The parcel of land that the Alki Tavern sits on is among six owned by Salty's operator Gerry Kingen which have been for sale for several months now, with a still-cool real estate market precipitating a couple drops in asking price. Opened in 1976 by Gill McLynne, "the ten-cent bar with the million-dollar view" has long been a favorite of motorcycle enthusiasts, blue-collar beer drinkers, beach bums and Gregg Allman acolytes, and boasts one of Seattle's largest American flags on its ceiling.
The million-dollar view is legit, and has thus long made the Alki, which calls a well-worn, low-slung building with blue paint home, a natural target for developers looking to erect high-end condos, the likes of which can be found throughout Harbor Avenue. But unlike the Blue Moon, which has (at least) twice warded off unwelcome shut-down attempts, if the Alki soon perishes, it won't be a sucker punch that takes it down.
Up until about a decade ago, according to Kingen, McLynne owned the land on which his tavern resided. Then he made a unique deal with the Salty's owner: In exchange for selling Kingen the parcel, McLynne would continue to operate the Alki without paying any rent until the land was developed for other uses (it's zoned commercial/multifamily). Once the property was redeveloped, McLynne would receive a commensurate space in the new development or cash out on the value of that space.
Only Kingen never redeveloped the parcels, and it looks like he won't--hence his decision to put it on the market. ("I'm not going to develop it, so someone else will," he says.) And after months of inaction, Windermere agent Susan Gebhardt recently took up the property's cause and claims there are "a ton of people interested in it."
"You can build a condominium there, apartments, a business, a small hotel," says Gebhardt. "What I'm looking for is a developer who will interact with the Sound. It's an amazing piece of property."
So will the Alki be part of where amazing happens? It depends on who you ask. Kingen says, "My suspicion is [McLynne] would be happy to sell and move on," while Gebhardt is more diplomatic. "I can't speak for the potential buyer," she says, "but what I see is there's such great history and karma there that I think to incorporate the Alki Tavern within a greater project would be a good idea."
But when Gebhardt talks about incorporating the Alki, she doesn't mean in its present form. When asked if the Alki's current building could be part of a new development, Gebhart says, "Absolutely not. None of the buildings will survive. Whatever's going to be built there will be something spectacular."
That may well be, but McLynne's son, also named Gill, isn't sweating it. "There have been a couple people poking their heads around, but we still have a couple years left on our lease, so it's not like we're closing tomorrow," says the younger McLynne, who manages the business, frequently pulling shifts behind the bar, among the last in town to shun hard liquor. "The property Duke's is on has been for sale for four years. It's not like there's someone sitting at the bar with $5 million in his pocket."
McLynne says attempting to gain landmark status for the Alki's building is something that's "been mentioned before, but I've never looked into it. I've heard both pros and cons; I know there are things you can't do to a place once you landmark it." He sees no reason why the Alki couldn't be spared the wrecking ball if and when a new buyer is found. "That would be the best-case scenario," says McLynne.
For such a scenario to play out would, frankly, require an eccentric buyer who's already quite fond of the charmingly shabby beer bar, which means McLynne would be wise to start rifling through his customers' pockets for that multimillion dollar booty. Because you just never know.