Inside the NHL
Tim Pipes hails from the same city that once spawned rock group Bachman-Turner Overdrive, so there’s probably a “Taking Care of Business’’ joke to be made about his tribulations keeping our town’s best-known hockey bar afloat.
Then again, the onetime aspiring bassist, who moved to Seattle in 1991 and quickly joined a band that opened for Heart and Queensryche at The Gorge Amphitheater, will tell you his time in BTO’s hometown of Winnipeg was very short and his formative years were actually spent in Toronto. And yeah, Pipes, 58, at this point has taken care of all the business he can handle and then some as proprietor of The Angry Beaver in Greenwood and would rather just catch a break or two.
Now, some of his avid supporters are taking care of him, starting a GoFundMe page that by Monday had raised just under $27,000 to help The Angry Beaver — shuttered for a second time this year by COVID-19 — stay alive. The money will help Pipes pay rent for now, but the question is whether he makes it to next fall when the Kraken plan to launch as the city’s NHL expansion franchise.
“It’s been one thing after another since we opened,’’ Pipes said, with a tired-sounding chuckle.
There was the NHL lockout striking just when Pipes in October 2012 launched what he bills as “Seattle’s Original Hockey Bar” – the lack of games wiping out his future client base for months. Then came the neighborhood natural gas explosion in 2015 that leveled much of the premises, followed by thieves breaking in and stealing whatever the blast didn’t get.
So, when COVID-19 shutdowns struck last spring, there was some been-there, done-that resignation creeping in. But now, with the latest coronavirus surge and new shutdowns, Pipes plans to stay closed until a vaccine arrives and he can operate at full capacity again.
And the bar’s long list of supportive patrons will have to hope that doesn’t take too long.
After all, it would be a cruel twist if a bar that’s at times seemed a lone hockey outpost amid a sea of Seahawks, Huskies and Mariners establishments can’t make it to this city’s NHL’s opening night.
“I mean, we came out of that initial lockdown and tried to do takeout and that was all well and good,” he said. “Then, the playoffs happened and people came and watched. Business was down 50% but at least there was money coming in. But once the Stanley Cup was raised, that was it. It was just a ghost town.”
There was some spillover Seahawks and Huskies traffic, but football fans weren’t exactly flocking to a place with NHL and junior hockey memorabilia covering the walls.
“I mean, there are seven other bars in this neighborhood,” Pipes said. “I think it just makes more sense for me to hold off until hockey is back on, we’re safe (from COVID-19) and we’re allowed to be at full capacity again.”
Pipes admits he sometimes second-guesses the hockey-only motif that — when there isn’t a pandemic going on — has packed in fans of a multitude of NHL teams. With so many newcomers to this city with NHL allegiances back home, The Beaver quickly became the place to throw on your team jersey and add to the mosaic of colors sported by the bar’s nightly patrons.
At The Beaver, there’s never a need to argue with the bartenders to change the TV from that night’s NBA or Mariners game. Pipes endured enough of that after first moving here and found little had changed two decades later.
By then, he’d spent 15 years working as a “tech support guy” and realized there was a citywide void for any place that cared enough to show hockey nightly. He missed being able to easily find it.
“Growing up in Toronto, it was a big part of my culture. Every kid wanted to be a hockey player, wanted to play for the Maple Leafs.”
Instead, he left for Boston and the Berklee College of Music, then Seattle. He joined a band called Bananafish, featuring vocalist Tom Kennedy and guitarist Jay Pinto, and by summer of 1992 was playing The Gorge as an opening act.
“I thought I was on my way to realizing my dreams and then, just as life does, things took a left turn and there was no more of that band,” he said.
He realized he needed to earn day-job money, so swapped music for tech support.
Starting the hockey bar was a second chance at fulfilling one of his life’s passions.
Chris Maykut, a business membership coordinator for the Phinney Neighborhood Association, used to own a shop next door to The Beaver. He’s been helping drum up publicity for those fundraising on Pipes’ behalf.
“When you talk about what it is to be a small-business owner, it’s often not the money and it’s not the benefits,” Maykut said. “It’s just having your dream, going out in the world and trying to make it happen.”
That dream has stalled at times. But the highs have been worth it.
Right when NHL Seattle was launching a season-ticket deposit drive in March 2018 — months before the city was even awarded a franchise — Pipes was working at his bar when his assistant manager took a call from a “Tim somebody” whose last name she couldn’t pronounce.
It was Oak View Group co-founder Tim Leiweke, spearheading the NHL push here and whose previous job had been as CEO of the parent company for Pipes’ beloved Maple Leafs in Toronto. A few days later, Leiweke and future Kraken co-owner and Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer walked into The Beaver for an impromptu gathering to celebrate the successful ticket-deposit drive.
“I’m wearing my Leafs sweater and he comes up to me and I go, ‘I just wanted to thank you for … literally transforming the culture of the Leafs and how they operate’,” Pipes said. “And he just puts his arm around me and goes, ‘You and I are going to be friends.’ And he thanked me for all I’d done for hockey and the fans here.”
Some of those fans are now thanking Pipes by taking care of his business with their pocketbooks. He hopes to return the favor.
“I’m going to give this everything I have,” Pipes said. “When the Kraken drop that puck, I want people here watching it.”