Seattle’s most revered sports bar will close after nearly 40 years. The building owners want to retrofit the basement, forcing McRory’s owner Mick McHugh to relocate his beloved establishment.
There isn’t nearly enough space here for the memories. The stories and good times overfloweth.
Asking a local about F.X. McRory’s is the easiest interview out there. You just smile and let the tape recorder run.
But on Sunday, June 11, 2017, Seattle’s most revered sports bar will close after nearly 40 years. The building owners want to retrofit the basement, forcing McRory’s owner Mick McHugh to relocate his beloved establishment.
Don’t worry, though. This isn’t a time for sorrow — it’s a time for celebration.
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“This is just momentary,” McHugh said by phone — and you don’t need FaceTime to know he’s smiling. “I still got a little juice left.”
Spend a few minutes with McHugh and it’s clear he doesn’t have a “little” of anything. The 73-year-old’s energy, creativity and kindness levels are always cranked up to 10.
Perhaps if someone else had opened McRory’s in that gritty Pioneer Square neighborhood in 1977, it wouldn’t have thrived. But McHugh darn sure got it humming.
Located within steps of the Kingdome, the restaurant/bar was the epicenter of Seattle sports fandom before and after Mariners or Seahawks games. The 28 beer taps, the hundreds of bourbon bottles, the family-friendly atmosphere — sometimes it made the game itself seem like the undercard.
But it wasn’t until 1980 — thanks to a chance encounter with renowned artist LeRoy Neiman — that McRory’s achieved true iconic status.
After spotting Neiman in Seattle after an art show, McHugh tried to convince him to paint a picture of his restaurant. But given how Neiman was in the most demand he’d ever been in his life, he requested $100,000 to do it.
Figuring he wouldn’t get a chance like that again, McHugh enthusiastically agreed to the terms. Even so, Neiman didn’t seem particularly inspired, and delayed the work indefinitely.
Not one to surrender easily, McHugh decided on his own motivational tactic: He flew to Delaware, walked into a U.S. government assay office, and asked for $25,000 worth of gold.
Mick then delivered the bars to Neiman’s New York home and offered it as a down payment. Impressed, Neiman went on to create one of the most famous paintings of his career — a painting that became McRory’s emblem.
That’s McHugh for you, though. Convention has never been his thing.
In 1988, Mick and his business partner Tim Firnstahl split and were trying to figure out how to divvy up the six restaurants they owned. The solution? Flip a silver dollar….from the top of the Space Needle.
The landing area was blocked off as part of a media covered-event, and after the coin landed tails (Firnstahl called heads) McHugh won and claimed McRory’s along with Jake O’Shaughnessy’s in Bellevue and the Leschi Lake Cafe.
McRory’s was the real prize, though. That’s where the action was.
Former KJR sports radio host Mike Gastineau remembers being in the bar the night King County held a special election in September of 1995, asking the public for a sales-tax increase to finance a new baseball stadium. Coincidentally, the election results were coming in just as the Mariners were playing.
Gastineau recalls the Mariners making a dramatic comeback just as newscasters announced that the measure had passed.
“It was like a Hollywood movie,” Gastineau said. “I’ve never seen so many people so happy at once.”
(Absentee ballots would later reverse the results of that election, but that doesn’t mar Gastineau’s memory of the night.)
Sounders majority owner Adrian Hanauer remembers taking the bus to a Mariners game as a 12-year-old and spending the few dollars he had on a burger from McRory’s. Nearly 40 years later, he described the news of the restaurant’s imminent closing as “a shot to the gut.”
It wasn’t just about the history for him, either. It was about McHugh — one of the most gracious men he’d ever met.
“We weren’t big time, but Mick treated us like we were big time,” said Hanauer, referring to the Sounders before they were an MLS team. “It was fantastic.”
But it sounds as though there will be more good memories to come.
McHugh said he plans on opening a new McRory’s within two blocks of the old one. He hopes to keep the bar area as close to the original as possible.
“It’s just so universal. We can take care of anybody or everybody, no matter what city or country you’re from,” McHugh said. “This is the perfect place. Yeah, the perfect place.”