KIRO NIGHTS

Wallingford bar owner ‘hopeful’ after extended closure due to move, COVID

Mar 7, 2021, 7:14 AM
octopus bar...
The Octopus Bar in Seattle's Wallingford neighborhood. (MyNorthwest photo)
(MyNorthwest photo)

The COVID-19 pandemic and related closures have had a major impact on bars and restaurants, and bars in Seattle have certainly not been immune. One Wallingford bar had been in the process of moving locations when the pandemic hit, forcing it to remain closed even longer than expected.

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“We’re located in the Wallingford neighborhood, and we opened our doors in 2014 with the hopes of purchasing the property that we were on,” explained Liza Danger, owner of The Octopus Bar. “And in November [2019], we had won our case but, unfortunately, there was a title issue and so we were more or less forced to move.”

“And thankfully, our attorney at the time had advised us to find a new location,” she added.

The Octopus Bar moved to what was most recently the Iron Bull, and Goldie’s prior to that, located on North 45th Street and Meridian Avenue North in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood.

“There was a corner lot that was up for lease, and we acquired that,” Danger said. “So we ended up moving our business in November of 2019 to this much larger space, which was a blessing.”

“But then, as we all know, several months later in March, right as we were trying to really desperately open, COVID hit and we’re sort of flat on our face,” she added.

At first, she recalls hoping, as did every bar in the neighborhood, that it would be a temporary shutdown.

“I think we all had our fingers crossed,” Danger said. “We’re lucky in the Wallingford neighborhood, on 45th, there’s several bars, and in talking with the other bar owners, naturally, we all hoped it would be like a two-week turnaround. But being shut down the day before St. Patrick’s Day … was a killer. And so not only were we losing out on that money, the bars in our neighborhood were.”

“In banding together to talk with Murphy’s Pub, and Changes, and Sea Monster, none of us really knew what to do,” she added.

At that point, all they could do was cross their fingers and hope. But two weeks came and went, and suddenly it was a month, then two months.

“We were just watching our bank account dwindle, as everyone else was,” Danger said. “We didn’t have income from November to March anyway, so we were just holding on, hoping that we could be at least supportive of our neighbors through that time, and then hoping that we wouldn’t tank alongside of a lot of really beautiful bars and restaurants in the city.”

What not everyone realizes is that many local bars and restaurants have still had to pay rent and other expenses through the pandemic. Both host Mike Lewis, a bar owner himself, and Danger agreed that the money from the paycheck protection loan was great, but wasn’t well built for the service industry. It also wasn’t enough to bring back a full staff, especially at a limited capacity.

“If you’ve been offered 25% capacity, you can’t bring back that kind of staffing, on top of, yeah, … there’s just so many bills to go along with the hospitality industry that I don’t think people know,” Danger said. “We were paying for our dishwasher through that entire service. We’re paying for our point of sale. We were paying for electricity, rent, and like you said a lot, a lot of landlords weren’t willing to work with their tenants.”

“Then PPP, it’s like thanks for the money, but I can’t hire back 14 employees to stand around for six customers in the door,” she added.

For The Octopus Bar, Danger says the PPP offered an opportunity to continue growing the vision of the bar and the brand.

“The previous location was a really small, very, very tight, but very eclectic space,” she said. “And we’re known for our kind of maritime accessories and décor, and so that time gave us the opportunity to really build out our space.”

In June 2020, when businesses were able to reopen a bit, Danger says they were “just as excited as everyone else.”

“We ended up hiring on about 17 employees in hopes of opening the doors,” she said. “In addition to that, just to try to make some money on the side, we had actually opened a walk up window called The Salty Shack. So we were able to afford having employees in preparation of opening the doors in June.”

“And then, as we all know, we all went back to phase one,” she continued. “And it was hard enough letting all of our employees go in November of last year, to have to do that a second time was just — how much can you take as a small business, and as an employee who’s also taking a risk coming back?”

Once again shut down before getting the chance to fully open, The Octopus Bar continued designing.

“I have to say, I feel very fortunate that we were given this amount of time and that we have been able to make it through because the new location — I can’t wait for people to see what we’ve done in that space,” Danger said.

For now, Danger is optimistic. She says they’ve created a space where customers and employees feel safe. Danger says even if, “knock on wood,” a return to Phase 1 happens in the future, the bar has invested in new windows that open for improved ventilation, outdoor seating, and indoor seating with partitions.

“It doesn’t feel like you’re sitting next to a partition,” she said. “It feels like you’re sitting inside of a ship.”

“So I’m hopeful. I’m excited. We brought back some employees, and our employees are alongside of us, enthusiastic,” Danger said. “I’m hopeful for us, … and I’m hopeful for the bar industry. We’ve been chatting with quite a few of our sister bars, if you will, and trying to encourage everyone to keep their head up and keep moving forward.”

King County health officer: ‘Be cautiously optimistic,’ but COVID risk remains

Danger said The Octopus Bar will be reopening its doors on March 15, 2021.

“We’re calling it our grand reopening month because, as you know, 25% is still pretty limited capacity,” she said. “But we encourage everyone to get a reservation, come out, mask up and be safe. And enjoy a good cocktail!”

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Wallingford bar owner ‘hopeful’ after extended closure due to move, COVID