The Seattle bar Hooverville is named after Hooverville the shantytown that stood on the same ground during the Great Depression. Back then, every city in these great United States had its own Hooverville, full of people who, under normal economic circumstances, were housed and employed and unhungry.
Normal is relative. One night last week—and presumably every night since and for many nights before—within a mile of Hooverville, just south and westward, people bedded down in run-down campers under part of the West Seattle Bridge, a community in the shadows with grit sifting down on it. Along East Marginal Way, which was devoid of traffic, a number of men drank coffee and talked outside a harborside homeless shelter for those over the age of 50. By the railroad tracks, a hobo ate an old-looking roll in the gloaming, offering advice about the freight train blocking access to the rest of the city. The train would roll forward slowly for a moment, then stop, go slowly in reverse, repeat. Best to go around, he recommended. Another hobo slowly walked by in the trackside gravel, incompetently juggling four juggling pins.
Inside Hooverville the bar, the lights were bright and the peanuts were free; free-peanut-eaters reveled in throwing shells over their shoulders onto the floor. The place—on a stretch of First Avenue South that's not home to much except the Showbox Sodo across the street—was pretty much packed. An '80s compilation played, and one tableful of people kept getting up to dance. There is no dance floor at Hooverville. The female barkeep with fuchsia hair danced for a minute, too, then was lifted into the air by a coworker. The lifter-upper whacked another bartender on the behind with a cutting board, then turned down the lights. "Now everyone looks much better!" he said with a thousand-watt smile. Pitchers of Rainier cost $10.
Hooverville the bar is only a couple years old, but its quasi-divey, hodgepodge décor makes it look like it's been around a long time. The patrons are imported as well. On part of one wall, chalk graffiti is allowed; someone's chalked "POCO WINE BAR." In the women's room on a stall door, an advertisement for Blue Moon beer has been scrawled, "Republicans own, run + inheirit this company!" (The erroneous extra "i" in inherit is a squeezed-in afterthought.)
Out in the world last week, John McCain was being criticized for saying that "the fundamentals of our economy are still strong," with all the world pointing out that Herbert Hoover said nearly the same thing on Black Thursday in 1929. On the way back toward downtown Seattle from the bar Hooverville, a group of homeless people slept under a viaduct overhang directly along First Avenue South, in plain sight if you chose to look.