Food & Drink

Bar Exam

The Crown of the West 5

The West 5's crown sign is big and beautiful and bejeweled with dozens of red and yellow light bulbs. The crown hangs on the bar's back wall, glowing compellingly, reminding you of something you can't quite place.

The cocktail menu explains West 5's beverages, decor, and philosophy in notable detail. From a discussion of spirits: "Remember, at the West 5, we consider cocktails high art in a liquid medium." Another memory-related imperative: "Remember, beer is good food!" The category of "Rum Drinks" is the jumping-off point for a highly atmospheric essay involving "the screeching of indescribably exotic birds." An entire page explains "How the West 5 Was Won," including the origins of many of the bar's "classic cultural artifacts." But on the topic of the crown, the cocktail menu is uncharacteristically terse, offering only this tantalizing evasion: "Our glittery crown? Let's just say that's from an old Seattle hotel."

Everyone seems to know everyone else at the West 5, and it takes very little asking around on a Saturday night to get the story of the crown. The West 5 is named after the old telephone prefix for West Seattle; the owners, Dave and Dean, love old stuff. (According to the anonymous, verbose cocktail-menu author, they've got "a penchant for urban spelunking.") Dave discovered that the Best Western motel chain was retiring its light-bulb-logo signs in favor of inferior backlit plastic ones. Covetousness set in. Best Western headquarters (so the lore of the West 5 goes) said it was against corporate policy to give or sell one of original signs to the West 5. Per the cocktail menu, the "fiercely independent nature" of the West 5 "just says NO to samey same corporate monotony." A challenge!

Then: a coincidence! Dave was driving through downtown Seattle and happened to pass the Best Western while the removal of the old sign was under way. Fate! He stopped and engaged the sign-removal crew in a dialogue. "What's it gonna take for that to end up in the back of my truck?" Dave said. Negotiations ensued, and a trade (rumored to involve a number of Neil Young, Van Halen, and Van Morrison CDs) was struck.

Now the truth may be told: Cheryl Pollack, of "the department that deals with signage, logos, specs, and things like that" at Best Western International, Inc. corporate headquarters wishes to assure Dave and Dean that their caginess is unnecessary. Contacted by telephone, she said, "It doesn't say Best Western on it. It's not a problem. It wouldn't have been if it did, either. It's just an old sign." recommended

West 5, 4539 California Ave SW, WE5-1966.

bethany@thestranger.com

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