Sunday, January 23, 2011
#1301 #S782 - Mel's Tavern, Seattle, WA - 11/25/2010
After a sumptuous Thanksgiving dinner at a friend's house overlooking the I90 bridge across Lake Washington, we rolled the car southward on a slushy Rainier Avenue, hoping to find an open bar that was not already on my list. Mel's Tavern did not look particularly promising. The OPEN sign was lit, but it looked completely dark inside. When we walked in, the only person there was Mel himself, sitting under the few lights on behind the bar, with paperwork and his medications strewn out across the bar. But Mel's was open, and for a lover of old dive bars and old bar stories, it turned out to be an exceedingly agreeable nightcap.
Mel opened Mel's 41 years ago. He's owned some other places in town: He owned the Alaskan Bar on 1st Ave for a couple of years (but didn't own the land, which he describes as an important early lesson); and he owned the building that now houses Lottie's Lounge. That building was constructed in 1892 and was once the Hotel Dakota and then the Columbia Hotel, which hosted the likes of Buffalo Bill Cody and other big names. But Mel wasn't aware of that -- it was the Bright Spot tavern when he bought it.
And the bars have helped Mel and his family go some places. He sold a lot next door years ago to help put his son through medical school (his son is now the team doctor for the Cleveland Cavaliers). After selling the Bright Spot, he rode a tug boat around the world -- to Australia, around the Cape of Good Hope, on to Europe. He hopes to soon visit a Samoan friend he met in the Air Force. And he hopes his daughter, who now works for Microsoft in Belgium, will be able to make it back for Christmas like she thought she would.
Before we leave, Mel quizzes us on the odd, cubist painting he rescued from his wife's disdain. "Can you tell what it is?" he asks us. We walk closer to examine the jumble of triangular, painted shapes, trying in vain to discern the distorted subject matter. But with the darkness of the room, and fatigue setting in after a lavish dinner, we both give up and have to ask him for the answer.
"It's anything you want to be," says Mel.
5717 Rainier Ave S, Seattle, WA 98118