"Everyone deserves two things: their vice and their peace," said Rob Wilson on the occasion of opening Stella Caffé in November of 2008. Wilson's been in the vice business—selling demon caffeine in the form of some of Seattle's most marvelous espresso—at First and University ever since. Now it's time for liquor in the form of the Diller Room, found at the back of the cafe. You'll see the gilt letters spelling out the name and the pale green and white leaded glass; beyond that waits a hideaway of dimness and cushy booths. It's your vice and your peace, all in one.
The Diller Room has an unaffected old-timey air—golden velvet wing chairs, a wall of two dozen beveled mirrors, a vaseful of exploding tulips that those with less imagination would've judged past their prime and tossed out already. Wilson found a Swarovski chandelier and vintage sconces in order to get the proper sparkle; modern crystals, to his mind, don't cut it. You could call the Diller Room "speakeasy style," but you could also dispense with that tiredness; the place plainly does not care whether it's fashionable or not, aspiring merely to be right. The storage area, deeper into the hillside (and slated to be part of the bar in the future), used to be an actual speakeasy when liquor was actually illegal; the front was a fake Chinese laundry, and entrance was gained down a secret stairway from a bathroom in the Diller Hotel upstairs.
The Diller Hotel building (in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, designed by Seattle architect Louis Leonard Mendel) was built by Leonard Diller in 1889 after the great Seattle fire. There was a brick shortage, so the bricks for the Diller were imported from Japan, Wilson says. He's obsessed with the history of the building; over the years, he says, it deteriorated from Seattle's premiere luxury hotel to a place for workingmen to lay their hats, then to a brothel for servicemen. After the war, a "super sketchy" bar called the Flamingo Room stood where Stella and the Diller Room are now; one of the people living upstairs has an old menu from the Flamingo that Wilson's extremely excited to see.
The Dillers still own the building. Leonard's grandson, Earl Diller, is 94 years old and comes in from time to time; he'll look out at the Harbor Steps and tell stories of the hardware store that used to be there, of the happenings on the street in more hardscrabble days. Diller gave Wilson the old neon "DILLER HOTEL" sign outright; there it hangs over the liquor bottles, restored and newly glowing. When he heard about the Diller Room, Diller endorsed it. "Son, give 'em a taste of wine," Earl Diller said.
The Diller Room, 1224 First Ave, 624-1299