During the two hours last week when I was waiting to get a table at the Northlake Tavern and Pizza House, I had plenty of time to talk with other people in the block-long line.

Among them was a guy who had flown up from Orange County, California, with no other purpose than to eat pizza at the place he had frequented when he was a University of Washington undergrad in the 1990s. He had brought along a buddy from San Francisco who seemed a bit mystified to be standing in the cold out in front of an unimposing, low-slung building in the shadow of the Interstate 5 bridge. He had thought his friend was taking him somewhere for a gourmet feast. I assured him that, indeed, he was about to partake in a unique meal that, in these parts, passes for a particular kind of gourmet.

The Northlake is one of those long-established Seattle culinary institutions, like Canlis, Ivar’s and Dick’s Drive-In, that have served a signature menu to generations of exceedingly loyal patrons. But all the pizza-slinging will end on Tuesday when the Northlake’s latest owner, Abdoullah, calls it quits. That is why there have been long lines outside the tavern all day, every day since the closure was announced. The fans are determined to get one last slice of those hefty pies.

Northlake’s pizza is not New York style. It isn’t Chicago style. It is a Seattle style that harks back to the city’s working-class past and to the tastes of the thousands of UW students who have stuffed themselves on Logger Specials and Meat Eater’s Specials ever since Herb Friedman opened the place nearly 69 years ago. In a 2010 article, the Seattle Metropolitan magazine described Northlake-style pizza precisely: “Diameter wise, the meat eater’s special is no bigger than your average pizza, but it sags under the weight of mounds — and mounds — of thick cut pepperoni, Canadian bacon, chunks of beef sausage that advance to the crust’s borders like Italy’s answer to Manifest Destiny. It’s edible expansionism, where the terrain is soft with fields of gooey mozzarella and provolone and the rivers run spicy with marinara — you know the kind of place where a mythical beast of yeast and flour might graze. And for the lover of all things big, it’s the Pizza Promised Land.”

Such mountainous pizzas are not to everyone’s taste, but those great slabs of chopped olives and meat are what made the Northlake unique. And maybe it was the cartoons, too.

In the early years, the walls of the bar provided a gallery for large, wordy, political cartoons by local artist Gordon Anderson. After Friedman sold the Northlake to his restaurateur friends, Matt and Cheryl Berkovich, in 1986, the new owners decided to alter the décor. In 1990, they approached another cartoonist — me — to create new art for the walls with pizza and UW Husky sports as the themes. (The cartoon that accompanies this column is inspired by one of those drawings.) When my whimsical cartoons replaced his sharp social satire, Anderson was outraged and dismissed me as a hack. I guess I would have been miffed, too.


But nothing lasts forever, does it? Cheryl Berkovich-Winzenread kept the pizza production going after her husband died in 1997 and, six years ago, turned over the operation to her longtime manager and friend, Abdoullah. She is proud of all the accolades the Northlake earned over the years — including The Wall Street Journal’s 2006 designation of the Northlake as one of the 20 “hottest” pizza restaurants in the United States — and she is grateful to her loyal legion of customers. Still, time marches on, she told me in a recent phone call, and, in a few days, the Northlake will begin the transformation into Big Mario’s Pizza at Northlake.

There is a tendency to look at changes in long-established urban institutions as bad omens that indicate the real Seattle is being whittled away, piece by piece, but the truth is that dynamic cities are always evolving, always renewing and reinventing. Does anyone remember the fabulous Orpheum Theatre that fell to the wrecking ball to make way for the two towers of the Westin Hotel? How about Rosellini’s, the restaurant that once served power lunches to the town’s movers and shakers? Or, reaching way back, the carnival rides at Luna Park on the northern tip of West Seattle? All were Seattle icons in their day.

The Northlake Tavern and Pizza House had a great run and will be missed. Yet, even now, another intrepid restaurateur somewhere in our city is opening the doors to a new cafe or bar or pizza joint that, 30 years from now, will seem like it has been part of Seattle’s identity forever.

Nevertheless, there may never be another eatery that measures pizza by the pound.  

See more of David Horsey’s cartoons at: st.news/davidhorsey

View other syndicated cartoonists at: st.news/cartoons

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