15th Ave E is a place where businesses tend to stick around. The neighborhood commercial district is still home to a century-old cobbler and one of the area’s longest standing mechanics. Ten years ago it was still supporting a church-run thrift shop called Trinkets & Treasures.
The wicker furniture and dusty vinyl records left in 2006, but in its place came a bar that has become a neighborhood institution in its own right. This month Liberty celebrates 3,800+ consecutive days of business on Capitol Hill.
Owner Andrew Friedman has been at the helm every one of those days and plans to continue being a constant presence even as ownership changes loom for the cocktail and sushi lounge. “I really enjoy the community aspect of a neighborhood bar,” Friedman said.
The craft cocktail craze was still a few years off in Seattle when Friedman opened Liberty in 2006. Having prior service industry experience, Friedman decided to take a shot at opening a bar when he walked by15th Ave space and noticed it had become available. “I knew I wanted to open a bar … I was dreaming of being on Capitol Hill,” he said.
Not much of a drinker himself, Friedman said he was largely unaware of craft cocktails until the bartender he hired happened to have an affinity for fresh juicing and unique liqueurs. It would be the first of many hires that would help steer Liberty’s direction.
Just before the bar opened, Friedman said he held a meeting with his staff to decide what to do with a tiny unused area in the bar. Adding sushi to the mix was the answer: it was easy to prepare (so he thought), healthy, and something that could be done in a small space. Soon after Liberty opened it extended its hours to serve espresso drinks.
“It’s a weird mix, it confuses people sometimes,” Friedman said. But the formula seems to be working, even if Friedman no longer rolls the sushi himself and rarely takes a shift behind the bar.
One aspect of the business that is changing is its ownership. Working with Central Co-op, Friedman has started the process of transitioning Liberty into a worker-owned cooperative. It may come as a surprise after Friedman became the target of worker’s rights protests for supporting a measure that sought to roll back the city’s recently adopted $15 minimum wage law.
“I have definitely expressed my opinions, sometimes to Liberty’s detriment,” Friedman said. “Sometimes the very nuanced issues get lost in fantastical beliefs.”
Friedman opened his first Capitol Hill business back in 1995. After working in restaurants and watching this Internet thing start to takeoff, Friedman opened CapitolHill.Net Internet Cafe at 219 Broadway (yes, that was the cafe’s actual URL).
Before closing in 2000, Capitolhill.net offered a series of classes on using the Internet to get people in the door. Here’s what the beginner’s class had to offer:
“Internet? World Wide Web? Here’s a quick introduction to these mysterious services that everyone’s been talking about. You’ll get the chance to travel the world, and we won’t lose your baggage!
It is fitting that Friedman’s latest venture is growing one of the last true Internet cafes around Capitol Hill. In 2014 Friedman took over the Online Cafe space on E Olive Way to open Good Citizen. After several starts and stops the coffee shop finally opened in June with plans to add alcohol service later this year. And as Liberty’s workers plan to take a larger role in running the business, Friedman said he is looking forward to his next, undisclosed venture. Still, he said he can’t imagine ever completely leaving Liberty.
“15th Ave E is such a great neighborhood,” Friedman said. “It’s really the last bastion of old Capitol Hill.”
Liberty Bar is located at 517 15th Ave E. Learn more at libertybars.com.