Ahoy! And: Huzzah! Those who enjoy a nautical-themed dive bar—that is, those who are not monsters with hearts of lead—have reason to rejoice: The Admiral Benbow in West Seattle has risen from the dead. Take the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland, subtract the children, add boozes, and make it so that you may embark or debark at any time and use the restroom at will, and you've got the Benbow.
This doubloon of solid-gold maritime goodness seemed to be permanently consigned to Davy Jones's locker three years ago, when the original owner went to the great beyond and the Admiral Benbow Inn (as it was then known) shut down to general dismay. According to the West Seattle Herald, it had opened in 1950; the name came courtesy of the owner's 9-year-old daughter, who was reading Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson and noted the Admiral Way address. She got a new dress and $10 for her idea.
This spring, a West Seattle resident reopened the place as the Heartland Cafe, featuring Midwestern comfort food as a tribute to his native Wisconsin. The front room's pleasant decor runs to farm implements and such—an apron is framed on the wall—but who would choose to be landlocked when there is the call of the oceanic? A kindhearted waitress may offer to show you the way, but let your internal compass be your guide and set a course straight on. Soon you will reach a strange inland sea—in the form of a large fish tank inset in the floor, occupied by some listless goldfish—with two oars above it. Bear starboard, and you are in the Benbow Room.
The man with the wisdom to take the advice of a child designed this bar to look like the chart room of a Spanish galleon. It is best that you discover its myriad charms for yourself; suffice it to say, he did a bang-up job of it. (Confidential to the new proprietor: The display case honoring your Wisconsin grandfather, with its black-and-white photographs, yellowed newspaper clippings, and his old Zippo and stamp collection, is wonderful, especially because it is marooned among fishing nets and golden seahorses and treasure maps. But: Would you turn down the wattage on the lights in there? They are so blinding as to make a person wish for two eye patches.)
If you have hunger, no fish is served, but the diner-type food is tastier than most (try the chicken-fried chicken with cheesy home-style mashed potatoes for ballast). Order a Pirate Booty Juice, made with four kinds of rum, if you dare, and sink into the burgundy vinyl upholstery with its gold-coin buttons. Quaff away, and raise a glass to the resurrection of the good.
The Benbow Room at the Heartland Cafe, 4210 SW Admiral Way, 922-3313