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CHS Re:Take | ‘I catch the bus here’

I was really interested in neighborhood commerce back in 2007, and luckily took note of every business on Pine from Minor to Broadway. This came up in my defense of the Bauhaus block and its high commercial density and resilient businesses a few years ago. In the preamble I described why I took the inventory:

I was living in Tokyo, and deeply saddened by the impending loss of my favorite places in Seattle: Kincora, Manray, Bimbo’s Bitchin Burrito Kitchen, and Cha Cha. Okay, I was living in Tokyo thinking “what a bunch of chumps!” as I watched Seattle undo itself.

I’m not sure if I know how to get out of this third- or fourth-level of Inception-style self-referencing and hyphened navel gazing. How about the old web author trick, a provocative picture?

Werner Lenggenhager took the old photo in 1977. I took the new photo Wednesday morning. They're mixed together. Pine from Belmont to Summit.

Werner Lenggenhager took the old photo in 1977. I took the new photo Wednesday morning. They’re mixed together. Pine from Belmont to Summit. What’s your purpose?

Do you know Werner Lenggenhager? He belongs on the Mt. Rushmore of Seattle street photographers. He took the photo in this month’s blend in 1977, wrote “I catch the bus here” on the back and gave it to the Seattle Public Library. The library is in the process of scanning them and posting them to their website. They’ve got a great quote by him: “Some persons contribute time to charitable causes. My pictures are my small contribution to the city.” He gave another 30,000 photos to the library over four or five decades.

The 500 block of East Pine — which is in that photo up there — was demolished in 2008 to make way for condos that were put on hold by the Great Recession. There was a nice gravel parking lot for four years until luxury apartment building Terravita was completed in 2012.

Do you remember the Bimbo’s block? Did you spend any time there? I’d love to hear about it in comments.

What’s amazing to me as I look at this 1977 photo, I see things I recognize from my time on this block 20 years later. That Harry’s Grocery sign was still there. Same with Mar’s Cleaners. At some point the cleaners left and by the time the building came down it was a bar with a clear view of Lenggenhager’s bus stop, named Bus Stop.

Here’s what my 2007 inventory of the building had:

518 Kincora bar
514 Manray gay bar
510 Harry’s Grocery grocery
508 Bus Stop bar
506 Bimbo’s Bitchin Burrito Kitchen restaurant
504 Cha Cha bar
500 Winner’s Circle boutique

I spent some good years with a group of friends at Kincora’s. Our drink, Guinness. Our bartender, Dave. I keep bumping into Dave’s writing all over the place. The Stranger had a great article last year about Dave’s Bar Room Writer’s Offensive. Drew and Cat poured us a few. The bar was owned by John and Rick, former football players. After the digital era arrived I tried browsing the Seahawks historical rosters for them and couldn’t, so I’m guessing they were on the 90-man roster perhaps? Kincora was full of bike messengers from ABC Legal. Now that they’re headquartered in the former Nippon Kan, I assume they drink in Pioneer Square or the ID. John and Rick decided to sublet to a guy with a coffee cart out front during the day, and my memory is that he started bartending, started doing trivia nights, and maybe bought the bar. By that point I was drinking elsewhere, probably La Spiga.

Kincora was full of beat up tables with booths along the east wall. There was a decrepit piano. Most of the west wall was the bar, with darts in the back corner. I think that’s where the pay phone was too, where one time one of our friends got in a fight with a lady because she wouldn’t hang up and let the rest of the public make a call. Pre-smartphone era. There was a second door that led straight to Belmont, hardly ever used. It was an important portal on St. Patrick’s Day though, when Belmont was closed for a beer garden and a couple of our friends were in the band playing Irish drinking songs. I remember a drunk Irish guy getting angry that we were not Irish and celebrating his holiday and then he started a fight in the bathroom, so that’s pretty legit right? (I am a smidgen Irish or maybe Scotch-Irish, he would have none of it.) The bathroom was one of the least attractive bathrooms on the Hill. Functioning and everything, but you only went in there because you had to. Which made it pretty hilarious when the Governor came over to use our bathroom instead of the one at Manray, where he was having a fund raiser.

There was something else next door when we started drinking, but at some point it vacated and this super fancy facade went up. Here’s what it looked like:

Photo "Manray Video Bar" by Joe Mabel, downloaded from Wikimedia

Photo “Manray Video Bar” by Joe Mabel, last day of 2006, downloaded from Wikimedia. Some day Joe Mabel’s face will be added to the Mt. Rushmore of Seattle street photography. Check out his full set of the Manray interior.

That’s where Harry’s Grocery had the “Fresh Fruits” sign in 1977. I can’t recall if the grocery was still over here before Manray or if it was something else.

Manray was really cool. In the pre-$50-LCD era they had monitors everywhere. They didn’t have a DJ, they had a VJ. I learned about all of these great songs by Tina Turner and Kylie Minogue that I had never heard. They had Barbie pouring drinks, which were fantastic. Back in the days before Manray opened we’d occasionally take a break from Guinness and cider to get a cocktail at Capitol Club, but Manray stopped all that. Some nights we’d just drink at Manray the whole time, often hanging out on the back patio which was raucous and must have pissed off the neighbors. And they had great food. Sometimes we would get a full pizza from Mama’s and take it to Kincora. Or we’d send someone to get burritos at Bimbo’s, which was great except when we sent one friend whose order for his wife with specific exclusions was always mixed up. But because of Washington’s weird liquor laws at the time, if we got there early enough, Manray had burgers and honestly I can’t remember what else. If we were starting early we’d land there for food and a martini and then go to Kincora’s for Guinness and maybe end up at Cha Cha drinking stiff 7-7s or whatever and trying to keep our stomachs still at the thought when someone ordered a cocktail with Red Bull. I want to say that there wasn’t much to eat on Pine during this era, but that’s not completely true. Maybe Travelers closed early and 611 Supreme wasn’t drunk-friendly? We never crossed the street, probably because there were no crosswalks and the road was four lanes and cars were hauling. And we never went more than a block uphill or downhill. We just stayed on the even side of the 500 block night after night.

Bimbo’s always had great music playing. Lots of hip hop. I remember one night sitting there having my mind blown by The Notwist’s Neon Golden. I walked down Pine and bought it at Borders as soon as my burrito and my drinks at Cha Cha were gone. (I’m pretty positive about this memory, but why would I not go up to the end of Broadway and buy it at Orpheum? It came out in 2003, was Orpheum already gone? Was Sonic Boom on 15th my only other option? Craziness.) You entered and ordered and walked along the counter to pick up your food and pay. There were maybe a dozen tables and booths crammed under lucha libre decorations. There was a door to Cha Cha, and you could actually order Bimbo’s food at Cha Cha but it seems like people stuck to either food at Bimbo’s or drinks at Cha Cha.

I think I forgot to say that Manray was a gay bar, and none of us were gay. I remember after quite a number of visits a waitress was surprised to hear that my wife and I were just a straight couple. It was fun to be in the minority and confuse people. It was always easy to meet people to laugh with.

I didn’t clear this with my friends first, so I’ve left out things like hospital visits and everyone’s relationships, trying to focus on the places themselves. Hopefully I’ve conveyed a sense of what that block was like to some of its regulars in the days before Terravita.

We left the Hill for awhile. I remember one of the first times I went to QFC after we were back, seeing the same guy that we used to chat with and always go through his line. I gave him the thirty second version of the intervening years and he said, “Life is a circle.”

This was Werner’s bus stop and now it’s mine. Waiting, I see and hear echoes, and sometimes I can’t help but smile.

I’m hoping to hear your memories. I could use descriptions of the other spaces on the block. And the decades before I knew it.

Photo by Joe Mabel "Seattle - the last of 500 E. Pine 03" from Wikimedia

Photo by Joe Mabel “Seattle – the last of 500 E. Pine 03” from Wikimedia

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17 thoughts on “CHS Re:Take | ‘I catch the bus here’

  1. Thank you although beginning your piece in 2007, it leaves out so much more truly Gutter-Fabulousness that was this block on Capitol Hill. Don’t know where to start so I’m not going too. you left out a myriad of queer cultural importance. Ugh.

  2. Was this the same Harry’s Grocery that later moved to Bellevue Ave E, surrounded almost entirely by residential blocks, before it closed earlier this year?

  3. Thanks for another always-interesting post, Robert!

    I have a vague memory that, before Squid Row and Kincora’s, that space was a gay bar….possibly Tug’s before it moved to Belltown? Anyone know?

    • In the early 90s, The Kincora space was a gay bar called Tugs. It was one of the few bars where my fake ID worked when I first moved to Seattle. Senator Cal Anderson hosted an underwear party there to protest police harassment of gay bars. Manray was a coffee house called Cafe Puss Puss.

      • Cafe Puss Puss was great!

        I remember seeing cabaret at Tugs Belmont (the full name) when I first moved to the city.

        Didn’t Kincora have the same issues/complaints as the current 95 Slide space? IIRC there were frequently incidents of a bunch of douchebros coming to the Hill for that space and being terrible guests.

        There was a cool little arcade in what became the Winner’s Circle. it was only there for a while, but I liked to go there after work. I don’t think it was a bar – it just had old video games.

      • Many good times at that Tugs (the second iteration). Lots of Queer Nation post-meeting dance parties. The groove is in the heart…

  4. Squid Row was there before Tugs. Used to play pool there back in the day.

    The thing that really annoys me about all the new development are the cheesy Italian-y names. Terravita? Really? This is the Pacific Northwest, not Tuscany.

  5. Before any of the bars mentioned here, the Kincora site was an old-fashioned skid row tavern called Glynn’s Cove. There were many such taverns throughout Seattle–taverns where the hardcore drinkers gathered to inflict additional damage on their already damaged livers. This was still true in the late seventies. I also recall a small used bookstore was located on that block

  6. Thanks for the comments folks. I didn’t work this link into the article, but the Stranger had a great article just before the building went down with lots of personal experiences,

    Frankly, after reading that, I am amazed at what was going on around me while we were frequenting the 500 block. I think my peak time there must have been around 1997-2000. So take my account as an oblivious, straight, young person’s view of the block in that era. Basically everybody had more fun than I did, but I had plenty of fun. Kincora was undecorated and unpretentious and had seats and beer, and it provided a great launch pad for us.

    I appreciate the comments already and again encourage folks to read the article linked here.

    Also I missed this because I was out of country at the time, but Vaun Raymond apparently interviewed folks just before demolition. In the years since then I’ve become friends with Vaun so I’ll reach out to him and see if he’s planning to post it to YouTube, because his website Requiem for a Block is down now.

    Vaun received the same criticism, not covering the history of the block. Has anyone actually done that, other than the brief memories in The Stranger?

  7. I moved just across the street a few years before that whole block was torn down. One of the fun places was the temporary and very trashy first incarnation of Pony.

  8. I would never have guessed how much the place you live dictates the person you become. I had the good fortune of living in the third floor apartment that had a perfect view of everything that went on. Our building was very social. I spent a decade there and I had a blast!