After 32 years, Tom Douglas has permanently closed the Dahlia Lounge downtown, with a consolidation of his pizza place Serious Pie and the Dahlia Bakery taking over the space. This is big news in terms of Seattle’s big restaurant groups, but it’s also part of a process Douglas is going through coming out of the pandemic (knock on wood!), with the fate of several more of his downtown restaurants TBD. The other recent final goodbyes here seem smaller scale, but the little places — chefs’ single ones, hands-on run — make up the fabric of the city in a different, hugely important way. And, of course, there’s everything to be said for an all-day neighborhood cafe. And those longtime standbys to get a drink — a bar beloved for its cheap happy hour, or for St. Patrick’s Day madness — those kinds of places that are always there, until they aren’t.
To the farewells, with some nice rays of hope for the future among them.
By Tae: Chef Sun Hong provided such ample happiness at his tiny lunch-only spot in the back hallway of Capitol Hill’s Chophouse Row, open only since November 2018. A seat at his counter meant not just excellent sushi and all manner of other fantastic snacks — course by course, made before your eyes — but gleeful joking, ichthyological education, forays into the philosophical, a diverse ’90s soundtrack, maybe Capri Sun and/or Hite beer. The general greatness got Sun (everyone calls him Sun) named a James Beard Award semifinalist last year, and By Tae also got listed among GQ’s 2020 “Best New Restaurants in America.”
Sun and his By Tae-and-life partner Erin Counts said that COVID-19-style takeout-only was actually working well for them, and they didn’t want to give particulars about why they had to leave their space. “It was a real bummer,” Sun said via text. “We didn’t move out because we mismanaged …” he noted. “It was awesome, despite all the things that have happened to tiny businesses.”
The good news: He and Erin hope to reopen in a different, still-small spot soon, with the menu dependent on the space’s parameters. “I am not into jamming a key into the wrong lock,” Sun said. “So it could be fish and rice, or club sandwiches. Everything has a place. … Maybe all-you-can-eat spaghetti! With custom bibs.”
“We made many good memories at that oddly placed lunch counter,” Erin added. “So many lovely people came through. But we will make plenty more memories at the next one.”
“Food was the excuse,” Sun said. “It was all about making sure people felt happy.
“Let’s do it again!”
Little Neon Taco: First, it’s important to note that chef Monica Dimas’ First Hill spot is already rebounding as a pop-up at Capitol Hill’s La Dive through March. But the loss of the pretty, airy space as a permanent home for Dimas’ fantastic Mexican food feels like a real defeat, and she wrote on Facebook and Instagram about how it hurt — about feeling like she failed, about how “2020 was such a pile of frustration” pivoting and pivoting again, trying to make the restaurant work during COVID-19.
As Dimas related, “Stuff happens and I *know* it’s ‘just a restaurant’ but it was more than that to me. I finally had a space for myself. Me. This immigrant Latina did that. I was raised by a single mom and we were always financially strapped so opening the doors to my own place felt validating on many levels.” She went on to thank her “awesome staff” and the community for making it possible.
And Little Neon Taco will rise again, Dimas said — she’s looking for a location “to continue on even if it’s different from what I had envisioned …”
“Onwards. Upwards. Next chapter. Let’s go fam.”
The Dane: My colleague Jackie Varriano visited this spacious cafe and found it full of pretty much all the things Crown Hill could want: comfortable couches and good sandwiches, kid-friendly but with 30 taps for the parents and their friends. After four years, though, the owners called it quits, saying on their website, “We have enjoyed every minute of being part of this neighborhood!” They thanked their patrons and their team, and they have a message for the rest of us: “As the world recovers from this virus, support all the small businesses that you can! We all need every hello, like, sale, thank you, recommendation, and as much positivity you can share.”
Dragonfish Asian Cafe: It seems like everyone who’s lived in Seattle for a certain length of time has likely ended up at downtown’s Dragonfish. There was the popular — and cheap — sushi happy hour, and the bar stood loyally at the ready for a stop before — or after — a show at the Paramount just up the street. Those who’ll miss it can, according to MLTNews, look forward to owner Takao Kikuchi’s new restaurant in Mountlake Terrace called Baguus Little Asia … very nice for him, but not the same for downtown.
Fadó Irish Pub: You might know this place as “that big Irish bar on First downtown” (or, if you’re me, “that place my friend Ben used to work at before he became a lawyer”). Hordes of sports fans descended here to watch games, or on their way to and from them, and St. Patrick’s Day always looked like a lot — a LOT. It seemed like it’d been around forever, and it lasted two decades, with untold pints sold. Announcing the closure at the end of January on their website, the owners expressed gratitude for the many years of patronage and all the staff, saying, sadly, “we did our best to withstand the impact of COVID-19.” They offered toasts to all kinds of memories made at the place and, in closing, this “song written by a Scotsman but embraced by Ireland”:
So, fill to me the parting glass
And drink a health whate’er befalls
Then gently rise and softly call
Good night and joy be with you all.