Meinert has bought the Mecca Cafe, a beloved 90-year-old diner and dive bar in Lower Queen Anne, according to the Mecca’s current owner. The sale has sent reverberations throughout the Seattle entertainment community as people questioned why anyone would welcome back the man accused of sexual assault. But Karon Hanke, the owner of the Mecca, is not apologizing for selling to Meinert. In an interview with The Stranger, Hanke said she does not believe the allegations against Meinert and is comfortable welcoming him into the business.
“I believe he is innocent until proven guilty and that’s how it should be,” Hanke said. “I’ve gotten to know David over the years and I like who he is. He’s a good father. He loves his daughter.”
Six of Meinert's accusers have given their full names to KUOW, a local public radio station, and the list includes prominent women in the restaurant, nonprofit, and media industries. Research shows that false allegations of sexual assault are rare, occurring between an estimated 2 and 10 percent of the time, according to a 2010 Northeastern University study.
Meinert did not return repeated requests from The Stranger for comment.
Hanke said the deal is expected to be finalized in September or October and does not include the building, which is not owned by Hanke.
Meinert’s purchase of the Mecca is symbolic for multiple reasons. The restaurant was opened by the same family that started the Five Point Cafe, which Meinert has owned since 2009. The Mecca is also where one of Meinert’s accusers, Rebecca Jacobs, said she met Meinert for drinks in 2003 or 2004, the same night he allegedly forced her to give him oral sex in his car, according to an August 2018 KUOW story where six of the 11 accusers came forward. Jacobs described the Mecca to the Seattle Times this week as Meinert’s “hunting ground.”
The 11 allegations from last year have not resulted in a charge against Meinert. He has not responded to most of the allegations against him, although he did describe himself as “handsy” in a KUOW story published in July of last year. Two of the allegations against him were reported to the police, but a King County prosecutor declined to pursue charges in one case and the statute of limitations had expired in the other case, according to the Times.
Meinert was previously a powerful force in the local entertainment industry. He ran a string of popular dive bars and restaurants and transformed the Capitol Hill Block Party from a small neighborhood event into one of the region’s biggest music festivals. He fundraised for political candidates such as King County Executive Dow Constantine and Governor Jay Inslee, both of whom gave away Meinert's donations after allegations surfaced. In 2010, the Seattle Times wrote a glowing profile of him, calling him a “doting family man,” a “power broker,” and gave him partial credit for current Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes’s election victory.
The allegations against Meinert, all documented by KUOW reporter Sydney Brownstone, who now works for the Seattle Times, paint the picture of a man who felt powerful enough to allegedly brazenly assault women. One lawyer and political consultant said Meinert assaulted her in the backseat of an Uber car they were sharing with then-state senator Cyrus Habib (who is now the state’s lieutenant governor). Another woman said Meinert allegedly reached under her skirt and inserted his fingers into her vagina during a concert at the Mirabeau Room in 2004, a venue Meinert owned.
Hanke said the allegations of Meinert using his own places of business to assault women did not make her concerned for her staff, which she referred to as a close-knit family.
“I am not worried about anybody on my staff,” Hanke said. “They are smart and intelligent people and they are very happy for me. All of my staff hugged me and told me they were happy for me. They didn’t have a bad reaction.”
Hanke also disputed that Meinert had used the Mecca as his “hunting ground.”
“David didn’t really hang out at the Mecca, he would come and get drinks but I never heard anything bad about him or I would have 86-ed him just like anybody else,” Hanke said. “It hasn’t been a hunting ground for anybody. Women go there to meet guys, that’s what bars are about. Guys go there to meet women.”
Hanke is the daughter-in-law of Darlene and Richard Smith, who took over the cafe after Richard’s father, Preston Smith, opened the restaurant in 1930. Hanke said she started working at the restaurant in 2004 and was given half ownership in 2007. She was given full ownership of the restaurant in 2012. Hanke declined to say how much Meinert paid for the restaurant. She said her lease was up in July but did not know the terms of the lease Meinert renegotiated with the owner, or how it related to preserving the historic bar.
Hanke said she is selling the bar because she's dealing with severe back pain after a scoliosis diagnosis and years in the restaurant industry. She said she also wanted to spend more time with her grandchildren.
“I’m just messed up, and I’ve always just taken care of people and now I need to take care of myself or I might not have that opportunity,” Hanke said. “David has called me every year for the last 11 years, and every year I say no and this year I said yes.”
Correction: An earlier version of this post identified the car Meinert allegedly shared with Habib as Habib's car. It was an Uber, not the then-state senator's private car.