Looking into the Past and Future of The Comet

The Comet Tavern has long been a venerable dive bar on the corner of 10th and Pike on Capitol Hill, with a rich history of counterculture and bands across a variety of genres. Despite its well deserved place on a pedestal for the Hillfolk, the Comet was shut down last month due to what most speculate to have been financial troubles.

Needless to say, the sudden closure upset many. It even upset some to the point of bidding on the location. Seattle musician Ian Hill and his wife Allison Hill, a bar investor, made an offer to building owner Charlie Chao and lawyer Stacy Krantz shortly after the closure, but told The Stranger last Wednesday that they had been outbid by “big money,” which they suspected was the doing of some sort of “evil empire” or corporate entity. Other venues such as Highline and Chop Suey have even hosted benefits for the beloved establishment.

It turns out, as of just this past week, the winners of the iconic Comet were actually Dave Meinert and Jason Lajeunesse, owners of Lost Lake Cafe, Neumos, Barboza and Big Mario’s Pizza.

In a press release, the duo expressed intent to (mostly) maintain what Seattlites hold dear in the bar starting early 2014 upon reopening.

A lot of the excitement that the Comet’s closure inspired revolved around making sure it stayed just the way it was. In that sense, Meinert and Lajeunesse have a tall order to fill. But, it’s worth noting that part of The Comet Tavern’s endearing factors come from a long history of radical changes.

Hannah McIntosh compiled a well researched and comprehensive history of The Comet in her college career at the University of Washington, in an essay entitled, “Design by Drinking: Seattle’s Comet Tavern as ‘Marketplace Vernacular.’” McIntosh now works as a planner at the Seattle Department of Transportation.

Here are some of the highlights:

The building itself was constructed around 1910, with apartment units above and a network of tunnels below that were used for smuggling liquor during the Prohibition.

It was actually an Irish tavern called “The Wee Dock and Doris” until the mid-1950s when it was renamed the Comet Tavern.

In the 1960s, “the windows were covered in plywood and painted black, black lights were installed, and it became ‘a hippie place to drop acid,’” wrote McIntosh, quoting previous owner Sam Wright.

In 1976, the establishment expanded into the neighboring hardware store, remnants of which are still evident today.

In the 1970s, the building and the business came under the new ownership of John Kusakabe, which eventually ended up in the hands of Wright. For the next thirty years after Kusakabe’s takeover, the Comet reflected upon the prolonged period of slow economic growth and population loss in Seattle. McIntosh wrote that during this time, the Comet was “characterized by an eccentricity and freedom that are the brighter side of living in the forgotten corner of a depressed city.”

It was also during this time that a bar tending veteran of the Comet, Ethel, was memorialized after her passing. Her favorite barstool at the end of the bar was made her final resting place, where her ashes remain.

A beer was also named after another well-loved figure of the Comet, a frequent patron who’s memory is bottled and labeled “Ed’s Ale.”
After the millennium, the Comet became a part of the newly dubbed “Pike-Pine Corridor” and was subjected to Washington State’s ban on public smoking.

The Comet Tavern is a conglomeration of personal attachments and lovable quirks that range from the “C” of the 1938-1998 Pike Place Market sign that inhabited the bar, and the countless dollar bills stuck to the ceiling.

Whether or not the new management will uphold a tradition of respect for its history is a matter Hillfolk will just have to wait and see on. In any case, the change will have to be embraced like it has been in the past