(West 5 team, coaxed outside briefly during “Spring Cleaning” day last Sunday)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Their restaurant/lounge is laden with reminders of West Seattle’s past – and is an irresistible part of West Seattle’s present. As West 5‘s founders celebrate their establishment’s 8th anniversary today, they’re seeing a bright future.
To follow up on the anniversary announcement published here 2 weeks ago, we sat down to talk with Dave Montoure and Dean Overton on Super Bowl Sunday, when they traditionally close West 5 for “spring cleaning” – which goes far beyond just bringing out mops, buckets, and sponges. All around us, team members (who we’re told volunteered to come in and help) were joining their bosses in intensive work – with the day’s plan including even drywalling.
Not much point in being open that particular day, anyway, since West 5 is TV-free. That against-the-grain status is reminiscent of its origins as an establishment “free” of something else – smoke. Back in 2003, smoking was still allowed inside some establishments, but West 5 opened as a trailblazing nonsmoking lounge. Predictions of an inevitably quick death obviously, well, went up in smoke.
But did they imagine they’d make it to 8 years in business?
“Oh yeah,” Dave smiles.
“And at least that many more” from here, Dean declares.
It all began with a “For Lease” sign on the former West Seattle Speedway and Hobby (among the other incarnations of 4539 California SW). They say it sounded already taken when they called the property owner, who ultimately “decided to take a chance on (us).” They signed the lease in July of 2002 and opened in February 2003, a span that seemed like an eternity then, though many new food/drink establishments take a lot longer these days.
As relatively simple as their menu is now, it’s expanded from where it began. They thought their focus would be on cocktails, with food as something on the side, so to speak. “People came in and wanted more substance – and we’re quick studies,” Dave explains.
So they added “simple sandwiches,” as Dean puts it – the Reuben, the BLT. “No fried food – and that’s on purpose.” The menu doesn’t make dramatic shifts, but they do experiment, introducing things on the “fresh sheet” to see how they’re received. Recently, West 5 added a weekend brunch menu, and they’re working to increase their lunch business, recognizing there are fewer local options for lunch than there are for dinner. And after eight years, they know they’ve really caught on as an eatery, because “we get a lot more seniors in here,” he adds, “seniors next to punk rockers!” Adds Dave, “Young families, too – some who’ve been coming in since they were dating, are now coming in with their kids.”
Some of those customers got married after West 5 proposals, with special touches arranged in advance: “We created a menu that said, ‘Will you marry me?'” Dave reminisces.
Even if you’re not planning a proposal or some other celebratory occasion, West 5 has become a must-stop for well-known West Seattleites, and visitors, without ever seeming pretentious. Politicians are regulars; we interviewed Dow Constantine there almost exactly two years ago, right after he announced he was running for King County Executive, and Governor Gregoire stopped in during her 2008 re-election campaign. Mayors have visited – though the proprietors aren’t sure whether current officeholder Mike McGinn has paid a visit (hint, hint).
In the entertainment realm, West 5 was the site of the before- and after-parties for the fabled “Live at Easy Street” show by Pearl Jam in 2005. And its history – so rich despite “only” 8 years – is in its people too. There’s legendary bartender Jo-Ann Clutcher, who we wrote about when she celebrated her 70th birthday a year and a half ago – she posed with Dave under the West 5 neon “Cocktails” sign that came from her longtime employer the Admiral Benbow Inn:
(WSB photo from 2009)
2009, by the way, while memorable for occasions such as Jo-Ann’s big birthday, was the year the business “bottomed out,” says Dean, as far as the economy’s troublespots went. It’s been back on the rise every since; last month, he notes, they did better than January 2010. They’ve worked hard to stay affordable despite increases in the prices for liquor and many other items they buy. Whatever the price, some of those cocktails are legendary too. Particularly the mai tai, which starts with a mix made in-house. “Only one syrup, otherwise all fruit juices,” Dave says proudly, adding that their signature tiki glasses have gained fame too.
Add it all together and you get “… what the neighborhood wanted,” as Dean puts it.
“We’re a neighborhood place – born and raised in West Seattle,” says Dave. Asked how it feels to be iconic, he insists they’re humbled by their popularity and are really “just two guys from the neighborhood, running a restaurant.”
“I’m more proud of this place every year,” Dean grins.
And now it’s onward, into year 9. Today and tonight (Tuesday, February 8th), you’re invited to drop in any time for “happy-hour prices all day,” some giveaways, and general good cheer.
What’s ahead? Nothing dramatic; these West Seattle natives are pragmatic about growth and change. “We know density is coming, and we’re prepared to serve (new) folks,” says Dave (who is also current chair of the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce board). “We want to be the place they think of as ‘THE’ West Seattle place.”
For many people already here – it already is.