A Tom Douglas clubhouse

It's a juice bar, a flower stall, a reading room, a tapas joint. With his new strip mall parody - or is it homage? - Seattle's fav restaurant-repreneur re-imagines hanging out.
Inside TanakaSan, in South Lake Union

Inside TanakaSan, in South Lake Union Sarah Flotard

Erik Tanaka at Tanaka San

Erik Tanaka at Tanaka San mybelltown.com

Until June 2013, Tom Douglas has been willing to change the world one restaurant — or bakery, or pizzeria — at a time. But in June, when Douglas opened a new space on the first floor of Via6, the new Pine Street Group apartment complex on Sixth Avenue, between Lenora and Blanchard, he created an instant neighborhood. For residents of the complex, most of the necessities (as well as a lot of the indulgences) of life are just an elevator ride away. We non-residents are just the lucky beneficiaries of services designed for others.

No couture boutique, true, but a hair salon. No butcher shop, but a fully-loaded deli, a juice and coffee bar, a real bar, a convenience store from heaven and, though not yet open, a pizzeria. Did I mention the reading room? Or the flower stall? Oh, and a restaurant designed to the edge for the way we eat, drink and schmooze now: Sort of like Melrose Market gone cancerous.

TanakaSan, it’s called. The name is a richly deserved tribute to Eric Tanaka, a long time co-creator of the Douglas vision and the chef extraordinary in charge of his plethora of Belltown kitchens. The menu at TanakaSan is a little like dim sum, but more like tapas: little steam buns with delectable duck sausages and house-made plum sauce; seared octopus with ham and pineapple; savory crab foo yung (the menu changes constantly). You can choose from a menu of first and second courses, but even there the emphasis is on grazing, not downright dining, and I suspect most visitors won’t be able to treat the selections as anything but more substantial components of a leisurely culinary menu amble toward satiety.

But enough of TanakaSan, because though it’s the crown jewel of the complex, the complex itself is the main attraction. Its varied components are arranged as a continuous galleria, each opening casually off the other. The spacious high-ceilinged Assembly Hall off Lenora serves as the breakfast bar for residents of the apartments upstairs, but will gladly perform the same function for you if you happen to be passing by.

The juice bar and restaurant bar unfold as if inadvertently from the room’s north end, as do each of the successive elements of the whole. In high summer, the whole shebang is open to the street, with sidewalk seating where appropriate. In winter, I suspect, with the segments closed in, the feeling will be like riding a 21st century Siberian railway, all cozy amenity inside while the elements sulk outside.

On my first visit a week ago, my date, who lives just three short blocks away, exclaimed, “I’ve just found my new clubhouse!” Her description nails it.

A visit to the Via6 complex is like dropping by your club, without all the fuss of membership dues and having to be polite to bores and blimps. It’s a club open to all, one so attractive that a single visit is almost sure to lead to frequentation. Drop by and see for yourself; with this glorious parody of a strip-mall, Tom Douglas and Eric Tanaka have reinvented the restaurant experience for our time.

Roger Downey is a Seattle writer interested in food, the arts, the sciences, and urban manners. He is currently working on a book about the birth of opera in 1630s Venice.

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Posted Thu, Aug 1, 7:03 a.m. Inappropriate

It's just a shame that the rice cakes at Tanaka San are only available at dinner. Come on Eric, we need rice cakes all day long!

Posted Thu, Aug 1, 9:06 a.m. Inappropriate

Tom has done it again. He is a WIZARD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We are SO fortunate he lives in - & loves - Seattle.


Posted Mon, Aug 5, 6:47 a.m. Inappropriate

Since when is Sixth Avenue, between Lenora and Blanchard, considered South Lake Union? That's quite a bit closer to Elliot Bay than Lake Union - it's either Denny Triangle or Belltown, but no way is it SLU.

Calling it "South south Lake Union" would be a creative stretch, but saying that location is SLU is just parroting the developers' marketing hype to attach the hip new neighborhoods name to their latest project.

I'm sure Tom Douglass has 'done it again' and the review certainly makes it sound like a place worth visiting, but when the title erroneously refers to it as a "clubhouse in SLU" it leaves me wondering what else Crosscut might have gotten wrong.

Posted Thu, Aug 22, 5:45 p.m. Inappropriate

am i the only one who cares that tom is using starbucks coffee at assembly hall? do we not have some terrific local roasters who would love to provide for tom? does he have to support the evil howard and his ever growing empire
tom : please drop starbucks


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