06 July 2011

Lost City: Seattle Edition: Virginia Inn

The Virginia Inn is on First Avenue, just up a very steep hill from Pike Place Market, the teeming open-air/indoor food and wares market that gives Seattle's waterfront its vibrancy—and which, unthinkably, the city tried to tear down in the 1960s and replace with a parking structure and a convention center. (I've never met an "urban renewal" scheme from that era that wasn't a piece of numbskulled, short-sighted, civic idiocy.)

The Virginia Inn is older even than that market. This corner was a bar, called the Virginia Bar in 1903. During Prohibition it was reportedly a cardroom. Irritatingly, the website for the current restaurant only talks about the joint's history from 1981 on (aside from saying it had a "colorful Skid road history"). That's when Patrice Demombynes and Jim Fotheringham took up ownership. They converted it into a casual French bistro and bar, and earned a reputation for fostering art exhibitions.

Aside from the great neon sign, and the bar, which looks on the oldish side, the Virginia Inn has a fairly contemporary look inside. The floor plan has altered; the place expanded into a neighboring storefront recently. I've read accounts that say it's been in "almost continuous operation." Almost. Perhaps the hiccup in time was Prohibition. But I'm pretty good at sniffing out former speakeasies. And the Virginia feels like on. In 2008, police found some old bones in a crawl space below the Inn, but it was determined that they weren't human remains. 

Below is an picture of how the bar looked in the first decade of the last century. At that time it was owned by two men called McNamara and Herdman. Not sure what the boat nonsense is all about. Probably something to do with the appalling state of the street. Imagine a frontier city having dirt roads and Seattle weather. A prescription for year-round mud.


Lor said...

When I was a kid, my parents used to have a house on the Olympic Peninsula when we lived in New Mexico. We would drive up there five times a year. We always spent the night in Seattle in this neighborhood before heading out to the Peninsula. And the Virginia Inn was where we ate. It gave me a pain of nostalgia to see that place. It was a little rougher looking and more bar-like 25 years ago. But the burgers were good. I always loved eating there.

Anonymous said...

When I lived in Seattle for a few years twenty years back, the Virginia Inn was my preferred in-city place for excellent beer and a non-Seattle (read: Microsoft employees or New-Age types) atmosphere. It reminded me a bit of the Plough and the Stars in Cambridge...