After 39 years, Charlie’s owner Ken Bauer gives his regards to Broadway

(Images: Alex Garland for CHS)

(Images: Alex Garland for CHS)

IMG_5542If you want to reach Charlie’s owner Ken Bauer, all you have to do is call his Broadway restaurant. He’s there seven days a week, dressed in a shirt and tie, answering phones and greeting customers. He answered right away when CHS phoned Wednesday to set up an interview about the closing of the business he helped open in 1976. After we settled on a time, Bauer signed off saying, “Okeydoke, I’ll have the coffee on for ya.”

The Broadway institution will be closing sometime during Pride weekend, though Bauer hasn’t settled on an exact time. The closure may come as a surprise to some, though it’s actually the culmination of a drawn out exit for Bauer who had been trying to sell the business for several years.

In the early 1970s, Bauer was working as a restaurant manager for a company that’s now called Restaurants Unlimited. Bauer ran restaurants for the company in Seattle, then Hawaii and Reno, until he and his wife decided they wanted to return home. It just so happened that the company’s co-owner Charlie Quinn was about to open his first namesake restaurant on Broadway.IMG_5614

“I think my business partner is looking down and saying ‘Hey, it was a good run.’”

At the time, Bauer said Broadway only had a smattering of places to eat, most of them “themed” restaurant’s similar to Charlie’s. In 1976, state liquor laws required bar areas to be separate from restaurants, leading to the dual-entrance establishment. While the laws have changed, Charlie’s and its Pepper Pot Soup have stayed the course.

After opening Charlie’s, Bauer held numerous positions at the restaurant and bar over the years, but was a consistent presence within its storied walls. He also helped expand Charlie’s to Bellevue, Olympia, and even into Oregon and California. All have since closed or changed names. Charlie’s on Broadway will be the first and last of its kind.

After Quinn died in 2000, Bauer officially took over Charlie’s. In an agreement with Quinn’s estate and building owner John Limantzakis, Bauer agreed to run the business for at least 10 years in honor of his friend and business mentor.

As the end of the lease agreement approached five years ago, Bauer started looking to sell to no avail. Limantzakis couldn’t find a new tenant, either. In the meantime, Charlie’s ceased to be profitable and Bauer was ready to slow down.

IMG_5601Two weeks ago, Bauer said he Limantzakis agreed to part ways. Limantzakis did not return a request for comment on the future of the space Thursday.

“The time had come,” Bauer said. “I think my business partner is looking down and saying ‘Hey, it was a good run.’”

Indeed, DeLuxe Bar and Grill is the only standing Broadway restaurant that can boast a longer run.

News of the closure rapidly spread though the neighborhood this week. A server told CHS the restaurant was swamped Wednesday night as longtime customers came in to start saying their goodbyes.

The outpouring of support and retelling of found memories has brought Bauer to tears several times, he said. In addition to its bar regulars and restaurant regulars, Charlie’s was also home to meetings for community groups like the Lions Club. And while Bauer’s time as a business owner is nearing an end, he said he would still like to continue to work in the industry in some capacity.

But Charlie’s isn’t 86ed just yet. Bauer gathered his employees earlier this week to encourage them to go out on a high note.

“It will not only make our founder and namesake happy and pleased from up in the sky, but we’re also professionals,” he said. “Let’s do our job.”IMG_5623

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5 thoughts on “After 39 years, Charlie’s owner Ken Bauer gives his regards to Broadway

  1. It’s a sad, sad sign of the times that Charlie’s is going away. I know there isn’t much hope, but perhaps whoever takes it over can at least keep SOME of the charm, decor, and feel of the place. Maybe a local billionaire who’s been going there since childhood will step up with a bit of pocket cash and establish a Charlie’s Foundation?

    I’ll be there this next weekend (and maybe this one too) getting drunk for old times’ sake.

  2. This is terrible news! Charlie’s has been one of my favorite places to go since I moved to Seattle 18 years ago. As my husband and I have been coping with the rapid destruction of our neighborhood, I’ve said, “As long as Charlie’s, Twice Sold Tales, and the Stumbling Monk stick around, we’ll still have a few genuinely cool places left to go.” They are one of the only places with Megatouch and pool tables you never have to wait for. Plus, their food was actually really good! The pot roast and turkey clubs were pretty much the best drunk food. I will really miss them.

    The last thing we need is another giant, vacant space like the two year-long void that used to be Broadway Grill.

    • I imagine once the light rail is up and running, retail spots on this end of Broadway will be in a lot higher demand, and get/stay filled much more easily.

    • Well, you can imagine all you want, but what’ll probably wind up there is a high end restaurant or other much more wealthy tenant. The space is being gutted and leased out for $25,000. Significant bump from now.

      The new tenant won’t be serving $5 shots and $8 meals, I’m pretty certain.

  3. I doubt the building will be standing in 5 years. The owners of properties on that block are now at the most desirable location on Capitol Hill with the light rail station entrance mere steps away. For the owners to get the most return on their investment they’ll build a large apartment/retail complex. I understand that this causes a lot of angst for many in our neighborhood, but I like to think the more people we accommodate in Seattle, the fewer homes we see climbing up the Cascade mountain range.

    I saw on the news last week that the greater Pugest Sound area needs to accommodate and additional 1.4 million people by 2040. Granted, 25 seems like a long time from now, but in a blink of an eye, we’ll be there. I like to think our neighborhood is doing its part to accommodate people.

    What seems to be a constant theme in the change of our neighborhood is loss of longtime businesses, scale of large developments, quality of materials in the developments, and sizes of retail spaces.

    The loss of longtime businesses is probably the most challenging aspect to deal with, and I’m not certain the CH Chamber of Commerce has a program to help businesses that may be on the edge of profitability or loss to help the shore up their finances.

    Regarding the developments themselves, that is where we can have some change. I know a lot of people feel the developments are too large, or out of scale with the neighborhood, but I always try and draw attention to Paris, London, and Washington DC. These are cities that have a large part of their land mass as 6 story buildings, however they also have the transit infrastructure to support that. London and Paris always strike me that their buildings are handsome, but not necessarily knock your socks off amazing. What I like there is there seems to be neighborhood cohesiveness in the design principles. We are lacking all of that on Capitol Hill, and most of our developments seem to look like architecture that got massacred by accountants. We can do better, and having design guidelines with teeth in them is a good way to start. I’m very pro development in our neighborhood, and I can see how the light rail is going to make this neighborhood even more desirable. However, I can agree with those who appear to be against the changes that are occurring that the quality of projects that are happening are generally poor. We can do better, and we should.

    Regarding Charlie’s, I’ll miss your constant presence on the hill, but honestly, that picture with ‘Hi’ written in the dust on the lamp isn’t doing you any favors. If the dining room isn”‘t impeccably clean, patrons question the kitchen.