Let’s start this column with a requiem for Shallots, the Asian bistro at the corner of Fourth and Vine. It was here that I had my first dinner as a Belltown resident, and I immediately fell in love with the vibrant flavors and the attention to authentic details (“slippery-coating” the prawns before stir-frying them, for example).
Kenny Lee launched Shallots in 1996 and kept the place running with a rotating cast of investors and chefs despite the vicious economic downturn, the departure of Group Health offices and an increasingly spotty dinner trade.
For the past six years, the mainstay of his business was catering and banquets and a neighborhood delivery program. His appeals to Equity Properties for rent relief fell on deaf ears. Earlier this year, he finally found a couple of buyers, worked with them for three months and left for an extended vacaton in China. (A previous deal to sell Shallots to chef Simon Nguyen failed in half a year; he had to take the restaurant back.) The new buyers, Don Briggs and Jessica McNeese, neither of whom had ever operated a restaurant, hired a chef who used to work at Buckley’s. They intended to add sliders, steaks and pub food (!), but they couldn’t get a liquor license because, says Lee, Briggs had a felony conviction on his record. Without the liquor license, they didn’t even bother to open. Instead, Briggs and McNeese defaulted on the lease and were evicted. Lee returned from China to find the space gutted.
“They asked me to take it back, but I won’t even go to look at the premises,” Lee said. “I’m just very, very sad.”
Ethan Stowell, owner of Belltown’s Tavolata, has closed his first restaurant, Union, in the heart of downtown; it’s due to be replaced by a sushi restaurant called Japaness. (Why --ess instead of --ese, a mystery.) Stowell himself is hard at work on a new spot in Ballard, Staple & Fancy Mercantile, and has also launched Lagana Foods, a line of eight fresh pasta products (rigatoni, conchiglie, radiatore) to be sold at neighborhood farmers markets and Whole Foods stores.
Back in the neighborhood, the Belltown Pub will reopen shortly. For the past several years it’s been called Belltown Bistro, part of the Bluewater Bistro group. The lease ran out, the owners opted not to renew, and the place sat empty for several months until a threesome of industry veterans got together and made the landlord, Brook Barnes, an offer he didn’t refuse. (Must have hurt to own an empty bar, watching those lines out the door at Del Rey and Black Bottle.) The three newcomers are Dave Tolan, who’s tended bar at Gordon Biersch and Paragon, and two gents from The Rock in Tacoma, Erwin Arceo and Zack Nethercutt. They think there’s room for an informal pub that’s neither fine-dining nor nightclub, where you can watch sports on the big screen, drink craft beer and order sophisticated (but not too sophisticated) pub grub.
There’s a persistent rumor that the Varchetta family (Barolo, Mamma Melina) are eying the old Flying Fish space at the corner of First and Bell. Not sure that makes sense, since they’re also running List, a block to the north.
Tia Lou’s has been sold, but the new owner isn’t changing the name for now ... At Second and Denny, there’s a new taco spot, Barracuda, where the Urban Wine Cafe used to be.