006 on 15th Ave E. Liberty’s most notable features at the time for many – beyond some ribbing at some shabby finishings — were Friedman’s decision to serve sushi as his bar food staple and a trademark on a revolving cast of interesting bartenders. Soon, Liberty expanded its hours into daylight and opened every morning as a coffee shop. A 2010 expansion created the popular back room and brought in a co-owner — bartender Keith Waldbauer. Friedman’s place in Pacific Northwest cocktail culture also began to grow as he kept the bar on the forefront of the craft cocktail movement. Today, Friedman is president just ended is reign as president of the Washington State Bartender’s Guild and Liberty has become one of the most popular cocktail stops in the city.

8617631703_840317624c_bWoell, meanwhile, will apparently bring The Online Cafe to a close after successfully resurrecting the business when a chain of shops it was part of imploded amid financial chaos in 2011. Woell stepped up after working at the cafe to take ownership and keep the coffee shop — with computer rental — alive. CHS talked to him about the venture in summer 2011. “We’re probably in the biggest connoisseur market in the whole world for coffee,” Woell said. “We try to provide the absolute best coffee we can, especially in terms of presentation. It’s not an easy thing to have a coffee shop on Capitol Hill.”

[mappress mapid="26"]Until Friedman has more to say about the deal, we won’t know what other changes are in store for 1720 E Olive Way. Currently, there are no permits for major construction at the address in city records and the state liquor board doesn’t show an application for a spirits license.  On the coffee front, as we noted above, Friedman has made a daytime business of it for years and recent efforts by some of the Liberty extended family to launch Slate Coffee could also help to inform the venture. One bit of paperwork does reveal that the deal has been in the works for quite some time — Woell let the cafe’s City of Seattle business license expire with the end of 2012.

With nightlife change afoot on Liberty’s original 15th Ave E home turf, Friedman’s venture will also join a shifting — and more competitive — nightlife economy on E Olive Way. Across the street, night club The Social remains shuttered despite a steady drumbeat of rumors about interested parties looking to move into the offline club. But the quiet of a comatose club belies the hustle underway elsewhere on the street from the Bleu Bistro’s Grotto up top, down through Tommy Gun, CC’s, the overhauled Starbucks, the Bus Stop and onto the bottom of things with Clever Dunne’sHillside Bar, Montana and the been-there-forever Crescent. Keep going and you’ll hit Speckled and Drake and John John’s Gameroom. If craft cocktails are eventually part of the mix, they seemingly will fit right in. Sushi? Why not.

You can learn more at libertybars.com. Yes, bars.

UPDATE: No official confirmation from Liberty or Online but we’ve talked to two more employees who confirm that it’s a done deal and that you can expect to visit the new joint in early summer.

The old days at Online (Image: The Online Cafe)

The old days at Online (Image: The Online Cafe)

24 thoughts on “Liberty II? Capitol Hill bartending suzerain has plans for E Olive Way

  1. I’ll definitely miss Online Cafe. They filled a niche around here that no other place is filling: an unpretentious, late-night hangout spot with chill music and great coffee. I’ve put in a lot of hours at this place studying and surfing the net. It’s sad to see them go.

  2. Alas for The Online Cafe but hurrah for Liberty! I love the 15th Ave Liberty but not the steep stroll to the top of the hill. Welcome.

  3. Of all the places that will serve you an old-timey cocktail for $10+, Liberty is by far the least pretentious and the most fun. I really like going there and I’m glad they’re coming to the west side of Broadway.

    This opens a window for another niche market, though. With Bauhaus and Online closing soon, I can’t think of another coffee shop open until 1 AM. The Gaybucks closes at 11 PM. Where else can someone get espresso super-late at night?

  4. Why only mention the newest bars (besides The Crescent)? Both the Bus Stop and Clever Dunnes have been on E. Olive Way longer than any bar, besides The Crescent, that you mentioned.

    • Thanks — I’ve been adding items to that list all morning. (CHS had site outage late last night while posting this so probably still finding typos, too)

  5. It’ll be nice to have Liberty with a presence on Olive Way. That’s an establishment that is similar to its neighbors, Tommy Gun, CC’s. Bust Stop, etc…

    I hope they can pull off some outdoor space. It’d be great to have a cocktail out of doors.

  6. Here’s hoping they keep one of my favorite pieces of outdoor artwork in the neighborhood where it is.

  7. Too bad. ONLINE had great coffee and super nice baristas. Couldn’t beat the conversations.

    LIBERTY is a step in the wrong direction. Very hipster fake crowd. Very boring and too drunk to talk about anyone but themselves. Won’t be wasting my time there.

  8. I feel like a friend died. Thinking back to my last visit I wish I had savored it more. It felt worn but comfortable, like a college apartment. The art was generally a tad sophomoric for my taste (skulls and whatnot) but Nick was a diligent curator. I always wondered if Annie’s true color was platinum blonde. The window seats were good places to watch the day go by.

    Between the rampant spread of hipster bars and corporate retail our neighborhood is becoming economically and culturally homogenized.

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  11. Actually Andrew isn’t the president of the WSBG. It’s Jim Romdall of Vessel. They held a vote back in October 2012 and Jim took over before the end of the year.

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  13. I’m not encouraged. I used to hang out at Liberty fairly regularly. It’s one of many places where I could count on consistently witnessing some of the worst of the signature icy,passive-aggressive Seattle “service.” The locals seem to love it, though.

    • Can not agree more. The drinks are great but service has been far beyond forgivable more than once. I steer my evenings away from this spot as a result.

  14. Just what we need–another bar on the hill. Isn’t everyone getting drunk enough already? Aren’t there already a great number and variety of places to socialize with alcohol? Like some of the other comments mentioned, what we really need is more places to go hang out late at night where the focus isn’t alcohol, loud music, and darkness. Mourning the Online Cafe (which had really nice staff over the years). BTW, if you want late night (or daytime) coffee and computers, don’t forget Uncle Elizabeth’s on Pike. Not sure how late it’s open, but as far as I know it’s now the only place you can go to rent computer time on the hill. And they have good coffee and nice people.

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