The 24/7 dining institution is moving from South Lake Union to Pioneer Square, where it’ll be bigger and swankier, but it won’t be the same.
Nothing gold can stay, especially not in Seattle’s shiny new version of South Lake Union. After half a century of faithful 24/7 service, the end of this year brings the end of beloved dining institution 13 Coins. New Year’s Day of 2018 will be our last chance to stagger in after the bars close or the party’s over for a lifesaving Hangtown fry, or for brunch as late in the day as we damn well please. The building, which was owned by The Seattle Times Co. until 2011, is slated for redevelopment (of course).
13 Coins will be reborn in a new Pioneer Square location, opening Jan. 13, and owner Al Moscatel says everybody’s favorite retro design elements and dishes will be there (meanwhile, the SeaTac and Bellevue branches also carry on). The new 13 Coins will be bigger and swankier, with two bars on two levels and VIP booths. It may be great in its own right, but it won’t be the same — and it won’t be on the same block as The Seattle Times’ offices. It is right to mourn, and to celebrate, while we can.
There was a wait at the lunch hour one day last week, including one duo swiping at phones and talking about optimizing personalization, another with a patron using a cane. The Coins looks a little tarnished, with tears in the upholstery of the famously insulated, assignation-worthy booths and, at the long counter, an “out of service” sign on one high-backed, cushy swivel chair. But sinking into an in-service one is as marvelous as ever. Here you are the captain of your destiny, with the capacious, classic menu, the burnished lighting, and the warmth from the kitchen line providing timeless happiness. Look up: The owls carved into the wood are watching over you.
125 Boren Ave. N., Seattle, 206-682-2513; final day Jan. 1, 2018. Open 24 hours a day. Also in SeaTac and Bellevue, and, as of Jan. 13, 2018, Pioneer Square (13coins.com)
The choreography of the cooks and servers — consummate professionals of the old-school type — remains glorious to behold, with (controlled!) flames and gentle shouts and clanging metal bowls of big steak fries. Pasta gets twirled, quickly yet carefully, with tongs on a plate; presentation matters. I can personally recommend the drippy, substantial Reuben and the Hangtown fry with still-tender oysters and just the right amount of bacon and cheese. And where prices once felt high, they don’t seem to have risen along with New Seattle — $15 for the former and $24 for the latter, plus the “Mad Men” style, seems perfectly reasonable. Not to mention a refuge from the dark December rain and a waiter cracking wise. “Thank you so much!” he may say as you reluctantly swivel and slide out of your pleather throne. “Enjoy this crappy day!”
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Take a tour before you go. Above one of the semicircular booths back toward the dining-and-events room, you’ll see the model galleon, its portholes and hull lit from within, that Seattle Times writer Polly Lane noted in 1967 as part of the new place’s “air of masculinity and a touch of Spain.” Collections of 13 coins embedded in the counters and tabletops honor the name, which came from a restaurant in Lima, Peru, called Las Trece Monedas — this according to Paul Mackay, who worked at 13 Coins before eventually becoming the owner of posh El Gaucho, which itself was opened by original 13 Coins owner, Jim Ward, in 1953. When Ward died in 1970, his finances were found to be significantly entangled with Seattle’s legendary organized-crime figure Frank Colacurcio Sr., according to a 1980 Seattle Times report. His wife — who, also per the Times, “favored expensive furs and rode around in a chauffeured, champagne-colored Lincoln Continental” — opened the SeaTac 13 Coins in 1976, then two more restaurants, before losing it all in bankruptcy.
Through the years, The Seattle Times chronicled more 13 Coins news, including several changes of ownership, a labor strike, the life story of one master salad chef, a sex-discrimination suit (in which a female employee was told she’d have to change her gender before getting a different position — she ultimately got the job) and more. Upon the 1967 opening, in a column entitled “Seattle’s Restaurant Scene Is Changing — for the Better,” John J. Reddin described how he “toured the local grazing grounds” and found “so many new restaurants,” including the “quaint” Casa Del Rey on the Eastside, the Sir Wedgwood “with its Old English décor,” and “many, many others.” As a neighbor to the Times, 13 Coins merited special mention, with its “new and elegant dining room” and 24-hour operation, “probably the healthiest sign yet that the old town is big enough to support some all-night restaurants.” Two years later, Times reporter Susan Schwartz visited 13 Coins after Washington law’s law forbidding women from occupying bar stools was repealed. (“The bartender flipped out the paper coaster the same way for his first woman customer … ‘I’ll serve everybody the same.’” Schwartz doesn’t make it clear whether she herself was that first customer — one hopes so.)
Seattle’s contemporary version of many, many new restaurants would doubtless make Reddin’s bow tie spin — according to Department of Revenue data, we’ve seen a 25 percent increase from just a decade ago, up to 2,696 total in the first quarter of 2017. And if it weren’t for 13 Coins, he probably wouldn’t know where the hell he was “in our own Seattle Times’ neighborhood” today. The paper moved kitty-corner in 2011, conveniently even closer to 13 Coins; the facade of the former headquarters is now braced up, framing the rubble of the building behind it, with more construction across the street.
There are lots of other places to eat and drink in South Lake Union now, and we hungry and thirsty, always thirsty, journalists will find our way. But we’ll be sharing stories and paying our respects at 13 Coins between now and New Year’s Day. See you there.