Perched on one of the worn wooden booths in the Eastlake Zoo Tavern is a dusty plaque, almost three feet tall and adorned with eagles and metal men holding pool cues. “Northwest Pool League City Runner-Up 1977,” it reads. It’s a kitschy object, likely there since it was won. It’s also totally emblematic of this Old Seattle tavern, which is bursting with games.
In general, Seattle game bars are alive and well, though somewhat sparsely peppered throughout the city. Belltown’s Shorty’s and Fremont’s Add-a-ball provide pinball; King’s Hardware in Ballard offers Skee-Ball; and Capitol Hill’s Narwhal boasts arcade games for customers. But the Zoo, a 13-tap beer-and-wine bar founded in 1974, might reign supreme, with three pool tables, a Ping-Pong table, two dartboards, shuffleboard, pinball, arcade games, foosball, Skee-Ball, and snooker. In fact, the place is like a carnival or an arcade, or even a New Jersey boardwalk, minus the funnel cake. You feel as though you could somehow look up to the ceiling and see people upside down playing miniature golf. It’s a little odd, but that’s what’s great.
“It is definitely a throwback to that old-school neighborhood tavern,” says Jake Zeller, who has worked as a bartender here for seven years. “Back in the day it used to have more pool tables—it was more of a pool hall—but over the years it’s changed into what it is now. It can definitely feel like an arcade with everything that’s going on—people playing games, laughing, having a good time.”
The Zoo is huge. It extends back and back, its worn green paint leading the eye from the bar to its back corners to the soft felt of the pool tables—perfect for people to congregate and be boisterous. Despite all that space, the place, owned by Howard Brown, is darn near cozy. Like that couch you don’t want to lose.
“Most people come here with a group,” says Zeller. “With how Seattle is changing so quickly, it’s that direct link from where the city was at one point, and to have that feel of the old-school city in this town is precious. You don’t find it often with all these new buildings and new establishments.”
And this spring, says Zeller, the Zoo will host its third-annual “Zoo Olympics,” pairing teams in a round-robin group of games and partnering with local breweries to offer T-shirts and other swag, among other prizes. Zeller, who orders all the beer, curates a good lineup: Fremont Pale Ale, Schooner Exact Hopvine IPA, and the tried-and-true Manny’s. And while the Zoo can feel like an amalgamation of odd toys at times, it comes together very well. “It’s like a large living room,” Zeller smiles. “It just feels comfortable.”