Wednesday, May 28, 2008

douchebags will win in the end, anyway

It looks like I opened up a can of worms with my comment. These people seem quite vitriolic. It kinda makes me wonder what I am doing writing this blog. Do I have a logical defense against progress? Can one really argue for character and authenticity? My best arguments are details---a buzzing neon beer sign in the rain, treasures in a junkyard, blackberry vines snaking from garage doors, the delight one feels, in stores or bars, at the discovery of random and unexpected things. But that's all ephemera, isn't it?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Two things...

1. Denny's is doomed.

2. This made me think of my favorite tavern in Olympia, The Brotherhood. All of my four readers have heard me drunkenly wax nostalgic about The Brotherhood in person (and two of you remember the bar itself), so I'll keep this short.
The Brotherhood was a beautiful place. The bar was carpeted in diverse shag remnants; there were nicotine-stained posters of naked ladies sitting on hay bales and other great art, including a giant bottle neck mounted on the wall like a taxedermied animal head. The Brotherhood had all the elements of a great dive: it was mostly populated by sad old men, it smelled horrible, the bartender had seen better days, the jukebox was heavy on the Hank Williams Jr. side of things, and you could win cases of Niblets canned corn by playing pull tabs. (To prove The Brotherhood's greatness, I will iterate that I have never found another dive that meets that last qualification.) For athletic types, there was also shuffleboard and free pool on an abomination of a table.
To make a long story short, The Brotherhood became inundated with college kids and hipsters. I still loved it, but it became so popular that the owners sold it. The new owners transformed the place. They knocked out the low asbestos ceilings, painted the walls deep red, and hung up kitschy velvet paintings and other ironic trappings.
There is nothing wrong with the bar that stands in The Brotherhood's place. It's a nice enough place to drink, and they even hired Buck, one of the original bar's bartenders. Buck is fine with the transformation because he makes better tips. But in my estimation, the place has no real glory. And it bothers me, personally, that they left the sign up. The bar that stands there isn't The Brotherhood, and shouldn't be called The Brotherhood. I don't see why anyone would find that sort of gesture a comfort.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Save Denny's

For some time now I have been amused by the saga of the Ballard Denny's, otherwise known as the Manning's Cafeteria building. If you are unfamiliar with the story (from out of town), you can catch up at my blog has been following the struggle since the beginning. If you are too lazy to read the whole thing, here's a brief recap:

The notoriously ugly Ballard Denny's building, which is supposedly an example of an obscure 50's-60's architectural movement known as 'Googie', has been the subject of hot debate for at least six months. The Denny's is closed. The Benaroya development group wants to knock it down and build condos; neighborhood activist groups want to save the building.

The building was originally home to the Manning's cafeteria, and the most prominent group fighting to save it is called 'Save Manning's', presumably because it sounds better than 'Save Denny's'. Interestingly, neighborhood residents fought to save the building when Manning's closed back in 1983. They won the battle, and Denny's set up shop in 1984.

In February the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board voted 6-3 to designate the exterior of the Ballard Denny’s a city landmark.

Since then the Benaroya development company has filed suit in King County Superior Court to challenge the decision.

Newsweek has covered the story, along with the AP and all of the major local news sources.

When I first heard that people were fighting to have the building declared a landmark, I cracked up. The building is so ugly that I wouldn't have been surprised to hear that Ballard residents protested when the building first went up in the 60's.

The more I thought about it, though, the more I appreciated the fact that people were fighting to save this 'retro-futuristic' dinosaur. The battle has been criticized for being political and not aesthetic--apparently no one protested when the building was slated to be demolished to make way for the now defunct monorail project, but people got riled up when Benaroya, a development firm, bought the lot.

I find this last detail profoundly pleasing. Talk about heart. I appreciate that there are people in this city who are paying attention and scrabbling to protect the things that give us character. Even, or , perhaps especially, if they happen to be divinely ugly.

When you really start to think about it the Manning's building has an ugliness that verges on grace--much like a good dive bar, the ugliness has a glory to it. One can imagine infinite sags of love and loss unfurling there over cigarettes and coffee. Seedy? Definitely.

I was bitching about this whole saga with a cab driver the other day, and mentioned that there is some talk of incorporating the Denny's building into the proposed condo development. I thought this was pretty funny and was getting a kick out of imagining the monstrosity that might result. We discussed what they would be likely to put into the retail space, and I went on my usual rant about Seattle's glut of useless bistros and salons. Poverty proposed that they put a miniature bowling alley in the space to replace Sunset.

"You know what everyone in this neighborhood really needs?" said the cab driver. "A Denny's." Good point, man.

specimin #1 continued

Some town homes near and dear to my heart appear on my, followed by various interesting comments.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Aurora Avenue--Last Bastion of Seediness

On Saturday we drove out Aurora Avenue and I was reminded that some parts of Seattle are still complying to my militant agenda.
An artery famous for its ghetto motels, suicides, and hookers, Aurora also offers a fine selection of pawn shops, sinister Chinese restaurants, strip clubs, gun shops, junk yards, casinos (I don't get how that works as it seems unlikely that north Seattle is a patchwork of Indian land), and sagging strip malls.
As a critic who often makes judgments on purely aesthetic grounds, can I really feel comforted by a strip mall?
The answer is yes, yes I can.
You may note that this blog is called Keep Seattle Seedy not Regress Seattle to A Pristine Woodland Meadow.

I am not singing the praises of just any strip mall--I certainly have no use for the strip malls of the TCBY and Panda Express variety. The strip malls on aurora are special--an endearing mishmash of mom and pop taxidermy shops and what Poverty insists are 'nail salons with happy endings'. (There are clearly several flaws in his theory, but I thought it was worth mentioning, if only the image it conjures.)

You know what makes the ugliness of Aurora better than the ugliness of the latest Ballard condos?
Two things.
1. Aurora is useful.

The retail space in condos is not useful.
Bistros are not useful. Salons are not useful. Boutiques are not useful. The amount of people who can afford them is small, and the clientèle they cater to is select. Aurora, on the other hand, offers a little something for everyone. Cheap Chinese food anyone? Not your gig? OK, how about house paint? Or a garden shrub? Or a bicycle? Or a hand gun? Or a taxidermied duck? Or a stripper?

2. Tom Waits

Although I'd like to believe that Tom Waits could do anything, I'm not sure he could write a good song if strictly limited to describing the aesthetics of a typical Seattle condo development. But Aurora Avenue? He'd have a field day.