Last Sunday night, the original Red Robin near the University Bridge poured its last beer and served its last burger. The Seattle institution started as a tavern more than 40 years ago, with peanut shells on the floor and a very stoned red robin holding a joint on the sign. By some miracle, this sign still hung in the entryway—Red Robin is now a 400-plus-outlet, family-friendly chain with Denver management that presumably does not endorse marijuana use, even by drawings of birds. A long-haired old-timer who'd come to pay his last respects pointed it out: "It's definitely a joint," he said. All the family-friendly people waiting for a table (a wait of up to an hour) were amused. The old-timer expressed his hope for a different burger place on the site rather than "another Thai restaurant with foofy drinks." The building's owner is reportedly leasing it to a new restaurant tenant, details unknown.
A woman who grew up a few blocks away said her brother used to stop by the Red Robin on his paper route because two hippie chicks who worked there would give him beer. (She herself fondly recalled having her first teriyaki burger—a house special served with pineapple on it—at age 8, when the place went all-ages around 1973.) On Slog, The Stranger's drug-addled blog, commenter katee reported, "My dad once told me that he bought mescaline from the bartender there in the '70s. RIP." And University of Washington students drank underage there as late as the 1990s. Part of the current-day Red Robin staff uniform is a button that says they card people under 39 1/2.
A Facebook group called "Don't close the ORIGINAL Red Robin Eastlake" with more than 5,400 "devastated" members did not have an impact on corporate, which said the "decision was driven by the need for considerable investment to maintain the building and make the restaurant more efficient from an operations perspective." All the employees have been transferred to other local Red Robins. (The most famous employee, according to Seattle lore: Ted Bundy, when he was enrolled at the UW. During that time, Ted Bundy asked my aunt out on a date; she said no because she thought he was too square.)
On the final night, as the sun set on the original Red Robin's sweeping view of Portage Bay, mascot Red the Robin entered the glassed-in atrium to a resounding cheer. A woman in the bar screamed, "I LOVE YOU!" and blew kisses; she was later seen attempting to pry a historic photograph off the wall. Red toured the restaurant, posing for approximately 5,400 photographs, giving babies high fives, and dancing. Was Red there to comfort the sorrowful? Red nodded affirmatively and mimed wiping tears from his/her/its big plastic eyes. But life goes on, right? Red held out its wing-hand and waggled it back and forth, making the international gesture for "so-so." Would Red like a hug? Yes.