Robert J. "Bobby" Foster (1946-1979) refurbished the Central Tavern in Seattle's Pioneer Square in the early 1970s and organized the area's first Mardi Gras-style "Fat Tuesday" in 1977.
Foster graduated from the University of Washington and worked for Boeing as an engineer. He and coworker Jamie Anderson became intrigued with the idea of refurbishing and operating the derelict "2nd Class" Central Tavern, one of Seattle's oldest businesses. Their decision to quit their day jobs and purchase the Central coincided with the Pioneer Square's designation as a historic district and early efforts to promote its revival. The Central became a popular watering hole for politicians, government workers, and young professionals as Seattle rediscovered its first neighborhood, without alienating the tavern's traditional, often lower-income patrons.
When Push Comes to Shrove
Although mostly Protestant Seattle did not traditionally observe Mardi Gras (literally the "Fat Tuesday" preceding Ash Wednesday and the onset of Lent), Foster conceived of the event as a community celebration to help revive business during the post-holiday slump. He was joined by another tavern owner, Ed Neff, and many friends and volunteers. Thanks to warm weather and public curiosity, the first Fat Tuesday drew record -- and sometimes rowdy -- crowds in February 1977.
On March 2, 1979, Foster died of cancer at the age of 33.
Subsequent Mardi Gras events were marred by confrontations between police and revelers, but the annual festival survived. The Central Tavern also endured as a popular gathering place for locals and tourists alike -- and as a monument to Foster's faith in a revived Pioneer Square.