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All Over The Map: Remodel project uncovers hidden past of beloved XXX drive-in

Jun 29, 2024, 3:42 PM | Updated: 3:43 pm

Work underway in Issaquah to convert the old XXX Root Beer restaurant to a Burgermaster has revealed a key feature of the original drive-in which had been hidden for years.

XXX Root Beer in Issaquah closed abruptly in November 2023. The nostalgic restaurant was a popular spot for decades, and was home to car shows and other history-themed gatherings. And the interior was packed with countless pieces of memorabilia.

The building housing the restaurant was constructed in the late 1960s along what was then US Highway 10, the predecessor to the Interstate 90 (I-90) freeway over Snoqualmie Pass. XXX Root Beer as a once-national brand goes back much further than that, and there was an earlier version of the XXX at another location in Issaquah as early as the 1930s.

It wasn’t too long after the bad news came about the closure of XXX in Issaquah that much better news began to spread: Seattle area drive-in restaurant chain Burgermaster is moving into the old space.

CEO and owner of Burgermaster Alex Jensen told KIRO Newsradio the company is doing a comprehensive remodel of the XXX building, including undoing some more recent changes to the interior of the building. Specifically, they are restoring portions of the former drive-in that had been converted to office space at some point in the past few decades.

“When they built those offices, it looks like they were pretty careful to leave all of the infrastructure in place,” Jensen told KIRO Newsradio. “I had heard rumors that the original owners kind of wanted to preserve the opportunity for somebody to come back and do this at some point.”

Infrastructure? More about that in a moment.

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‘The ramp’ is in solid shape

The most recent iteration of XXX in Issaquah was a sit-down restaurant with tables inside and outdoors, but that was only after a remodeling project years ago. What might come as a surprise (or maybe a reminder) to some is that when XXX was built in Issaquah in 1968, the restaurant was a classic drive-in, with car service – like what they have at most Burgermaster locations – where servers take orders from customers while those customers are parked under an awning and sitting in their vehicle. Servers then bring beverages and food to customers on a tray that hangs on the edge of the car window.

In drive-in terms, that covered area where customers are served in their cars, Jensen says, is called “the ramp.” It’s the existence of the ramp – the “infrastructure” Jensen alluded to – that came as a pleasant surprise during the current work underway in Issaquah.

The original ramp is still there, Jensen says, and it’s in really good shape.

“There’s what we call car decking, and it’s this kind of tongue-and-groove looking wood that’s on the underside of that ramp – what the awnings are attached to,” Jensen said. “And that is all still there.”

“The XXX drive-in is still there, kind of buried underneath,” he said.

Burgermaster’s remodeling work will restore the look and function of the original ramp, Jensen says.

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More on the iconic XXX Root Beer barrel sign

What about that giant barrel-shaped sign?

Not to worry, says Alex Jensen. Plans are to make only minor changes to its appearance for branding purposes and in order to extend its life.

“I don’t see any reason to get rid of that,” Jensen said. “I’d like to try to preserve as much as we can.”

“Our real goal is to update (and) modernize the actual working of the sign so that it will continue to function for the next 20 years,” Jensen continued. “Update the colors and put ‘Burgermaster’ on it.’ But other than that, I don’t really want a whole lot of changes. I like the root beer. I like the three Xs. It’s a root beer barrel, don’t mess around.”

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“You’ve got something that’s already iconic,” Jensen said. “‘Why futz with it too much?’ is our opinion.”

Timing-wise, the new Burgermaster location at the old XXX in Issaquah isn’t likely to open until early next year, but Alex Jensen says there may be a Burgermaster food truck on-site there as early as sometime this summer, and that some of those nostalgic car shows might be returning soon as well.

Two more changes are also worth noting. The first is that all the memorabilia that was on display inside the restaurant before it closed last year is no longer there. Jensen says those materials all went away with the previous operator. Jensen also says that Burgermaster is working with a local beverage company to craft a custom root beer which they hope to be able to serve at Issaquah, bringing the ‘root beer’ part of XXX full-circle, even though it may now also say “Burgermaster” (along with “XXX”) outside on the giant sign.

You can hear Feliks Banel every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien. Read more from Feliks here and subscribe to The Resident Historian Podcast here. If you have a story idea or a question about Northwest history, please email Feliks. You can also follow Feliks on X.

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All Over The Map: Remodel project uncovers hidden past of beloved XXX drive-in