The Merchants Cafe Restores Power to Pioneer Square

Celina Kareiva
George Wendt's right inside, eating salty eggs and knocking back beer for breakfast.
An early-morning power breakfast in a hallowed downtown restaurant is Michael Douglas with slicked-back hair and a cell phone the size of a dust buster glued to his ear, barking out orders to a floor trader about when to pull the trigger on pork futures in between puffs of a cigarette and bites of poached egg. It's Melanie Griffith in a pantsuit telling the Dukes that she can run their company better than Eddie Murphy or Dan Aykroyd, because that's how women are these days. It's Alec Baldwin toweling off his nuts in the bathroom after successfully bullying Jack Lemmon and Alan Arkin at a sales meeting. It's Richard Gere feeding strawberries and mimosas to Julia Roberts after he decides to build companies instead of dismantle them after a hostile takeover.

That's power incarnate, with lox and capers. Or at least it was in the '80s.

The 120-year-old Merchants Café is a hallowed downtown restaurant; the oldest in Seattle, in fact. But it's in Pioneer Square, the Jack Lemmon in Glengarry Glen Ross of downtown business districts. As Merchants co-owner Dave Henderson (not the ex-Mariner) puts it, "Nobody's used to having breakfast in Pioneer Square." Unless that breakfast consists entirely of energy beer.

Merchants has been serving weekday breakfast beginning at 6 a.m. since May. At that point, it also began offering late-night breakfast service until 4 a.m., with a different target audience in mind (Charlie Sheen after, say, 17 Manhattans). The "café" in the Merchants' full name is a bit of a ruse--inside you'll find a sign that bills the space as "Seattle's Original Skid Row Saloon," and that description is spot-on. The size of crowd, says Henderson, "depends on the day. We haven't packed the house yet, but we definitely have breakfast business daily now."

When a smoking-hot blonde and I showed up at 8 one Wednesday morning, we were one of two tables, and the air was filled with sports highlights from the night before. She ordered a Denver omelet; I ordered the chicken-fried steak. Everything was really, really salty--in other words, perfect for George Wendt. If you don't think that man's got power, talk to us once you're under the table, and he's still sitting down.

Merchants Cafe, 109 Yesler Way, 935-7625 PIONEER SQUARE

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