It might tell you more about the past five years than 2017 to know that 33 new “openings” was part of a general cooldown in Capitol Hill’s ongoing food and drink economy boom. More than two dozen new bar, restaurant, and cafe ventures opened their doors around the Hill for the first time this year. In the underpinning of those openings, however, we find a softness. During the boom, we’ve never included more openings on top of another recent opening that so quickly became a recent closing or more reboots. And if it wasn’t for poke sand sushi — pizza was 2016, yo — the 2017 opening tally would be even lower.
CHS won’t pretend to be able to explain why all the things that happen, happen. Surely, every boom must have a bust — or, at least, a slowing. The nature of the business — and margins — will mean shifts in approach over time.
One thing to point out about the year in food+drink 2017 is that even on what looks like the backside of the upward curve, Capitol Hill has a rich and varied network of ambitions, community, and creativity to present to patrons. And in the midst of it, there were still a few big, new ideas — albeit, in slightly little smaller spaces.
AMBITIONS: A small band of entrepreneurs forged entirely new food+drink ground across the Hill in 2017. Caitlin Unsell’s dream of a cat cafe came to life with E Pine’s Neko, a Bellevue Ave cafe became a craft coffee showcase with Ghost Note, while Good Weather grew from a hidden away bike shop into a new Chophouse Row cafe. The highest aspirations were found at By the Pound, Capitol Hill’s first deli counter with a secret bar. Meanwhile, perhaps the last of Pike/Pine’s era massive food and drink “complexes” finally debuted when the big beer-backed Redhook Brewlab made a summer opening.
NEW DIRECTIONS: Others took existing food+drink spaces in enjoyable new directions. Cook and Weaver started the year debuting its witty, modern menu in the classic Loveless building restaurant space. Aviv Hummus Bar took the dish to new heights in a revamped old restaurant space on 15th Ave E, D’ La Santa started what its hopes will be generations of a family approach in a challenging North Capitol Hill restaurant spot, and maybe, just maybe the highly anticipated Westman’s Bagels and Coffee will join the 2017 roster with a just before New Year’s debut in the latest venture to call its E Madison walk-up home.
A NEW GAY BAR? Talk about ambitions and new directions. Just as the last LGBTQIA person moved off the Hill, the guys behind the nightlife foundations of Pike/Pine debuted Queer/Bar in 2017. Led by Joey Burgess, Q/B was born of hopes of preservation and growth of queer culture, and, yes, stiff drinks. Because it happened on Capitol Hill 2017, there was an asterisk. The new gay bar replaced an old gay bar — Purr surely highlights Montlake’s 2017 year in food and drink.
NEW NIGHTLIFE: New clubs joined the scene in 2017. Powered in part by E Pike hot dog cart sales, the Capitol Lounge opened in March to bring another DJ-powered venue into Pike/Pine’s bass-booming offerings. The Saint was reborn as an all-club, no-food venue more like its sibling Havana. And old-timer Neumos made massive infrastructure upgrades while overhauling and rebranding its sibling bar as The Runaway.
THE REPLACEMENTS: Speaking of Neumos, its small restaurant tucked into the corner of the club at 10th and Pike was Ground Zero for one peculiar aspect of 2017 Capitol Hill food and drink. The hype was SUPER STRONG for the coming of Paseo to the space. But when it came, things didn’t quite work out. The hype cycle was quickly rebooted presenting the opportunity for a rare DOUBLE HYPE in the space in 2017 as Bok a Bok debuted in December. Another fizzle, Brian Clevenger’s Contadino didn’t last the year on 19th Ave E. Predecessor Ernest Loves Agnes gave the space a rare double closing in 2017.
More successful was the takeover of the centerpiece restaurant space in 11th Ave’s Chophouse Row. Marmite filled the space and then some where Chop Shop imploded in 2016. Another successful reboot happened at 15th and Pine where chef Shota Nakajima shifted from gold flakes to a more accessible take on classic Japanese with Adana. The crew also capped 2017 with a heroic rescue. Not a bad year.
Meanwhile, new players moved in on old spaces. Clever Dunne’s said goodbye after 14 years on E Olive Way. Tiki bar Hula Hula said aloha. Bai Tong took over the old Boom Noodle space at 12th and Pike. Itto’s Tapas replaced the owner’s own Toscana on Summit. Qin brought Biang Biang noodles to the former home of Baguette Box. Semillon took up 11th at Madison’s French bakery dream. Olive Tree put down roots in a 15th Ave E restaurant space that just didn’t work out for its first generation restaurateurs.
BITS AND PIECES: Global cycling brand Rapha opened one of its exclusive clubhouses on Capitol Hill… Starbucks experimented on Melrose with it multimillion Italian bakery acquisition… R&M Dessert Bar brought its sweet touch to a night out on E Pike… a lot of ramen came to Capitol Hill… Albacha looked looming demolition in the eye and said, hey, we’ll take our chances… Plum launched Plum Chopped… El Gallito celebrated 30 years… Optimism celebrated 250,000 pints.
PASSINGS: Charlie’s closed for a second time… and became this… the 19th and Aloha Tully’s closed after 20 years… after 41 years on Capitol Hill, Dilettante departed… Stumptown E Pine was shuttered… Sun Liquor Distillery bailed… Good Citizen was evicted by small children… Sundry folded… Modern Steep, the 15th Ave E tea cafe formerly known as Remedy, closed… Rare Ethan Stowell punt Anchovies and Olives planned its final New Year’s… and the Redwood, god bless it, finally found peace and a better place… Port Angeles.
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