The Virginia Inn's elegant century-old brick and wood interior is just like the old Seattle I imagine, minus the mud-covered railway workers drinking whiskey out of hollowed-out fish. After a few minutes of time-travel fantasies, I was startled when my tomato soup and dainty goat-cheese-and-olive salad did not arrive daguerreotype-colored. Owner Patrice Demombynes told me that when he and Jim Fotheringham took ownership of the Pike Place restaurant in 1981, it was an old-timers bar, frequented by loggers and merchant seamen. At one point, the bar housed a safe so seamen could cash their paychecks if they got to port when banks were closed. During Prohibition, the Inn had a back room where booze was served in coffee cups.
Patrice and Jim took ownership when the art scene in Belltown was flourishing. They began showing local artists' work (as they still do). Sub Pop opened across the street, and Patrice was thrilled when his favorite bands stopped by to eat. I asked if any famous people were in the room with us. "There's a very important architect over there," he said, "and a psychiatrist who probably wouldn't want his name in the paper." The Virginia Inn is that special kind of place where even eating a bowl of gumbo feels historically significant.