One night long ago, a longshoreman and a cocktail waitress had sex in one of the burgundy-colored vinyl booths at Vito's. They never saw each other again; the story comes from the fruit of their union, who returned four decades later with all her friends to celebrate her 40th birthday. In between, in June of 1984, Kim Ricketts of local Book Events fame had her water break in the women's room (she was probably at Vito's for a drink, back in the day when a massively pregnant lady could enjoy an alcoholic beverage in public without shame). Local promoter/DJ Kerri Harrop remembers a night at Vito's in the early '90s, drinking after-hours with a couple of retired cops. In 1999, performance artist/Stranger Genius/oddball Korby Sears saw both Dan Aykroyd and Snoop Dogg at Vito's—they were sharing a booth and having a grand ol' time.
Everybody who's been in Seattle for a good length of time and hasn't been living under a rock has a story about Vito's. I surprised my mother at dinner one night by asking to go to Vito's Vagabond Room, having fallen for the vintage signage. I was 6 years old. When I finally got inside, it was every bit as great as I knew it would be: old-school Italiano glory, tattered around the edges, smoked mirrors and lots of actual smoke. The place opened in 1953 and was home away from home to mobsters and mayors and priests. Doctors from the nearby Pill Hill hospitals got smashed after shifts. A lot of money and other stuff exchanged hands in the Vagabond Room, during card games and otherwise.
After Vito sold it, Vito's staggered on, but in 2008, there was a drive-by shooting outside, followed by a fatal shooting inside. In 2009, it closed.
This year, Greg Lundgren—owner of bar/gallery the Hideout, producer of contemporary art projects via Vital 5—decided it was time to revive Vito's. At the dim, packed, hot reopening last week, the room looked like it had just stepped out of the rose-colored collective memory. You'd never guess that the floors, upholstery, twinkly light fixtures, almost everything, including the bar—the place had fallen into a wrecklike disrepair—is new. (Of note: the mural on the west wall; the name change of the Vagabond to the Cougar Room, with a large stuffed wildcat named Barbara added.) The ivories of the grand piano will be tickled by, among others, Ruby Bishop, a local jazz legend who walked in one day during the renovation and, in no uncertain terms, requested a regular gig. Steve Wells, beloved from his Re-bar days, is your host. Michael Bruno, formerly of longtime Capitol Hill favorite Tango, is in the kitchen cooking classic Italian, including Vito's Famous Cannelloni. The ace bar staff, looking dapper, awaits to mix you a perfect martini. Welcome home.