Longtime Seattle restaurateur Mick McHugh says he always tried to do right by the city and its sports teams.
His former F.X. McRory’s Steak Chop & Oyster House for 40 years was perfectly situated in Pioneer Square to greet football, baseball, basketball and soccer fans on their way to and from nearby stadiums. When a local movement to bring back the NBA Sonics took hold early last decade, McHugh’s restaurant became the site of fan rallies and a frequent meeting spot for entrepreneur Chris Hansen, partner Wally Walker and others trying to get an arena project in the adjacent Sodo District off the ground.
So, it was a surprising twist for McHugh, whose restaurant closed in 2017, to find himself recently asked to take charge of the Kraken Bar & Grill, a new eatery planned for mid-September inside the future NHL expansion team’s $80 million Northgate Mall training facility. After all, the Kraken was awarded here after the Seattle City Council in May 2016 quashed the Sodo arena project and later approved what’s now a near-$1 billion overhaul of the former KeyArena into soon-to-reopen Climate Pledge Arena.
“I mean, I was a 40-year Sonics season-ticket holder, and of course I wanted them back,” McHugh said of his time with organizers of the Sodo arena bid, who he still counts as friends and keeps in contact with. “And we thought that was going to happen. Now it’s happening in Northgate on the hockey side.”
And though McHugh admits he’d never have imagined this turn five years ago, it seems fitting he’d be helping the Kraken launch. After all, he added, he still wants what’s best for local sports, and — as an NHL newbie quickly catching up on the league’s history — that includes making the Kraken Bar & Grill as popular with hockey fans as F.X. McRory’s was with supporters of other Seattle teams.
“If you want to see things move forward and you’re asked to help, being a Seattle guy, I want to see them do this right,” said McHugh, officially a team consultant and already planning menus for both the restaurant and a lower level kitchen that will service Kraken player meals.
“I think (Kraken owner) David Bonderman is investing a hell of a lot of money in the Seattle Center,” McHugh added. “I think he probably saved the Seattle Center, because it really has no money and with that new (arena) building and money going into the Monorail, it’s going to be a first-class investment.
“And the Northgate investment is going to be great, too. We’re having this rejuvenation. It’s going to be a fall sport, and it’s going to be real.”
Indeed, the restaurant, with capacity for 300 patrons and a private-events section for 40 people, will be open year-round and show games of all the city’s teams on 17 television screens. But it will be hockey-focused on Kraken game nights.
The 4,600-square-foot restaurant overlooks two of three regulation-sized NHL ice rinks at the 167,000-square foot Northgate facility, including the one on which the Kraken will practice.
A giant video board behind that rink — on a wall opposite the restaurant and easily viewed by patrons — will be turned on for some game broadcasts with other Kraken-centric events staged as well. McHugh is busy thinking up ideas for the restaurant — such as live on-air shows hosted remotely there by KJR-AM (950), the team’s partner — and how to keep fans coming in.
“We’re going to bring some spirit to this place,” he said. “It’s going to be lively. And it’s going to be sports. It’s going to be hockey-featured during hockey season. I mean, those rinks are going fast. I saw the schedule, and they have kids’ hockey, they have adults’ hockey — women and men — they have curling, and they have figure skating. The thing is booked 365 days out of the year.”
So restaurant traffic shouldn’t be an issue. McHugh plans “casually priced” items for hockey-goers, saying some Seattle Times stories about the cost of equipping youngsters for the sport really resonated.
“I know that parents are going to be up there watching down at their kids,” he said. “And then the kids will come up and possibly eat with them afterwards. So, I’ve got to make sure we hit everybody’s budget here.”
That means hockey food such as burgers and poutine, a kids’ menu and a large assortment of local beers. The second kitchen downstairs will cook only player meals ordered by Kraken performance consultant Gary Roberts, featuring organic meats, fruits and vegetables — and even “beet juice,” McHugh said.
“He’s pretty organized and has the whole program ready for the team,” said McHugh, who spent time with Roberts on a recent call. “He has a list of all the stuff he’d like us to use.”
Now in his 70s, McHugh had eased into retired life after being forced to shutter F.X. McRory’s because its century-old building was closing for an earthquake retrofit. He’d explored leasing 16 locations nearby but concluded he couldn’t reopen — and was glad he didn’t once the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
He’d volunteered at the St. James Cathedral soup kitchen downtown and became its interim director last July.
“It gives me great joy to walk out of there every day,” he said.
But then his wife, Tracy, a nurse, introduced him to a colleague whose kids played hockey with those of Rob Lampman — who had been hired late last year as general manager of the Northgate practice facility and was looking for somebody to launch its restaurant.
The colleague’s husband asked McHugh if he could forward his name to Lampman. McHugh agreed, and Lampman phoned soon after.
“I said, ‘Listen, I don’t want to own it and I don’t necessarily want to be there every day, but I’ll help you find the right people,’ ” McHugh said.
Lampman, walking through the under-construction Kraken Bar & Grill on a tour last week, said McHugh will be a perfect “ambassador” given his longtime knowledge of the city’s restaurant and sports scene. “This is going to be a focal spot,” Lampman said, pointing around him at the restaurant space. “So we have to get it right.”
Lampman said the team is working out the right balance for how many nights Kraken games will be shown on the giant video screen and what type of additional game-time events might happen on the rinks below. The team is wary of giant screen broadcasts interfering with community games and skating events scheduled for the ice below.
For now, he said, the video board might show about half the Kraken’s 41 road games. But that’s still being planned.
So is the restaurant’s staffing, which McHugh said will include some former F.X. McRory’s employees. Many have struggled during the pandemic.
“I want to get some employment to these restaurant folks that have been languishing out there wondering whether they have a career, let alone a job left,” he said. “This is all new money. This is a new industry in Seattle, and I think it’s great that I can help launch this.”
And if that someday helps bring the Sonics back, he’s all for it. But right now, “that’s out of our hands” and up to NBA commissioner Adam Silver and league owners, who’ve recently expressed more openness to adding teams than back when the Sodo arena project was being planned at McHugh’s restaurant.
“I mean, I’d love it,” McHugh said. “Of course we want to have our Sonics back. So I think we just have to wait and see where the cards are going to fall here, and then we can all get behind it.”
In the meantime, he’ll help the city’s newest professional league launch as best he can.
And maybe show its former one some of what it’s missing out on.