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‘We didn’t want to open in a pandemic’ — Barca plays it cool in exit from 20 years of Capitol Hill nightlife

(Image: Barca)

The COVID-19 crisi has claimed Capitol Hill’s Barca, a bar that managed to survive multiple editions of Pike/Pine’s rapid mutations. That stubborn sense of righteousness did the bar in, longtime manager Dan Carlisle tells CHS.

“We didn’t want to open in a pandemic,” Carlisle said.

With state and local officials warning that the spread of the virus has again reached levels that will soon overwhelm the area’s health systems,  and people being asked to mark the Thanksgiving holiday alone, does it make sense to keep Capitol Hill’s bars and restaurants open?

Carlisle said the management at the 11th Ave bar considered “50 different ways” to reopen but none made financial or moral sense.


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While Barca’s closure is of the dreaded “permanent” variety, others are making similar but so far temporary decisions. 12th Ave’s Canon announced last night it is ending its takeout and delivery efforts and will put the world renowned cocktail bar into a sort of stasis until it can fully reopen.

For Barca, the closure comes after two decades of Capitol Hill nightlife. Imagine an 11th Ave circa the year 2000 when Belltown was more Pike/Pine than Pike or Pine and large spaces were still available at affordable prices for nightlife entrepreneurs whose concepts were basically “dark lounge, “cool music,” and “owner a lead singer of a seminal punk band.” Barca — short for Barcelona —  was created in the Euro-vision of John Bigley, lead singer of the U-Men.

The Barca you’ll probably remember — dark and lounge-y (Image: Barca)

(Image: Barca)

If you called it the Barca — hard c — Lounge to be funny, you were not alone, Carlisle said. They had their own joke about the name centered around a photo of a Spanish dog they named “Barka.”

Carlisle said the Barca archipelago of Belltown nightlife on Capitol Hill took its on path over the years on 11th Ave. He worked there for the last 14. The weekends, Carlisle said, were what you would expect with the bar making the money it needed to survive “getting college kids drunk” on Fridays and Saturdays so it could do things like sustain one of the longest running jazz nights around on Thursdays.

In its later years, the difference between a weeknight and the weekend was becoming more stark as the college crowds continued but slower nights came during the week as the neighborhood’s demographics changed and housing in the area steadily increased in cost. The changes were also felt in how the bar was staffed.

“I had kids driving up from Kent to work at Barca,” Carlisle said.

With the arrival of COVID-19, Barca closed when the restrictions were put in place and never reopened. It’s a large space dedicated purely to hanging out and drinking — Bigley never got around to adding a kitchen. Carlisle said the government’s assistance for small businesses and the country’s inability to stave off the spread of the virus left Barca in a spot where it couldn’t open its doors again, even to say goodbye to regulars.

He would, however, like Barca to be remembered.

“Remember. When Barca got built, Barca, the Elysian the Comet, and the Wildrose.” Carlisle said.  “That was it. Now the Rose is the real last bastion.”

Capitol Hill and Central District COVID-19 Crisis Closures: CHS has tried to confirm all reported statuses. Please let us know if any information needs to be updated chs@capitolhillseattle.com -- LAST UPDATED: 11/11/20

Food and drink

  • Barca, announced 11/11/2020
  • Suika, lease issues, announced 9/27/2020
  • Juicebox Cafe, announced 9/28/20
  • Heritage Distilling Capitol Hill, announced 9/25/20
  • Amandine, closing 9/30/20 announced 9/25/20
  • Bar Sue, announced 9/25/20
  • Marination Station, announced 9/14/20
  • Ha Na, announced 8/27/20
  • Intrigue Coffeehouse, announced 8/21/20
  • Nates Wings & Waffles, Happy Grillmore and the Central District Ice Cream Company, announced 8/6/20
  • Americana, Broadway, announced 7/23/20
  • The Lounge by AT&T and Ada’s Discovery Cafe, E Thomas, announced 7/7/20
  • Bill's Off Broadway, E Pine, announced 6/24/20
  • Stumptown, 12th Ave, announced 5/26/20
  • Adana, 15th and Pine, announced 5/21/20
  • Tougo, 18th and Union, announced early April, Yesler location remains open
  • My Thai, 10th Ave E, closed but we're not sure when it shuttered

Retail and more


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Moving On
Moving On
12 days ago

I love Barca but that list of bars was definitely NOT it.

Neighbors, R Place, Manray, Linda’s, Cha Cha, Satellite Lounge, Baltic Room, just to name the other Pike/Pine places I went to regularly in 2000. Cha Cha in particular was so packed you couldn’t get in a lot of the time and I believe also qualified under the ‘dark lounge owned by musicians’ clause.

Sorry to see Barca go! Went there often, back in the day.

genevieve
genevieve
12 days ago
Reply to  Moving On

A lot of the mythology around Linda’s is the same – I’ve seen articles where Derschang says there was NOTHING on the hill before she opened her iconic bar, and that’s just….not true. Maybe they weren’t bars that she went to, but there was a nightlife that existed pre-Linda’s.

I can give Carlisle the benefit of the doubt because the places he mentions are all within a very limited strip of Pike that is now way developed with bars every 10 feet. I truly can’t recall other bars on those blocks in 2000 – although Pistil Books may have given way to the short-lived Clarissa’s by then (poor Clarissa. She was about 5 years too early for her wine bar on Pike concept!)

CD REZ
CD REZ
12 days ago

I drank out of the Stanley cup there. This was before cell phone cameras unfortunately.

A.Random
A.Random
12 days ago

Definitely have some great memories from Barca. Wish the owners and staff well in their future endeavors.

B.Random
B.Random
12 days ago

Sad to see such an awesome neighborhood struggling and wonder what it will be when it comes through the other side.

Brad
Brad
11 days ago
Reply to  B.Random

Look at Cal Anderson if you want to see the future of capitol hill.

ANNE MICHELSON
ANNE MICHELSON
12 days ago

This makes me sad. John Bigley, to me, is quintessential Capitol Hill. I will miss seeing him as I walk by.

Victoria Lehde
Victoria Lehde
11 days ago
Reply to  ANNE MICHELSON

I lived in the Winston from 2006-2009. It was such a great neighborhood <3 My neighbor in the building's first restaurant gig was at Barca.

andy
andy
12 days ago

i always thought it was a pun on barcalounger

Ryan
Ryan
11 days ago

I drank. I danced. I sat on the cushions and talked about things that didn’t matter, but seemed very, very important at the time. You were there when I needed you, Barca, and a critical part of the community. You’ll be dearly missed.

Zahra
Zahra
4 days ago

Used to go from Barca jazz nights on Thursdays to the Butterfly Room above Grimm’s. It’s so strange, these vibes definitely don’t exist on the Hill much anymore. Chill, swanky, low key, relaxed. I appreciate the newer bars a lot, but none of them have the sort of energy of the places that welcomed me to Seattle when I was still deciding to move here back in 2007 after I graduated. The lounge under the stairs at Purr was part of my hopping map too. I’ve lived in Capitol Hill the majority of that time and it’s heartbreaking to have watched the struggle in real time. Hope some of the classic spots can find their way back somehow.