Years ago, most every shopper who strolled through Pike Place Market spied it. But the neon sign has since vanished--at least in the physical world.
The Deluxe Bar-B-Q sign frequently surfaces as a stock photo on barbecue blogs and in barbecue-joint marketing materials. It's been used to illustrate stories about barbecue pits in cities thousands of miles from Seattle. Since it's never attributed, locating the sign briefly became a parlor game in barbecue circles. It was finally linked to Pike Place Market, but its exact whereabouts remained mysterious.
When I recently contacted Daniel Vaughn (who contributed scads of barbecue reviews to Texas Monthly's brand-new barbecue locator app) with a question about his methodology for a post on bloggers' rating systems, he responded with a question of his own: "Did you ever find the BBQ sign?"
Well, no. But I tried.
The former site of the well-known sign.
The vendor stall previously occupied by Deluxe Bar-B-Q is now occupied by Umai Sushi & Teriyaki. The proprietress there doesn't speak much English, but made clear she doesn't know what happened to the sign.
Scott Davies, the market's public-information specialist, says Umai took over the stall about five years ago. "I do remember that sign, though," he says. "My guess is the owner did something with it."
Davies wasn't aware of the sign's popularity. Its fame was also a surprise to John Turnbull, who serves as the market's director of asset management, and who confirmed the sign wasn't in a storage basement.
A fishmonger at Pike Place Fish Market, where staffers had a clear view of the sign when it was still hanging, speculated the sign might have ended up in an antiques store.
According to the City of Seattle's business licensing division, Deluxe Bar-B-Q's last business license expired in 1990. Records show the business was owned by the husband-and-wife team of S. Lee and I. Lee. Since there are about as many Lees in Seattle as there are ribs in Memphis, the information does little to simplify the search.
"It's interesting it shows up everywhere," Davies says.