After 40 years as Seattle’s sports-party central, F.X. McRory’s is closing Sunday. Owner Mick McHugh will re-open elsewhere in Pioneer Square, grin and Neiman painting intact.
The ceiling was too high. The warehouse floor was too old. The neighborhood was too seedy. The parking was too aggravating. At least that’s what everyone told Mick McHugh about his new bar.
My only problem with the 11,000-square-foot joint at the corner of Pioneer Square and Sports was the walls. They needed ears, and a way to gossip back the alcohol-fueled secrets.
For 40 years, F.X. McRory’s was the social vortex of Seattle sports. Athletes, coaches, agents, politicians, musicians, artists, journalists, broadcasters, owners, as well as fans eager to say hello to all, mingled, chanted, sang, swilled, swooned and swarmed the acme sports bar in Seattle.
If you cared about sports and lasted awhile in town, it became Cheers, where everyone knew your name and some of them would buy the first drink. When the workplace or the frat house or the medical center had group tickets for the Seahawks and Mariners, the diaspora always knew to gather at the landmark bar.
Beer taps: 28. Liquor bottles on the back bar the size of rail car: 672. Stories about the 1995 Mariners season: Infinite. Mick McHugh: One of a kind.
But as of Sunday night, it’s over. Well, not quite. McHugh, the ever-grinning owner, boss, barkeep and bus boy, wants to to start up somewhere else in the Square.
The party must go on.
“We’re looking at a couple of places,” he said Friday. “We’ve known it was coming. It’ll be good.”
Around McHugh, it always seems good. Even if it’s part of good-bye.
In March 2014, Manchester Capital Management, a Vermont real-estate investment company, bought the seven-story brick building at 419 Occidental Avenue for $17.55 million. Thirty seven years earlier, on Nov. 12, 1977, the first floor of the old warehouse opened as McRory’s.
It was mid-season of the Seahawks’ second year and just after the inaugural season of the Mariners, both housed in the Kingdome, the concrete mastiff about a three-minute walk from McRory’s front doors. The confluence was a masterstroke of real estate timing: Both pro sports and the Square were coming to a new life.
“When we opened, we were juat the sixth bar in the Square,” he said. “Hard to believe.”
Bars of all kinds now are everywhere. The Kingdome is gone, replaced by two sport-specific stadiums. The dome’s once-expansive north parking lot has four gleaming towers of condos and apartments. The wealth pouring into the area is staggering.
Wonderful as was McRory’s, it can’t afford to stay. The building owners want to redevelop the structure, which requires reinforcement of the foundation floor and walls to meet modern seismic standards. The owners offered to let McHugh return after the 15- to 18-month renovation. He said no.
“That’s too long for a vacation, and so long that they’ll forget you,” he said. “We don’t need this much space anyway.”
The new joint will include McRory’s trademark: LeRoy Neiman’s 1980 painting of the bar. In Seattle for an exhibition of his work, one of American’s most famous artists was walking by McRory’s and was taken by the back bar. But not until McHugh offered him $100,000 was he moved to paint it.
Neiman made sketches of the bar scene from many angles, then called McHugh from his studio to say he couldn’t manage the painting. He failed to get close enough to detail the liquor bottles. So McHugh came up with the idea to steam off the labels and send them to the artist. Rather than recreate them in paint, Neiman placed the actual labels on the canvas.
When the work lagged, McHugh thought Neiman might be inspired by a down payment of $25,000 in gold ingots. It helped, although after the artist’s death in 2012, McHugh received a call from the estate attorney.
“What’s the story here?” he asked McHugh. The ingots remained untouched in a strongbox.
McHugh doesn’t have to be out until June 30, but this is closing weekend. He has lots of stuff to clear out. So those who want a final drink and a final handshake from what is likely Seattle’s best-known proprietor have Saturday and Sunday to get it done.
All day Friday, Sports Radio 950 KJR broadcast from a corner of the bar, as the station had done many times for many events. Longtime host Mike Gastineau was the target of a gag: McHugh climbed a bar ladder, called the crowd to attention and unfurled a 15-foot-long register tape, claiming it was Gas Man’s unpaid bar bill.
“What he doesn’t know,” said Gastineau, grinning, “is that he’s in the will for $5,000 to be given to a charity of his choice.”
McHugh also had something for another visitor during the afternoon, Chris Hansen: A kitchen apron.
Before Hansen came to wealth sufficient to afford $600 million to attempt to build an arena a mile away from McRory’s to house the return of the NBA, the Roosevelt High grad was a dishwasher for McHugh. Perhaps Hansen picked up a few cues from McHugh about perseverance.
Hansen put on the apron and walked with McHugh into the kitchen. In the wake of imminent closure of Seattle’s four-decade sports-party house, two of Seattle’s more famous idea guys were perhaps preparing to cook up something fresh.