What’ll It Be, Honey? Memories of the Dog House

I read Bethany Jean Clement’s recent article about the Hurricane Café’s impending close with a heavy heart. Old Seattle is about to lose another landmark.  Final day for the Hurricane Café at Seventh and Bell is set for Jan. 1, 2015. Acorn Development (an affiliate of Amazon) will be tearing down the nearly 100-year old building to make way for yet another slick skyscraper.dog house 2

About the only thing that won’t be lost during the demolition are customers’ memories of the Hurricane’s last two decades and — even before that – stories from the Hurricane’s predecessor, the Dog House.

Let’s first be clear about the Dog House’s place in old Seattle, pre-World’s Fair, pre- WWII, even pre-Viaduct. It was in the 1930s, soon after Prohibition repeal, that the 24/7 Dog House was established by restaurateur Bob Murray.  Musicians playing Seattle, knew even then, that this was where they could get a burger and a brew when their gig was over, no matter what the hour.

The establishment closed only once in its 60-year run. The closure was because the roof fell in during a deluge and it was either a brief shut-down for repair or a meal with a free shower.

The 24-hour restaurant and bar was known far and wide for its motto, “All Roads Lead to the Dog House.” A neon mutt with a wagging tail served as its exterior trademark. A mural over the window-less bar – clouded by decades of cigarette fumes – helped make diners feel at home.

“What’ll it be, honey?” was the phrase used by lippy apron-clad waitresses. The clientele was heavily blue collar: cops, musicians, night-shift workers, journalists, janitors, cabbies and serious writers looking for a slice of urban life.

dog houseThe fare served during Dog House days was basic, comforting and cheap, even by the standards of the times. One of the menus (probably dating from the 70s) shows  Rib Steak (“tenderness not guaranteed”) with fries and a salad for $1.25. Also on the menu, Bob’s special burger – double super with onions and fries – 55 cents.  Then there was The Pooch—a hamburger that speaks for itself.

In my days working at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, around the corner at Sixth and Wall Street, I sometimes lunched there. Once, I shared lunch and an interview with mystery writer J. A. (for Judy) Jance who found fame writing about J.P. Beaumont, a fictional detective who supposedly hung out there.

Instead it was Jance who frequented the Dog House, barely able to afford brewed coffee and a tuna sandwich when she was a single mom with two children, selling insurance and hoping for a book contract.

Jance and I ate there again soon after the Dog House closure was announced in the 1990s. Right on cue, Jance’s favorite waitress, J. L. (for Jennie Lee) Alvord, showed up with an order pad and demanded: “What’ll it be, honey? The usual?”

Jance asked Alvord. what she was going to do when the Dog House closed. Fit and feisty at 76, Alvord. said she was going to find work until she was 80.

“But you told me you were going to retire at 75,” Jance protested.

“Have to work,” Alvord said. “Bad investments. I vacationed in Reno.”

Jance and I shared tales about the Dog House, times when we spotted famous writers (Tom Robbins) and musicians (Kurt Cobain), times when someone other than regular organist Dick Dickerson sat down to play. Dickerson tended toward classics like “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling,” but could play any song a customer requested.

I recalled a time when a cockroach scurried across our table and the waitress, when notified, simply noted  it didn’t “eat much.”

Jance would tell me about the time a friend, who didn’t eat red meat, ordered a salmon burger. When it arrived, the friend complained, “It doesn’t look like salmon.”

The waitress snapped, “It’s not. We’re out of salmon. It’s ham.”

When the Dog House closed, then co-manager David Gulbranson whose mother Laurie had inherited the place, said that he might try to open elsewhere. If he did, none of us tumbled to the replacement. Instead we gave The Hurricane, a branch of Beth’s Café at Green Lake, a try.dog house1

The Hurricane wasn’t the Dog House; but it was the closest customers could come to the days whereif you asked the waitress, “What else are you out of?”  she would respond, “Order it and we’ll see.” I’ll be sad to see it go, and might need to stop by for one last hamburger—or stack of pancakes.

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