Day and night: How Oddfellows overcame rough start to mark 10 years in Pike/Pine

Linda Derschang

Born in the wake of Obama’s victory when patriotism was fashionable and in a Pike/Pine neighborhood where the idea of a daytime-focused business was still a major gamble, Linda Derschang’s “cafe and bar” Oddfellows celebrates a decade on Capitol Hill this week with a Tuesday party.

Inappropriately enough, it starts at 8 PM.

“Oddfellows was the first business I owned equally focused on day and night,” Derschang tells CHS. “It needed to look good at nine in the morning, one in the afternoon, and six at night.”

Oddfellows debuted this week in 2008 in the historic Odd Fellows building at 10th and E Pine and has endured in a changing neighborhood while, yes, looking good around the clock with its big hall-style windows, brick walls, and fellowship lodge neon out front.

Its survival and thriving position as the venerable Capitol Hill High School and Pike/Pine 98122 cafeteria is a testament to Derschang’s style, the neighborhood’s population boom, and community support, Derschang says, through the cafe’s rocky and roll-y start.

In the beginning, even smooshing the “cafe and bar” element together — a mix now common across the Hill — was a neighborhood leap of faith.

Derschang, once known as a queen of Seattle nightlife, would have originally preferred that Oddfellows just be a daytime operation. But she worried the business wouldn’t survive the empty noon-lit streets of Pike and Pine circa 2008. “I wanted an all day, all night cafe because I was afraid we wouldn’t have enough neighborhood business during the day,” Derschang said. “There was barely any people walking down 10th.”

That was far from the biggest challenge Oddfellows faced. When it opened, Oddfellows was hyped as a joint venture from Linda, queen of the bar scene, and Ericka Burke, the up and comer behind North Capitol Hill daytime success, the Volunteer Park Cafe.

The resulting combination was a round-the-clock train wreck.

“Our first year was tough,” Derschang said. “Three months in, Ericka Burke says ‘I need to go back to the Volunteer Park Cafe and check on things’ — and she never came back.”

“Oh my god. She’s not coming back!” Derschang said, recounting the panic. “My kitchen is a disaster!”

But while she says Burke ghosted, Derschang dug in and muscled up, leaning on friends and relationships built up during years in the industry to hold Oddfellows together.

She is still bitter about Burke’s disappearing act — “It was a pretty unbelievable thing to do. Irresponsible and unkind.” — who has gone on to keep the VPC afloat but also run into more trouble in Pike/Pine food and drink after her high profile Chop Shop restaurant financially imploded in 2016 leaving the key commercial space in the middle of Liz Dunn’s Chophouse Row development empty. The debris from that blow-up finally cooled in October when a lawsuit from a group of former employees who say Burke owed them unpaid wages was settled.

With a little bit of help from her lawyer, Derschang said her partnership with Burke was unwound.

More help would come just down the street. In 2010, the Elliott Bay Book Company moved onto Capitol Hill after decades in Pioneer Square. Developer Hunters Capital transformed a 10th Ave auto row warehouse into a new home for what instantly became the largest independent retailer on Capitol Hill. Derschang said the project also was the catalyst needed to boost Oddfellows’s daytime business.

“All of a sudden, you started seeing other businesses geared toward daytime,” she said. “That really was the game changer.”

The cafe and bar’s revenues jumped 35%, Derschang said.

Now Oddfellows is ready to celebrate 10 years of day and night business.

The milestone is also a marker for the neighborhood. Before it was redeveloped and repopulated with retail, food, and drink, the Odd Fellows Hall was run down and ruled by artists. Derschang acknowledges the role her Oddfellows played in changing the building — the cafe literally replaced an acting studio — but hopes that her restaurant’s building represents a healthy version of Pike/Pine’s overhaul.

“People were unhappy that some of the arts organizations were going to have to leave — for good reason,” she says. “The developer could have rented to Starbucks. And Century was able to stay.”

So, about that Oddfellows flag… Derschang says she was a little surprised when the most Instagrammed element at Oddfellows ended up being the worn old American flag that hangs on the cafe’s southern wall:
The space’s color palette. All the light coming in. I was out shopping for odds and ends to put on the wall. Some photos came from inside the building. The old neon sign was found in the basement. I was in an antique store in Georgetown and there was that flag. It wouldn’t normally have occurred to me to buy it. It was beautiful, and Obama had just won the election. Most of us were not thrilled about George Bush. Everybody was so excited about our new president. I thought, ‘Let’s celebrate.’ The first weekend we opened, it snowed. I have a photograph of people’s skis leaning against the wall where we hang the flag.
Judging by Instagram, that snowy photo would be the first of many to come.

The Century Ballroom marked its long tenure in the building with an announcement of a new 10-year lease in 2017. CHS looked at the Odd Fellows building’s arts tenants including Velocity DanceFreehold TheatreReel GrrlsAnnex Theatre, and the Seattle Mime Theatre and the shifts that pushed them out, here.

In 2018 Pike/Pine, displacement concern is likely mostly centered on your favorite bars and restaurants. The arts venues in the Pike/Pine core are fewer and farther in between. The Odd Fellows building changed hands in 2017, purchased by a Las Vegas developer. Yes, luxury eyewear provider Anne and Valentin has plans a space in the building. But the new landlord is happy to keep Oddfellows in the space. Derschang said she just signed a new 10-year lease.

“I want it to carry on as it is now,” she says. “A neighborhood institution. The neighborhood cafeteria. The most Instagrammed restaurant in Seattle,” she laughs. “I want it to carry on.”

Tuesday night, Oddfellows is inviting friends and fans to celebrate the 10th anniversary with Sparkling Rosé Jell-O Shots and Oddfellow’s House Punch as well as signature Oddfellow’s Cocktails in a tin cup in honor of the joint’s “tin anniversary” for 5 bucks. There will be complimentary birthday cake and a bubbly toast. There will be DJs.

For Derschang, there will also be gratitude.

“Not every restaurant gets to have this, the support of the community. People keep rooting for us. People in the neighborhood just kept hoping we would get better,” she said.

“They really believed in the business. That’s what allowed us to get through the hard times.”

And, yes, true to its roots and forever faithful to the morning and lunchtime patrons, Tuesday’s Oddfellows celebration will have a gift for the first 100 daytime customers. Enjoy your “anniversary totes” — and your breakfast.

 

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5 thoughts on “Day and night: How Oddfellows overcame rough start to mark 10 years in Pike/Pine

  1. Oddfellows is an institution. I can’t believe it has only been 10 years! It does look great at all times of day/night and is an asset to the neighborhood. That said, I’m not a fan of Burke’s but I think it is mean-spirited and petty for LD to comment on a 10 year old conflict in this forum. Merry Christmas I guess?

    • Article left out the part where two of her employees tried to buy The Breakroom (now Chop Suey). She swooped in, elbowed them out and fired them after they told her about their plan, opened Chop Suey only to sell it soon after opening. Make no mistake, she is ruthless. One could say “you have to be”, but, plenty of others do the same with compassion while knowing all of their employee’s names. I don’t mean to shit talk her, But, people trash Ian of Uncle Ike’s for the same tactics she has used.