Dog House: The Last Call: A Reminiscence by Floyd Waterson

  • By Floyd Waterson
  • Posted 10/30/2001
  • Essay 3472

In this file Floyd Waterson describes the last night of the Dog House, a Seattle restaurant/bar located at 7th Avenue and Bell Street (at 2230 7th Avenue). Run by Laurie Gulbransen (1913-2000) for most of 60 years, it closed in on January 31, 1994. Of the Dog House Bar, John Hahn writes in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer "The Dog House was an epoch of Seattle history, a virtually non-stop, open-24-hours run of food, booze, music and fellowship..."

And in Floyd Waterson's words, "The Dog House was a great place where truly people of all types and ages went. Their famous sign was true -- all roads did lead to the Dog House. In some ways I think it is possible to date the death of old Seattle to when the Dog House closed. After 1993 is when the high tech, hip Seattle, the darling of the national press city really took off. Perhaps that era ended in 1999 with the WTO riots."

Last Call at the Dog House

By Floyd Waterson

I picked up the photos from the shop stuffing them down my coat to protect them from the falling drops. Traffic was bad. I decided to wait before driving back north. I looked down the street which lead to the Dog House, remembered it was the establishment's last night -- all roads now lead to Sarajevo someone told me later -- and walked towards the 50-year-old structure. It was early yet, and I walked in unhindered by the lines of people that would soon form there. I headed straight for the bar, knocked down a scotch, and listened:

Reserved for KCTS After 8:00 p.m.

"What do those signs say?" a dark haired woman glares at a darker haired, more well-rounded woman wearing a KCTS television station t-shirt. TV-Woman places one of the signs on the table top covering the Organ in the corner of the bar.

"This area is reserved after eight o'clock; Channel 9's broadcasting live the closing of the Dog House."

The other woman lifts up her drink, squints at the sign, and tells TV-woman, "That's why we're sitting here. We're regulars sweetheart."

TV-woman scurries for cover like Bernard Shaw during the bombing of Baghdad: "We all do something for a living; this is what I do: put up signs."

"You must know by now how emotions are running. Doesn't excuse it, just an explanation." The regular swallows the rest of her drink while TV-woman wanders away.

If I took my fingernail clippers out and clipped my nails I could probably play a lot better.

A drunk shouts, "That's Jerry Garcia." Over near the Organ is a fat, grey-haired, grey-bearded man with guitar and glasses. "Like your music, pro. Are you Jerry Garcia?"

"Who knows," the fat grey-haired man replies. "Do you know which finger Jerry's missing? He's missing this finger." Jerry points to the middle -- still intact -- finger of his right hand. The ring finger next to it, however, is missing above the knuckle. Jerry lowers his hand. "Other than that we're exactly the same."

That and about $10 million.

If the King were alive, he'd be here tonight.

A 50-year-old, bleach-grey bimbo sits in her accustomed place at the Organ, flirting with the men and the boys. A black sweatshirt with a white shirt underneath gives her the appearance of a past-her-prime-seductive-priest. Her sister, dressed the same, comes in late and pulls up a stool next to her. A drunk nearby comments, "This used to be a decent place -- they ought to close it up."

Jerry starts singing to little accolades. The woman who wrestled with TV-Woman refuses to sing along, commenting, "I refuse to encourage him."

The room fills with people almost as fast as with smoke.

The Seafair pirates arrive. Dressed in their pirates garb, just as they are during the annual Seafair festival, they ransack the bar. The bleach-grey bimbo fakes fellatio on a Seafair Pirate's sword. Jerry starts in on Blue Suede Shoes.

They've got Bud Light, Bud Dry, but no Budweiser...

A baritone wearing a POW/MIA bracelet stakes out his spot near the Organ like the First Infantry holding a strategic hillside. "I came down here awhile back and they had karaoke in the backroom, for Christ's sake. Karaoke in the Dog House, for God's sake." Rich fingers his bracelet. "I got a friend just got convicted of 12 felonies in Tacoma last week. ATF railroaded him. Hundred and twenty years. Judge wouldn't let him have a defense. Same guys that shot up David Koresh -- the ATF -- got this guy. We knew they were asssholes 20 years ago when I was a King County Policeman."

An unknowing customer nearby asks a waitress, "Can we order a large french fries?"

The waitress answers, "No." She hands Rich a Bud Ice.

He fingers it like a hand grenade with no pin. "What am I supposed to do with it?"

"Drink it. It's all we got."

A guy from across the Organ shouts to Rich, who is still staring at his Bud Ice, "Did you get the beer? "

"I've got something...I've never seen it before."

"It's a bottle with liquid in it."

"Bud Ice? It's alright -- it's not a Rainier though."

How long you been coming here? Three years? I've been coming here 50 years.

Ginny and Willy. One looks like Hal Holbrook, the other like Hal Holbrook's wife. They've been coming for over 30 years. "We met in the Dog House in 1958. It was our first date. We went to dinner in the International District and then went dancing," Willy recalls. Then we finished with coffee at 5:00 a.m. at the Dog House. She went home; I went back to my boat. I was in the Merchant Marines. Yep, we danced at the Norway Center and then headed for the Dog House. We got married a year later."

I tried to order some food. She looked at me and said, "What do I look like, God?" It's great.

A waitress snarls at a young woman with a cellular phone. "Last call ain't for a couple of hours yet." TV-Guy joins TV-Woman in laying cable and wires. The TV lights come on prompting the cry of, "Turn the damn lights off."

After initial skepticism, people make requests to Jerry. A woman at least as old as the restaurant drinks a martini taking in the atmosphere around her as if for the last time. It is. Curtains the color of cigarette waste shield the bar from the outside world. A couple tongue each other briefly in the middle of the bar. A young blonde stumbles into the bar carrying her purse in one hand and her libido on her sleeve. Through thick smoke she comes face to face with the bleach grey bimbo. She turns away.

I ain't gonna sing myself out two hours early.

Dick Dickerson, the organist arrives. "Thank God you're here," comments the TV-Woman-battling regular. Dick makes his way over to the Organ. Jerry's still playing. "He's got stamina anyway," remarks Dick bringing a cigarette up to his mouth. Dick -- the only one in the bar to get such service -- immediately receives a scotch from a waitress.

Dick sits down at his Organ and surveys the crowd like the Dogfather. He looks at Jerry, "He don't give up easily. Probably looking for a job."

Jerry gives up. Dick's hands head for the Organ's keys, Rich's baritone kicks in, "There's a tear in your eye...When Irish Eyes are smiling..." Everyone in the bar sings.

When Dick finishes the song, a woman much older than the red speckled counter she's leaning on, wearing a green top with a silver broach near her neck, can barely speak. But she manages to say, in what amounts to an 80-year-old school girl's voice, "Dick," like she was greeting the Beatles in 1963.

Where were all these people when they needed them to keep this place afloat?

"I'll tell ya where they were, they were scared cause of the DWI squad drove em all out. I can name ya 30 places downtown closed cause of those guys. I owned a place for 30 years and every one of my good customers got a DWI."

"Luckily the DWI squad doesn't work on Monday nights."

Photo of dog on wall: "Copper: Doberman Pincher: Male"

Dick breaks for a moment. Rich stops singing and resumes his sermon, "This country is real close to being put under martial law." A man sitting at the counter top around the Organ gives his seat up to Ginny. Willy smiles at the man; Ginny comments, "You're an angel; I've got two new hips. You wouldn't want a lady with two new hips to stand."

Dick begins again. "God Bless America..." they sing while holding hands around the large Organ.

God I wish I'd win the lotto so I could go buy some hair.

The bar, now filled past capacity, is a testimonial against the surgeon general's warning not to smoke cigarettes. It has more old people smoking in one place than a Phillip Morris sponsored rest home. TV-Woman and TV-Guy move in pushing some of the regulars from their accustomed places near the Organ. TV-Guy stands in front of Willy. Willy takes his cigarette, puts it out in TV-guy's back pocket, and winks. The battle is now joined. Channel 9 engages drunk senior citizens in brutal fighting over bar territory. They kick a drunk out of his barstool. If a tree falls in the woods -- and it's not on film at eleven -- did it really fall?

The promise of live TV has brought celebrities out in force tonight. Well, at least Seattle celebrities. Members of Almost Live, are gathered in the bar. A young woman named Melissa loves their show. She maneuvers herself near them. Later she reports, "...and then the guy from Almost Live turned, and our butts were touching -- I'll never wash this butt again."

What's going to happen to all these people?

The young woman's question is obscured by the music as Dick continues to play. But it is getting near the end. People lean on a shelf holding a TV. The bartender erupts, "You're liable to pull the whole damn building down. And then we'll die -- I don't want to die here."

"Are you a Cougar? You're not a Cougar? Get out of here." Shortly after drunk obnoxious woman says this, she is hauled out by the cops.

And then ... Dick stops playing. The TV lights dim. But it's not official until the call of the bartender, "Hello, it's time folks -- get the fuck out of my bar. I wanna go home; they quit paying me."

People shuffle out of the bar. People shuffle out of the restaurant. A woman says to her companion as they leave the restaurant, "I'd say let's go get breakfast at the Dog House, but..."

Outside a street person wears a sandwich board advertising the Five-Point Cafe's new 24 hour service. Willy and Ginny drive off.

I've been coming here since 1944.

I have bigger feet than you.


By Floyd Waterson, August 2000. The John Hahn quote is from John Hahn, "Laurie Gulbransen Ran Things at the Dog House for 60 Years," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 8, 2000 (

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