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Originally published Sunday, March 22, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Portraits

At Bernard's On Seneca, a piece of old Seattle survives

At Bernard's On Seneca restaurant, a piece of Seattle's old soul lives on amid dark wood, a wall mural showing the Rhineland and a menu of hearty German fare.

From the outside, Bernard's on Seneca looks like a modest chapel in a working-class district of some industrial town on the Rhine, its hulking, weathered, wooden doors cracked open just enough to invite the curious and repel the squeamish.

Beyond them, where you'd expect soaring vaults and stained glass, you instead get a darkened, downward staircase leading to a restaurant whose hearty offerings — kassler rippenspeer, knackwurst — are as Old Seattle as they are Old Europe.

The dark-wood paneling and old brass chandelier summon up haunts from downtown's funky-dive heyday as much as smoky Kölsch-beer halls in historic Cologne.

On one wall, a painted mural depicting Rhineland folklore hints at an earnest attempt to re-create a place, time and spirit that's ostensibly German.

But the real reason to eat and drink at Bernard's is to experience a vanishing Seattle, the one that existed before slick hipsterism took the place of honest-to-goodness raffishness.If longtime server Bridget Thomas is working, she'll regale visitors who ask with stories of growing up downtown when Bernard's would not have seemed so out of place, back when her dad frequented lounges with just this mix of coziness and intrigue.

Bernard's charm is that it looks and feels as if it actually could have been a speak-easy — as legend suggests — as if illicit things might well have taken place in its leatherette booths.

In a downtown stacked with glass-and-steel newness, in an aging Seattle restaurant posing as an ancient German one, authenticity steals a kiss from kitsch.

So out with the new, in with the old. And if you must . . . Prost!

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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