Alki Tavern to ride off into history
The legendary Alki Tavern, a true joint along the beachfront in West Seattle, will be closing in March after a 37-year-run. High-end condos are on the way.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Sitting at the bar in the legendary Alki Tavern along the beachfront in West Seattle, the regulars don’t know much about the dealings with the Korean investors.
But what they do know is that after 37 years in business, their beloved place — the dive joint with “the million dollar view of Elliott Bay”— will be closing down on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day.
On the tavern’s Facebook page, “Emily” writes, “This is so sad to hear! Make way for more overpriced condos!”
For $3.2 million, YMSA of Daegu, Korea, last month bought six adjoining lots, one of which includes the tavern.
Its development plans for high-end condos definitely did not include 1,200 square feet of space for the tavern, even though Gill McLynne, owner of the Alki, says that was part of the negotiation.
“They wanted me out, for sure,” says McLynne. “They didn’t want a bar at the bottom of luxury condos.”
But, really, if you were a condo developer, a simple Google “images” search for Alki Tavern would provide you with plenty to ponder, even if the new version of the tavern would have been tonier.
Beer! Rock ‘n’ roll! Reggae! A poster on the wall of the famous photo of Johnny Cash flipping the bird. Guys with big tattoos waving a mug and having much too good a time!
Young women in skimpy outfits for a summer promotion advertised as “Biker Bikini Car Wash at the Alki Tavern!”
Oh, yeah, the great era of the bikers.
They started coming around in the late 1980s, drawn in not just by a new promotion — $1 “Taco Thursday” — but by the tavern’s prime location. That promotion, still going strong, is now complemented by others, such as the Tuesday $1 “Wimpy Burgers.”
The Alki sits across the Don Armeni Boat Ramp and has an unobstructed view that stretches across the bay from Queen Anne, to downtown, to the port terminals at the south. On a summer night, it is magical.
The bikers don’t come around in great numbers anymore, not after neighbors complained and the cops started clamping down on stuff like too-loud mufflers. Also, other bars began copying the $1 taco or burger gimmick, and drew away customers, who range from twenty- and thirty-something construction guys and a chemist, to a retired insurance-payroll administrator. Their common denominator is that for the most part, they’re West Seattle locals.
But on the wall at the tavern are two astounding photos taken in June 1995, of what was claimed to be 350 bikes lined up on both sides of the street by the tavern. One photo shows the bikers standing on the sidewalk, watching a cop car driving through the gantlet.
There is minimal trouble at the Alki, says Gill’s son, also named Gill, who now manages the place. At age 66, the old man is pretty much retired, now living in Belfair on Hood Canal.
“Honestly, the fights we break up here are not bikers, but women playing pool,” says Gill Jr., 29, a 2001 Chief Sealth High School graduate. Just to remind customers of the rules for the pool table, there are a couple of signs.
One explains, “Bartender settles ALL disputes. Break a stick and you buy it! $20. NO FIGHTS — Game is over and you leave!”
For those taking a drive to Alki Beach, the tavern is one of the first sights to greet you, a reminder of the days when there more funky beach houses than developments here.
You couldn’t miss this tavern that was located in a century-old one-story brick structure at 1321 Harbor Ave. S.W., especially through much of the 1980s and 1990s.
The flat roof leaked during downpours, and owner Gill McLynne had a thrifty solution: a giant blue tarp.
He finally fixed the roof with real tar about 15 years ago, says McLynne, but people still think of it as having that blue tarp. Maybe it’s because the stucco front of the tavern is painted a glaring blue.
Plus, he also liked to hang American flags outside, to complement the some-50-foot-long flag he had spread on the ceiling.
On a recent Thursday by early evening, only a couple of bikers had shown up to join the 20 or so customers, most of them regulars.
There was Kim Brusco, 58, a brewmaster at Pyramid Breweries. He lives in West Seattle and arrived on one of his two Moto Guzzi bikes.
Whether Harleys or foreign bikes, this is not a cheap hobby. Prices for a new Harley-Davidson are typically in the $20,000 to $30,000 range.
“These days, bikers are pretty much professionals who are my age. They own a nice bike and just want to go for a ride somewhere,” says Brusco, as he sips a beer.
It is a pretty mellow crowd on this night, just easy talk.
The elder McLynne’s wife, Cathy McLynne, stops by. She commutes in from Belfair for her job as a middle-school special-ed teacher.
She is 60, and has been married to Gill Sr. for 30 years. They met because she was on a women’s softball team sponsored by the tavern.
“The thing about West Seattle is that it’s like a small town,” she says. “And for me, the Alki was the center of that small town.”
Gill Sr. had bought the tavern in 1976 for $125,000, he says, because his warehouse job was moved to Tacoma, and he wanted to stay in Seattle.
“I have no formal education, I didn’t want to keep driving a truck and forklifts, so I settled on a tavern,” he says.
As the years progressed, the Alki Tavern’s funky reputation grew.
But times were changing along Alki Beach.
In the late 1990s, a construction company was interested in developing the lots along that site, which included property owned by Gerry Kingen, who made his name as founder of the Red Robin chain, and then three Salty’s restaurants, including Salty’s on Alki Beach.
But with the bad economy, the construction company backed out.
Kingen then approached McLynne with $500,000 offer for the property, with McLynne able to stay rent-free until it was developed. Then, McLynne would get either space in the development or more money. McLynne went for the deal.
When the Korean investors balked at having a bar on the ground floor, McLynne got an additional $392,500, a total return of $892,500 for his initial $125,000 investment.
The investors did not return messages for comment.
Kingen and the elder McLynne are not exactly fans of each other.
“Gill got to be there for free for 14 years, and sold the property again. He did quite nicely,” says Kingen. “It was a marginally run business and if it was paying rent, it’d have failed years ago.”
As for the locals posting about yet another bit of old West Seattle being replaced by condos, Kingen says, “Well, I disagree. With time, things change. Welcome to life. There are plenty of other iconic — quote, unquote — taverns. When one goes, another takes its place.”
Gill Jr. says he’s looking for a suitable location to open another tavern, although he will not try to duplicate the Alki. You couldn’t, he says.
The elder McLynne, meanwhile, did get a pretty good cash out, but he also keeps reminiscing about the glory days of the joint.
These days, he makes bird feeders to keep busy. He’s made about a dozen to give to friends.
They are, of course, miniature replicas of the Alki Tavern building.
“Even with a blue tarp on the roof,” says McLynne.
News researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report. Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or email@example.com