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What really happened at The Neighbor Lady: A non-disparagement agreement, an alleged political feud, and a new home at 23rd and Union

(Image: CHS)

Central District dive bar The Neighbor Lady has plans to open in a new location across the street from its longtime home as part of the Midtown: Public Square development.

The vegetarian-friendly comfort food bar has officially moved out of its 23rd and Union spot after its lease was not renewed — and there appears to be two sides to the story including pot shop offices worried about odors from a dive bar, a dispute over Egan Orion campaign posters, and an alleged District 3 political feud playing out among business neighbors at 23rd and Union.

In January, CHS first reported on The Neighbor Lady losing its lease inside the building connected to the Uncle Ike’s pot shop complex at this key corner in the Central District.

Neighbor Lady co-owner Stephan Mollmann tells CHS the bar was “kicked out,” while landlord and Uncle Ike’s owner Ian Eisenberg cites a new use for the space as the reason behind his decision to replace the bar.

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In the spring of 2012, Twilight Exit bar owner Stephan Mollmann and Shira Bray opened The Neighbor Lady and shortly thereafter the building was sold to a company registered to Eisenberg’s family. For eight years, the bar has been situated on the ground level of an office building belonging to Eisenberg.

The bar originally had a five-year lease and Eisenberg said he “was very open with the owners” about not wanting to renew the deal long-term. Eisenberg says he now plans to turn the spot into additional office or storage space. He told CHS the new company with Eisenberg listed as the sole director, Uncle Ike’s Liquor, LLC, formed in September was a coincidence and part of another business deal elsewhere in the city.

“Having an office above a bar is not ideal to begin with and a bar that’s not run efficiently is problematic,” Eisenberg tells CHS. “We had a lot of problems with things like gas leaks, just simple maintenance issues, odors,” the pot shop entrepreneur said.

Eisenberg also was concerned when the bar transitioned partial ownership from Bray to add Tom Vivian as a new partner without his approval.

Mollmann tells a different story, explaining that the lease agreement was not clear. He said that, although they did not receive a copy at the time, he believed they had agreed on another five-year lease but it turned out to be month-to-month.

“We didn’t lose our lease, we got kicked out. He just decided that he didn’t like Tom, my business partner — thought he was conspiring against him with Squirrel Chops coffee shop with one of the owners. He thought they were spreading anti-Semitic stuff,” Mollmann said, denying allegations of anti-Semitic plotting.

Squirrel Chops opened at 23rd and Union in 2016 and co-owner Shirley Henderson has been a visible and active supporter of Kshama Sawant.

After receiving a 30-day eviction notice in November, Mollmann said he negotiated a few more months so the bar could close at the end of March in exchange for signing a non-disparagement agreement, preventing the bar from saying anything critical of Eisenberg until the lease ended.

Mollmann said that prior to “a really retaliatory rent increase” and the eviction notice, Eisenberg asked him to cover the bar’s windows in campaign posters for Sawant opponent and city council candidate Egan Orion.

“I said I find them [the posters] divisive. I’ll put up get out and vote and all that stuff, but I really don’t want to back a certain candidate because you’re alienating the other half,” Mollmann said he told Eisenberg.

Eisenberg, in a conversation earlier this month, said the changes had nothing to do with politics and were simply about putting his space to better use.

Sawant went on to defeat the Amazon-backed, pro-business candidate to retain her seat at city hall. The Neighbor Lady was less fortunate.

Now, the bar has plans to move into a unit with an outdoor dining area in Midtown: Public Square, right across the street from Uncle Ike’s complex. Mollmann expects a long wait for the new home. The Neighbor Lady likely won’t reopen until the fall of 2021.

“We may go more towards a steampunk vibe because of the modern-ish look of the building, but it’ll be The Neighbor Lady,” he said.

Before The Neighbor Lady opened, the 23rd and Union space was home to soul food restaurant Thompson’s Point of View, which closed down due to financial difficulties. In recent years, 23rd and Union has been a burgeoning area of development, with multiple Uncle Ike’s properties opening up, new apartment units and the freshly-opened Central District PCC grocery store.

“I would’ve stayed there for years and years and years. We built that, we spent a lot of money building that place out and we did good quality work.” Mollmann said of The Neighbor Lady’s former space. “We jack-hammered the entire floor out, repoured the concrete. We did a lot of stuff to that building to make sure we could stay there for twenty years.”

Eisenberg, meanwhile, is preparing to open his latest new pot shop. Uncle Ike’s E Olive Way, under construction since last summer,  has been approved for opening by the state and should be ready for business soon.

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19 thoughts on “What really happened at The Neighbor Lady: A non-disparagement agreement, an alleged political feud, and a new home at 23rd and Union” -- All CHS Comments are held for moderation before publishing

  1. Clearly the ‘ signing a non-disparagement agreement’ part either isn’t true or was ignored by one side. Who exactly wants to run a bar at this point ?

  2. Not crying any tears over the Neighbor Lady. I was a regular patron until I noticed their antique spittoon tip jar engraved with “Redskin Tobacco” last May and explained to both owners that it was a racial slur and needed to be removed. Both Mollman and Vivian originally agreed to remove the item then decided that against it, and after two months it was still in use. I inquired again and they confirmed they would not remove the item, so I informed them they had lost my business permanently and they had 48 hours to remove it before I publicized their failure to remove an unequivocally racist customer facing item. It was gone after that. Undoubtedly these guys are nothing compared to Eisenberg in terms of gentrifuckers, but for a business in 2019 in their location, their behavior and choices were inexcusable. I hope they make a public apology, do land acknowledgement and commit to the Real Rent Duwamish campaign when they reopen.

  3. I am so happy Neighbor Lady has found a new home in an non-Eisenberg leased space across the street. Ian is shady and I would prefer to take my business elsewhere – like Ponder down the street for one. If Eisenberg opens a new bar in the old Neighbor Lady space I will call it the Neighbor Shady.

  4. Wow, I am so glad they plan to re-open in someday world.
    I know it’s hard in new construction, but I hope they’ll be able to design-in the cosy vibe of the old place – a miracle where you could hear the jukebox and people at your table – but you never had to shout. Wood is probably partly why.

  5. Yea, Ian continues to sound like a complete asshole. Amazed more ppl don’t avoid his business. Dude needs to get the fuck out. Also, why does he get to have the thumb on how his renters perform business? You rent the building man, you don’t get to define the ownership.

      • Away? Far away.

        He’s a bully and a jerk (and, obvi, more than a bit of a despot). No wonder he’s got a little empire.

        Need weed? Shop at Ruckus or Ponder. Screw Ian Eisenberg.

  6. I’m stoked Neighbor Lady is coming back. I miss that hummus platter something fierce.

    I always found it to be a great welcoming place and am so appreciative of Stephan and partners for being present in our community. Midtown just got a bunch better.

  7. Dear Karen – the “Redskin Tobacco” spittoon in question was replaced by an almost identical spittoon with no such logo that may have offended your white privilege. Also, that was the tip jar for the hardworking and lovely bartenders, but you may not have known that since your money obviously was stuffed under your soap box….


    Have a great day!

  8. Ian is so gross I can’t believe how people line up. Ponder much better. Looks like a public riot blocked entrance to his masturbatory palace on 23rd last night. Perhaps people are taking his injustices seriously. At some point his sleep must be disturbed. I guess he has a lot of product to push him through his jacked psyche.

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