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Originally published March 31, 2014 at 8:02 PM | Page modified April 1, 2014 at 9:00 AM

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The Comet rises again, while Northwest authors orbit

Nicole Brodeur reports on the reopening of one of Capitol Hill’s most notorious hangouts, and the “Words Matter” fundraiser for Seattle Arts and Lectures.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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It’s completely safe to go into the bathrooms at the Comet Tavern now. Open the cooler behind the bar and — voilà! — no mushrooms growing. No stagnant water.

The bathrooms, floors, ceiling — forever steeped in beer and nicotine — have been scrubbed, sandblasted or flat-out torn out. And now one of Capitol Hill’s most notorious, well-loved and historic corner bars is open again.

New owners Jason Lajeunesse and Dave Meinert, the Glimmer Twins of the Pike/Pine corridor, let the press poke around Friday night before hosting friends and family on Saturday. There was free skee ball (got my ass kicked) and Mike Hale of Hale’s Ales at the bar, where they were serving the Ed’s Ale and the Ethel’s Ale — one named for “the spirit of the Comet” and the other for the bar’s longtime matriarch, now deceased (her ashes reportedly interred in a corner bar stool). Hale brewed them up special for the new place.

Ed’s is “a classic pale ale, Northwest style, nicely balanced,” Hale told me.

And Ethel? “A bigger, coarser Scotch ale,” he said. Sort of like the woman it’s named for — bartender Ethel O’Hearn.

“She was a fun old gal, full of character,” he said. “She’d grab ’em by the ear and lead them out, if she had to.”

Hale called the renovation “a resurrection of all that was good about the Comet.”

“They used to keep the kegs under the pool table because they didn’t have any other place for them,” he said, shaking his head. “Now, they do.”

The Rose Guy wandered in with an armful of flowers. Club maven Linda Derschang stopped in to see how it all turned out.

At the corner table under two huge windows — more like a fish bowl, with passers-by pressing their noses against the clean glass — Lajeunesse talked about the renovation that started two days after he got the keys in November; and the numskulls who slipped in with a 24-foot ladder to pluck the dollar bills that partyers had stuck into the ceiling.

Lajeunesse managed to salvage a couple of the pay stubs that were also put up there: one for “zero dollars and 43 cents” made out to an employee who drank almost all of his pay.

Lajeunesse, who presides over the Capitol Hill Block Party and is happiest doing design, called the Comet rehab “a labor of love.”

“Running it is going to be a cakewalk after that.”

Yes, “Words Matter”

If you were asked to think of a book that was significant to you, what would you choose? And would you give it away?

An impressive group of Seattleites (and those who seem to live here) did just that to raise money for the Seattle Arts & Lectures’ (SAL) “Words Matter” benefit dinner and literary auction, held Thursday night at Herban Feast in Sodo.

Speight Jenkins, general director of the Seattle Opera, donated his boyhood copy of “Stories from the Great Metropolitan Operas,” by Helen Dike, published in 1943 and now out of print.

Lauren Groff donated her own 1971 edition of George Eliot’s “Middlemarch,” with a letter from her fourth-grade self tucked within.

Artist Dale Chihuly donated a book on Van Gogh. Ludovic Morlot, conductor of the Seattle Symphony, donated Baudelaire’s “The Flowers of Evil.” Author Susan Orlean donated Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn,” calling the book “a vital part” of her development as a writer. Chef and farmer Kurt Timmermeister donated a copy of “Cooking By Hand,” by Paul Bertolli.

And there was some furious bidding on a copy of Norman Maclean’s “A River Runs Through It” — donated and inscribed by Tom Skerritt, who starred in the 1992 film.

George Saunders (whom SAL brought to town last week for a Town Hall interview with comedy genius George Meyer) donated “The Complete Works of Isaac Babel.”

The room was filled with Northwest authors with lots on the horizon:

Neal Thompson, a member of the SAL board, told me that the paperback edition of “A Curious Man,” his 2013 book about Robert “Believe It Or Not!” Ripley, comes out in paperback in June.

Jennie Shortridge has two books (“When She Flew” and “Riding With the Queen”) in various stages of film production.

Erik Larson (“In the Garden of Beasts,” “The Devil in the White City”) is near the end of his latest.

“I will never say what it’s about, but it will go to my editor in 34 days,” Larson told me. “I will be holding onto it as it goes into the FedEx truck.”

And Kevin O’Brien, a former railroad inspector who writes novels with names like “Watch Them Die,” and “Killing Spree,” couldn’t have been nicer. What gives?

“I write at night,” O’Brien offered. “So that part is creepy.”

The live auction was lively, all right, with one of the highest bids going to “The Art of Drinking Whiskey with Garth Stein.”

Eight people will join the author for a tour and whiskey tasting at Woodinville Whiskey, followed by food, wine, beer — and chauffeur-driven town cars there and back, thank God.

“I’ll bring the cigars — and legal weed that I’ll buy at the store!” Stein promised, before running off to kiss the highest bidder.

Nicole Brodeur’s column appears Tuesday and Sunday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or

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About Nicole Brodeur's Names in Bold

On Tuesdays, I tell you about my travels through some of the week's social and philanthropic events — not just the ones for the swells, but those for work-a-day folks who care about making this region move and improve. 206-464-2334

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