MECCA CAFE 526 Queen Anne Ave N, 285-9728 In the best of times, the Mecca draws a dark-humored, hard-living crowd; during inauguration week, expect the Titanic, adrift on a sea of booze. This narrow, noisy, smoky, beloved dive delivers the best one-two punch in town: strong drinks at reasonable prices for the night before and great greasy breakfasts for the morning after. Plus, the Dem-heavy rocker crowd is sure to be spiked with at least one blitzed, lefty-hating crank, perhaps bearing a prosthetic leg, so–free theater! DAVID SCHMADER
Dick Smith, 63, owner of the Mecca Cafe on lower Queen Anne and the 5 Point Cafe at Fifth and Cedar, died of cancer on October 1. He often billed his restaurants as Seattle’s oldest family-owned eateries (he’d taken them over in 1975 from his father, who’d gotten into the restaurant biz in 1929). Both are small spots, divided between food counters serving up hearty, inexpensive, unpretentious eats (the Mecca’s menu bears the slogan “Not fine dining, just a fine diner”) and smoky, crowded cocktail lounges serving up stiff drinks and raucous conversation. (Wall signs proclaim, “Smokers Welcome–Non-Smokers Beware”). Smith was also an outspoken political curmudgeon, keeping his restaurants non-union while resisting gentrification. In fact, the 5 Point’s front window still bears a neon sign denouncing the Seattle Commons development scheme, to which Smith helped lead the political opposition.
From The Stranger Oct 11, 2001
– By Clark Humphry
Since 1929, Queen Anne’s Mecca Cafe & Bar has welcomed and intimidated millions of hungry, thirsty, and drunk patrons. With one of the narrowest barrooms in town, quarters can get close and people tend to get to know one another pretty quickly. Keeping customers lubricated and well-fed for 13 years is punk, tattooed, smiling Mike “Jonesy” Jones who has been keeping tabs on everything for more than a third of his life.
While some customers get intimidated by the nearly windowless bar and adjoining cafe, those in the know sop up their evening booze or start their day (or both) with Mecca’s hearty, consistently solid diner food. Over the years, folks have come and gone, the Sonics have been sold, and condos have been erected. But Jonesy has seen it all, and he has no plans to stop holding down the fort anytime soon.
How did you end up at The Mecca?
Well, when I was in my mid-20s, I was working as a sign designer, but I got got burned out on that after getting screwed over a couple times. Right before I got to The Mecca, I was bartending, and cooking, and working the door at the Bad Juju Lounge, and my friend Bill needed a cook, so I took some extra work. And then eventually a job came in, so I started working full time as a cook.
How was cooking? This menu is huge.
It was tough. It’s a lot slower now with the economy and everything, but there’s been a ton of influx of new restaurants, too. But it used to be, you know, you were doing at least a hundred plates a night. I only cooked mornings every once in a while, as back up. It’s a pretty extensive menu and there’s a lot of stuff on it. The kitchen is set up to do everything all the time. It’s not like some restaurants where they shut down for an hour and change over between breakfast and lunch. It’s eggs and burgers and all that at the same time.
What is the best dish you make at The Mecca?
I’d say our Philly Cheesesteak. It’s sliced steak, not ground like some places. A friend of mine used to cook here, and he’s originally from Philly. He went through and checked out all the breads from all the purveyors to find the closest thing to the real bread they use. And that’s the thing about a Philly: you have to have the right bread. You don’t have that soft, long, white roll, and it can be a disaster. I get stuck on sandwiches, like I’m obsessed with the Ragin’ Cajun from Other Coast. I can’t get anything else. The Reuben there is ridiculous, too. You could cut it into four and have four sandwiches, it’s so big.
What do people drink there?
It’s pretty straightforward. But, you know, we have a lot of different shots and drinks that we’ve made up. Like the Irish Speedball, which my old friend Dave made up. It’s like a Frappucino that’ll kick you in the ass. It comes in a pint glass, with Jameson, Bailey’s, Kahlua, Grand Marnier, half & half, and a tap of coffee. You drink a couple of those real fast ‘cuz they’re so good, but then I gotta call you a cab. Before you know it, it’s gone and so are you.
What have you invented that’s on the menu?
I do the Fruity Fantastic. It’s blueberry vodka, pineapple, orange, cran. You shake it till it’s frothy and top it with 7 Up. I came up with it when I was doing morning bartending shifts. And I’d come in and be real hungover from the night before and just be all ugh I need some electrolytes. And then pretty quickly, I realized it’d be delicious with some fruity vodka. Started up curing a hangover, but ended up making ’em.
Would you say most of your customers drink stuff like that?
No, not regularly. You know, the normal stuff. Simple stuff. Vodka/soda, or a vodka press. Beer and a shot of Jameson. They just like what they like and they don’t go changing it up.
What are your customers like?
They’re a lot like me. They’re like punk rock, metal types, rockabilly, or whatnot. The kind of people who don’t want to be in a nonsense club scene. They come as they are, don’t care much about the latest fashions or impressing anyone.
What’s the difference between the bar and cafe sides?
The cafe side is a lot of people who just wanna sit at tables without being blasted by punk and metal music. You know, older people who like diner fare and no TVs, who don’t wanna have to yell over the volume. The last few years, we’ve had rotating art shows in there from local artists and it’s always pretty cool. I’ve bought a couple pieces. Most of the employees on the cafe side have been there awhile. No one really leaves or anything. The only person who’s worked there longer than me works in the cafe, Courtney, but she’s only been there six months longer and she only works once a month.
What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in the neighborhood during your tenure here?
The Sonics leaving. Losing them was big for the whole neighborhood. It used to be like a Friday night in there four days a week, like a big party all the time, but once they left, it slowed down a ton. There’s more condos too. It’s a lot like Ballard — a lot of gentrification, higher rents, newer restaurants and bars around that appeal to that demographic.
Why does an employee such as yourself stick around at The Mecca?
People who like doing their job and having enough freedom to use their common sense and be left alone.
What do you like best about tending bar there?
I like the freedom the job affords, the conversations and witty banter I get to have with co-workers and customers. You know, helping folks have a good time. It’s like hosting a party three times a week.
Do you hang with your customers outside of work?
Yes, I do hang out with the regulars quite often. We go to baseball games, football games, live shows. A lot of my regulars are my friends, which is nice.
Who owns the place?
You know, there’s only been four owners since it opened in 1929. Preston Smith was the first one, the OG. Then when he died, his son Dick Smith (who also owned The 5 Point) took it over. And when he passed, his widow, Darlene ran it. And then now Karon Hanke. She’s their daughter-in-law. So, you know, 84 years, and only one family. Most people don’t know that.
Have you served many celebrities?
Well, you just never know who’s gonna walk in. [Lead singer and founding member of Queens of the Stone Age] Josh Homme is in here pretty often when he’s in town. He’s very cool. Drinks Manny’s. Quentin Tarantino has come in a few times.
Is his voice as annoying in real life?
Yes. I wasn’t working, but I was there.
Uh, Henry Hill has come in. He’s the guy Goodfellas was written about.
Oh, and uh, I was in a movie in there once. The Details. They filmed it in there about three-and-a-half years ago. I got to meet Kerry Washington and Tobey Maguire.
Did they actually drink whiskey or anything while they were filming?
Nah, it was sugar water made to look like whiskey. But Ray Liotta was in it. He didn’t come in, but I really wanted him to. I was disappointed because I wanted to get a picture of him sitting in the seat that Henry Hill used to sit in.
Have any of the famous people gotten rowdy or needed to be cut off?
[Former coach of the Sonics] George Karl had to be cut off sometimes, and my buddy Dave had to kick him out. You could always tell if the Sonics won, cuz we didn’t have TVs in there, but if they had won, George would drink Cutty Sark on the rocks.
And if they lost?
Straight shots of well Scotch.
Yeah. Shawn Kemp comes in a lot. I love that guy.
Do you have to throw a lot of people out?
No, no. For the most part, it’s just like any other bar. I’ve had to toss maybe 30 people over the time I’ve been there. It looks like a scary place to hang out, but it’s not. Our regulars are good people who don’t put up a front. It’s like that most of the time.
What’s the fastest way to piss you off?
Ha, I don’t know if I wanna answer that. I’d say just don’t talk about my family. All those “Your mom” jokes and stuff. It’s rude.
What do you make for customers who say, “Make me something”?
Well, I just gotta know what they don’t like. I’ve been doing this long enough, I know what people want it to taste like if they tell me, and I can make ’em something good.
What do you want people to know about The Mecca?
It’s a good place. The food is really good. Comfort food, you know? There’s a lot of places trying to be on the Food Network and trying to be fancy. But when you just want a hot turkey sandwiches like your parents used to make a coupla days after Thanksgiving, or really good meatloaf, it doesn’t have to be fancied up. It shouldn’t be. You know, you want hash browns and eggs, and don’t want it all covered in Gruyere or avocado, or whatever. You want it reasonably priced — we have that.
We don’t have juices on the gun, ya know, so you don’t have to beware of the “sugar snake” like some of those other places. Our mimosas come in pint glasses, and they have a split of Champagne in ’em. It’s Cook’s: The Beer of Champagne. You know, and High Life on tap.
— Julia Wayne, freelance writer and Assistant Editor at Wetpaint
In our effort to get you what you need in this crazy time, we’re now offering a variety of local craft beers, and a few not-so-local brews, on tap for you to choose from and take home in either a 32-oz or 64-oz growler, along with some of our home cooked comfort food, and a broad selection of items from our pop up grocery store.
Our always-thinking-of-new-ways-to-create-more-work-for-us-owner David Meinert, decided that since we can’t let you into the bar, we’ll let you take the bar with you. So we now offer booze to go, including ‘mixed’ drinks (you mix them at home) and growlers. Check out the best booze to go takeout menu in Seattle https://mecca-cafe.com/menu#alcohol
With the current coronavirus pandemic, several facets of our everyday lives are in flux as we all face a different set of challenges. For example, while restaurant owners handle logistics pertaining to keeping businesses in operation, Seattle residents deal with different realities such as grocery stores’ dwindling stocks. At the Mecca Café we have found an interesting and mutually beneficial way to take the problems that restaurants and citizens are facing to create a potential solution— using excess inventory to provide groceries for sale. The pop up store, Mecca Market, on the restaurant’s online delivery page offers groceries for curbside pickup and delivery with the hopes that customers can find much needed materials that they may have a hard time finding in grocery stores at this time.
The idea for Mecca Market is not unlike the trend that is occurring across the nation, as several restaurants make the transition to selling excess stock to get cash quickly for operating expenses while helping to serve the greater community. Restaurants’ main issue at this time is that their dine in areas are closed and, with restaurant attendance down, it is difficult for businesses to make up for those sales in a strictly pickup and delivery climate. Restaurants do, however, have a lot of stock that they can fare to get rid of, and access to purchase food from different supply chains than the local grocery stores. For example, flour is a common food staple that is in short supply in grocery stores due to an increase in people at home baking. Restaurants do not have the same issue, and many have easy access to hard to find products flour and cleaning supplies, which is good news for customers that are looking everywhere to try to secure them. Mecca Market specifically can provide dairy, packaged foods, dry goods, condiments, cleaning supplies, and paper products for customers in addition to their huge menu of prepared comfort food. We currently have pantry staples available, and we are also taking feedback from the community for other essentials that we may have more luck keeping in stock than local grocery stores.
While this is certainly a difficult time for the restaurant industry, Mecca Café is determined to keep this Seattle staple up and operating. The Mecca Café is also happy for the opportunity to utilize our delivery system and grocery store pop up to help the community that has served the establishment so faithfully during its lifetime. We still have some time to go before the entire situation is fully behind us but, if we stick together and help each other when possible, we will get through this.
– David Meinert