By Jacob Olson and Tim Durkan/Images by Tim Durkan
We’re told there might be time for one last party: if supplies last, Charlie’s will host a blowout this coming Sunday of Pride weekend, the 28th, and you can expect to see a lot of faces from the recent and more distant past there if it happens. In the meantime, many have already been making the rounds at Charlie’s to say their goodbyes, keeping things quite a bit busier than usual, staff tell us. And regulars have been sitting in familiar booths and on well-worn stools, waiting for the swift changes afoot with some sense of uncertainty about the future.
This weekend, after 39 years on Capitol Hill, owner Ken Bauer will close Charlie’s. “The time had come,” Bauer told CHS earlier this month. “I think my business partner is looking down and saying ‘Hey, it was a good run.’”
Last Thursday night, the CHS Crow stopped by the old Capitol Hill hangout to talk with some regulars and long-time staff members. Memories flowed, names etched in to the annals of Charlie’s history were checked and the word “family” was heard more than once. And while no tears were shed during the interviews, some promised they would be coming. Change and loss is certainly never easy.
| Hal and Dr. Brenner
What does this place Charlie’s mean to you?
Dr. Brenner: Well, when we moved up here to take over the management of the Sylvan Apartments in 1991, we walked up and down the street a lot and dropped in and we liked it. … And when we got transferred to different parts of town we always kept coming back. We like the atmosphere. And the prices are fair.
Now it’s going to be gone — they’re closing their doors. So that’s gonna make me sad.
Quarter of a century, you kind of get attached to a place. We’ll miss it, sure. But we’ll find another place.
How often do you guys come here?
Dr. Brenner: Twice a week, we have been
Feeling sad about it as well?
Hal: Yeah, I’m gonna miss it. Especially because of the employees here. They’re all great employees. They’ve got good personalities, they let their personalities loose. So, it’s a joy to come here.
Dr. Brenner: They’re good people. The food’s always good. They’re all real good people.
Can I ask how old you gentlemen are?
Dr. Brenner: I’m 82.
Hal: I’m only 89 years young. In my family, 110 was was normal, on my mother’s side.
Where are you guys from originally?
Hal: Connecticut. My mother was from Rhode Island. My father from Boston, Massachusetts.
Dr. Brenner: I was born in Louisiana. And I went to various universities. I was awarded two doctorates and two masters: licensed psychotherapist, and a doctorate in music.
What do you have to the people of Capitol Hill?
Hal: What I have to say to the people of Capitol Hill is we’ve lost one of the greatest places in Capitol Hill. And, we’re gonna miss Charlie’s. It’s gonna be hard to find a place to take it’s place.
Dr. Brenner: Keep up the good work. Keep living the good life.
Hal: And don’t cry too hard over the loss of Charlie’s.
Dr. Brenner: And if you keep truckin’, you can look 60 when you’re 80 also.
… what’s your secret?
Dr. Brenner: Lot’s of Ovaltine.
Where to you work?
Right up the street at the Broadway Market QFC.
How long have you been coming here?
Since pretty soon after I starting working up here. … So, [since] May or June of last year.
And you said Charlie’s has played a role in your relationships?
Yes. I met my current girlfriend at work but this is really where we started conversing.
Do you feel like Charlie’s offers something that other places on the Hill don’t — something that draws you here?
Accessibility, and the atmosphere. The places I’ve been, I can’t think of any place that has the backroom, where you can just go and be with buddies and maybe run up and grab a drink at the bar.
Is there a place you guys have in mind to hang out at after Charlie’s closes?
Not that offers the same thing. I mean we’re gonna have to rack our brains to find something, and have to really branch out and explore.
Are you from the neighborhood originally?
No, I’m from Eastern Washington. I moved out here March of last year.
… what part of Eastern Washington?
North-Central, little boony-town, right on the border.
What do you have to say to the people of Capitol Hill?
Hopefully somebody can find someplace or find someway to open something like this, because it’s really gonna be sad to see it go.
| Robyn, Gary, Mike and Jeff
How long have you been working here?
Robyn: On and off since the 90’s. That is why I have one of these shirts. [Laughter.]
… and this has been your primary gig?
I went away for many years. Came back. Ken [owner Ken Bauer] and I are old friends. So, every time he was in need of something I’d help him out, and vice versa.
Gary: My anniversary was Halloween. I started here in 2011, so I’ve been here about four years. It’s one of the places where the weeds get separated from the chaff pretty easily. A lot of people stay here for a long time.
Jeff: I’ve been here 10 years.
What does Charlie’s mean to you?
Robyn: It’s a home away from home, absolutely, 100 percent. It’s an icon, it’s a total Seattle icon. Anybody who I know … you say ‘Charlie’s’ and everybody knows what it is. … And back in the day we used to have a lot of old-school rock and roll guys in here too. Lane Staley used to come in and get food, you know, before they got real big. So, it’s always been a cool little place.
Gary: You know how a lot of Seattle residents are transients — like not from the area? So it’s kind of nice to have, like, a family, for lack of a better term.
Robyn: Yeah, I have gotten a lot of real good friendships out of this place. One of my best friends is from here, I met him in ’92. And, you know, I love all these guys. We’re all gonna be family no matter what. We all hang out together .
You said you’ve done some work here Mike?
Mike: I’ve worked here on and off for a number of years.
Jeff is one of my bosses, he’s one of my friends.
Jeff: Mike’s been a big part of this place.
[He] gets money by doing us service. We’ve hired him to sweep the alley and other things.
Mike: It’s just a few bucks, but, you know, it’s something.
Is there a warm moment, or a time when community really came together here, you want to share?
Jeff: Juanita was 87 years-old, and she came here every day. She had no family. And as a matter of fact, right on this wall right here there’s a news article about Juanita, and how she spent every holiday here because she had no family. And when she passed away, people took a table where she normally sat at up front and put a sign up that said, “This space is reserved for Juanita.” And for four days they had that sign up. Just, ‘No one can sit here because that is where Juanita sat.’ And she’d been coming here for thirty-some odd years. That’s my most heartwarming moment at Charlie’s
Gary: I think another good one is when Karrie’s mom got in to trouble, and there was a fundraiser to get her money so she could go back home and pay her rent and visit her mom. Karie’s just one of our regulars.
Jeff: We had a bartender who got cancer, two years after he started working here. And he worked here for seven years. We had a big ‘ol fundraiser for him. He wound up passing away.
Robyn: I missed some of these, but I always remember Juanita.
Jeff: We were all very close to Juanita.
Can you give any other examples of what the community here is like?
Jeff: A bunch of our regulars — we’ve always done big parties together, and this weekend is river rafting. They’re taking a float down the river. There’s 35 of them all together. This is always kind of the party spot. We’ll gather at Charlie’s and take a party bus to go bowling. Or we’ll do a 70’s party and all show up here.
Where do you think the next “Charlie’s” might be?
Gary: I don’t think any place is going to bring in everybody like Charlie’s did. Some people will go to Deluxe. So people will go other places on the Hill. It’s just — the melting pot is gone.
Robyn: We want to see the Charlie’s family come in on the 28th. They’ll all be here. They’re all coming in for it.
What’s next for you?
Robyn: I also bartend at the Central, so I’ll be doing that for a while.
Gary: On Capitol Hill it’s all about networking. So, I’ve gotten several job offers … I’ll take a little time off and then be able to pick and choose what I want to do. It’s not going to be Charlie’s, but it’ll be alright.
Jeff: I work at CC Attle’s right around the corner, so I’m just gonna float with that for a while.
What do you have to say to the people of Capitol Hill?
Gary: It is the end of an era. People talk about [how] their parents came here for their first date. There’s something to be said about walking in to work and knowing everybody’s name, and knowing everybody’s story. That’s what I’m going to miss most.
Jeff: Yeah, it’s the Cheers of Capitol Hill.
Gary: It’s the Cheers of Capitol Hill.
Robyn: It is kind of a sad thing for me to loose one of the last true icons left in the city. Several of the customers I’ve had in the last several days have been like, ‘Crap, what are we gonna do? Where are we gonna go?’ I’ve had people call in making reservations because they had to come in for one last hurrah. People have come here, they’ve gotten engaged here. They’ve met here.
Jeff: We had an engagement like three months ago.
Robyn: We had an engagement last night, a young couple — I didn’t know there names — but it was a young gentleman and his girlfriend … He proposed to her outside here.
Mike: I’m going to miss seeing my friends all the time. … And they had the best nachos here, and the best steak I ever had.
Gary: I haven’t cried yet.
Jeff: I didn’t cry until I saw Tracie Mitchell [a Charlie’s regular for decades, staff said] last night.
Jeff: It was never the greatest food, it was never the greatest service …
Gary: … it’s not the Ritz Carlton …
Jeff: … it’s not the Ritz Carlton, but it’s home. It’s family, it’s home.
How long have you been working at Charlie’s?
It’ll be 12 years in August.
And what has this place meant to you over the years?
Well obviously my livelihood, first and foremost, a job. But it has included me in a part of the neighborhood and it’s a family. Of course most jobs of this sort become that way. But Charlie’s in particular, because it’s become such a part of the neighborhood.
We were just discussing this yesterday, how close we all are. … It’s such an easy way of coming and seeing your friends that you’ve known for years. … Now it’s like, ‘I have to plan to see you.’
I do miss our personal parties, our Christmas parties. Or just something basic — coming down here, singing karaoke, having drinks with the crew.
You live in Capitol Hill?
I do. I’ve been here since 2001. I’m not leaving. [Laughter.]
What makes Charlie’s unique?
Because people feel comfortable in a place that is neighborhoody. Where you can actually be real and have people talk to you like a person, as opposed to just a customer. I feel like neighborhood bars have people who come in and want that type of social interaction and want to get to know you, and want you to get to know them.
And I think as far as the absence of Charlie’s and some of the other businesses that have closed down — I feel like that is going to leave a hole, and has left a hole.
Is there going to be a spot where everyone from Charlie’s hangs out next?
We don’t know. We’ve been talking about it the last few days. This is all new for us as well. I think really because of the changing face of Capitol Hill that people will probably be a little more spread out.
What are your plans for after Charlie’s?
This is my main job. I’ve yet to think about it. I took a few days — my days off — to say, ‘Ok, I’m just going to relax and not stress about it.’ You know, that will probably come up in the next few weeks, so I’m not worried.
Oh yeah, I love this industry.
What do you have to say to the people of Capitol Hill?
I really hope that there can be more places that are like a neighborhood. Even if it’s not a divey bar, that there can be more neighborhood establishments in general where people can feel comfortable instead of feeling like just a number, just a customer. I hope that continues in some way, shape or form.