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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

#1340 #S804 - Gim Wah, Seattle - 1/11/2011

There are a number of good dive bars attached to Chinese restaurants in Seattle, but for me the Gim Wah in Magnolia tops them all.  This is largely due to the fact that it is too small for karaoke, and in too remote a neighborhood to concede much seedy integrity to a younger, more ironic crowd.

When I mention that I am headed to the Gim Wah, the owner of a neighboring restaurant tells me that the last time he passed by he saw a man out front of the place putting out his cigarette with one of the swim flippers he was wearing.  "It's always something at the Gim Wah," he tells me.  When I actually arrive there, there are ten customers -- all male, all over 40, and more of them outside smoking than inside drinking (though none wearing flippers).  Eventually a woman enters -- an older lady with a great swirl of blue hair and an overwhelming amount of soapy perfume.  Some of the men are loudly telling stories about crab traps and tides and how easy it was to dig up a bucket of clams 30 years ago.  As each new customer wanders in, he is greeted with some jest of recognition -- "Uh-oh, here comes trouble.  Ha ha ha!"  "You have the truck out tonight?" "Yeah, Trans Am don't go so good in the snow."  "Ha ha ha!"

When one of the regulars hears me order some Chinese food, he warns me "Four out of five stars?  That will blow your head off!"  But the meal is actually very bland by most standards.  Eventually a stylish couple with perfect hair, expensive overcoats, and neat scarves come in, looking like they just rolled in from the opera.  The male is clearly demonstrating his depth of character with this visit, and sits there amidst the rope light and faux marble, chatting up the bartender and commenting on how great everything is.

At the other end of the bar is a scary looking guy -- he looks stone sober and dead serious, a placid, impatient scowl beneath his thin mustache.  He is a big, Latino man who rarely speaks, but seems to lie in a steady orbit of drunk locals around him, who elaborate their problems to him.  The big man speaks quietly, so you can make out only the other, drunker side of the conversations.  "He don't pay me nothin."  "Life is hard.  I take care of my mother."  "You can be a good guy for so long, and then fuck it, it ain't workin."

There's snow starting to fall outside -- more is predicted overnight and people are wondering aloud if it will lead to the sort of traffic debacles that the last storm did.  The latest drunk guy to have been chatting up the stoic big man seems to be calling it a night.  The big man makes one last imperceptibly quiet comment, and the drunk man slides off his stool in the general direction of the front door.  "No," says the drunk guy, "I don't need your help to get home."  I decide to call it a night too, but I'll be back.

3418 West McGraw St, Seattle, WA 98199-3212 - (206) 284-7000
Est. ?;  Building constructed: 1946
seattle weekly - yelp  - magnolia voice - insider pages - dine.com

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