Garage, Capitol Hill’s pool hall and bowling alley, turns 20

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Garage’s original pool hall and 2003 bowling addition on the left. (Images: Garage)

Even before the first rounds of pool and bowling were played at Garage, ball games were essential to start of the Broadway bar and restaurant celebrating its 20th anniversary this month on Capitol Hill.

The first was a 1994 charity softball game where Alex Rosenast met Mike Bitondo. Rosenast, already a successful Seattle club owner, would later ask the inexperienced, recent college graduate to manage the new pool hall he was opening on Capitol Hill.

The second came eight years later with a pair fortunate seats at SafeCo Field. It was 2002 when Bitondo and Rosenast were sitting down at a Mariners game and realized the man sitting directly in front of them was the property owner of the building adjacent to the Garage, then just a restaurant and pool hall. Rumor had it the owner was preparing to sell the auto-row era building — then home to a fish tank wholesaler — to an office supply chain store.

The three started chatting and the owner mentioned his preference to keep the building locally owned. Later that week, the Garage owners bought it, cleared out the fish tanks, and added their first bowling lanes.

“Alex and I have always joked that if we hadn’t bought that building, there might be an OfficeMax there now,” Bitondo said.

While an OfficeMax on Broadway would come and go, the Garage will be celebrating 20 years on the street in July with all day $2.50 beers and live music on the patio throughout the month.

Garage opened in 1996 as a follow up to Rosenast’s first pool hall Temple Billiards, which he opened a few years earlier. Fresh out of college and with no management experience, Bitondo was brought on to run Garage. He would eventually become a co-owner. The two shared a love of old buildings and a common vision of a pool hall with an elevated game.

“We had always talked about that this not your grandfather’s pool hall. We wanted it to be nice, not stuffy … tasteful,” Bitondo said. “I always felt like were are restaurant and a bar, we just happen to have bowling alley and pool.”

Sandwiched between Seattle University and Seattle Central College and located on the same block as Capitol Hill’s only hotel at the Silver Cloud Inn, the Garage has never struggled to find customers. That allowed for a major expansion in 2003, another expansion in 2008, and the patio buildout in 2013. In addition to its pool hall and two bowling areas, Garage also has seven bars and two kitchens.

While the venue has undergone major transformations, Bitondo said that has not been the case for its customers. “I always feel like the clientele has never changed,” he said. “I always felt like Garage was a good melting pot.”

More recently the pool hall and bowling alley has become a popular hangout spot for packs of tech company workers visiting Seattle on business. In January the First Hill Streetcar brought even more foot traffic along Garage’s stretch of Broadway. It also brought a more chaotic feel to the outdoor patio and main entrance. Although nothing is in the works, Bitondo said he has been considering a pivot towards the back of the building, playing up a more pedestrian-friendly connection to the restaurant-filled Central Agency  building and the 10th Ave link to Pike/Pine.

As Garage celebrates 20 years on Broadway, Bitondo said he nearly decided not to mark the milestone at all. “I just felt like we want to keep doing what we’re doing,” he said.

Garage is located at 1130 Broadway. You can learn more at garagebilliards.com.

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