Linda’s, a Pike/Pine constant, turns 20

A picture of Linda from the early 2000s hangs hangs behind the bar (Image courtesy Linda’s)

If Instagram were around in the early 1980s, Linda Derschang’s feed would be filled with pictures of her skiing in the Colorado Rockies and grabbing post-slope drinks inside log-constructed bars in small mountain towns.

Maybe it would be a neon sign, or a wooden booth, or an arrangement of stylish people sitting at the bar, but somewhere would have been the germination of the idea she would build a decade later into Linda’s Tavern. Linda’s celebrates its 20th anniversary on Capitol Hill next week.

“People say ‘of course you know it’s going to be successful.’ No I don’t. I’m not easygoing about success,” Derschang told CHS as the anniversary approaches. “I’m the person that thinks it could all close up at any moment,” she said. “I don’t know, time will tell.”

The Linda’s empire, which Derschang refers to simply as “the company,” spans six Seattle venues and is not actually a company but six separate corporations that she oversees. Derschang is the first to admit it would have been easier to create one company and six Linda’s around the city. “But it wouldn’t have been as interesting and I’m not a big fan of chains.”

An executive board helps Derschang manage all the moving parts of the company. Another group of bartenders and managers fill different roles across different venues to ensure, among other things, that the company’s 1.2 million ounces of Rainer beer gets where it needs to go every year.

At 56, Derschang hasn’t put much thought into a break from the business. She’s not even sure who would take her place. “Eventually I’ll have to change my role,” she said.

The seven-story Pike Motorwork project will soon surround Linda's and its much-loved patio

The seven-story Pike Motorwork project will soon surround Linda’s and its much-loved patio

For many Linda’s regulars, the bar and surrounding neighborhood are inseparable, two histories intertwined. While the neighborhood transformed over the past two decades, Linda’s naturally rolled with the tide. But the Hill’s transformations for the next 20 years might have a different feel and Derschang said she’s not sure how the “nice place for nice people” will fare. She lists off four of the closest major development projects that will soon bring thousands of new neighbors to Linda’s doorstep, looking for a place to call their own. “I can’t predict what will happen,” she said.

Despite the feelings of ceaseless change, 2014 features a trio of Pike/Pine legends celebrating major business milestones. Earlier this year, Neumos and Moe Bar celebrated a combined 10/20-year birthday. This spring, Caffe Vita will host an extra-hot party to mark its two decades pulling shots on E Pike.

Inside Oddfellows Cafe, which she opened in 2008, Derschang opens her phone to show a picture of her dog playing in snow. “It’s the most likes I ever got on Instagram,” she said.

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Inspiration for what’s next? An image from Linda’s recent travels

It’s a cute photo, but if you want a peek into the possible future the Linda’s empire, look three images earlier to a photo Derschang snapped during a trip to Mexico earlier this month. It’s simple enough, old tables and chairs at a beachside cafe enclosed by palm-trees. But Derschang said that’s all it takes for her wheels to start spinning, mentally weaving together a table here and wainscoting there to create the conceptual fabric for her next expertly designed Capitol Hill bar.

“The ideas don’t stop. I could easily keep going. I see all these different things, I shake them up, and it comes out as my own place,” she said. “One photograph, who knows what it could start?”

Creativity has been the driving force for Derschang, which after 20 years has earned her the title of the queen of Capitol Hill’s drinking scene. Linda, like her namesake bar, has always attracted and been attracted to Capitol Hill’s creative crowd. From its initial seed money to its regular drinkers to its newest hires, Linda’s has relied heavily on musicians to keep the all-inclusive clubhouse afloat. “I like hiring people who are interested in something,” she said.

Derschang got her start on Capitol Hill as a punk kid from Colorado selling tight pants and Doc Martens from her Broadway clothing shop, Basic. Those early neighborhood connections would lead to a fortunate phone call from Sub Pop co-owner Jonathan Poneman, who wanted to get into the bar business after he had come into a little money selling Nirvana records. Along with Sub Pop’s Bruce Pavitt, the trio began planning what would become a Capitol Hill institution. The Stranger talked with Poneman and Pavitt about the anniversary here.

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Linda’s bartender Christy Elliott with the bar’s longest serving employee Mike Leifur (12 years), who’s wearing a handmade suit fashioned from 140 Crown Royal bags, contents of which were consumed at Linda’s during 2004. (Photo: Linda Derschang)

Linda’s opened its doors February 16th, 1994. The intention wasn’t to open a dive bar, necessarily. As Derschang noted, “a bar has to grow into it’s diveyness.” Most wouldn’t consider her Broadway creation Bait Shop a dive, but maybe after a few layers of bar grime, broken-in booths, and grizzled 10-year regulars sauntering in for a Rainer, it will take on some of that well-loved Linda’s patina.

Since that grunge-y beginning, Derschang has been a nonstop nightlife force in Seattle. She opened the Baltic Room in 1997 and Chop Suey in 2003. In 2006 she opened Kings Hardware in Ballard, and then returned to Capitol Hill to open Smith in 2007 and Oddfellows Cafe in 2008. Bait Shop came in 2012 and Tallulah’s opening closed out 2013.

Linda describes opening a new place like deciding to have a another child. You do it out of love and the desire to create, less out of boredom and frustration that your older kids are cranky teenagers.

And, apparently, you post lots and lots of pictures on the Internet.

Linda’s Tavern will celebrate its 20th Anniversary with a party on Feb. 19th, featuring all night happy hour and all-Seattle music. Here are details from Linda’s HQ: 

Linda’s Tavern Celebrates 20 years!!

In 1994, Doc Martin boots were in high fashion, ladies dyed their hair the craziest colors that Manic Panic had to offer, OJ Simpson was riding in a White Bronco, and a divey bar on Pine Street became THE go-to neighborhood gathering spot for friends, bands and first dates. Fast forward 20 years, and almost absolutely nothing has changed, well, except for OJ Simpson’s future plans.

On February 19th, Linda’s Tavern invites you to come party with us for our 20th anniversary. Since the rent on your 250 square-foot apartment has probably quadrupled in the last two decades, we’re gonna have happy hour all night from open to close so you can save a few shekels and go see a Mudhoney, Posies, or Tad show (seriously, nothing has changed). Our friends Derek Erdman and DJ Curtis will be spinning their favorite jams from all eras of Linda’s Tavern history with a focus on Seattle tunes from 1994 to the present.

We’ve come a long way from the “glorified adult lemonade stand” as Linda’s co-owner and Sub Pop co- founder Bruce Pavitt once noted. Here’s to 20 more years of Rainiers, really good friends and rock and roll!

ABOUT: Linda’s Tavern has been the official Tavern of the Northwest since 1994. We are located at 707 E Pine St in the great city of Seattle, Washington. Linda’s regular hours are Monday through Friday from 3PM to 2AM, and from 10AM to 2AM Saturday and Sunday. Our meat is drug free, so you don’t have to be.

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