Send in the clowns: Iconic Shorty’s makes a move

Jul 10, 2019, 11:45 AM | Updated: Jul 12, 2019, 8:59 am
Supporters of Shorty's pinball bar help move pinball machines to its new Belltown location ... all dressed as clowns. (Aaron Granillo, KIRO Radio) Supporters of Shorty's pinball bar help move pinball machines to its new Belltown location ... all dressed as clowns. (Aaron Granillo, KIRO Radio) The clown mascot of Shorty's Bar as painted on the wall of its original Belltown location. (Aaron Granillo, KIRO Radio)

Seattle is a pinball player’s paradise. Hundreds of machines fill dozens of arcades and bars across the city, including at the iconic Shorty’s in Belltown. The Coney Island themed bar is known as the birthplace of Seattle’s pinball culture and is also famous for its vast collection of creepy clown art.

When Shorty’s was forced to move to a new location on Tuesday, the owner decided the only proper way to do it was with a parade of clowns.

“We love you Shorty’s,” screamed the face painted clowns outside the bar’s original location near Second Avenue and Bell Street. They made a ruckus with kazoos, whistles, and horns.

“It was the first dive pinball bar that Seattle ever had,” said Honi Harrison, wearing zebra stripe stockings and a matching coat. “It is Coney Island themed and full of clowns and it’s terrifying.”

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Harrison said she’s been coming to Shorty’s almost daily since moving to Seattle four years ago.

“This is a historic day in Shorty’s history,” Harrison said. “It’s moving just down the road so all of the pinball machines will be moving down the street in a spectacle for the locals to enjoy.”

Shorty’s move marks the end of a 22-year-run at its original location. The building that houses the bar is slated for redevelopment. So, send in the clowns to pack up the place and haul the pinball machines down the block.

Carefully transferred on special pinball-dollys, the clowns rolled the machines to their new home, bringing along a slice of Seattle spunk and history.

“Shorty’s is one place that is emblematic of a Seattle that people know and love,” said Dyer Oxley, co-host of the NW Nerd podcast. Shorty’s was the seed that planted the city’s pinball craze in the late ’90s, according to Oxley.

“Shorty’s was the place where a scene actually lived and existed for years,” he said. “After a while, of course, this snowball started and next thing you know there are pin crawls throughout Seattle, where you can go from pub-to-pub and just play different machines throughout an entire day or night.”

Kate Folchert showed up to Shorty’s on Tuesday, moving day, to pay her respects. The retired waitress of 40 years said she worked nearby the bar in the late ’90s when Shorty’s first opened.

“All of the staff from all the restaurants used to congregate here,” Folchert said. She’s thrilled her favorite hang will be around for another generation of “free spirits.”

“The spirit of Shorty’s is something that you cannot take away from just a building,” Folchert said. “I’m 70 years old and I’ve always been that clown.”

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Shorty’s owner, Avout Vander Werf, agreed the customers are really the main attraction, not the pinball or the bar’s iconic cigar-smoking clown logo. He said the new Shorty’s will survive only if the same characters come for the show.

“But will they like it?” asked Vander Werf. “They’ll find themselves on a different bar stool in a different spot in a different building. They may not like it or they may be ecstatic and say, ‘This is great. This is better than before.’”

Vander Werf will find out soon enough. Shorty’s reopens at its new Belltown location July 12.

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Send in the clowns: Iconic Shorty’s makes a move