Following in the ashy footprints of the Speakeasy Cafe, another Belltown hot spot is on the verge of closing its doors. Last month Mike McAlpin, owner of the popular Lava Lounge, was told that his bar's rent would increase from $1,450 a month to $2,800, with another $1,000-per-month increase next year, according to Lava Lounge assistant manager Dan Leary. The rental increase, effective in August, comes with the stipulation that the bar continue to stock only beer and wine. (Bars that serve higher-profit-margin hard alcohol can generally afford to pay higher rents.) The Lava Lounge's lease runs out at the end of July, which will mark over six years in business for the bar. Leary doesn't believe the bar will be able to pay the 162 percent rent increase.

"A miracle might happen," Leary says, "but [closing] is probably what's going to happen." Leary has worked at the Lava Lounge since its doors opened. McAlpin, who also owns Mama's Mexican Kitchen on Second Avenue and Bell Street, made a counteroffer to the building owner several weeks ago, Leary said. The owner, John Lingren of Rain City Properties, has not responded. Lingren may have plans for the Lava Lounge space: He had the place measured recently and is planning to open his own restaurant there, according to Leary.

Lingren could not be reached to confirm or deny that he's trying to force the Lava Lounge out of business. In addition to the Lava Lounge and several second-floor apartments, the building also rents space to the Noodle Ranch restaurant and Roq la Rue gallery, both of which have leases for at least another year. Neither business has heard about a rent increase.