The other day, amid the last months of the Pioneer Square restaurant and foodie Mecca, The London Plane, a distinguished-looking older gentleman wandered in. He was Walter Carr, the founder of Elliott Bay Books, paying tribute to owner/manager Katherine Alberg Anderson on the 10-year run of her pretty and tasty restaurant on Occidental Mall.
Anderson was touched by this kindly gesture, for London Plane was very much in the spirit, now endangered, that led to the opening of Elliott Bay Books one block away in 1973, in the Globe Building. The Globe was owned and restored by the developers who made Pioneer Square come back to life: Alan Black, Dick White, Ralph Anderson, Grant Jones, and Bill Baillargeon of Seattle Trust and Savings Bank.
Anderson put it this way about her dream and Carr’s: “A place to come in out of the rain, full of warmth and conversation, a place to find friends (in the form of books, food, flowers, or people!), a refuge.” Seattle used to have affordable spaces for such idealism, notably the Brasserie Pittsbourg, the restaurant that launched the Pioneer Square revival.
Ah, the 1970s in Seattle! I remember that inspiring time when a bunch of us scribes were launching Seattle Weekly a block from Elliott Bay Books, Tom Corddry and others were starting news and music radio KZAM, and Carr and Rick Simonson (previously a hamburger-flipper) packed in the city’s readers at Elliott Bay. I used the front table at the Brasserie for sketching out idealistic ventures.
Anderson was all of two years old when Elliott Bay Books debuted, so the visit from Carr felt like a blessing and coming full circle. Her restaurant was full of ideals — locally sourced food, small-batch producers, food-knowledgeable waitstaff, a bakery on site, flower shop with flowers she grew herself on a family farm, inventive menus, buzzing inside and on its patio with Square regulars.
In the end, Anderson and business partner Yasuaki Saito (Matt Dillon was an original co-creator) made the anguished decision to close on Dec. 24. Diners, summer outdoor breakfasters, vendors, foragers, farmers — all sorry. Maybe somebody will find a way to keep the handsome, two-level space (a former bank) going.
But it was not to be. Rents are high and the lease (with Martin Smith) has expired. The Square has become so ominous that it had to close for dinner, since staffers were nervous about heading to their cars in the dark. Crazies would harass the outdoor diners. And the full costs of all those services made it a tough go, particularly when the pandemic hit.
I’d be amazed if there’s a new incarnation. The odds against these warm places out of the rain are now very long. A city that can’t keep places safe from hostile intruders. Super-heated real estate prices. Staffing shortages. Inundations during pro sports events. Non-local banks and property developers. Given these odds against quality and localism, we should just be grateful that Ms. Anderson created the London Plane (named for nearby trees), gritted her teeth, and stayed the course, exhausted her investors’ capital, and showed what Seattle was once capable of doing.