"I FEEL LIKE I'M AT CHURCH on a Friday night," said a former patron of Ileen's Sports Bar at its unsettling broad-daylight closing auction last week. Ileen's, n饠Ernie Steele's, was the oldest business on Broadway, according to owner Ileen Schumaker, who reported that her namesake was shutting its doors due to a more than fivefold increase in rent since she took over 10 years ago. "I've been through the crying stage; now I just need some sleep," she said.
The preview was populated mostly by drunken ghosts mourning a barful of sad, empty glasses marked with auction lot numbers. A former customer who walked in puffing on a cigarette was told that Ileen's was, bizarrely, now nonsmoking.
Ernie Steele was a University of Washington football hero who ran the bar for 46 and a half years. Ernie's, with its Checkerboard Room, was the quintessential old-man bar, serving eye-wateringly strong cocktails to a host of hard-drinking regulars.
In 1991, the era of Ileen's began with an apparent shortage of the letter E and the mystifying addition of the designation Sports Bar (seemingly fulfilled by the suspension from the ceiling of various Budweiser inflatables). The clientele underwent a shift as well, the old men, for the most part, edged out by grungers and then post-grungers extending their adolescence seemingly indefinitely. Decorum was not at a premium; patrons were known to do drugs in the bathrooms, scream along with the jukebox en masse, drop their pants, fall over, and conduct fistfights under the baleful eyes of taxidermied animal heads.
At the auction, the bar's smoke-darkened Western-themed murals (some by Fred Oldfield, who also painted the murals at Hattie's Hat) brought between $475 and $1,000 in some of the day's fiercest bidding (which wasn't that fierce). Heartbreakingly, the portrait of Ernie in his leather helmet that hung prominently for so long fetched only $75.
"I'm sticking to the floor back here," said the auctioneer from behind the bar, midway through a frenetic stream of prices for a lot of still-dirty ashtrays.
The elk head will reportedly find a new home at Linda's Tavern on Pine. The fate of the Broadway and Thomas corner location is unknown, but you can bet the new tenant won't be serving a lot of boilermakers.
Bethany Jean Clement