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The Dog House lives

A city's soul can often be found in its off-beat eateries, past and present.

Seattle's Dog House restaurant at 7th Avenue and Bell Street, shown on a postcard from the 1960s.

Seattle's Dog House restaurant at 7th Avenue and Bell Street, shown on a postcard from the 1960s. HistoryLink.org

Restaurants are a good way to introduce someone to a place. They often show off a city’s gustatory habits, its culture and subcultures. In strange surroundings, your first taste of a city’s food often leaves an indelible impression of place, even if the food isn’t particularly memorable.

Which is why I remember certain meals and how they influenced my sense of the city where I ate them. A friend took me to the Carnegie Deli in New York to show a white-bread guy of Nordic ancestry what a real Jewish-delicatessen pastrami sandwich was like. Another pal took me to Schaller’s Pump on Chicago’s South Side, a hangout for White Sox fans and foot soldiers of Mayor Daley’s political machine. They served big chunks of butt steak unadorned on your plate, and cheap beer. The city of stockyards, big shoulders and red meat politics — I get that now. When I lived in San Francisco, I used to frequent the Cliff House, a tourist trap perched on a bluff above the Pacific, in the fog belt of the Richmond District. Shrouded in mist and sipping innumerable Irish coffees, I listened to seals barking in the gloom, suspended in a pure, perfect dream of the city.

In Seattle, when I have taken newcomers out for their first “real” Seattle meal, my preference has been for old-school diners that cut against expectation. Seattle has an infinite number of places that offer seafood with a pretty view, but in a city of newcomers, where are the “real” people?

For years, I chose the Dog House, the legendary dive in the Denny Triangle, a 24/7 haven for senior citizens, musicians and used-car salesmen. Choked with smoke, a place where the elderly waitresses daily challenged the myth of “Seattle nice,” the Dog House was a greasy spoon that served pretty decent cheap food to a following that would defy demographic targeting.

On the wall was a mural showing a sad mutt destined for banishment to the doghouse, and a confusing tangle of paths with signs pointing the way to doom. “Blondes,” “Brunettes,” “Redheads,” and “Private Secretaries” were hazards along the inevitable road to ruin. In the bar, Dick Dickerson tickled the ivories in a scene that recalled a "Saturday Night Live" lounge skit. In the foyer, a pinball machine rattled on, even in the age of video games. The clientele seemed largely made up of downtown dwellers in an era when no one really chose to live downtown. Denizens appeared to be rejects from the cast of Glengarry Glen Ross: “Third prize is you’re fired.” Go straight to the Dog House.

The Dog House is no more. It closed in 1994, in part because much of its aging clientele had died. A spinoff called the Puppy Club lived for a short time, and the old Dog House was replaced by a place called the Hurricane Cafe, but I’ve never stepped inside, preferring to remember it as it was. I’m happy the Dog House was euthanized instead of being turned into a hipster haven, or, worse, gentrified into ironic respectability. Of course, gentrification at the Dog House would have been as simple as a smoking ban and reliably clean forks.

It was a sad day when it died, and it took away the best cheap date for newcomers to get a memorable glimpse of something uniquely ours that would never show up in glittering Emerald City brochures. Its appeal, really, was that it was a kind of anti-Seattle, pre-Microsoft, pre-Starbucks. If the Dog House embodied a kind of Northwest loser sensibility, it embraced all who entered with an old-shoe egalitarianism.

I recently exchanged Facebook messages with a guy I took to the Dog House for his first Seattle meal back in the ’80s. He remembers it still and even went back, which could be risky. “I once pooped a bowl of Dog House chili all the way to China,” he said. He has me to thank for those Pacific Rim memories.


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Comments:

Posted Mon, May 9, 8:24 a.m. Inappropriate

Great piece, Skip. So where's a good "pre-Starbucks" place to go in 2011? My nominee: The 5-Point.

Posted Mon, May 9, 9 a.m. Inappropriate

John: Andy's Diner (now called the Orient Express) on 4th ave s Is still in operation. It has changed a bit since the new ownership, but still has most of the original charm. Sadly, the De-railer is no longer on the cocktail menu.

andy

Posted Mon, May 9, 9:02 a.m. Inappropriate

When you take a break from scribbling at the Space Needle, how about walking down Denny to W. Elliott? Try out the Shanty Cafe. If I remember correctly, it was once a pay station for Seattle waterfront workers. How's that for 'old-timey?' (You can always grab a 24 or 33 to get back up the 'hill'.)

m-t-e

Posted Mon, May 9, 9:51 a.m. Inappropriate

Charlie's and Dick's Hamburgers on Broadway are 'pre-metrosexual' and there is a place on Lake City Way near the Seattle/Shoreline 145th border that is old school.

animalal

Posted Mon, May 9, 11:24 a.m. Inappropriate

How about the bar at the Wedgwood Broiler or the Rimrock Steakhouse on Lake City Way. Both places have great steaks and dark lighting.

Jordan

Posted Mon, May 9, 12:04 p.m. Inappropriate

Used to hit the Dog House during nights working at old P-I at Fifth & Wall. Easy walk and always entertaining. Remember going there with Tom Robbins one time (who used to work on the P-I copy desk). He had a Crab Louie. Didn't hear anything about digestive problems.

BruceBuls

Posted Mon, May 9, 1:29 p.m. Inappropriate

I second the Wedgwood Broiler. And what about the U-Village Burgermaster?

Posted Mon, May 9, 1:46 p.m. Inappropriate

Although it would be in a higher price category than Skip may have in mind, I'd choose, as an introductory experience for out-of-town guests--the 13 Coins on Boren Avenue North. I like old-time greasy spoons-cum-bars like the 5-Point and the Mecca, but the 13 Coins has interior decor that makes it unique to Seattle, not to mention decent food, fine cocktails, and live jazz on Saturday nights. (Unfortunately, the new owners of Andy's Diner not only changed the name and the style of food that is cooked there, but they've even turned the place into a night-time karaoke center that may be good for business but bad for memories. Andy's Diner is really no more.)

Posted Mon, May 9, 1:50 p.m. Inappropriate

I just found out that the Rimrock will be closing. Darn it!

Jordan

Posted Mon, May 9, 2:07 p.m. Inappropriate

The Wedgwood Broiler is definitely on the list; my mother and uncle were regulars in the restaurant, and I would join them for liver and onions. I was just touting Burgermaster to Eli Sanders, my panel-mate on KUOW. he recently complained in The Stranger about paying $12 for a tuna melt. I love the tuna melts at Burgermaster. Also, Stan Boreson says they have the best, inexpensive Swedish pancakes too.

Posted Mon, May 9, 2:19 p.m. Inappropriate

And speaking of the 5-Point, I came across a menu of theirs from June 11, 1962, collected by a fair visitor. The most expensive dinner: a T-bone steak for $2.85, including soup, salad, potato, vegetable, roll & butter, desert and beverage of choice. The cheapest entree? Creamed Chipped Beef on Toast, $1.60. Does any restaurant in Seattle serve Creamed Chipped Beef on Toast these days?

Posted Mon, May 9, 2:43 p.m. Inappropriate

I just heard about the Rimrock, too.

http://www.seattlepi.com/local/article/Rimrock-Steakhouse-longtime-Lake-City-bar-and-1372317.php

http://goo.gl/kDZAa for short

Looks like it's already closed. May 1st.

The same article notes the Italian Spaghetti House and Pizzeria, farther down Lake City Way, has closed. Darn it — was hoping to finally try it out.

A lesson: go hit up these places while you still can!

As for creamed chipped beef on toast, I don't know if you can get it at any local restaurants, but my father-in-law, who lives in Spokane, loves it. He calls it, euphemistically, "substance on a shingle."

Posted Mon, May 9, 2:46 p.m. Inappropriate

According to my Dad, who was in the Army reserve, the best S-O-S was served at the Fort Lawton Officers' Club.

dbreneman

Posted Mon, May 9, 2:53 p.m. Inappropriate

One place I do miss is the old HUB cafeteria. Salisbury steak, gravy, peas, rice (or mashed potatoes). (Or, if you're in a different mood, triangle-cut tuna sandwiches or burgers and fries from under a heat lamp). Eat your meal, then place the tray on the conveyor belt that ran the length of the room. Ah, memories.

Posted Mon, May 9, 3:31 p.m. Inappropriate

From my one experience at the Italian Spaghetti House, I wouldn't mourn too much. They used canned mushrooms on the pizza.

BruceBuls

Posted Mon, May 9, 3:38 p.m. Inappropriate

Another place that might fit the ideal being sought here is a diner near the Museum of Flight housed in what was originally (I believe) a Denny's Restaurant dating from the early Sixties. It's called Randy's Restaurant now (as it's been for the last 30 years) and is owned by a guy named Richard. A lot of its interior decor dates from the early Sixties as well. (If pink and orange vinyl is your thing, then this is the place for you!) It's a little out of the way, I concede, but at least it's still within the city limits of Seattle. Here's a URL for its Web site: http://randys-restaurant.net/about_us
(If we could go outside those limits, it would open up whole new vistas of retro diner heaven. Poodle Dog, anyone?)

Posted Mon, May 9, 4:19 p.m. Inappropriate

You've all made me shed a nostalgic tear.

Knute's phrase, "...embodied a kind of Northwest loser sensibility" caught my attention. As I remember it, we nurtured that sensibility. WE knew we weren't losers, in fact we were the luckiest people in the world to be living here. We were smart enough to try to keep that a secret. I remember my dad once having to go back East on a business trip and he intentionally packed a pair of red suspenders and plaid shirt to wear while there, hoping to promote the image (he didn't wear that at home.) It was great fun to be able to fly under the radar.

But now, (sigh)...

s_calvert

Posted Mon, May 9, 4:30 p.m. Inappropriate

Your dad was a true hero.

Posted Mon, May 9, 5:45 p.m. Inappropriate

In 1961 there was a pancake restaurant on Union St. between 6th and 7th. It was on the NW side of the street. Back then downtown was more congenial to a downscale crowd who probably found cheap places to live in or near downtown. I worked nearby and the pancake restaurant was the cheapest place to eat lunch and sometimes breakfast; the owner (?)/cook was an extremely laid back man who everyone seemed to know. My impression at the time was that the place was frequented by hookers, anyway a high proportion of seedy but attractive women; some not so young. Does anyone else remember that place? it would have worked nicely in a Sam Fuller movie.

kieth

Posted Mon, May 9, 10:15 p.m. Inappropriate

I am surprised that no one has mentioned Hattie's Hat down on Ballard Ave. It hasn't changed in forty years and is missing only the dense smoke from 1970. The servers are great; the food is classic fare. You can get your center cut pork chops there, and a delicious crisp old fashioned salad.

Spike

Posted Tue, May 10, 8:40 a.m. Inappropriate

the burgermaster's in u-village definitely will give you nice feel for a certain kind of Seattle old-timer on weekdend mornings, their prices have stiffened, but they do not talk about their 'dawgs" as the old timers at the throckmorton diner in throckmorton the cow capital of the world [west texas] would. d'accord on the wedgewood broiler, although it sank its roots far more recently and is quite fancy really.
i don't recall the doghouse, getting here in 1994 and living with a tough hippie friend in an impressive loft with mezzanine right opposite the P.I. , but I recall a triangle-shaped restaurant with a fine V at the intersection of denny and about first avenue that had uniquely nasty server, especially one that had a lot of Sicilian viciousness in her. there are of course fine old places in the international district, i especially like the luncheonette part of the ocean palace.

mikerol

Posted Wed, May 11, 11:39 a.m. Inappropriate

aurora avenue used to have some interestingly grim places
but i haven't visited them in about ten years, and only happened on them in company of some fairly unsavory characters while doing my book WRITE SOME NUMB'S, BITCH! that acquainted me with a deeply ingrained seedy side of Seattle.

"Chicquita abracas a todos"

>
MICHAEL ROLOFF
>
> http://www.facebook.com/mike.roloff1?ref=name
>

mikerol

Posted Thu, May 12, 1:01 p.m. Inappropriate

The Chef's Salad at The Dog House was actually quite tasty, with some sort of "Caesar" dressing that tasted home-made, even if it wasn't. And real (not fake-o processed loaf) strips of turkey in the thing. One place with cheap and excellent food which I truly miss is Kettel's Corner, which was just north of Michigan on 4th Avenue South. Back in my red-meat eating days (pre-1995), I recall their Sunday special of Steak and Eggs...a really good 6 oz. filet wrapped in bacon, with eggs, potatoes, toast...five bucks. But all the food was good, and they often had fresh fish on the Daily Special list which was wonderful and very inexpensive.

TaylorB1

Posted Thu, May 12, 1:07 p.m. Inappropriate

Another quality old place which looked a tad seedy was The Gay 90s, at 627 Pike (later kitty corner at 701). It was a small dining room and a slightly larger bar, but the chef (a fellow named Dick) was a genuis who could dish out top quality food for little cash. He would do a prime rib on Sunday which even back then could have fetched twice what he was getting for it...and I recall one happy Sunday when I went in and he'd made Roast Duck...it was damn good and he was really pleased at all the praise he received for it. The same block on Pike (now one side of the Sheraton) also had the old Kansas City Steak House at 601, the very good Canton Garden Chinese restaurant at 615, and a couple of taverns named the Chi Chi and Smitty's...I'm one of those who both likes the changes downtown but misses much of the old stuff...having my cake and wanting to eat it, I guess.

TaylorB1

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