As this Parisian-inspired cafe nears its final days, former Seattleites from as far as New Mexico have booked flights to return for one last meal at Café Presse before it serves the last of its famed roast chicken and says au revoir on Feb. 13.
The bar cafe that became the haunt for Francophiles, soccer fans and chefs is one of the biggest restaurant closures on Capitol Hill in recent years, and the news gets worse as Café Presse owners Jim Drohman and Joanne Herron also plan to sell their marquee bistro Le Pichet at Pike Place Market in the next two years before they set off into the sunset.
In retirement, Herron, 66, plans to tend to her garden in West Seattle and work on some writing projects, while chef Drohman, 59, and his wife Sheila McDonnal will move to Orthez, France.
“Two years from today, my hope is that I will be sitting on my porch in southwest France, and not think about work anymore,” Drohman said. “My whole life I’ve been a chronic planner.”
Their departures leave a big void in the French gastronomy scene especially since last year celebrated French chef Thierry Rautureau also closed his two bistros in Seattle, Luc and Loulay.
Café Presse was sold to chef Grayson Corrales who will open a Spanish tapas bar in May. Le Pichet’s lease will expire at the end of this year, but the owners may go on an annual one-year lease till that bistro gets sold, Drohman said.
Le Pichet opened in 2000 and Café Presse in 2007. Le Pichet’s rustic menu resonated with not only Seattleites but also with the late R.W. Apple Jr., the legendary New York Times scribe and gourmand whose rave of Le Pichet made it a must-stop for Francophiles and tourists, as well as many other food writers from The New York Times.
No one, though, gave Le Pichet and Café Presse more cachet than the late Anthony Bourdain who once cozied up to the bar at Le Pichet during a Saturday brunch and raved about the red wine oxtail terrine with celery root rémoulade, calling it “really old school, old time hockey,” Drohman recalled.
In 2009, Café Presse got much buzz after Bourdain and then-Food Network star Mario Batali ate on the patio and closed the place out at 3 a.m.
Over the years, Bourdain often gave Le Pichet or Café Presse a shoutout when he visited Seattle.
Café Presse ran a brasserie-inspired menu — roast chicken, French onion soup and croque madame and frites — that was considered approachable and affordable.
The bar cafe was also a soccer hangout, the place to be when France won the World Cup in 2018 when boisterous fans jumped up and down in unison, causing the pots and pans on the kitchen shelves to rain down on the floor.
“I will miss the people,” said Drohman who has been fielding calls from patrons from as far as New Mexico and Vancouver, B.C., trying to book one last meal. “It has been a great ride … Restaurant business is a tough gig, but cooks do it because we love it, not because we think we will get rich and become famous. I will be sad to see it go.”
Other closures of note
Café Pettirosso will call it quits on Feb. 7 after 27 years on Capitol Hill, citing labor shortage, rent increase and other challenges related to COVID-19.
Aki Kushiyaki: The swanky, skewered meat grill in Madison Valley that debuted last spring didn’t make it to the new calendar year due to a labor shortage, management said. One of the owners, Sonny Ho said they had a Japanese chef lined up but couldn’t get his visa approved during the pandemic to bring him over to the United States. With such a tight labor pool, the restaurant couldn’t find a qualified chef who had the butchery background and skills to master the exacting art of Japanese grilling, he said. Management tried to train some cooks but none met “our high standards,” said Ho, and the owners shuttered rather than continue with juggling staff every night. The three owners will continue to run their acclaimed Arashi Ramen restaurants in Ballard and Tukwila.
Vif: The Fremont wine bar closed partly because its space was slated for development, according to its goodbye note posted online. “We have so loved the community that has grown here over the past 8 ½ years. So many sweet neighbors, so many that traveled here from across town or across the country. So many babies born! So many kids growing up before our eyes, so many dear sweet employees that made this place tick. So many English muffins!” Vif gift cards will be honored at Petite Soif wine bar in Beacon Hill until the end of February.
Rabbit Hole, Lava Lounge and Mr. Darcy’s: The three Belltown bars all said their goodbyes in recent weeks to make way for a pending development on the block. Jessica Gifford, who owns the three bars, hopes to open another bar in Belltown or relocate Rabbit Hole and Lava Lounge in the future.
Aviv Shawarma Bar: This South Lake Union lunch counter never got the foot traffic it needed to survive when Amazon workers started working remotely during the pandemic. The owners posted on Instagram that “after two years of fighting for this place with every cell in our bodies, we have closed our doors for good. Covid Sucks. … We built something incredible that we still believe in—and have spent the last weeks dismantling it piece by piece. We are sad, but we would be lost if we didn’t remember ‘there is some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.’ Aviv’s original location on Capitol Hill remains open.
Goofy’s Bar, a haunt for Green Bay Packer fans, is fenced off, with a nearby sign announcing a pending seven-story apartment complex coming to the block. Goofy’s was also the watering hole for the Crown Hill crowd who didn’t want to venture south to busy barhopping Ballard. The good news: two Crown Hill newcomers are vying to become their neighborhood Cheers — Fuel Sports Grill and the shared taproom featuring Crucible Brewing and Soundbite Cider.
Vios Cafe, after 17 years on Capitol Hill, has closed, but the owner will keep his other Capitol Hill Greek restaurant Omega Ouzeri open.
Kerloo Cellars, one of 10 tasting rooms housed at Sodo’s Urban Works, will leave that warehouse after Feb. 12. Talented winemaker Ryan Crane, who plopped his tasting room here seven years ago, cited in his note to his wine subscribers the lack of federal and state aid to help out small businesses such as his to survive during this tough time. The good news is you can get his stellar rosé at Kerloo’s other tasting room in Woodinville.
Loxsmith Bagels, one of Seattle’s best bagels, according to cookbook author J. Kenji López-Alt, shut its Broadway East location inside Nacho Borracho. Bagel maker Matthew Segal shared space with a taqueria inside that bar, and he said there wasn’t enough room to run both operations. Segal has signed a lease to open another bagel counter near the Beacon Hill light-rail station. It’s set to open in the spring.
Also, Eltana Wood-Fired Bagel Cafe, the Montreal-style bagel shop, closed its Uptown Seattle Armory counter, but its two other branches on Capitol Hill and Wallingford/Fremont remain.
Mia’s Off Broadway, a teriyaki haunt for many Capitol Hill students, called it quits after 15 years, posting that they’re ready to “move on to the next chapter of our lives.”
Poké Bar has left the Packard Building Apartments on Capitol Hill.
The Lodge Sports Grille in Greenwood posted on its front door that it’s done. Its corner lot along Greenwood’s main drag is prime real estate and should draw many suitors.
Gather Kitchen & Bar in Ballard also shuttered after trying to pivot to a fast-casual model during the pandemic.
GameWorks: One of the many struggling downtown businesses that couldn’t hang on, GameWorks posted on Facebook: “The past 20 months and counting we have seen our business turned upside down and the continued slow economic recovery has left us no choice other than to close… Thank you for all the love over these past decades. We hope you remember us fondly and wish you all the best. July 1996-December 2021.”
In Kirkland, Wilde Rover Irish Public House closed partly due to the financial hardship caused by the pandemic, and owner Ben Pittman replied in an email that he is “focused on releasing the space back to the building owners.”
The Ultimate Melt is a food truck that closed after eight years of serving thousands of office workers in various buildings across the Sound.
Northern Dumpling House shut its brick-and-mortar at Totem Square in Kirkland and now hawks frozen dumplings online at northerndumplingfrozen.com. The owners do deliveries around the Eastside, Seattle and the North End.
Two national chains have left Bellevue: P.F. Chang’s in downtown did not renew its lease, according to a company spokesperson, while the Sugar Factory has left The Bravern complex.