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Bars where Pete has had a Drink (4,413 bars; 1,724 bars in Seattle) - Click titles below for Lists:


Bars where Pete has had a drink

Thursday, March 11, 2021

The Eastlake Zoo

(Note: This is a post on one of the more interesting bars that I first went to long ago and was on my starting list, and hence hasn't had its own blog entry at the time.)

Eastlake Zoo Tavern, Seattle, WA
Est. 1974
The University of Washington campus is framed by two epic neighborhood dive bars, the Blue Moon and the Eastlake Zoo.
The former is the older establishment, and has attracted more attention from the local literati. But both locations have hosted bars since shortly after prohibition, and both are living time capsules, that have preserved their considerable character for decades as the neighborhoods around them changed.

The Eastlake Zoo building, constructed in 1902, has hosted since at least early 1935, when the city directory lists a bar of unknown name owned by Max Hurwitz. (Hurwitz also owned the "Put & Take Tavern," before new owners renamed it the Latona Pub in the late 40s.) From the mid 30s to the mid 60s it hosted a string of eponymously named bars including "Joe's Place" (Joe Carroll) by 1936, "Tommie Wood's Tavern" (owned by, yes, Thomas Woods) by 1941, "Teel & Moffatt's Tavern" in 1944, "Jack's Tavern" by 1945, "Mack's Tavern" (Ivan "Mack" McKinnon) from 1948 to 1959, and "Hank's Tavern" owned by Henry Kourad by 1960 and preserving that name for a few years when it was owned by Thelma Brown and Maxine Hart, until Hart renamed it the "It'll Do Tavern" in either late 1965 or early 1966.

Howard Brown, owner, Eastlake Zoo Tavern
March 2021

Hart appears to have sold the It'll Do to Alf and Donna Schroeder, and in a couple years it exchanged hands to a group calling itself "Blue Moon Inc." I have not found any connections of this group to the Blue Moon Tavern, which at that time was owned by Gerry Kingen (along with a ramshackle tavern the edge of Portage Bay called the "Red Robin"). But Howard Brown says that the Blue Moon Inc. group included Clinton Worthington and Stan Paul at the time the "Eastlake Zoo" group purchased the place in 1974. The Zoo team (or "Ooz Bros" as they were known via their softball team and other extracurricular activities) was formed as a co-op, with a percentage ownership determined by how much one worked the place, and rotating roles like chief executive. They assumed the name of "ITC," the Intergalactic Tavern Co-op -- though the co-op part is less relevant now, with all the main members having passed away with the exception of Howard Brown.

Eastlake Zoo Tavern, Seattle, WA

Much of the group lived just down the hill from the bar, in the "hippie houseboat community," before the floating houses had plumbing and million dollar price tags. Howard didn't work there at the very start, but his roommate in a house across the street from the houseboats did, and Howard joined in 1978. In 1992 Howard and his wife, now with a child, moved, and Howard worked in construction while his wife worked for UPS. But after partner Mike "Seemore" Bennett passed away, the people left running the place gradually let the place slide, and handled the cash-only till with something less than total integrity. In 2007 Mike's brother Pat Bennett called Howard to help rescue the place, the two had a meeting with the landlord, and Howard was back on the job, firing undependable staff and cleaning up the business. He's been there most days ever since, even after Pat passed away.


Throughout all this, the Zoo has maintained its hippie-like, laid back but fun vibe and decor. It is one of a very few remaining true taverns -- no liquor, just beer and wine -- and only accepts an ancient form of payment known as "cash." The bar was expanded well beyond the confines of the It'll Do Tavern, with the added back section holding billiard tables, an official-sized snooker table (lit by a billiards lamp from the old 211 Club in downtown Seattle), Skee-Ball, ping pong table, shuffleboard and pinball machines, along with an elevated back portion looking down on the alley below. There's a dance floor and room for a band -- less common now, but one wall is covered with a sample of the the fliers for the regular schedule of years of the mostly blues and rock bands, and occasionally funk or metal, that got the place jumping. "Duffy Bishop & the Rhythm Dogs were repeating performers, and I remember a night when a friend of mine didn't allow the exuberant Duffy quite enough space on the dance floor, and as she popped her head up she accidentally broke his nose. It was the sort of bar where those things happened. (The same friend's injury was re-aggravated at the Zoo one night when I convinced him to climb head first into an antique Coke cooler.)

King Zoosaga, AKA Seemore, AKA Mike Bennett
owner, Eastlake Zoo Tavern, Seattle, WA

Things appear mysteriously at the Zoo.
Any great old dive is lined with layers of bric-a-brac accreted in an undirected manner over many years, and the Zoo has these memories in spades. Sometimes they are carefully planned like the mural on a back wall, and sometimes they are only discovered the next morning, like the squirrel hide Howard found mounted on the wall, or the framed, hastily scrawled note observing "H.B. says it's not his fault." ("H.B." would be Howard.) There are memories of past owners, past patrons, and various past events -- like the Seattle Times article about Howard wining his 4th straight Pub Run, a once annual event that required racing between eight to thirteen bars (varying with the year) and pounding a 7-oz beer at every one of them. There are photos of the softball team, of an annual event in Marysville, of people dancing, singing, fighting, and just sitting. And then there are the "after-hours" photos where things really get weird. 


There are animal heads and horns and hides (tending to the more exotic than the aforementioned squirrel contribution). There's a giant photo of Basil Rathbone for some reason, and a red paper mache dragon with glowing eyes (sometimes you don't ask). There are dartboards surrounded by rope and wooden frames with the dart holes of thousands of errant throws over the decades. There are posters from past events, many of them done for the benefit of Northwest Harvest or other charities, including the annual events of  the "Guitar Outlaws" ensembles, chili cookoff, and mac-n-cheese smackdown. The Guitar Outlaws in particular is a venerated tradition, though tragically due to COVID, the December 2020 performance was canceled for this first time since 1991. The authors of its opus "The String Cycle" have compared it favorably to Wagner's Ring Cycle, and described it modestly as "the most important event of the 20th century." (Seattle Times, Oct 16, 1992).

In summary, the Eastlake Zoo, while casual, is so deep in character and characters, that if the phrase "great old dive" has any appeal to you, you must not live in or visit Seattle without at least occasionally dropping in.


For more photos please see Pete's Eastlake Zoo Flickr pics 


2301 Eastlake Ave E, Seattle, WA 98102
Est. 1974 - Building constructed: 1924 - Co-op founded in 1974
Previous bars in this location: Tommie Wood's Tavern, Teel and Moffatt's Tavern, Jack's Tavern, Mack's Tavern, Hank's Tavern, Joe's Place, It'll Do Tavern
Web site: facebook - eastlakezoo.com (2010 via wayback machine)
Articles Ranked: atlasobscuraseattlepi - seattlepi - seattleweekly - artzone (video) - seattle times re. guitar outlaws (Seattle library card required) - yelp - tripadvisor - thrillist 

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