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Bars where Pete has had a drink

Friday, October 07, 2005

Sneakers, Seattle

In 1980, Dick Oldham bought a sputtering new bar across from the Kingdome parking lot called "Stanley's Ticker Tape," and renamed it "Sneakers." Of course, "sports bars" had existed for many, many decades in various cities, but Oldham did some things that few if any other bars in the country had done at the time. He got the idea to put televisions everywhere -- 10 TVs, so that patrons could follow simultaneous games and see them from anywhere in the joint. When lineman Reggie McKenzie was traded to the Seahawks, he flew in a chef to teach Oldham's crew how to make spicy chicken wings like they did back in Buffalo, NY (hence, "Buffalo Wings"). And he very actively collected an idiosyncratic set of memorabilia and autographs from local players/patrons and players from around the country. Sneakers (sold in 1996 and now "Sluggers") was often listed as one of the best sports bars in the nation.

But I'll always remember Sneakers for a much more personal reason. In January of 1996, I got an unusual opportunity to sell some of the stock I had in our private company. Four years before that, my wife's breast cancer had begun metasticizing into other parts of her body. She'd outlived the estimates, but we knew she was dying. The stock sale gave us a considerable amount of money, the ability to pay off mounting credit card debts, and the chance for me to tell LeRoux "We can do anything you want to do." This was after the miracle 1995 Mariners season and the first thing she said was, "Let's buy season tickets!"

We did, and in '96 we went to every game she felt well enough to attend. And after almost all of those games, we'd head over to Sneakers for drinks and to play the NTN satellite trivia game. Sneakers would fill quickly after the games, and LeRoux's legs didn't work too well by then. So I'd sneak out to the Kingdome runway to watch the last out, then dash over and save us a seat, and she'd come trudging over after watching the end of the game from our seats.

We had a lot of fun. We got to recognize all the Kingdome vendors and other regulars who would often play trivia after the ballgames. Of course this included Ed the Tuba Guy, whom all the regulars could imitate, including his regular outburst of "I disagree!" whenever he missed a question (which was often). "Tuba," my wife once shouted at him, "You don't have your tuba!" "He explained that they didn't let him bring it into the restaurant, and a passing waiter remarked, "Well thank God for small favors." "I disagree!" said Ed.

This kind of pleasant banter and distraction is especially welcome when you could use some breaks from more depressing realities. I can't tell you how much I loved those nights and those silly trivia games. But in mid July LeRoux went into the hospital and then the hospice, where she had to follow the Mariners on the radio. On the morning of August 25th, a hospice volunteer woke me from the chair next to her bed where I'd sleep and informed me, "Sir, Cheryl has died."

October 12th of that year was the last day before Sneakers closed. I went down, played trivia again, and dropped a note to Dick, the owner, about how much the place meant to Cheryl and me. Dick came over to talk to me and invited me to a private closing party the next day. I attended of course, and Dick bought my dinner, read a letter from Mayor Rice and the note from me, and finally had Ed play inside the restaurant. And before the night was over Dick gave me two glass mugs with the Sneakers logo on them, which I now keep, as I always will, in a cabinet with the most prized glassware I own.

(Added 11/21/09 from two posts made previously)

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