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Last Call at the Dog House: A Reminiscence by Floyd Waterson
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In this file Floyd Waterson describes the last night of the Dog House, a Seattle restaurant/bar located at 7th Avenue and Bell Street (at 2230 7th Avenue). Run by Laurie Gulbransen (1913-2000) for most of 60 years, it closed in on January 31, 1994. Of the Dog House Bar, John Hahn writes in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer "The Dog House was an epoch of Seattle history, a virtually non-stop, open-24-hours run of food, booze, music and fellowship..."
And in Floyd Waterson's words, "The Dog House was a great place where truly people of all types and ages went. Their famous sign was true -- all roads did lead to the Dog House. In some ways I think it is possible to date the death of old Seattle to when the Dog House closed. After 1993 is when the high tech, hip Seattle, the darling of the national press city really took off. Perhaps that era ended in 1999 with the WTO riots."
Last Call at the Dog House
By Floyd Waterson
I picked up the photos from the shop stuffing them down my coat to
protect them from the falling drops. Traffic was bad. I decided to wait
before driving back north. I looked down the street which lead to the Dog
House, remembered it was the establishment's last night -- all roads now lead
to Sarajevo someone told me later -- and walked towards the 50-year-old
structure. It was early yet, and I walked in unhindered by the lines of
people that would soon form there. I headed straight for the bar, knocked
down a scotch, and listened:
Reserved for KCTS After 8:00 p.m.
"What do those signs say?" a dark haired woman glares at a darker haired,
more well-rounded woman wearing a KCTS television station t-shirt. TV-Woman
places one of the signs on the table top covering the Organ in the corner of
"This area is reserved after eight o'clock; Channel 9's broadcasting live
the closing of the Dog House."
The other woman lifts up her drink, squints at the sign, and tells
TV-woman, "That's why we're sitting here. We're regulars sweetheart."
TV-woman scurries for cover like Bernard Shaw during the bombing of
Baghdad: "We all do something for a living; this is what I do: put up
"You must know by now how emotions are running. Doesn't excuse it, just an
explanation." The regular swallows the rest of her drink while TV-woman
If I took my fingernail clippers out and clipped my nails I could
probably play a lot better.
A drunk shouts, "That's Jerry Garcia." Over near the Organ is a fat,
grey-haired, grey-bearded man with guitar and glasses. "Like your music,
pro. Are you Jerry Garcia?"
"Who knows," the fat grey-haired man replies. "Do you know which finger
Jerry's missing? He's missing this finger." Jerry points to the
middle -- still intact -- finger of his right hand. The ring finger next to it,
however, is missing above the knuckle. Jerry lowers his hand. "Other than
that we're exactly the same."
That and about $10 million.
If the King were alive, he'd be here tonight.
A 50-year-old, bleach-grey bimbo sits in her accustomed place at the
Organ, flirting with the men and the boys. A black sweatshirt with a white
shirt underneath gives her the appearance of a
past-her-prime-seductive-priest. Her sister, dressed the same, comes in late
and pulls up a stool next to her. A drunk nearby comments, "This used to be
a decent place -- they ought to close it up."
Jerry starts singing to little accolades. The woman who wrestled with
TV-Woman refuses to sing along, commenting, "I refuse to encourage him."
The room fills with people almost as fast as with smoke.
The Seafair pirates arrive. Dressed in their pirates garb, just as they
are during the annual Seafair festival, they ransack the bar. The
bleach-grey bimbo fakes fellatio on a Seafair Pirate's sword. Jerry starts
in on Blue Suede Shoes.
They've got Bud Light, Bud Dry, but no Budweiser...
A baritone wearing a POW/MIA bracelet stakes out his spot near the Organ
like the First Infantry holding a strategic hillside. "I came down here
awhile back and they had karaoke in the backroom, for Christ's sake. Karaoke
in the Dog House, for God's sake." Rich fingers his bracelet. "I got a
friend just got convicted of 12 felonies in Tacoma last week. ATF railroaded
him. Hundred and twenty years. Judge wouldn't let him have a defense. Same
guys that shot up David Koresh -- the ATF -- got this guy. We knew they were
asssholes 20 years ago when I was a King County Policeman."
An unknowing customer nearby asks a waitress, "Can we order a large french
The waitress answers, "No." She hands Rich a Bud Ice.
He fingers it like a hand grenade with no pin. "What am I supposed to do
"Drink it. It's all we got."
A guy from across the Organ shouts to Rich, who is still staring at his
Bud Ice, "Did you get the beer? "
"I've got something...I've never seen it before."
"It's a bottle with liquid in it."
"Bud Ice? It's alright -- it's not a Rainier though."
How long you been coming here? Three years? I've been coming here 50
Ginny and Willy. One looks like Hal Holbrook, the other like Hal
Holbrook's wife. They've been coming for over 30 years. "We met in the
Dog House in 1958. It was our first date. We went to dinner in the
International District and then went dancing," Willy recalls. Then we
finished with coffee at 5:00 a.m. at the Dog House. She went home; I went
back to my boat. I was in the Merchant Marines. Yep, we danced at the Norway
Center and then headed for the Dog House. We got married a year later."
I tried to order some food. She looked at me and said, "What do I look
like, God?" It's great.
A waitress snarls at a young woman with a cellular phone. "Last call ain't
for a couple of hours yet." TV-Guy joins TV-Woman in laying cable and wires.
The TV lights come on prompting the cry of, "Turn the damn lights off."
After initial skepticism, people make requests to Jerry. A woman at least as
old as the restaurant drinks a martini taking in the atmosphere around her
as if for the last time. It is. Curtains the color of cigarette waste shield
the bar from the outside world. A couple tongue each other briefly in the
middle of the bar. A young blonde stumbles into the bar carrying her purse
in one hand and her libido on her sleeve. Through thick smoke she comes face
to face with the bleach grey bimbo. She turns away.
I ain't gonna sing myself out two hours early.
Dick Dickerson, the organist arrives. "Thank God you're here," comments
the TV-Woman-battling regular. Dick makes his way over to the Organ. Jerry's
still playing. "He's got stamina anyway," remarks Dick bringing a cigarette
up to his mouth. Dick -- the only one in the bar to get such
service -- immediately receives a scotch from a waitress.
Dick sits down at his Organ and surveys the crowd like the Dogfather. He
looks at Jerry, "He don't give up easily. Probably looking for a job."
Jerry gives up. Dick's hands head for the Organ's keys, Rich's baritone
kicks in, "There's a tear in your eye...When Irish Eyes are smiling..."
Everyone in the bar sings.
When Dick finishes the song, a woman much older than the red speckled
counter she's leaning on, wearing a green top with a silver broach near her
neck, can barely speak. But she manages to say, in what amounts to an
80-year-old school girl's voice, "Dick," like she was greeting the
Beatles in 1963.
Where were all these people when they needed them to keep this place
"I'll tell ya where they were, they were scared cause of the DWI squad
drove em all out. I can name ya 30 places downtown closed cause of those
guys. I owned a place for 30 years and every one of my good customers
got a DWI."
"Luckily the DWI squad doesn't work on Monday nights."
Photo of dog on wall: "Copper: Doberman Pincher: Male"
Dick breaks for a moment. Rich stops singing and resumes his sermon, "This
country is real close to being put under martial law." A man sitting at the
counter top around the Organ gives his seat up to Ginny. Willy smiles at the
man; Ginny comments, "You're an angel; I've got two new hips. You wouldn't
want a lady with two new hips to stand."
Dick begins again. "God Bless America..." they sing while holding hands
around the large Organ.
God I wish I'd win the lotto so I could go buy some hair.
The bar, now filled past capacity, is a testimonial against the surgeon
general's warning not to smoke cigarettes. It has more old people smoking in
one place than a Phillip Morris sponsored rest home. TV-Woman and TV-Guy
move in pushing some of the regulars from their accustomed places near the
Organ. TV-Guy stands in front of Willy. Willy takes his cigarette, puts it
out in TV-guy's back pocket, and winks. The battle is now joined. Channel 9
engages drunk senior citizens in brutal fighting over bar territory. They
kick a drunk out of his barstool. If a tree falls in the woods -- and it's not
on film at eleven -- did it really fall?
The promise of live TV has brought celebrities out in force tonight.
Well, at least Seattle celebrities. Members of Almost Live, are gathered in
the bar. A young woman named Melissa loves their show. She maneuvers herself
near them. Later she reports, "...and then the guy from Almost Live turned,
and our butts were touching -- I'll never wash this butt again."
What's going to happen to all these people?
The young woman's question is obscured by the music as Dick continues to
play. But it is getting near the end. People lean on a shelf holding a TV.
The bartender erupts, "You're liable to pull the whole damn building down. And then we'll die -- I don't want to die here."
"Are you a Cougar? You're not a Cougar? Get out of here." Shortly after drunk obnoxious woman says this, she is hauled out by the cops.
And then ... Dick stops playing. The TV lights dim. But it's not official
until the call of the bartender, "Hello, it's time folks -- get the fuck out
of my bar. I wanna go home; they quit paying me."
People shuffle out of the bar. People shuffle out of the restaurant. A
woman says to her companion as they leave the restaurant, "I'd say let's go
get breakfast at the Dog House, but..."
Outside a street person wears a sandwich board advertising the Five-Point
Cafe's new 24 hour service. Willy and Ginny drive off.
I've been coming here since 1944.
I have bigger feet than you.
By Floyd Waterson, August 2000. The John Hahn quote is from John Hahn, "Laurie Gulbransen Ran Things at the Dog House for 60 Years," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 8, 2000 (http://seattlep-i.nwsource.com).
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