If 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.
“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.
“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.